'The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2015: Animated': Film Review

Courtesy of Shorts HD
Visuals are more varied than the storytelling in a nice but not always ambitious program.

Puppies and pigs jostle with human heroes in this year's crop.

Narrative's the name of the game in the animated shorts competing for this year's Academy Award, with even fewer nods toward abstraction than were found among last year's selections. If their stories only challenge viewers in one or two instances, though, crowd appeal should be stronger for this lineup than for the other three Oscar programs assembled for theaters and VOD by Shorts HD.

Many will have already seen Disney's Feast, which accompanied the Oscar-nominated Big Hero 6 in theaters. (Which reminds us: Legos were unjustly snubbed in the shorts category as well ...) The premise may be heartwarming in wholly expected ways (adorable puppy experiences his owner's search for love via scraps of the food the big lug eats), the technique is fresher: Using the Meander software Disney employed in 2012's Paperman, animators achieve an eye-pleasing blend of hand-drawn and CG styles.

CG is more conventionally used in A Single Life, whose protagonist looks like she's made out of toy-grade vinyl. The Dutch film is a zippy one-gag tale in which a seven-inch record is synched to the cycle of life: The listener ages rapidly as it plays, and can lift the needle to hop forward or back in time.

The rules governing The Dam Keeper are harder to suss out. The texture-heavy animation is on solid ground when introducing its piglet hero, who goes to school with an assortment of nicely styled animals and finds refuge from bullies in his friendship with a fox. But the bigger conceit, in which Pig is responsible for maintaining some kind of barrier against coal-dust-like pollution, may puzzle younger viewers who'd otherwise be delighted.

The most visually daring entry is The Bigger Picture, in which Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees combine paint-and-paintover animation (a la William Kentridge) with model elements. The resulting trompe l'oeil scenes afford some unexpected visual gags, and are oddly well suited to the sour narrative about two men caring for (or neglecting) their elderly mother.

There's nothing sour about familial drama in Me and My Moulton, a candy-colored charmer by Torill Kove. Here, line-drawn figures that could star in a preschooler's picture book enact the adolescence of three sisters whose parents are their small town's resident nonconformists. Dad had the only moustache in the whole town, we're told in amusingly exasperated voiceover; they're both modernist architects, you see, and their love of haute design creates problems when the girls start asking for a bicycle. The Canadian Kove, who was born and raised in Norway, won the Oscar for 2006's The Danish Poet — this film is a strong contender for another.

Rounding the program out to feature length are unnominated but "Highly Commended" shorts including Sweet Cocoon (a dialogue-free nephew of Pixar's A Bug's Life), Bill Plympton's eco-conscious Footprints, the sentimental Duet and the chuckle-worthy neoprimitive outing Bus Story.

Production company: Shorts HD

Producers: Carter Pilcher, Leif Nelson

No rating, 76 minutes

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