Oscar Circuit: Best Animated Short


Winners of last year's "Best Animated Short Film" for 'The Lost Thing.'

We draw closer and closer to that inevitable and exciting day when the Oscars are announced, seeing how our predictions stack up and whether our favorite films get their deserving honors. Like last week’s Oscar Circuit article on “Best Live Action Short,” the “Best Animated Short” category is often forgotten by moviegoers who just want to see the major awards announced. That’s a shame, because there are some truly innovative animated films out this award’s season whose studios, one in particular this year, have the potential to become major power players in the animation industry. I see animated short films as both poems and experiments. You have small studios like Moonbot Industries and StudioAKA unafraid to showcase their talents with great little stories featuring some often bizarre yet stylistically impressive animation. Everything is so compact and told in such little time, but the emotion that pours through in those brief minutes is often more gripping than a full length feature. The nominees this year are no exception.

The 2012 Nominees for “Best Animated Short Film” Are…

  • Sunday/Dimanche — Patrick Doyan
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore — William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • La Luna — Enrico Casarosa
  • A Morning Stroll — Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • Wild Life — Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis

These films all prove that despite some Animated Features delivering lackluster work this year, there wasn’t a drop in animation quality as far as the Oscar nominated animated shorts were concerned. Two films this year came from Canada, two from the United States, and one from our neighbors across the pond in the United Kingdom. Below I will go through each of the films briefly but determine what kind of Oscar chances each one possesses. For a more in-depth analysis of each film, check out my review of the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts here. Now then, let’s drive right into each film and see if we can possibly make sense of how the big evening is going to go for these small, but hugely effective, animated shorts.

Canada’s Sunday/Dimanche is about one ordinary, some may say extraordinary, day in the life of a small Canadian boy. The film’s uniqueness is that there is absolutely no narrative to be found. There are random events that occur sporadically throughout the Sunday, from the boy being dragged by his overbearing church to a fantasy sequence of interaction with a bear, whose head is stuck in a window. The way Patrick Doyan directs is genius in that every perspective comes from the boy himself, so its a great way to travel back in time and see things the way children normally do, even if some of those events aren’t really happening. The film never explains whether what we see is fantasy or reality, and that is part of its charm. The film has won a “Special Mention” award from the Berlin Festival for “Best Short Film,” but has failed to gain traction anywhere else. For first time nominated director, Patrick Doyan, I don’t expect any Oscar gold to come his way on the big night. The film may be charming but ultimately inconsequential for voters of the Academy, and with no previous nominations, Doyan won’t have as much support from the Academy like a Pixar production would. This film has affected viewers in a polarizing way, and even though I personally love it, it stands the least likely chance of winning the Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film.” Running Time: 10 minutes.

Moonbot Studious has arrived in a big way, and creates the single best animated short film I have ever seen with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The story follows a young writer named Mr. Morris Lessmore, and when his town is suddenly hit by a hurriance, we go back to Kansas instead of the magical world of Oz. The film pays great homage to the 1939 classic film as well as giving tribute to author L. Frank Baum’s ability to provide stories that invigorated the lives of those who read them. The movie reminds us of the incredible power that books have to offer in grounding us and reminding us what an imaginative and fulfilling universe they can be. It could not have come at a better time, considering bookstores are closing everywhere across the country, and people seem to be in too much of a rush to sit down and get lost in a book. Skimming through an e-book on your iPhone is not absorption of literature — it’s a marginalization of it. With beautiful sequences that light up and show us what revolutionary steps animated films are still making, you could not ask for a more perfect animated short film. Writer and director, William Joyce, has zero previous nominations, but was nominated for a Producers Guild of America award in animation for Robots, and he is also a two-time winner for a Daytime Emmy for his animated series, “Rolie Polie Olie.”  The Fantastic Flying Books of  Mr. Morris Lessmore may not have the prestigious name of Pixar, or won any major awards thus far, but the film is simply too incredible to not win the Oscar for “Best Animated Short Film.” The film suits Oscar like a tee, and I am banking on it in a major way come Oscar night. Running Time: 15 Minutes.

La Luna is just one more disappointing effort from Pixar last year on top of the much lambasted Cars 2. Pixar is getting away far too much with cutesy characters and little gimmicks to provide a sweetness to their short animated films. I’m getting a little tired of it. Without going into too much detail, this animated short follows a family who have a mysterious connection with the moon. When you discover the connection, you kind of wonder, “Is that all?” Although the animation is stellar as always, we’ve seen better animated shorts from Pixar in the past with a deeper message told within a stronger narrative. Of the animated short films, La Luna impressed me the least. However, this is Pixar we are talking about, so it is certainly in serious contention for the grand win on February 26th. This is Enrico Casarosa’s first Oscar nomination, having previously worked as a storyboard artist for Pixar in films like Ratatouille and Up. The shift from storyboard artist to head director isn’t as smooth as you would hope. There is nothing in this film that strikes as refreshing or innovative, and ultimately that is why I think it will lose the Oscar to Morris Lessmore. I am probably going to end up cursing my television screen when this film inevitably wins, but I have to go on quality of work shown, and this certainly is far from the quality Pixar can normally deliver in spades. Running Time: 7 Minutes

A Morning Stroll is the United Kingdom’s animated short film that recently picked up the BAFTA, unsurprisingly, and is a definite dark horse in this race. I think the animation is superlative. The way the film goes from the generational gaps in time, with intervals of fifty years, and shows all the ways in which humanity and animation have evolved is both original and a visual splendor. Grant Orchard takes the classical riddle of the “Chicken Who Crossed the Road,” and turns it into a fable of mankind’s evolution. That final sequence, like I noted in my review, is memorable in its graphic animation and the suspense it provides. The film certainly ends on an exciting note. Everything good about animation is depicted in this short film, and I happen to think it could stand the test of time if more people were to see it. This is Grant Orchard’s first time nominated for an Oscar, but with the BAFTA win and the “Short Filmmaking Award” for an Animated Feature at the Sundance Film Festival, he could very well make his acquaintance with Mr. Oscar. I don’t see the Academy embracing this film as much as the YouTube generation will, but who knows. Maybe they want to be hip for once! Running Time: 7 Minutes

Wild Life is Canada’s second contribution to this year’s “Best Animated Short Film” category. Wild Life centers around a young rancher who leaves his home in the United Kingdom to make a life for himself as a rancher in the wild and mostly uninhabited Canadian landscape. Of all the directors nominated in this category, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis are veterans in the group, having been previously nominated for their 1999 Animated Short, When the Day Breaks. The problem with Tilby and Forbis is that they are the Terrence Malick’s of Animation. Their work has a profound message hidden under layers of monologues and intertitles  that try and create an overall emotional theme. Unfortunately, the delivery feels very heavy-handed and could turn off some Academy voters who like their animation to be uplifting and bright instead of melancholic and tragic. Wild Life is plagued by intertitles that break our concentration from the story at hand. We get that the film wants to make an analogy between a comet and this doomed rancher, but it’s all a bit too overbearing in its attempt to educate us about literary technique rather than let us sit back and watch a film unfold. I think there is ambition in this animated short, but its execution is imperfect and frustrating. I just don’t see the Academy embracing this film as much as some of the other nominated films in the same category. Tilby and Forbis may have experience being appreciated by Oscar, but they still haven’t eked a win and I doubt they will with this flawed effort. Running Time: 13 Minutes

And that is a wrap for the “Best Animated Short Film” category. It’s going to a be a nail-biting few moments when the presenters announce this award, because I honestly don’t know what will happen. I have my hopes, but Pixar can come and ruin everything I had thought possible. Let me just say, if you have the opportunity to see one of these unique films, please watch The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I assure you, you will not regret it!

Prediction: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Possible Upset: La Luna
Snubbed: I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat

Please post below and tell me who you think will win and should win. Has anyone seen any of these animated shorts yet? Please enlighten us below in the comments section with your thoughts and opinions!

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My name is Joseph Braverman. I am 24 years old and a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. I love watching and analyzing films and television shows. I have a huge obsession with "Best Of" or "Top #" lists. I am currently living in Los Angeles, CA, trying to become enmeshed in the movie industry scene in any way possible. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @JBAwardsCircuit.