Tim here. Having already looked at the newly-minted Best Animated Feature Oscar nominees, let's turn for a little bit towards that category's older, smaller sibling, Best Short Subject - Animated. We already briefly discussed these films back when the 10-title shortlist was announced, but now that it has been whittled down to five, let's take a more in-depth look at each of them.
Feral (Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden)
For solely aesthetic purposes, this would be my favorite of the nominees. It's a simple enough story: a boy raised by wolves is brought back to civilization and has a hard time of it. The greatness lies in the marriage of that scenario with rough impressionistic images, some which look like extra-bleak newspaper comics, some which look like somebody was trying a sheet of paper apart using a pencil.
It's the most distinctive of the five by far, looking handcrafted because it so emphatically is: some of the images are drawn on computer, some are hand-painted, but they all have a desperate crudeness that lacks the polish of most animation, and this couldn't be a better fit for the material. It's available to rent for $1 on Vimeo.
Get a Horse! (Lauren Mac Mullan and Dorothy McKim)
Easily the most widely-seen of the nominees, by virtue of being attached to Frozen, and thus the likely frontrunner under the current rules (as of last year, the category is voted on by the Academy at large, no longer requiring voters to have seen all five nominees). The best argument against it winning is that, with another Walt Disney Animation Studios project likely to take the prize in the feature category, some voters might be reluctant to award the same company twice. Regardless, it would be a worthy winner: the craftsmanship is elegant and earnest about hewing to cartoon logic, and the gimmick - marrying a '30s-style Mickey cartoon with 3D CGI models of the same characters - is ingenious. A little trivial and gag-driven, but it's one of the most high-energy things theaters saw in 2013.
Incidentally, in its zeal to make sure we all know how progressive it's being, Disney has made sure everybody knows that MacMullan is the first solo female director of any WDAS project in history. Which, in 2014, doesn't exactly seem like a bragging point so much as as a horrible shame that you'd hope nobody picks up on, but it's not like keeping up with the modern world has ever been a huge concern over there.
Mr. Hublot (Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares)
One of two shorts that I haven't been able to dig up yet. Its Witz's first project; co-director and head animator Espigares has clocked in work on some fine projects including the dazzling if frivolously-plotted 9, and the TV show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The official site is packed with information, all of which leads me to believe that the chief appeal here is the exploration of a vividly-designed world, and this is something that short animation can get away with if that design is striking enough. Based on the stills, that clearly looks to be the case here.
Possessions (Shuhei Morita)
The other one I haven't been able to dig up, but from the stills and clips available throughout the internet at this site or that, I'm more eager to see this than just about any other animated thing I'll encounter in 2014. The images are shaded in a particularly delicate, painted fashion, a happy combination of traditional anime lines and shapes and colors with texture and shadow that could only be practically possible in a computer environment. If I had a gun to my head, this would be my pick for the likeliest challenger to Get a Horse! - even from promotional material, it's easy to tell that this is the most straight-up beautiful film of the lot.
Room on the Broom (Max Lang and Jan Lachauer)
The studio behind the nominated The Gruffalo (also co-directed by Lang) and the non-nominated The Gruffalo's Child, based on a picture book by the same author-illustrator pair, and to be blunt about it, I don't quite understand why it's here. It's a light, pleasant, far too long children's story (like the Gruffalo dyad, it started life as a TV special) that doesn't push the colorful, gentle vinyl-toy aesthetic of those movies into any particularly new directions, and the story it tells - a witch lets several animals hitch a ride on her broom, then a dragon shows up - is nice but hardly revolutionary for children's entertainment. I guess it gives the "cartoons are for kids" contingent a rallying point, but that doesn't tend to be a factor in this race.
In the near future, Shorts International will be distributing these nominees, as well as the live action and documentary shorts, in theaters and through iTunes. Keep an eye out for them!