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A Glimpse at Oscar's Nominated Animated Shorts

by Chris Feil

Is this an off year for the Animated Short category? It’s (shamefully) my first year to catch the entire lineup, but unfortunately that seems to be the general response. If you check out the films in theatres you will also be treated to a few of the shortlisted contenders, but the package sadly doesn’t include the delightful In A Heartbeat. Even if this is also the least exciting lineup of the three Short categories this year, there are still delights to be found in this category, with animation styles the run the full spectrum from hand-drawn to computer generated to stop motion animation. Let’s look at the nominees...

Dear Basketball
Yes, you read that correctly: Kobe Bryant is an Oscar nominee for this autobiographical short. It originated from his retirement announcement, and is humble and straightforward enough to make up for its fluffiness. But Dear Basketball is the weakest in the lineup and plays like the opening reel of a tribute for the athlete with all of its saccharine awe. However, it is the only tradition 2D-animated film and its charcoal design does have some lovely notes throughout to compliment its easily digestible humanity.

Garden Party
If your skin crawls over amphibians, Garden Party is decidedly not for you. This is certainly the most adult of the bunch, its visual storytelling unfolding a mystery that is both ominous and hilariously matter-of-fact. There is a certain ick factor to this plot-slim vision of a mansion overrun by frogs but also some photo-real wonder and more surprise than any of its competitors. One wonders if being the most distinct film in the lineup could play to its benefit for a surprise win. But the responses I’ve seen to this are less positive than my affection across the board, so maybe it’s just me.

This Pixar short played before Cars 3 this past summer and presents something nearly as ghoulish as that feature film: some kind of primary school ghost reanimates the toys within a Lost and Found box and terrorizes the playground bully into returning each toy to its rightful owner. A lot of unanswered businessy questions: Why does this school have a ghost? Is he just the spirit of the final teddy bear? How can Lou see if his baseball eyes are given away?? There is noticeably intricate animation to Lou’s spry movements that makes this a technical wonder to go with its sweet tone. Pixar did win last year after an extended dry spell, so maybe their momentum is back.

Negative Space
Both the most emotionally complex and tonally varied of the animated shorts, Negative Space poetically compares emotional compartmentalization to packing a suitcase. There’s something achingly personal and ironic to its father-son tale, but the silm undercuts it with witty stop-motion brilliance. Most of the nominated animated features have less detail and tonal texture than this little gem. It’s the one that leaves you wanting more and lingers longest, and perhaps a major threat to win.

Revolting Rhymes
Roald Dahl fans like myself will catch their breath when the beloved author’s name appears in the credits for this computer animated adaptation. But you’d hardly recognize his distinct voice considering its sourced from his book of variations on the most familiar fairy tales. This is the Part One of two shorts but it does feel like an episode of a program for very young children selected at random, which certainly won’t help for a win. It does however have some hearty laughs and could benefit from being the longest nominee.

Should Win - Negative Space
Could Win - Lou or Dear Basketball
Will Win - Negative Space

Have you seen this year's nominated Animated Shorts?

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Reader Comments (11)

nice post , keep it up

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHealthyTipsByUs

team negative space all the way. voiced by SYLVIO director albert birney - hope he gets to go

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Thank you for mentioning In a Heartbeat. Still bitter.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I wish the short-listed CRADLE had made it in, but of these five GARDEN PARTY is comfortably my favourite.

NEGATIVE SPACE left me cold. Felt more like an elaborate setup to a maudlin punchline.

REVOLTING RHYMES, like THE GRUFFALO and ROOM ON THE BROOM before it, has no business being here. It *is* a kids television special, and if we consider Parts 1 and 2 together it clocks in at nearly an hour. How can this possibly qualify as "Animated Short"?

LOU was... m'eh.

The hagiography of DEAR BASKETBALL (like a pharaoh erecting a monument to himself) would make an embarrassing winner. Glen Keane, on the other hand, would make an *inspired* winner in this category. I'm rooting for it just to see him holding an Oscar (we can pretend Kobe isn't there).

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterN8

Totally agree about the weakness of the field, but my vote would be for Garden Party.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s

I love Garden Party! And Revolting Rhymes is delightful! -- but I do agree that it is NOT a short film

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Just saw these last night. While none were A+, they were consistently good, no real stinkers as in past years. My personal ranking:

REVOLTING RHYMES: The best narrative of the bunch, funny, and that Roald Dahl wit.

LOU: Cute, and a few folks teared up in my theater. Yes, the mechanics don't quite make sense but if you just go with it it's quite enjoyable.

NEGATIVE SPACE: Quietly powerful, loved the compartmentalization metaphor. Abrupt but rewarding ending.

DEAR BASKETBALL: Point: Would this have been nominated if it starred anyone else other than Kobe Bryant? Counterpoint: Would I like it better if it was about anyone else other than Kobe Bryant?

GARDEN PARTY: Animation excellent, but too slight plot-wise.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

Yes, this year's roster is not all that great, with only NEGATIVE SPACE really feeling like a triumph of both animation and storytelling. DEAR BASKETBALL is probably the worst movie nominated over every category, and REVOLTING RHYMES is basic Sunday morning cartoons and I don't quite understand why the branch likes these filmmakers so much (they also nominated ROOM ON A BROOM, which was equally uninspiring. GARDEN PARTY is a great demo reel of animation that nonetheless teases out its story in a fun way. LOU is... a cute Pixar short. My big question was... why didn't any of those school kids just look in the lost and found box to find their toys? How strange.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I saw LOU a few months ago and never thought I’d have a forum to point out this observation: the recess bully looks like Spot from The Good Dinosaur, if Spot were a few years older.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

I've never gotten over the fact that Glen Keane's "Duet" from a few years back wasn't nominated. It was beautiful, from concept to artistry to music...

February 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I’d definitley go for either negative space or garden party. Loved the stop motion of the former and the story rollout of the latter. The others were unremarkable.

February 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMikey67

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