Hi everyone, Tim here. Those who know me in my other life at Antagony & Ecstasy are well aware of my affection for animation in its many forms, and starting this week, that’s going to be carried over here to the Film Experience. Officially, as of now, this space will be home to a weekly column about the current world of animation with, I suspect, regular guest appearances from classics of both American and international animated cinema.
And there's some pretty exciting news to kick things off. Right on the heels of the announcement of the 19 films submitted for consideration this year in the feature category, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced the ten-film list of titles that will be competing for the Best Animated Short Oscar. It feels a little bit like a course correction after last year, which saw two major studio releases hit the final five: the only brand-name contestant in the lot is the Walt Disney Animation Studios film Get a Horse! , a new Mickey Mouse vehicle that’s going to be attached to Frozen when it makes its wide-release bow later this month. Rather conspicuously, The Blue Umbrella, Pixar’s annual short this year, failed to show up, perhaps because the plot is a functional retread of last year’s winning film Paperman.
Feral – Daniel Sousa, director, and Dan Golden, music and sound design (Daniel Sousa)
I know nothing of Sousa’s previous work, but the trailer makes this one look pretty incredible: a very penciled, scratchy aesthetic with the apparent illusion of mixed media.
Get a Horse! – Lauren MacMullan, director, and Dorothy McKim, producer (Walt Disney Feature Animation)
If nothing else, this sounds like it’s going to be a fun throwback to the more prankstery, old-school Mickey that Disney has been marketing all year. As the only big studio project, this is the one thing I’m willing to call locked for a nomination this year.
Gloria Victoria – Theodore Ushev, director (National Film Board of Canada)
Not only is the NFB one of the few national film programs that fulfills its mission of allowing talented people a change to make challenging, unusual work, it’s also great at making sure that work can be seen. By which I mean, you can watch this short online right now. Personally, I like the marriage of Shostakovich and 1920s-style lines and color, though the implicit narrative about civilization and warfare is a little overworked for such a small movie.
Hollow Land – Uri Kranot and Michelle Kranot, directors (Dansk Tegnefilm, Les Films de l’Arlequin and the National Film Board of Canada)
Right now the material online consists of a trailer and a clip, and though the very flat stop-motion animation is certainly striking, as is the dramatic darkness of the sets and lighting, it has the feel of a lot of other pantomime shorts out there. But there’s apparently quite a lot of story in there about the immigrant experience.
The Missing Scarf – Eoin Duffy, director, and Jamie Hogan, producer (Belly Creative Inc.)
Brightly colored and almost unbearably cute-looking, though we are promised that this will turn out to be ironic; you can watch the trailer for a taste. It stands out, but there’s not enough to say whether it’s going to be bright and imaginative and interesting, or suffocating in its overwrought pop-saturated images. George Takei as narrator does not immediately give one cause for hope.
Mr. Hublot – Laurent Witz, director, and Alexandre Espigares, co-director (Zeilt Productions)
A hand-hewn mechanized world in which a man lives in deliberate isolation, this one is going to live or die on the strength of its design, which seems from the brief trailer to be very much in the tradition of City of Lost Children or Terry Gilliam at his least disciplined.That might be delightful in a short enough presentation; we'll have to wait and see.
Possessions – Shuhei Morita, director (Sunrise Inc.)
I can’t find more than a still online from this anime-style marriage of 2-D and 3-D animation technique (the same mix that helped Paperman to its Oscar), nor a terribly helpful description of the plot. That being said, this category loves impressive technological work, and this seems like it’s got that in spades.
Requiem for Romance – Jonathan Ng, director (Kungfu Romance Productions Inc.)
Another film available in its entirety online.The visuals are tremendous: spare lines, flowing water ink backgrounds, and a nice nod to traditional Chinese art overall. But God, is it appallingly precious: awww, the break-up is reflected in the fight choreography! Clever enough, but banal as all hell, and I would certainly rather watch it with the sound turned off, which is probably not what Ng was going for.
Room on the Broom – Max Lang and Jan Lachauer, directors (Magic Light Pictures)
A star-packed TV special from the creators of The Gruffalo (a nominee in 2010) and The Gruffalo’s Child (which didn’t even make the shortlist last year), made in a virtually identical style. I haven’t seen this one, but my problems with both Gruffalo films are identical (too long and slow-paced, the character design is very same-ey and uninteresting), and this doesn’t seem to be any different.
Subconscious Password - Chris Landreth, director (National Film Board of Canada with the participation of Seneca College Animation Arts Centre and Copperheart Entertainment)
Landreth is a two-time nominee, and won in 2004 for Ryan, so it certainly doesn’t do to write this one off. But the deliberately gross mixed-media style (which you can see in the trailer) is absolutely not the kind of thing that everybody will respond to, and enough of it barely looks like “animation” as we typically think of it that I strongly suspect this one has a rough uphill battle.