Last year, Mary and I went to our first screening of all the Oscar Animated Shorts for 2014. We were delighted at the eclectic group of shorts that varied extraordinarily from their country origin, to their run time, to their visual style, and most importantly, to their overall message. Unfortunately, this year’s selections were not as strong as last year’s. They were still good but they didn’t have that “oomph” that last year’s selections had.
What’s more, in 2014, Mary and I were divided between our two favorites. She liked the Japanese-produced “Possessions” and the Luxembourg-produced “Mr Hublot” while I liked “Possessions” and the Disney-produced “Get a Horse!” But for 2015, we unanimously agreed that “The Dam Keeper” was the best out of the five nominees.
Out of the five nominees (and several non-nominated shorts), “The Dam Keeper” was definitely the strongest, and probably most original, out of all of them. Why? Well, let me tackle the other nominees first to give you why this is my pick for best Oscar Animated Short for 2015.
To begin with, I’m glad that the non-nominated shorts were not nominated as they were definitely the weaker shorts. “Bus Story” and “Duet” had an underwhelming story while “Sweet Cocoon” had a predictable ending with animation that looked to be on par with a children’s television show. “Footprints” was the strongest of the four thanks to its exaggerated animation, great music, and story that continued to hold me to the end.
In fact, if given the option, I would have switched Disney’s “Feast” with “Footprints” as a nominated short. Now let me be frank here, I loved last year’s “Get a Horse!” as it was hilarious and had a great concept behind it that was well executed. I don’t think anything like that could be topped. “Feast,” on the other hand, though adorable, lovingly animated, and well thought-out, did not have that extra something to make it special. I liked it but its play-by-the-rules attitude to story and animation holds it back from earning that Oscar.
What didn’t play by the rules was “The Bigger Picture,” the British short that used real life sets and props to animate the story. The style at first is jarring but after you quickly get used to it it seems natural to the depressing plot on hand. I liked how the short animated the water using saran wrap or how the protagonist shut his brother up by slamming open a cabinet door onto his face. My real fault with the short however is the story. It played with your heartstring by dealing with such heavy topics as taking care of your elderly parents, unhelpful and ungrateful siblings, or death. That I’m fine with. However, the story felt kind of…unresolved…there was no closing for the will, or the mother’s forgiveness to her caring son, or a resolution for the brothers’ tension towards one another. Perhaps the short was supposed to emanate real life but if that was case then it was certainly lost on me. Granted, of all the shorts this was definitely the most real-like of the five but even then, a story without a resolution seems empty.
“Me and My Moulton” I definitely liked better than “The Bigger Picture.” First off, I liked the simple design, the flat colors, and the contained story that it held. This complimented this nostalgic retelling of a woman’s past as it painted the world from a child’s perspective. What’s more, we only see things from her point of view and as such, there’s a very “grass is greener” vibe going on, especially when she compares her family to her neighbor’s family. The whole short reminded me of Nickelodeon’s Doug thanks to its down-to-earth feeling. The simple designs also reminded me of the old European comics like Tintin thanks to the simple, black dot eyes and the vibrant, unblending colors. And as a side note, I liked how the father’s blind eye was slightly off-kilter compared to his normal eye, nice touch.
Next up, we get to the shortest of the nominees (a whopping 2 minutes), “A Single Life.” When I saw the time stamp for this movie I was wondering how the heck they were going to tell a story in that time frame. But boy was I surprise! A record controlling time is probably not new but the way the animators delivered this concept was fantastic. It told a story in such a succinct and delicious manner that you can’t help but be swept up by it. And that ending! That was great.
Honestly, the only thing holding back “A Single Life” would probably be its brevity. And don’t get me wrong, brevity is fine but when you compare it to a full fledge story that you can latch onto and follow its progression smoothly then you’re on shaky ground. Such is the way for the final nominee, “The Dam Keeper” which doesn’t have the faults its fellow nominees have.
“The Dam Keeper” has a nice story length with good pacing, it sets the ground rules for its universe fairly early on, it has a unique style to it, and its story is wholly original. True, anthropomorphized animals is definitely nothing new, but the world that is built around them seems fresh. I also like how a lot of things are kind of left up in the air such as what the darkness exactly is, why the pig is in charge of keeping the darkness at bay or why the windmill has the power to stop the darkness. This doesn’t matter so much as the story between the friendship of a young fox and pig. So wrapped up with it I was that when the pig decided to let the town suffer and let the darkness come in, I was genially surprise at the short’s direction and honestly thought it would end there. Then, when the pig saw his friend’s drawing, I again thought the story was going to end there with this even bigger downer ending. Fortunately, the pig was able to save the town and subsequently his friend’s life. The ending was quite happy if not relieving and left a generally uplifting note in the air.
Now, if I were a betting man, I would bet the Oscars would pick Disney’s “Feast” as the winner because of its happy, warm, feel-good approach. I would be 100% positive about this if it weren’t for the fact that Disney hasn’t won every year it was in the race. Heck, last year’s “Get a Horse” lost to “Mr Hublot” which surprised me. I’m hoping that “The Dam Keeper” will win this year because it deserves it. If not it then I would be content with “A Single Life” or “Me and My Moulton” winning it as well because they told a better story compared to the bland, predictable “Feast.” Fingers crossed!