Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Animation

This year&#8217;s compilation of Oscar-nominated animated shorts offers another chance to catch the likely winner, the Mickey Mouse dazzler <i>Get a Horse!</i> (though not in 3D), plus some artful also-rans.

In a welcome tradition, every year at this time Shorts HD compiles the Oscar-nominated short films into theatrical programs, and the animation category is invariably the most audience-friendly. But the 2014 edition includes a short that’s already been seen by millions of moviegoers: Get a Horse!, the dazzling 3D return of Mickey Mouse that’s the curtain-raiser (and fourth-wall-breaker) for the Disney blockbuster Frozen.

Alongside Frozen itself in the animated feature category, Get a Horse! is the likely Oscar winner here. It’s among the most striking examples of 3D this writer has ever seen, conjuring the illusion that Mickey and his friends have actually burst through the screen and are present “in the flesh” on the virtual stage of the auditorium. And that’s after an uncanny facsimile of an early-sound-era, black-and-white Disney cartoon has convinced you that a lost Mickey gem has been rediscovered. The rubber-limbed anarchy of those 1920s and ’30s shorts soon invades the theatre in third-dimensional color, as Mickey takes advantage of the broken movie frame to rescue his sweetheart Minnie from the clutches of the villainous Peg-Leg Pete. Unfortunately, Get a Horse! will not be screened in 3D in this Oscar program, so its impact will be muted. But the craft, wit and ingenuity of director Lauren MacMullan and her team will remain clear.

The Disney short’s closest competition is Luxembourg and France’s Mr. Hublot, a fantastical vision of a world where everything—and everyone—appears to be made from spare parts. Mr. Hublot (no doubt an homage to Jacques Tati’s famed Mr. Hulot) is a lonely obsessive-compulsive with a numerical counter on his forehead and a telescopic lens mounted next to his ever-present goggles. The barking mechanical dog across the street captures his attention, and he panics one morning when a garbage truck seems to dispose of the cardboard box where the mutt has been taking shelter. But the canine turns up at his side, and a relieved Hublot decides to take in the orphaned creature—who then proceeds to grow and grow and grow, beyond the confines of his cramped apartment. Directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares deliver some delightful sight gags as this eager, devoted but very unwieldy pet disrupts the heretofore regimented and repressed life of his new master. The sensational, surreal art direction alone is worth a look.

Daniel Sousa’s U.S. entry, Feral, is a handsomely designed fable of a wild boy raised in the woods who is discovered by a hunter, tamed, dressed like a proper young man and deposited in a local school. But when his classmates gang up on him, he reverts to his original nature and undergoes yet another transformation. The rough, spare drawing style, with a mainly black, white and gray palette, is a perfect match for this rather truncated but effective tale.

The longest entry in the program is Britain’s Room on the Broom, and you do feel the length. Adapted from a children’s book by Julia Donaldson, this very simple tale concerns a genial witch who keeps losing items (her hat, her bow, her wand) as she flies through the air on her broom. Every time she touches down on land to retrieve her possession, she makes a new friend (a dog, a bird, a frog) who asks if she has room on her broom for another passenger, much to the chagrin of her jealous cat. The one major complication: a fearsome dragon in hot pursuit. Despite a top-shelf voice cast including Gillian Anderson (who basically just giggles a lot), Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Sally Hawkins and narrator Simon Pegg, the end result is a monotonous nursery story only the very young might enjoy.

Finally, Japan offers Shuhei Morita’s Possessions, a Miyazaki-like, supernatural tale of a man who takes shelter from a storm in an ancient shrine where objects spring magically to life thanks to the spirits residing there. Fortunately, the wanderer knows how to make the most of a potentially unnerving situation, by repairing the torn frog-life umbrellas he encounters and stitching together the reams of cloth that swirl around him. He even manages to subdue a giant monster that emerges from the junk in a closet. Not much happens plot-wise here, but the designs of the fabrics and costumes are dazzling and the lighting effects are dramatic.

As always, the program is rounded out to feature length by “highly commended” entries like A La Francaise, which imagines 1700 Versailles populated entirely by poultry, and Ireland’s The Missing Scarf, a story of life’s most common fears, narrated by George Takei.