Who Views Short Shorts
TMT Weighs in on 2014’s Oscar-Nominated Shorts

CATEGORY: ANIMATION

Room on the Broom (Dir. Jan Lachauer and Max Lang)

One of the (presumably) bigger-budget animated films, Room On The Broom conforms to standard animation tropes for a project like this (adaptation of a popular book, famous cast, cutesy score, erudite narrator). In case the film leaves you wanting more, the Room On The Broom website helpfully advertises a “sparkling new game app” and toys for sale. Hey, at least they know their audience! There’s melody in the characters voiced by notables like Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins, and Simon Pegg, and Broom doesn’t lack charm, but anyone whose age isn’t in the single digits will likely find it a snooze. (1.5/5)SL

Possessions (Dir. Shuhei Morita)

Linear narrative, thematic simplicity, and a coherent, cartoonish drawing style give Possessions a definite heft and shape. Shuhei Morita’s confident parable is at its strongest in its magical passages, where flurries of action give the feudal-era Japan forest setting an energy that is too often lacking from the piece. Yet at just over 10 minutes in length, the thing still manages to drag somehow. The repairman figure — serving double duty as the short’s sole human character and as tribune for the traditional values on show in Possessions — too often has nothing to do but wait. The waiting sequences drag a bit, but where Room on the Broom runs through endless laps of its repetitive character-development plot loop, Possessions avoids the repetition trap and the strictly-for-kids feel that comes with it. The result is satisfying, despite being slight and a bit too preachy. (3.5/5) –AP

Get A Horse! (Dir. Lauren MacMullan)

The necessary Disney entry in the animated shorts category this year is Get A Horse!. It’s been screening in theaters before their feature hit Frozen, and it’s worth noting that both films are directed by women (in fact, Get A Horse! director Lauren MacMullan is the first woman to have a solo directing credit on an animated Disney movie). That political distinction aside, I found the film sweet but a little dull. It’s certainly constructed in a clever way, but I’m not sure if this style of hybrid, self-conscious media worked for me. For the first third of this six-minute film, Get A Horse! is modeled on the hand-drawn Disney animation style of the late 1920s. At that point, Mickey Mouse bursts through the screen and into his modern full-color, CGI iteration. The film’s basic plot follows Mickey and Minnie Mouse as they are chased and tormented by Peg-Leg Pete, and during these chases, the characters dip back and forth between the retro, black-and-white world and the modern CGI proscenium (for some reason, the modern world is represented by a movie theater stage — upon arrival Minnie looks around and goes, “Where are we? Poughkeepsie?”). Although most of the film is a faithful recreation, Mickey’s voice is mined from the vaults and is literally pure Walt Disney. Still, I’d trade this manufactured cleverness for last year’s elegant Paperman, a kind of PG-animated missed connections that felt both timeless and unique. (2.5/5)SL

TMT PICK (TIE): Feral (Dir. Daniel Sousa)

Feral is a simple story, breathed to life in (mostly) muted, shadowy blacks, greys, and whites. I liked the flow of the images here, the lack of dialogue, and, yes, even the heavy symbolism. A hunter finds a feral child in the woods, takes him back to town and attempts to domesticate him, but the boy breaks free and returns to the wild. The melancholy score nicely fits the story, a coherence that is echoed in many of the film’s formal choices. To up Feral’s hip factor, filmmaker Daniel Sousa has made the film available on Vimeo for rental or purchase. That would be a buck well spent. (4/5)Susanna Locascio

TMT PICK (TIE): Mr. Hublot (Dir. Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares)

There is great value in showing without telling, though that binary may be less useful in animation where every object and concept shown on screen can be completely controlled by the author. Mr. Hublot invites the eye to linger over little details of its steampunk robo-future, such as the analog scrolling counter windows cut into the forehead of its titular tinker character. As the eye lingers, the mind cobbles, and the result is a rough-hewn sense of the larger world inhabited by Hublot and the robo-pup he adopts. There’s something sickly-sweet at the center of the narrative — capable, eccentric, probably-OCD loner adopts hapless sub-species dependent, learns hard lessons about self and world — but if you can ignore that for the dozen or so minutes that Mr. Hublot putters around in front of your face, you may find much to enjoy about the world-building work that’s going on in the details here. The visual work here, which wraps a Despicable Me-like animation style in smoggy grays and stultifying browns, is enough fun to fiddle with mentally that the stock tropes of the narrative hardly irritate. Best of all, no one speaks; Lauren Witz and Alexandre Espigares leave you to sort it out for yourself. (4/5)AP