Sweeping epics and twisty capers are all well and good, but for a long time, the short films have been my favorite categories at the Oscars.
And maybe it's all those childhood hours watching classic Looney Tunes and Disney Silly Symphonies, but the animated shorts always rank among the highlights for me when it comes time to prepare for the Academy Awards.
The 86th Academy Awards will be handed out March 2, and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is in the midst of its Oscar Tune-Up. The annual film feast includes servings of the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts this weekend and Feb. 28-March 2. The short documentaries will be shown Feb. 25-27.
Per usual, Disney is represented among the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, although not with the mini-movie I would have preferred. The technological razzle-dazzle of “Get a Horse!,” which is showing in theaters with “Frozen,” is nominated, while Pixar's endearingly lovely “The Blue Umbrella,” which was packaged with “Monsters University,” sadly isn't.
“Get a Horse!” packs plenty of whiz-bang fun into six minutes with its fourth-wall-busting mash-up of vintage and computer-animated Mouse House high jinks. It starts out as a black-and-white homage to the “Steamboat Willie” era, with Mickey Mouse and his pals enjoying a hayride until the villainous Peg-Leg Pete tries to ruin their outing. Over the course of their skirmish, Mickey busts through the movie screen into the “real” world, where he is trapped in full-color CGI and enlists the help of Horace the horse to rescue Minnie.
Unfortunately, director Lauren MacMullan's “Get a Horse!” doesn't have the same emotional resonance of “The Blue Umbrella” or last year's Oscar-winning animated short, Disney's “Paperman,” which also melded modern-day and old-school techniques and aesthetics.
The colorful cartoon “Room on the Broom,” a warm, star-studded adaptation of the British picture book by writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, casts a sweet, if short-lived, spell for both adults and children. Narrated by Simon Pegg, it follows a kindly but clumsy witch (voice of Gillian Anderson) who suddenly finds her broom overloaded with misfit critters.
The magic is more potent — and weirdly wonderful — in Shuhei Morita's “Possessions,” about a man who seeks shelter from a storm in a dilapidated shrine and discovers the aged household items inside have developed their own souls and take exception to being thoughtlessly discarded. The Japanese short pairs eye-popping visuals like dancing parasols and swirling wallpaper with a story that has the gravitas of a wise and mysterious folk tale.
A simple, mostly silent tale about loneliness and change, “Mr. Hublot” hails from France and Luxembourg but is set in a richly detailed steampunk fantasy land. The title character, a solitary robotic fussbudget, finds his carefully ordered life turned to chaos when he rescues a stray mechanical dog. Co-directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares make you believe robots have feelings — and make you feel them, too.
The air of disquiet and dread permeates the most powerful short on the animated slate, the mostly silent and highly stylized “Feral.” Writer/director Daniel Sousa's tale of a wild boy who is rescued by a hunter who tries to integrate the child into civilization is the most abstract in the category. Rendered in shades of black, white and gray, it presents its characters — human and animal alike — as shifting, shadowy featureless forms, heightening the sense of unease. It's only 12 minutes, but it's one that will linger in the mind long after it's over.
The five nominated shorts will be shown with three other acclaimed animated mini-movies: the aforementioned “Blue Umbrella,” “A La Francaise” and “The Missing Scarf,” which is narrated by George Takei.
— Brandy McDonnell