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Oscar Nominated Short Films 2023 Review: Animation

On Oscar night, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” will almost certainly win the Academy Award for Animation. To many followers at home, it will feel as if the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water is being rewarded for some kind of secondary passion, as if del Toro had climbed Mount Everest and then set his sights on a smaller peak on which to set his flag. But that is not what happened at all.

Back in Mexico, del Toro began his filmmaking career making animated shorts: obsessed with Ray Harryhausen, the amateur futurist built rudimentary fixtures, painstakingly repositioning puppets one frame at a time. After decades of being established in Hollywood, del Toro accepted a side gig at DreamWorks Animation, serving as a story consultant on films like “Megamind” and “Kung Fu Panda 2” as an excuse to teach himself the trade. With Pinocchio, he put those lessons to work on a stop-motion passion project that’s just as challenging as his most impressive films.

All this to say, animation may be a craft apart from live action, but it’s no ghetto, as this phenomenal year’s “2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation” attests. (In the age of computer-optimized Marvel films and performance-capture “Avatar” sequels, the line isn’t so clear anymore, anyway.) All five nominees are strong, and at least one of them is an instant classic, destined to be loved and shared for decades to come. The selection is large enough that ShortsTV — the company that brings together finalists for theatrical release every year — didn’t need to flesh it out with bonus offers. There is no corrupt personality in the group.

The program opens with the Student Academy Award winner, “An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It,” which sounds like a book title you’d expect to find in “Reading Rainbow,” but is housed in a real stop-motion experience with an existential twist. Taking a page from the classic Looney Tunes cartoon “Duck Amuck,” in which Daffy dodges an artist’s pencil, Australian director Lachlan Pendragon plays a divine figure who terrorizes an unlucky 10-inch salesman named Neil, who begins to suspect he’s just a puppet in a strange project. . The poor young man develops a Matrix-like compound in which green backgrounds flash and the 3D-printed faces of his classmates fall off. While it doesn’t quite get deep, one can imagine Charlie Kaufman watching the well-executed short and kicking himself for not attempting a few of the fourth-wall-breaking meta-gags in “Anomalisa.”

Speaking of a “reading rainbow,” Joao Gonzalez’s hand-drawn “Ice Merchants” has the rich, colored pencil look of a beloved picture book (and a story vaguely reminiscent of Sphere Slobodkina’s “Hats for Sale”). The Portuguese animator also wrote the music for the short, a lovely melody that takes the place of dialogue when we notice a father and his son, who live high above the city in a house precariously attached to a dizzying cliff. It’s so cold in there that their water turns to ice, and they chop it into cubes and sell it to the villagers below, parachuting in every day and back down again (this part is a bit blurred). One day things go wrong, and the short provides first an ex-mama machine and then a soft landing, lined with a million hats. It may not make sense, but it is very satisfying.

No less surreal is the seven-minute film by Amanda Forbes and Wendy Tilby “The Flying Sailor”, based on the incredible true story of the 1917 Halifax explosion, which blew a man more than two kilometers into the air. The Canadian directors (who have been nominated for three more shorts before this one) show the comrade, immaculately clothed, wandering through the air — and all the way into space — as his life flashes before his eyes. It’s not clear why the film was commissioned, but congratulations to the National Film Board of Canada for being a global leader in its support of independent animation artists. No country does more to encourage art for art’s sake in the strenuous field (although anthology shows like “Love Death + Robots” and “Cake” give fellow strangers a fine platform in the States).

The real pearl of this year’s collection is “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.” Beautifully adapted from the best-selling book by British illustrator Charlie McCheese, the half-hour marvel sounds like The Little Prince for a new generation. Those familiar with the book—”Jonathan Livingston Seagull” a luxury life preserver for many during the pandemic—will appreciate how the team managed to translate Mackesy’s unique style of ink and watercolor, with her signature blend of thick brushstrokes and loose, unfinished lines. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s mellow score draws audiences into a receptive setting, while the quartet of Jude Cord Nicol (boy), Tom Hollander (mole), Idris Elba (fox) and Gabriel Byrne (horse) deliver a heartfelt sound to many. Confirmed thoughts.

He refuses to give up. Timing and tone are everything with this material. In partnership with Mackesy, co-director Peter Baynton (who worked on the hand-drawn portions of “Paddington 2”) keeps the project from turning into “Winnie the Pooh” cartoon territory. Cynics may ignore what an acquaintance called “the wisdom of protective labels,” but they miss how important it is to plant ideas of this kind in the heads of young viewers: boosting their confidence and deciphering the meaning of feeling lost — or seen — by social media They’re brainwashed another way.I remember Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” only here, instead of the generous tree giving the boy all her apples, the Apple gave us “The Boy,” and we’re all better for it.

If you’re looking for something a little more unique, the program concludes with the “mature” hand-drawn show “My Year of Dicks,” a funny and wistful memoir (penned by author Pamela Rippon) of trying to lose her virginity to a string of less-than-deserving high school losers. Director Sara Gunnarsdottir takes these stories and turns them into a crude (in every way) yet relatable portrayal of teenage insecurities. The very thing that countless man-made films have treated as an invasion is more of a burden for teenage Pam (voiced by Bree Tilton) to fall again and again into the wrong men’s hands. The title refers to a series of shake-ups, rather than their junk, as a naïve narrator attempts to shove through her “discharge”—an archaic term that seems apt here: with each failed attempt, the film blossoms into new dimensions, transforming style that reflects how it adapts to each. of her potential prospects, until such time as she finds herself.

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