The two most interesting nominees this
year for the Oscar for Animated Short Film embody a division that has characterized
animation in America for at least a century.
Lauren MacMullan’s Get a Horse! is a Hollywood cartoon in
the best sense of the term. An effective blend of hand drawn and computer
animation, this fast-paced tribute to the classic Mickey Mouse shorts of late
20’s and early 30s overflows with slapstick humor. The clever juxtaposition of
cutting-edge 3D technology and the weightless “rubber hose” animation of the
silent and early sound era, Get a Horse!
delighted audiences who saw it with Frozen.
Mickey has become a problematic
character: No one really seems to know who he is. He’s the exuberant star of Plane Crazy, The Band Concert, Thru the
Mirror and countless other classic shorts. Baby Boomers remember him fondly
as the hgenial host of “The Mickey Mouse Club” on TV. For the old Studio
artists, Mickey was always Walt’s alter ego – Ollie Johnston, among others, used
to complain that when Walt got too busy to work on the shorts and do the
character’s voice, no one knew what to do with Mickey. But he’s also the corporate
symbol a multi-billion dollar entertainment empire.
The rambunctious fun of Get a Horse! reminds audiences not
only – in Walt’s famous phrase – “that it all started with a mouse,” but why that
mouse could start it all.
In contrast, Shuhei Morita’s strikingly
beautiful Possessions, harks back to Gertie the Dinosaur and Winsor McCay’s
philosophy that animation is an extension of the traditional fine and graphic
A lone samurai seeks refuge from a
storm in a lonely Shinto shrine—and finds himself confronting the angry spirits
of umbrellas, fabrics and other household objects that are angry at being
tossed away by their owners after decades of loyal service. Like Katsuhiro
Otomo’s stunning Combustible, which
was short-listed last year but not nominated (although it should have been), Possessions brings the look of 19th
century ukiyo-e woodblock prints to
life. Both films were created as
sequences for Otomo’s anthology feature, Short Peace: Its US release eagerly awaited by animation fans.
a Horse! is clearly the
film to beat. It’s been widely seen, it’s funny, and it’s what most Americans
think of as an animated film. But Possessions
might appeal to the artsier members of the Academy.
Two other nominees are interesting,
but less powerful. In Feral, Daniel
Sousa offers a slow, monochromatic account of a wild child raised by wolves (very
different wolves from the ones who raise Mowgli in The Jungle Book) who must try to find a place in urban society. The
faceless figures recall the paintings of DeChirico and express an almost
Hublot by Laurent Witz
and Alexandre Espigares is more interesting as an example of Steampunk design
than a film. The mechanical title character finds the companionship he’s needed
when a mechanical puppy turns up. Both characters and their world seem to have
been soldered together from odd scraps of metal and clockwork.
The fifth nominee
is Room on the Broom by Max Lang and
Jan Lachauer, who were nominated for The
Gruffalo in 2011. An additive children’s story adapted from a book by Julia
Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Room on the
Broom recounts how a kindly witch and her less friendly cat acquire a group
of friends who help her overcome a nasty foe. The computer animation tries to
look like traditional stop-motion, but the too-bright colors suggest the
inexpensive marzipan fruit sold at holiday time. The film also suffers from stolid
pacing and a repetitive rum-ti-tum narration.
Why Room on the Broom was chosen over the clever
graphics of Eoin Duffy’s The Missing Scarf or the dramatic metamorphoses
of Theodore Ushev’s Gloria Victoria is
one of those Academy Mysteries – like how did Caroline Leaf’s brilliant The Street lose to the forgotten Leisure, or how could the members think Crash was more deserving of Best Picture
than Brokeback Mountain.