This year’s shortlist of 10 animated shorts reflects the zeitgeist, the impact of the pandemic on festival exposure, and the ascendance of streaming. Which helps explain why six are homegrown (“Burrow,” “If Anything Happens I Love You,” “Kapaemahu,” “Out,” “To Gerard”) and four hail from Pixar (“Burrow,” “Out”), Netflix (“If Anything Happens I Love You”), and DreamWorks (“To Gerard”). One anomaly is that there is not one stop-motion among them, with seven 2D and three CG works. Yet they all reflect the turmoil, uncertainty, and need for unity that define the moment.
“Out” and “Burrow,” from Pixar’s experimental, indie-minded SparkShorts program, are very different 2D works. “Out,” based on Steven Clay Hunter’s own life, introduces the studio’s first gay protagonist. The “Soul” animator presents a coming out story of family conflict like a colorful painting. “Burrow,” from “Coco” storyboard artist Madeline Sharafian, offers a warm, Beatrix Potter vibe. A young rabbit encounters trouble digging her dream home next to the other neighbors, and eventually discovers the joy of community.
Netflix’s first shortlisted short, “If Anything Happens I Love You,” from directors Will McCormack and Michael Govier and executive producer Laura Dern, is a monochromatic, hand-drawn work about the victims of a school shooting in which a mother and father are visited by shadows of the past. Meanwhile, the DreamWorks shorts program produced “To Gerard,” a nostalgic CG love letter to Manhattan and magic, directed by storyboard artist Taylor Meacham (“Trolls”). It’s about a mailman who dreams of becoming a magician with the help of a young girl, a legendary master, and a very special coin, and how a simple act of kindness changes two lives.
“Kapaemahu,” from directors Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, and Joe Wilson, marks the first shortlisted Hawaiian short. It tells the ancient story of dual male and female spirits who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii, and imbued their powers in four giant stones that still stand on Waikiki Beach. The lush 2D short, overseen by animation director Daniel Sousa (“Feral”), is narrated in ancient Hawaiian dialect and told through the eyes of a curious child.
In the UK-produced “The Snail and the Whale,” two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang (“The Gruffalo” and “Room on the Broom”) and Daniel Snaddon are back with their most ambitious Julia Donaldson adaptation yet. It’s about an adventurous snail riding on top of a humpback whale, overwhelmed by the expanse of the world. Aside from the exquisite-looking CG animation, it delivers a sweet message (narrated by the late Dame Diana Rigg) about preserving the environment and making a difference.
“Opera” (South Korea/U.S.), from former Pixar animator Erick Oh, confronts the continuous loop of racism, terrorism, war, natural disasters, and general chaos that permeates different classes and sections of society. And what better way to depict the structures and rhythms of human history than through a massive CG pyramid?
The French-produced “Genius Loci,” from Adrien Mérigeau, explores a loner who experiences the chaos inside her mind and throughout the city via mystical spirits. It’s a gorgeous 2D short comprised of delicate drawings and fluid animations.
The Icelandic “Yes-People,” from Gísli Darri Halldórsson, concerns an eclectic mix of people that can only cope with daily struggles (from the mundane to the more serious) by saying “Yes.” The CG animation is fittingly caricatured and roughly animated to fit the theme.
The photo-real-looking “Traces” (France/Belgium), directed by Hugo Frassetto and Sophie Tavert Macian, explores the passion of draft-horse logging in the forest of Ardennes, and the importance of passing it down to a younger generation to preserve the forest.
“If Anything Happens I Love You”
“The Snail and the Whale”