This year’s five Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film reject the idea that animation should, in any way, be confined to the domain of childhood. Each short riffs, in its own way on the bliss and the pain that can come with growing up and growing old, and stands as a testament to the often ignored power of short form animation.
The most famous of these short films, Pixar’s “Piper,” shown in theaters before “Finding Dory”, also happens to be the most child-friendly of the bunch. The film, which won this year’s Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject, centers its attention on a bright-eyed baby sandpiper, Piper, who tries (and fails) to hunt for food with the rest of her flock and winds up terrified of the force of the tide. As the film progresses, Piper finally learns to face her fears and begins to provide for her flock as she discovers the beauty of sea. A short and sweet coming-of-age story, “Piper” shows that growing up happens through the difficult yet immensely rewarding task of facing one’s fears. With glistening landscapes and an adorably chipper main character, it’s hard to resist the short film’s charm.
“Borrowed Time” is a haunting western from Pixar-affiliated creators — although not associated with the studio. The film flashes back and forth between scenes of an aged sheriff advancing toward a cliff and scenes of the same man years before, gangly, young and inexperienced, driving alongside an older man. As the aged sheriff advances, flashbacks come back in waves, leading up to a harrowing moment of suspense between the two men. While the suspense is gripping, the relationship between the two characters is not well enough developed or defined for it to amount to much. Still, the film does a beautiful job of showing the ways in which agony and age can leave marks for years to come.
This year’s nominees also included the first to be developed using VR.
“Pearl,” produced by Google Spotlight Stories and directed by Patrick Osborne of 2015 animated short winner “Feast,” centers on a father and daughter learning how to navigate life, family, music and the open road together as they drive around in Pearl, their hatchback. The film is set to a charming song about finding a place of belonging. The full film, including the 360-degree view, is available on YouTube. Despite its low-poly animation style, the simple warmth and beauty of “Pearl” shine through with ease.
“Blind Vaysha,” by Bulgarian director Theodore Ushev, is a gorgeous kafkaesque piece about the life of Vaysha, a girl whose vision is split so that she can only see a tarnished past from one eye and a terrifying future from the other, leaving her completely blind to the present. Vaysha is caught in a world in which she is simultaneously not-yet-born and already dead. The film’s simple linocut-esque art style makes its rural landscapes all the more charming and its pretense all the more ominous.
Finally, there’s “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” Robert Valley’s crowdfunded, biographical piece produced entirely using Photoshop. The story focuses on the relationship between the filmmaker and his friend Techno Stypes from the age of 12 to Stypes’ death. The gritty tale that focuses quite plainly on sex, daredevilry and rock and roll is split between Vancouver, where Valley and Stypes first became friends, and Guangzhou, where Valley remains with Stypes through the process of receiving a liver transplant. As the two grow up,Valley moves from a place of pure awe for Techno to oftentimes being annoyed with his decisions. In its enormous half-hour runtime, the film introduces too many moving parts and ends with several questions left unanswered seemingly more by circumstance than by intention.
It is notable that, from crowdfunding to virtual reality to some of the most refined CGI animation of today, each of this year’s nominees has taken full advantage of new technologies available to create a vast breadth of animation styles. Given the enormous range encompassed by this year’s nominees, it will be difficult, and perhaps unfair, to find a point of comparison by which to judge these wonderfully different films.
The 2017 Oscar-nominated animated shorts open together at Shattuck Cinema on Feb. 10.