Not many people watch the Academy Awards anymore, for a whole variety of reasons. No one really goes to the movies anymore, a trend that began even before the pandemic, other than to see Marvel flicks, which don’t get nominated for Oscars. So mass audiences are no longer personally invested in who wins. Plus, no streaming platform shows the Oscars, and no one really has TVs anymore.
But years ago, back when everyone watched the Oscars, some of the awards were perplexing, especially the nominees for best animated short subject. Beautiful, brief images would flood the screen, movies you never heard of and had no opportunity to view. One of them would win. And that would be that. Those beautiful images would kind of stay with you.
Well, you don’t see those beautiful clips of animated short subjects anymore if you don’t watch the Oscars ceremony on television, but animators around the world are still making cartoons that the Academy is still nominating for Oscars, and some of are actually hand-drawn, and you should do everything you can to seek them out.
Happily, this year’s Oscar-nominated short cartoons are now showing in a small number of theaters around the country, and you should take a look. (For example, you might check out the “Upstate Films” theater in Rhinebeck!)
The anthology contains three magnificent shorts, and two of lower quality but still worth seeing. Of course, these films were not curated to complement one another, they are included by happenstance, and sorted only by smuttiness (the most kid-appropriate short comes first, then a violent tween-appropriate short, followed by a warning and a brief pause for parents and kids to flee the theater), but it still adds up to a great night out at the movies.
If you are middle-aged, or if your parents pushed their favorite kid-flicks on you when you were little, you remember Aardman Animation for their Wallace and Gromit movies. Aardman’s latest offering, Robin Robin, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, the story of a robin adopted by mice, who raise her as a one of their own. It’s touching and funny, and filled with the what-you-might-expect thrills (cats! humans! chasing mice!) but the directors, Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, handle the otherwise familiar plot elements so deftly that they seem shiny and new again. The songs are good, the voice actors, especially Bronte Carmichael as Robin, are lovable, and the animation is the stop-action artistry that Aardman is best known for, not the colder, less personal CGI in which they occasionally dabbled in later years. A great movie for kids, and if you want to shield your youngsters from the R-rated cartoons in this collection, note that Robin Robin, at 32 minutes, the longest cartoon in the show, also streams on Netflix.
Also on the bill is Boxballet, from Russia. I support the new cultural boycott, so I have mixed feelings about how much I loved this little 15-minute short film, but I’m kind of glad it remains in the program, and I am really glad I saw it on a big screen. The story of an unlikely friendship and unlikelier romance between a boxer and a ballerina, the movie, which is directed by Anton Dyakov and is almost entirely without dialogue, has its moments of violence but also silent movie tenderness; the hand-drawn animation is spectacular, the kind of fluid, confident artistry one might have thought died with Richard Williams and the rise of our current, sterile CGI moment. The same can be said for Joanna Quinn’s Affairs of the Art, from the UK and Canada, which is a remarkably cheerful and hilariously smutty and filthy look at middle-aged angst, which in 16 minutes tells the beautifully drawn and animated life story of an ageing would-be painter and her family, from childhood through to fifty-something ennui. Plenty of lumpy cartoon full-frontal nudity.
The remaining films, Chile’s Bestia from director Hugo Covarrubias and Spain’s The Windshield Wiper from director Alberto Mielgo, are less engaging but still notable for their technique; Covarrubias animates dolls within hand-built sets to tell his violently noirish tale, and Mielgo’s moody, hypnotic and vignette-focused meditation on love utilizes 3D animation that he subsequently hand-painted, a technique he utilized in his work for Spiderman Into the Multiverse.
If Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation is not playing in your area, you can still find some of these films on the web, but you will enjoy them more on the big screen. Go.
This review was written by Steven S. Drachman. Steven is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book. He would like it if you would buy one (or all!) of these books.