2018 Oscar Shorts: Animation

A Pixar short and an animated short about Kobe Bryant are among the nominees

Since their fourth rendition, the Academy Awards have honored the best in animation. The animated films no longer than 40 minutes have been a staple award since 1932. This year has its own share of high quality animated shorts that are vying for the golden statue.

First up is Dear Basketball, a five-minute love letter to the sport by one of it’s greatest players, Kobe Bryant. It’s based on a piece Kobe wrote for the Players Tribune shortly before his retirement and it’s directed by Glen Keane, one of the main animators behind The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. It’s an unusual pairing at first glance, but it works. Kobe is a quality writer and his passion for his livelihood shows nicely.

The film also looks like a storyboard with how simple it looks, as though the film is a penciled showing of Kobe’s words. It’s quite beautiful. They also got John Williams for the score, and that may well be the best part of the whole project. His sweeping orchestrations compliment everything well and give the short a grandiose feeling that only John Williams can provide. Ultimately, it’s a strong show of the passion needed to achieve your dream and the nirvana of attaining them. It’s simple in style but effective.

Next up is Negative Space, a French stop-motion flick about a boy’s interesting way of bonding with his father: through packing. It’s an odd concept, but it works well enough. The film is completely silent except for the main character’s narration. The lack of a score offers an eerie feeling of emptiness, which is the ultimate point of the whole story. Stop-motion is a niche form of animation, and it’s hard to do. In fact, this was probably the most time consuming of the shorts to make on style alone. But there’s no style that fits the story better. It’s an odd flick that is compelling and has an odd sense of humor that fits in an arthouse.

Lou is this year’s Pixar’s contestant. On name recognition alone, this ought to be the favorite. This would deserve the win if earned. It’s about a bully on an elementary school playground being taught how to be nice by the living and sentient Lost and Found. It’s a concept that only Pixar can pull off, but it is perfectly executed. The animation is excellent, the score carries much of the film’s feeling with no dialogue through the whole thing, and the story is an uplifting Pixar masterpiece. It’s a wonderful time and I won’t be surprised if Pixar wins their fifth Short Film Oscar.

Revolting Rhymes is by far the longest short in contention, at 29 minutes. It’s a British CG animated film that tells a clever spin on classic fairy tales. It’s about a woman who is waiting to babysit some kids. While in a restaurant waiting, a wolf sits down at her table and they discuss the fairy tales in the book she brings to tell the kids and how incorrect they are. The wolf proceeds to explain the correct version of the stories. And these are clever retellings of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Three Little Pigs among others. It’s all told in rhyme and has the feel of a Dr. Seuss story. It’s the only one that has a long narrative or full voice acting, and it benefits. It’s my favorite of the lineup on how cleverly written and how perfectly executed it is.

Finally, we have Garden Party, a French film about some frogs at an abandoned mansion that just interact with their surroundings. There’s no story to this one. The frogs are just frogs that jump around the mansion and the grounds. They eat the flies hovering around the standing food, congregate in the pool, accidentally turn on the speaker system, and act on their animalistic instincts in their home. Nothing more complex in the premise. The best thing about this is the animation itself. Illogic Collective, the animators behind the film, put in dazzling work that borders on photo realistic. The film is absolutely gorgeous. I forgot I was looking at animation and instead thought I was looking at a real place in the world with real frogs hopping around. It’s the best animation in the collection.

These are all excellent shorts. Ultimately, Revolting Rhymes is my favorite for its story and rhyming. That said, I think Lou will win on name recognition. If any of the other three win, I would be very surprised.