and the 2014 nominees are...

the coolidge

For the sixth year in a row, Ian and I watched the Oscar-nominated animated shorts (our fourth year watching at the Coolidge Corner Theatre). We've had a fairly good record predicting the winner (going 2 for 3 when we've seen all the nominees... and I really wish our predicted winner won last year), and are trying our luck again.

Get a Horse!  — This Disney short first seems to be a long lost Mickey Mouse animation, with a wagon full of beloved characters on a pleasant afternoon ride. Then Peg-Leg Pete picks a fight from his newfangled car, and the ensuing chaos crashes into the theater. I learned after the fact that this appeared in 3D before Frozen, so we missed the full effect of Mickey & Co. erupting from the screen. I can imagine this as a technical masterpiece, but the characters and storyline, while charmingly nostalgic, remained two-dimensional.

Mr. Hublot  — The obsessive compulsive Mr. Hublot is drawn out of his carefully ordered world by the barks of an abandoned robot dog. He soon finds himself torn between maintaining his measured and meticulous life and upsetting the familiar to make room for something new. The visuals are a beautiful and quirky portrayal of a futuristic and mechanical world, and the story is heartwarming and unexpected. I found myself thinking about both the cost and the value of inviting new people and things into my life. The field seems tight this year, but we're guessing (and hoping) Mr. Hublot takes home the Oscar.

Feral  — A hunter finds a wild boy in the woods and brings him home to civilization, which may not be as civilized as it seems. The stark and haunting style of animation effectively conveys the confusion and distress of the wild boy as he encounters a strange new world, but the story and its themes were quite perplexing. Am I happy at the boy's rescue? Angry he is forced to change? Is his wildness nature or nurture, and should it be accommodated or tamed? Is the kindhearted hunter better off without this feral boy? Are the flaws of society irredeemable? I appreciate movies that make me think, but this short could have benefited from a stronger focus and direction.

Possessions — A lone traveler gets caught in a storm and takes shelter in a dilapidated shrine. He soon discovers it is inhabited by broken and discarded household items that have, as described by Japanese folklore, developed souls and are ready to take revenge. The traveler's wise responses to each challenge feel like part of a long line of fables where wit, not might, conquers the foe. The anime style of the film seemed a bit disjointed at the beginning, but in retrospect, I can't imagine the story visualized in any other way.

Room on the Broom — A kind and cheerful witch and her cat unexpectedly pick up a few extra passengers on their broom, to the cat's chagrin. But soon they discover they have bigger problems: the witch has inadvertently caught the attention of a dragon, whose favorite meal happens to be witch and chips. As fans of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child, we were tickled to see some of those characters make cameos, and the claymation, once again, was delightful. The story didn't build quite as expected, but as a children's story it offers an important lesson on friendship and flexibility.

Highly Commended Shorts

A la Française  — A day in the life of Versailles during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth is full of big hair, big egos, and big drama. The short starts with empty shots of Versailles, which we were excited to recognize thanks to our trip last year. When the first chickens finally appeared on screen, I laughed out loud. The concept is so creative and full of humor. Each tableau of court life is delightfully comedic (don't miss King Louis's tail: a fleur-de-lis), and slowly builds to a surprising finale in the Hall of Mirrors.

The Missing Scarf  — A squirrel out searching for his lost scarf bumps into several friends, who are each too preoccupied with their own fears to help him find his scarf. The chipper and optimistic squirrel offers each of them conventional advice for conquering those fears, which they follow to unexpected results. The animation was inventive, and we both loved the use of infographics to build suspense. We loved the visual style and the dark humor.

The Blue Umbrella — While waiting at a crosswalk, a blue umbrella is smitten when he bumps into a red umbrella. They exchange a few shy glances, but too soon their owner's paths diverge. Determined to spend more time with the red umbrella, the blue umbrella escapes his owner's grasp, only to end up in the middle of a dangerously busy street. It is up to the setting to fix this dire situation. Although the storyline did seem to be missing that Pixar creative spark, the photorealistic animation is breathtaking.

We enjoyed all of the shorts, and highly recommend catching them if you have the opportunity. Have fun watching the Oscars, and may the best films win!

*update: we were right — Mr. Hublot took home the Oscar!

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