Oscars 2022: Cartoons That Are Sick, Sick, Sick

From the Department of Stolen Childhoods, this year’s nominees for short-subject animation are, generally, unsuitable for children.

And I’m not sure these explicitly NC-17 doodles were even suitable for me. The graphic nudity and defiling of corpses I could kinda take, but it was the animal abuse, beheadings, torture, suicide, homicide, and sexual harassment that made me wonder what some of these animators were smoking. (Oh yeah, the chain-smoking depicted only made me laugh — are we trapped in some 1960s time warp?)

The lineup starts mildly enough with “Robin, Robin,” from the same British studio that brought us “Wallace and Gromit.” It’s a classic cat-and-mouse caper, except for the bird. (Well, “Tom and Jerry” meets “Tweety and Sylvester.”) A robin is adopted by a mouse family — and feels very much like the black sheep, because whenever she tries to sneak around for crumbs, she manages only to draw attention to herself because, hey, pretty bird! The moral: Being different is special. It’s on Netflix, so you can watch it with your kids there and keep them far, far from the theater.

After that, the Russian offering, “Boxballet” — and I admit I set a pretty high bar for this one having freighted it with an instant anti-Russian bias amid the invasion of Ukraine — explores the unlikely love story between a brutish boxer and an exploited ballerina (think Bluto and Olive Oyl). What surprised me was it comes before the Short TV’s editors announce that children should leave the room. Plenty of sleazy stuff in this one, too, like the director fondling the ballerina’s leg while she stretches and then making a pass at her (more like an assault, feeling her up) after dangling the promise of the role of Giselle in exchange for, well, favors. The mismatched couple bumbles through and, even though (spoiler!) he gets the girl — having wooed her literally with sugar, a 10-pound bag of it — their settling down reeks of “settling.” For a ballet, not uplifting in the least.

Not until it’s over, though, does this warning appear for several minutes onscreen:

Now that we have everyone’s attention, cue up “Affairs of the Art” (U.K./Canada), which supposedly is a “whimsical” look at a woman’s midlife obsession to pursue her lost dream of becoming an artist. It’s kinda gross, except I was amused by the protagonist forcing her nude husband to repeatedly fling himself down the stairs while she tried to sketch him (she ends up leaving marks that could be Exhibit A in a domestic abuse case).

Next, “Bestia” (translated as “Beast”) from Chile simply traumatized me. I’m left speechless. “Disturbing” doesn’t cover it. Nightmare-inducing. Sure, cartoons have always been violent, a bit sadistic, capitalizing on the Schadenfreude of characters falling, getting bonked on the head, being stuffed through small-beyond-belief orifices. But I regretted not leaving the theater with all the kids. (Actually, I was the only one in the theater. That frightened me even more because I expected that fractured china doll head to come peering out of the shadows at me. EEEK!) Next!

Bringing up the rear — and there was plenty of tail in this one, too — was the only one I genuinely liked: “The Windshield Wiper” (Spain), whose creator found inspiration traveling the world in July 2021, at the height of the pandemic’s second wave, secretly recording cafe conversations and observing humans’ odd mating habits. So much loneliness it’s painful, but beautifully drawn. I loved the scene in which we zoom all the way out above the planet to the perspective of a cell satellite getting pinged by vapid texting/sexting: “LOL, right? Yeah.” What a waste of technology. We have all this brainpower, yet as a species our scope seems infantile to any outsiders/eavesdroppers: unremarkable flirting, pining, seeking distraction and instant gratification, looking for love in all the wrong places. Look sharp to catch the inspiration for the title — lovely indeed.

I’ve used this line before, but it’s more appropriate this year than ever: Are those animated shorts, or are you just happy to see me? The envelope, please!

Animated Short Film

Prediction: Robin Robin (United Kingdom)

Pick: The Windshield Wiper (Spain)

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