Are those animated shorts, or are you just happy to see me?
What I look for in artful animated shorts is something that appeals to both children and adults — as well as that combined entity: the kid in each of us.
Feral (USA). The most abstract / avant-garde of the bunch. With broad brushstrokes, wild boys Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden introduce us to a silvery lad raised among wolves. He gets “rescued” by a shadowy hunter on horseback, who tries to civilize him, sending him to school in laced shoes and cravat tie. We witness that you can take the boy out of the woods but can’t take the woods out of the boy. Not much of a chuckler, but artsy.
Get a Horse! (USA) Get a life, Disney animators! That’s what we need: another homage to Mickey Mouse and the history of Disney animation. Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim start with a vintage-style black-and-white cartoon reel, and when the villain Peg-Leg Pete knocks our hero “into next week,” out from the screen pops Mickey in full-blown, 3-D color. I’ll admit I found the flipbook section kinda cool (reminded me of “Ragtime”), but I wasn’t enthralled as the characters continued to cross the barriers of time and technology, using a full arsenal of cartoon gags. Gag me.
Mr. Hublot (Luxembourg / France). Seems that every year a few “boy and his dog” shorts creep into the list. I thought “Feral” might satisfy that requirement, but had no idea this stop-motion, computerized hybrid by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares would handsomely fill the bill. In a non-organic world of gizmos and gears, the OCD Mr. Hublot repeats the mechanized motions of his day … then spies a stray robotic dog from his industrial perch, which he invites to disrupt his ordered world. Their eventual bonding and “flowering” make the meat of the story. Beautiful.
Possessions (Japan). Although the two-dimensional, painted animation (not quite anime) is a bit off and the vocalizations are gruff (in Japanese, with subtitles), this folk story adapted by Shuhei Morita stuck with me like a nightmare. A Mr. Fix-It character gets caught in a storm and must take shelter in an abandoned house, where a bunch of junk is stored and “comes to life” to teach him a lesson about materialism. I doubt non-reading or non-transcendent kids would get much out of it, though.
Room on the Broom (U.K.). As soon as this started, I suspected it was another installment from those “Gruffalo” folks, Max Lang and Jan Lachauer. When the squirrel and snake characters made cameos, I knew. Ho-hum. Set against the neat rhymes like a formulaic picture book — witch with a cat on a broom encounters dog, bird, then frog, interacts with each, and all-together-now fight off dragon — it was so predictable that I checked my watch. Good for kids and low-IQ adults.
My pick & prediction: Mr. Hublot
If you are lucky enough to screen the nominees in the over-produced compilation making the rounds in select theaters, you’ll also get also-rans, or “highly commended,” shorts.
My favorite of these was “The Missing Scarf” from Ireland, narrated by George Takei. This spoofs the “Room on the Broom” rhyme-query style to the delight of science fans everywhere. The whimsical French delight about stuffy chickens at Versailles, “A La Francaise,” had me in stitches. From the USA comes one to cure your rainy-day blues: the Pixar-made The Blue Umbrella, a charming love story combining live action and stop-motion animation that reminded me of 1956’s award-winning “The Red Balloon.” (Also, what’s with all of the umbrellas this year?) Would have relished seeing the umbrella one nominated over “Get a Horse!” Topsy-turvy world, this.