A bunny attempts to expand his home.
An apartment filled with diverse families to maintain (or spark) their hearts when stuck inside.
An overseas adventure between two unlikely travel partners.
A final text message that rips a family asunder.
These stories and more comprise this year’s crop of nominees for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards. The program might lump them together in one category. But all of this year’s shorts are extremely diverse in style and substance. Each one leans into its own beautiful storytelling with uniqueness and (sometimes) joy. However, as expected, some connect more than others. A personal highlight include the incredibly detailed social pyramid in Opera. Another highlight include the utterly charming relationship that anchors The Snail and the Whale. The last but not the least is the raw power (and sadness) that drives If Anything Happens, I Love You. At the same time, there are pieces that are less accessible. For instance, Genius Loci may be stunning to see yet its muddled in its execution. And Pixar’s Burrows, while adorable, fails to leave a lasting impact.
What does come across throughout this year’s crop of nominees is their common interest in ‘together’. Amazingly, in (almost) each piece, the central theme stems from the impact of working together. This may sound pretty self-explanatory (after all, what film doesn’t highlight relationships between characters?). But there is something unique about this crop. The vast majority of these films differ wildly in story and setting. But they highlight the incredible importance of leaning on one another in the midst of trouble.
The relationships that connect the characters are the emotional glue that draws in the audience. One example is a pyramid of social upheaval to a snail’s (Sally Hawkins) partnership with a humpback whale. Coming in a year of social isolation like we’ve had, these shorts become particularly poignant. Embedded within these brief narratives is a cry to band together for support and help. That’s true whether it’s a family tears itself apart because of a school shooting. Or an apartment building of families who are struggling to connect.
Furthermore, these films also hint at the fact that empowering others creates a healthy future. For example To Gerald shows an aging magician pass on his legacy to a young ‘student’. Similarly, Opera recognizes the social ramifications of an interconnected society. It also recognizes the damage that can take place when we take others for granted. This year’s nominees move beyond the importance we have together. As a result, they also recognize that power that one needs to relinquish in order to build something new. In this way, these films are not just about celebrating other but also about creating spaces for genuine change.
Sitting down for a crop of animated shorts may not be something we normally consider. But it is very much worth your time to do so. As always, each nominee varies wildly yet all maintain a certain elegance and flair to them. More importantly though, watching them together also provides a window into a culture. One still coming to grips with the global trauma of the pandemic. And the cries to come together must be made after all of this is over.
This year’s Oscar nominated shorts are currently streaming through the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- Rated: G, NR, PG
- Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, fantasy, Short
- Directed by: Adrien Merigeau, Daniel Snaddon, Erick Oh, Madeline Sharafian, Max Lang, Michael Govier, Taylor Meacham, Will McCormack
- Starring: Jina Djemba, Piotr Michael, Sally Hawkins
- Produced by: Amaury Ovise, Jeff Hermann, Martin Pope
- Written by: Adrien Merigeau, Madeline Sharafian, Michael Govier, Nicolas Pleskof, Suzanne Lang, Taylor Meacham, Will McCormack
- Studio: Beasts and Natives Alike, DreamWorks Animation, Gilbert Films, Kazak Productions, Magic Light Pictures, Oh Good Productions, Pixar Animation Studios