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Review: The 2021 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

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This year I viewed the animated shorts online instead of in the theater, even though theaters are opening up again. You can too, courtesy of Landmark Theaters, Eventive, and ShortsTV, for only US$12.00 if you live in North America.  Sadly, you can’t view it if you are not in North America.  They should be accessible from anywhere, in my opinion.

The majority of this year’s shorts are quite serious in nature or very surreal, which probably reflects the overall mood of 2020.  Only two of the five shorts are humorous or light hearted.

“Burrow” is a delightful 2D animated short from Pixar about a rabbit trying to dig her simple dream home.  Unbeknownst to her plans though, she discovers the underground real estate she picked isn’t empty and is actually filled with neighbors galore, all of whom have extremely complex housing digs!  Ashamed to show off her rudimentary plans to any of her neighbors who offer to help, she instead keeps digging around aimlessly deeper and deeper until she runs into trouble by hitting rock bottom and into something she couldn’t possibly handle herself.  Ultimately, the rabbit learns there is no shame in asking for help.

“Genius Loci” is a surrealist hand-painted piece from France by Adrien Merigeau.  I’m not even sure I can describe what is happening in the short myself.  It is the story of a lone black woman named Reine encased by the chaos that she thinks she creates around her as she explores the city.  Every second of film is a hand watercolor painting consisting of a combination of shapes and shadows that oscillate from recognizable to abstract, like a kaleidoscope.  This ‘normality’ starts to devolve when Reine finds a brief moment of happiness which she believes she truly can’t have.

“Opera” is another strange surrealistic journey.  This joint South Korea and U.S. film from director Erick Oh is one long continuous camera shot of the inner workings of a pyramid society, much like ours, with tiny people inhabiting the entire structure going about their cyclic tasks.  There are so many scenes happening within simultaneously, which makes it very difficult to see everything that’s happening as one descends downward from the pyramid peak.  At the top, the two pyramid halves seem equal, but the two halves start differentiating themselves as we travel lower to the pyramid bottom.  All of the world’s ills can be seen in this pyramid.

“If Anything Happens I Love You” is a tragic short from Netflix.
I suggest NOT reading the synopsis in that link before watching it, for greater impact.  A couple is silent and lost in each other’s own thoughts which play out as interacting shadows emanating from each.  At first it seems like they are angry with one another for some reason as the shadows are in a constant state of argument.  The conflict looks unresolvable, but things change as they wander through the house.  A splotch of paint on a wall and a record player trigger different happier memories of something missing in their lives, so it isn’t anger they are feeling but frustration.  When the missing piece is revealed, it will be difficult to hold back the tears.

“Yes-People” is an Icelandic short done in the style of a stop-motion film but via 3D CGI.  Thanks to The New Yorker, you can watch the entire thing on YouTube for free.  It shows the day in the lives of three groups of people living in an apartment complex and the few interactions between neighbors.  There is an elderly couple, a middle-aged couple, and a mother and son.  From morning until nighttime, you see them go about their daily chores, school, and work, as well as their interactions within each group and their neighbors.  The relationships are tensioned at best.

Again, three highly commended shorts are shown along the nominated shorts that are definitely worth viewing as well.

“Kapaemahu”, which can be seen in its entirety on its website, retells the legend of the four healing stones on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, and how they got their power from ancient dual male and female beings hailing from Tahiti.  The entire short is narrated in Olelo Niihau, a native Hawaiian language that has been continuously spoken since before the arrival of foreigners.  The entire short has a storybook like look and composition which is meant to give the feel of Polynesian art in 2D form.  The story of the four healing stones was actually lost to time until recently, and this short is the culmination of 10 years of research into new documentation of the tale.

“The Snail and the Whale” is a joint U.K. and German short based on the storybook of the same name by Julia Donaldson.  Narrated by the late Diana Rigg, it tells the unlikely friendship between a snail filled with wanderlust and a humpback whale who happily obliges her desires by letting her ride on his tail.  They travel together throughout the vast wonders of the world via ocean to far off tropical islands and gorgeous coral reefs.  The snail’s once small world has become bigger than ever.  One day though, the whale accidentally gets beached!  What can the snail do?!

“To: Gerard” is a short from DreamWorks Animation.  It is the story of a nimble mail sorter named Gerard who works in a mail room.
Gerard reminisces about the day he was introduced to the magic of slight of hand by his favorite magician who bestows upon him his special ‘magic’ coin from the routine.  The coin has been Gerard’s prized possession ever since, and with much practice he has perfected the coin routine.  Sadly, the pneumatic tubes that Gerard works with accidentally swoop up his coin, and it somehow lands in the hands of a small girl named Jules who wants to keep the coin for herself.  The process of trying to get Jules to return his coin leads Gerard into an impromptu magic show for his first ever audience.  That show ‘magically’ changes both of their lives forever.