This year’s crop of animated shorts, presented again by Shorts.TV, was a first for me anyway. Three of the five animated shorts are R-rated in subject matter, and a few theaters have even prohibited anyone under age 17 from watching it at all. The shorts have been arranged though for a family or younger audience to exit the theater after the two family/kid friendly shorts are shown at the beginning. That only constitutes thirty minutes out of 1.5 hours total, which isn’t much incentive for a family to go and watch the shorts at all. Because of this, the addition of highly recommended shorts have been cut from this year’s presentation. I am not sure if it is because of how long all five shorts ran or because family audiences wouldn’t be able to watch them since they would have had to exit the theater before they would be shown.
In the years I have watched the shorts at least, at most one short of the nominated five would be for mature audiences, but this year there are three which constitutes more than half the nominations. I am not sure about the drastic change in nominees, but overall for me it just took away from the enjoyment of watching the shorts.
“Robin Robin” is a cute and cuddly stop-motion short from Netflix and Aardman, the studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. It is the story of a baby robin adopted into a family of mice who teach Robin the ways of mice and how to sneak about to survive. Sadly, since Robin isn’t exactly a mouse, she has trouble with the sneaking part and often bungles her family’s food scavenging outings. After another almost disastrous bungle by Robin with her family in a human house, Robin runs away and into a terrifying cat (voiced by Gillian Anderson) who chases her. Robin escapes with the help of a broken-winged magpie (voiced by Richard E. Grant) who tells Robin about the humans’ ‘magic wishing star’ that would grant any wish imaginable. This short was released by Netflix in December as a Christmas special, so Magpie’s ‘magic wishing star’ is just a star atop a Christmas tree in a human house. Robin and Magpie go about to acquire the star to make each of their wishes come true. Will they get the star and their wishes, and isn’t that cat still running about?
The film is done by Aardman, the masters of stop-motion animation, which in this instance looks like a needle felting wonderland of creatures brought to life. Robin looks especially adorable fluffing up her feathers into mouse ears to fit in with her family. The story and animation are just so comfy and cozy that you probably will want a hot cup of cocoa to go with it.
“Boxballet” is a 2D animated short from Russia about the unlikely love story between a boxer and a prima ballerina. The entire look of the animation is sketchy, literally, with all the people drawn as exaggerated characters of themselves. Evgeny, the hulking brutish leather-faced looking boxer, spends his days in solitude training for his next boxing match. Meanwhile, Ilya, who is drawn as a stick with arms and legs, spends her days doing constant precise repetitive motions with a group of ballerinas under the watchful eye of a somewhat lecherous director. Both Evgeny and Ilya train themselves to the breaking point it seems in a lonesome existence, until one day when they happen to meet because of a tree stranded cat. They are inexplicably drawn to one another despite their contrasting lives. Will they be able to stay together as a couple when Ilya has to choose between Evgeny or her career?
The following three shorts are for adult audiences only.
“Affairs of the Art” is a 2D animated short collaboration from the UK and Canada. I must say that scenes from this short will be stuck in your mind forever, sadly or hilariously, depending on how you look at it. It can’t be unseen. Again, the animation is pencil sketchy caricatures of people who seem to have an inhumanly amount of stretch to their bodies that I have never seen outside of Mr. Fantastic of The Fantastic 4.
The short is from British animator Joanna Quinn and Les Mills about Welsh housewife and mother, Beryl, and her obsession with doing art of all kinds. We also get to explore the eccentricities and obsessions of the rest of her family as well. The entire film is one long train of random thoughts from Beryl’s perspective of childhood events that have shaped her and her family to go to the extremes for their obsessions. Some are funny. Others are very disturbing, bordering on the psychotic. You will laugh and be disgusted at the same time.
“Bestia” is a stop-motion piece from Chile which explores the real life horrors of the secret police under the military dictatorship in Chile during the 1970s-1980s where women used dogs to torture other women. The story follows one such woman who at first is seen as just a normal woman with a pet German Shepherd. Her life at first seems to be totally average. She wakes up, fixes her breakfast, plays with the dog, walks the dog, etc., but her life is anything but normal. We see her take her dog via bus to a non-descript building. Inside are guards and a woman prisoner who is then left to the mercy of the woman and her dog behind closed doors. Returning home, the woman tries to disguise what happens with a bit of normality, but it is just a facade. She forces the dog into her bed and has nightmares of beheading the dog. No, she is not okay, not even with staring at herself in the mirror questioning her own identity.
The animators use a porcelain looking-doll with an unchanging expressionless face for the woman which makes the film all the more sinister and creepy. It’s enough to give anyone a phobia about dolls. No words are ever said throughout, since in this case a picture is worth more than words could ever say.
“The Windshield Wiper” is a collage animated film from Spain by award winning Spanish filmmaker Albert Mielgo, who has won several Emmys and was a production designer for the Oscar winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This collage of what almost looks like live action with color splashes and accents atop for emphasis explores the nature of love in all its glory and missed chances. It starts with a mustached man smoking in a cafe with voices all around engaged in conversation about romance. The man asks, “What is love?” We cut to two smokestacks being demolished into one another before cutting to a couple on the beach. We see a whole collage of repeating disparate images and mini-stories. There is a couple staring at their cellphones swiping left and right at images of people only to actually match one another in real time and space on the app before they both decide not to even look up to engage with one another. For me, this was the most memorable of the mini stories. There is a homeless man yelling, “I’m doing better. Come home,” at a mannequin. There is a woman falling off a skyscraper. There is also an actual sex scene in the short as well along with some very sweet romantic kisses. It is confusing, thought-provoking, and a bit bittersweet.
Sadly, the winner of the animated shorts will not be part of the live broadcast this year. Instead, the winners will be announced via pre-taped segments that will be inserted into the live broadcast on Sunday, Mar. 27.