We all know that the beautiful Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar this past Sunday, an achievement long-sought after by both himself and by his fans. And while his animalistic acting skills in “The Revenant” should certainly be acknowledged, there are many categories in the Academy Awards outside of “Best Actor” and “Best Picture” that do not receive the attention they deserve, and among these are the animated shorts.
The Oscar nominated animated shorts are, in fact, short — this year ranging from six to 17 minutes long — yet tangy and impactful. The shorts work through themes that often are specific to the present day, tackling humanity’s evolving relationship with technology or the difficulties of an immigrant-parent and American child relationship, but also think about age-old themes, reflecting on friendship, family relations and loss.
This year, there were five animated shorts nominated for the Oscars: “Sanjay’s Super Team,” “World of Tomorrow,” “Story of a Bear,” “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” and “Prologue.” The shorts were created by artists from a variety of countries: the first two from the U.S. and the rest from Chile, Russia and the U.K., respectively.
Because the artists hold complete creative power over color, sound, tone, dialogue, shape of characters and form, their ideas rapidly explode onto the screen, affecting the viewer in an unavoidably visceral way. Without revealing all, I will attempt to translate this distinct feeling and meaning that reverberate throughout each short:
“Sanjay’s Super Team” is about the first-generation, Indian-American artist named Sanjay and his relationship with his father. The complexities of their relationship involve play and tradition. Through a series of extractions from levels of reality, the short film takes the viewer through Sanjay’s colorful imagination, in a wo rld mixing all-American action figures and religious Indian figures in a video-game-like setting. The short shows how the generational gap between the Indian-American boy and his traditional father is bridged.
“World of Tomorrow” depicts an encounter between a toddler, Emily, and her immortal clone from far, far in the future. The form is fittingly unsophisticated, using stick-figure, stop-motion animations that resemble a series of childlike drawings. The clone attempts to enlighten Emily on highly intelligent, futuristic concepts such as time travel and the technology and social structure of cloning and the preservation of memories, and Emily responds as the typical toddler would — i.e., “Do you like my toy car?” It becomes clear that Emily, though much younger and less intelligent, has the more advanced ability to feel, envied by her more sterile clone.
“The Story of a Bear,” the Oscar winner, reflects on the despondency that results from being forcefully separated from one’s family through exile. The father in a family of three bears is torn from his wife and child and forced by abusive, more powerful figures to participate in a circus. This world is dark, dominated by browns and the bear’s physical joints are metal, his movements less than fluid. Translated to humans today, this theme is especially relevant, showing a similar pattern of pain and loss prevalent in the refugee crisis.
“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” was easily my favorite. It tells the story of two hard-working, enthusiastic astronauts in training that pass all physical and mental tests that all the others fail, apparently through their unrelenting teamwork. Unobstructed scenes of the universe, the stars, push on the viewer the possibility of imagining the infinite. Finally, the day comes for one, only one, to go to space. The mission is unsuccessful, the astronaut never returns and his best friend is devastated. This short shows immense friendship, and consequently, immense loss.
Finally, “Prologue” is the recreation of a battle in the Spartan-Athenian war thousands of years ago. All figures and landscape are black and white save blood, and the family crests on the warrior’s shields, and the sounds are expressively simple. However, the attention is focused on a young girl, a child or younger sister of one of the warriors, who after observing part of the battle, is overcome with a deep sadness that permeates off the screen and into the viewers’ minds.
These animated shorts hold the seemingly magical ability to transfer an almost unsurpassable amount of feeling and meaning onto the viewer in twenty minutes or less. This year’s best animated sho rts are cute, sad, funny, diverse, relatable, expressive and innovative — and you must watch them in order to fully experience them.