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92%

Short reviews of the 2014 Academy Award nominees in the category for Best Short Film – Animated.

 
The following five capsule reviews pertain to the 2014 Academy Award nominees in the category for Best Short Film – Animated. The films come from Norway, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and two from the United States. As with most Oscar groupings, these five films each bring a different unique quality to the table. Some use groundbreaking concepts in animation, while others offer much deeper stories. Character development seems to be the primary trend among the films, as all five follow a timeline as opposed to only occurring in one act. The minor exception to this would be the shortest film, A Simple Life, which earns my vote on account of its humor and delivery. My least favorite of the films, The Bigger Picture, displays the most original concept in animation itself. And The Dam Keeper, the last film reviewed here, has won the most recognition by film festivals and award wins, making it the frontrunner, statistically, for the coveted award.

 
Needless to say, all of these projects contain their own individual niches, and each one bears a different tone and emotion as the stories unravel. So without further ado, here are the nominations:

 

 
Me & My Moulton
During the spring of 1965, the story of a family consisting of post-modernist parents and their three daughters is told through the eyes of the 7-year-old middle child, the personification of animator/writer/director Torill Kove. Despite fear in the air during and after the Grenade Man attacks in Oslo, combined with the much more pressing matter of Norway’s economy still in the process of introducing itself into the intercontinental petroleum industry, the youthfully naïve narrator shares her and her sisters’ desire to own a bicycle.

 
Other adult concepts and behaviors are seen through the eyes of the children, and, accordingly, are judged as “not normal,” including concepts such as their three-legged dinner table chairs, relationship difficulties of their neighbors, and an inexplicable disappearance of a good friend. The narrator’s sensitive nature further complicates her desire for normalcy in her family, as well as her capability of communicating these desires to her parents.

 
The film’s historical placement combines with the characteristic embodied in the narrator’s parents to lend more relevance to the advent of the Moulton bicycle. While the title concept is forgotten until the conclusion, its significance with respect to the negotiations that had been going on between Norway and England, among other countries, makes the entire experience of this gem worthwhile. Kove is no stranger to the Oscars, having previously won in 2007 for The Danish Poet.

 

Me and my Moulton
Me and My Moulton is a terrific piece dealing with perception and the interpretation of children, whose observation of the events occurring around them reveals intrigue rather than ignorance on the part of the narrator, who never mentions the events that occurred during this very significant year in Norway’s history. It is a perfect piece for a class in Norwegian social studies, and well worth multiple viewings. It is humorous and charming, though some more conservative minds might disagree with the completely unsexual animation of nude children.

 

I give it 92%.

 

 
Feast
A stray dog finds a home and tells his story through the meals he so desperately seeks from his master. For any who attended Disney’s smash hit, Big Hero 6, this is the short film played before the main feature. The title can be derived from the “one man’s trash” analogy as a starving animal suddenly finds a home where his master’s leftovers get emptied into a bowl and are subsequently devoured by the very appreciate scamp. As time goes on, different meals and tastes are scarfed down. Some delicious, some bland.

 
Through the eyes of the dog, Winston, a man’s life is seen as he transitions into a relationship and faces the trials and tribulation that come along. Winston is not spared, as evidenced by a single event: the disappointing serving of vegetables. Yuck!

 
Feast shares story and character concepts similar to last year’s animated short winner, Mr. Hublot, about a shut-in tinkerer who takes in a robotic dog that eventually makes his life more enjoyable. Virtually the same story occurs here, but is told with much more fascination to the emotional connections between pet and master. As Winston sees his master develop, he also learns how to care back for his schlubby provider of amazing food.

 

feast-image
Winston the dog is absolutely a show stealer whose innocence makes him truly loveable to any audience member willing to be touched by his heart. For dog owners, a very special feeling of sympathy is felt for Winston as he is shown to reflect the emotions of his master, ranging from unbridled joy to overwhelming sadness. The ending makes for adequate fodder to see a continuation to the story and, at the very least, a place in the Disney world for a new favorite non-talking animal character.

 

I rate it at 90%.

 

 
A Single Life
At a mere two minutes, it might take longer to read this review than to view the amazing work of Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins, and Marieke Blaauw. While having a meal one day, solo character Pia discovers a record with abilities beyond just the playing of music. As Pia experiments with the record’s power, she quickly becomes enthralled with the ability to control it. Unfortunately, control can be very easy to lose when you go too far.

 
It is always fun to see a small production company making a big splash with an Oscar nomination. Prior to and occurring alongside A Single Life, the production company Job, Joris & Marieke maintains its Netherlands web page featuring more animated shorts, music videos, and other humorous characters and segments.

 

single_character
Though the shortest of the nominated short films, A Single Life is the most succinct in its delivery of the concept, which marches to the beat of its own drum rather than tell an overly complex story. It is short. It is sweet. It is a winner.

 

I give it 95%.

 

 
The Bigger Picture
A film from the UK about night and day brothers facing the struggle of what to do with mom. The narrative of one brother is shown as he struggles with the angst of taking care of his aging and ailing mother. At the same time, he faces the resistance of his brother, who implores that mom be put in a home sooner rather than later. The chaotic nature of the main character’s situation is made apparent by his daydream scenarios of overflowing water and art dissolving off the wall. Eventually, the story progresses and the characters are found to be not as two-dimensional as their portrayals on the walls might seem.

 
All this occurs in a stop-motion animated world that combines hand-drawn two-dimensional wall art with three-dimensional props that alternate between actual materials and papier-mâché renderings, allowing the characters to pour a cup of tea or pick up a tray of items. Director Daisy Jacobs worked very closely with cinematographer Max Williams and model animator Chris Wilder to create a world vastly different from anything that has ever been done before in animation.

 

Animation_TheBiggerPicture
Crude though the painting and setup might appear, Jacobs clearly had a vision for how she wanted this animated. In that regard, The Bigger Picture delivers exactly what it sets out to do. Using life size drawings of people, Wilder was able to create perfectly proportioned models of arms and props to tie in the actions of the characters. Williams’s efforts with the camera take an approach with respect to lighting and camera angles that create a magical perception not as easily achieved with a live action film.

 
Though this nominee is the most artistically arranged, the story is bland and the film itself is hardly memorable. However, the collaborative efforts by Jacobs and Wilder combined with the innovative cinematography not seen in the other nominated films make this a staple in crossover animation.

 
I rate it at 80%.

 

 
The Dam Keeper
An unsung hero’s world is turned over when he meet a new classmate. In a town of turtle, raccoons, ostriches, and alligators, a young pig bears the responsibility of protecting everyone from the darkness of a smog that is kept out by a windmill that sits on a dam. Every morning, the pig must reset the windmill to keep the smog out before heading to school. No one in the town seems to know that he is the one keeping out death, but Pig tolerates and accepts his place.

 
Until the day he meets Fox, a new student who laughs with Pig and makes him feel like he belongs. Unfortunately, attraction leads to emotional attachment, and when Pig feels hurt by a perceived action, he shirks his duty of protecting the land. At that point, the story takes a very dark turn from adolescent courtship to quasi-heroic rescue.

 

Making-The-Dam-Keeper-2
Though briefly narrated in voice-over by Lars Mikkelsen, the story is told in silent fashion with only laughs and sound effects being heard. The animation itself was generated with over 8,000 hand drawn paintings collaborated by supervising animator, Erick Oh. Directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi worked together to ensure the art would honor the premise of the story. The two had previously worked on the Oscar-winning Pixar film, Toy Story 3.

 
Of the 2014 nominated shorts, The Dam Keeper offers the most intricate story involving aspects of youthful angst and grown-up obligation. Younger viewers might not be as intrigued and may even lose interest before the major turn in the story. Kids may even find some trepidation when the film reaches its relatively daunting climax.

 
Ultimately, the work of Kondo and Tsutsumi combines with Oh’s animation and a terrific original score by Zach Johnston and Matteo Roberts (members of indie band Phox) to make a film that tells an ageless fairy tale about coming of age and accepting responsibility. Pun intended, this one truly is a keeper.

 

I give it 94%.

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Herbert M. Shaw began writing movie reviews for his high school newspaper and hasn't stopped since. In 2005, his radio program "The Shaw Report" was started with WCDB Albany 90.9 FM in Albany, New York, and lives on with online streaming at www.wcdbfm.com. In addition to film and TV reviews, Herbert also covers a variety of pop culture events surrounding technology, gaming, and the arts. He has covered every single New York Comic Con since 2006, and writes an annual Oscar prediction guide.