Oscars 2021: Best Animated Short Film Nominees Reviewed

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Shaun Munro reviews 2021’s Oscar-nominated animated short films…

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With the 93rd Academy Awards imminently due to take place, what better time to shine a light on the typically underserved short film categories? This year’s slate of nominees for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar range from traditional and quaint to boundary-pushing, transgressive, and inevitably heartbreaking.

The short film categories are notoriously tough to predict where winners are concerned, but having screened all five of the animated nominees, here’s how they ended up ranking from worst to best:

5. Burrow

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Madeline Sharafian’s Burrow was originally supposed to appear in front of Soul during its eventually scrapped theatrical release, and so ended up dropping on Disney+ as a standalone short the same day that Soul hit the platform.

Surprisingly enough, the highest-profile short from the most famous animation studio in the world is actually the “worst” of the lot. The wordless 2D short is centered around a young rabbit as she attempts to create her dream home underground.

Burrow is certainly cute and spritely where animation is concerned – though David Lally’s musical score is the easy highlight – but it also feels a bit too pat and simplistic for its own good. Rather than do the thing Pixar does best – that is, tell a deceptively simple story which also operates on a higher existential tier – what you see here is pretty much what you get.

Still, nobody could accuse it of outstaying its welcome at just six minutes in length, and it’s nothing if not an agreeably bite-sized burst of wonder for younger audiences (and their parents hoping to wring every last penny from their D+ subscription).

Burrow is pretty lightweight as Pixar fare goes, but its adorable animation and sweet message nevertheless make it a worthwhile sit.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

4. Yes-People

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Icelandic filmmaker Gísli Darri Halldórsson’s Yes-People can’t technically be called wordless, but it does limit the verbiage of its characters to one simple word – “yes.”

This cute, quaint animation is focused on a smorgasbord of citizens in an apartment block going about their lives, their day-to-day travails depicted through only physical actions and their various intoned utterances of the aforementioned word.

Caught somewhere between the chilly existentialism of a Roy Andersson film and the stop-motion stylings of Aardman – though this was rendered entirely in a computer – this is a pacy and conceptually clever short that says a lot about life without physically saying much at all.

Running the gamut from the darkness of an alcoholic woman saying yes to the bottle to the cheekiness of a woman screaming her lungs out in the throes of sexual ecstasy, it encompasses large swaths of the human experience in just eight minutes.

Its faux-claymation aesthetic will likely divide audiences, but Yes-People’s sharp wit transpires through its shrewdly expressive characters and clever deconstruction of human communication.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

3. Genius Loci

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With its experimental, abstract animated style, Genius Loci is easily the least-accessible of the five shorts, and further to that point, the longest at a whole 16 minutes.

But Adrien Mérigeau’s film, focused on the surreal experiences of a young Black woman, Reine, in the midst of a mental health crisis, compensates for its opaque sense of meaning with its startling, fidgety array of images.

Mérigeau cleverly employs a gorgeously soupy collision of distinct animated styles to convey the frayed nature of Reine’s reality, its beauty ranging from breathtaking to legitimately quite terrifying.

Even though the narrative isn’t always crystalline in its meaning, every frame of the short is awash in imagination, depicting mental illness on screen in ways both disarming and haunting – perhaps most memorably, showing an apple buzzing like a mobile phone.

While easier to appreciate for its ambitious aesthetic pleasures than its inscrutable storytelling, Genius Loci captures the terror of psychological disquiet with arresting singularity.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

2.  If Anything Happens I Love You

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Will McCormack and Michael Govier’s If Anything Happens I Love You is without question the most outwardly upsetting of the five nominees, focused on a crestfallen couple lamenting the absence of their daughter.

It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that the couple are bereaved, and though the bulk of the short is a quietly devastating meditation on grief, it becomes something else entirely once the cause of the daughter’s death is revealed.

Rendered by way of traditional, minimalist 2D animation and set to a wondrous musical score from Lindsay Marcus, there’s an endearing simplicity to its scrappy, sketched imagery. The late-stage tonal shift is undeniably harsh and won’t work for everyone – especially as there’s little in the way of true catharsis to be found – but it nevertheless feels honest and true to the American experience of today.

In just 12 minutes, If Anything Happens I Love You weaves a bold, heart-wrenching tale of grief that asks discomforting questions about the realities of contemporary America.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

1. Opera

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Ex-Pixar animator Erick Oh delivers the most striking and memorable short from any of the three categories this year – a gorgeous nine-minute tableau which continually zooms out from the peak of a pyramid all the way to the base far below.

The pyramid contains dozens of compartments which feature a diverse smattering of human activity both light and dark – worship, fucking, excretion, food production, and so on – passing clear commentary on the very industrialisation of human experience.

Part-video game, part-art installation, part-moving tapestry, Opera is the short which benefits most from being watched at home, given the sheer amount of animated activity taking place on any small segment of the screen. Pausing any moment of the short reveals fascinating, often hilarious nuances hiding in plain sight, serving as a testament to the mind-boggling level of detail on offer.

Ingeniously encapsulating the ebb and flow of human existence – from capitalism to sex to warfare – Opera is a short which begs to not only be watched but endlessly scrutinised in all of its splendid detail.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.

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