Oscar Animated Shorts Are Long on Ideas

The five Oscar-nominated animated pics use many styles and storytelling genres to explore deeper issues. Below is a look into each work of art.

Affairs of the Art

Pet taxidermy. Screw threads. Pickling. These are the delightfully strange obsessions of the family in Joanna Quinn and Les Mill’s short film. Audiences return to the life of Beryl, a middle-age, middle-class female hero who doesn’t hide her quirks and flaws or those of the people she loves. Much of the film is based on the filmmakers’ observations of people in their own lives and themselves. Beryl’s love of drawing is taken from Quinn’s own early passion for art and drawing. Mills often takes ideas for dialogue from conversations he’s heard. Quinn considered going digital for the film but ultimately went back to hand-drawn animation.
“There’s a life to it, a vitality to it, and that’s the enjoyment of the drawing,” she says. “I think after making this film and making other films, I realized now that I really enjoy the process of animation, the act of creating the movement, enjoying the lines come alive.”

Bestia

Chilean helmer Hugo Covarrubias and fellow filmmakers Tevo Diaz, Martin Erazo and Constanza Wette developed this stop-motion short as a metaphor for the political and social struggles of Covarrubias’ home country. His main character has an emotionless face that looks like the porcelain face of an old doll crafted in Eastern Europe. She is also a member of the Chilean Intelligence Directorate (DINA) in the 1970s and goes about her tasks in a solemn way until cracks appear in both her body and her mental state. The images combined with the intense score make for a grim commentary of the impact of dictatorships.
“When you work with your hands with stop-motion, you travel inside the story in a different way,” says Covarrubias. “When you hold the puppet in your hand and you create the fractures that will symbolize the fractures in a country, you feel the character and connect with them.”

Boxballet

Helmed and written by Anton Dyakov, the story follows a delicate, fragile ballerina named Olya and a gruff boxer named Evgeny. When they meet, the two seem so different it feels like a miracle they could connect at all. They slowly begin to see similarities in each other as they both contend with the physical struggles of their professions and an unlikely romance starts to develop. The hand-drawn film came out of Dyakov’s experiences as a former art teacher. He noticed girls drawing ballerinas and princesses while boys drew fighters and superheroes. It came to him that stories featuring both things would interest more audiences.

“The characters have much more in common than one might think from the first sight,” says Dyakov, who was born in what is now Kazakhstan, through a translator. “They have so much in common on the inside. They do completely different things but the burden they carry in the lives is very similar.”

Robin Robin

If you’ve ever made a wish upon a star around Christmas, it’s easy to get carried away by this stop-motion animated musical. The story follows a young robin who is raised by loving, quirky family of mice when her egg rolls into a trash dump. This 30-minute short was produced by Aardman for Netflix and directed-created by Dan Ojari and Mikey Please. The soft, felt characters are voiced by a cast of accomplished A-list actors including Gillian Anderson as a diabolical cat, Richard E. Grant as a meddling magpie and Bronte Carmichael as Robin.

“I think there’s a sense of optimism and idiocy that came about in the first place,” Please says. “We felt like, sure, we could do this thing even if it’s really difficult, we’ll be fine. And that optimism is part of our main character.”

“We had fun with shrinking down and exploring places like a kitchen with our characters,” Ojari says. “It becomes a bit more exciting when you’re at the character’s level as we are with Robin.”

The Windshield Wiper

Spanish filmmaker Alberto Mielgo’s short ponders an age-old question: What is love? A philosopher with a cigarette looks into the camera asks the question of the audience and then a series of scenes — many inspired by the helmer’s life — follow along. Most of the moments attempt to describe modern love as opposed to how it was once envisioned. Mielgo, who has a self-taught style of animation, doesn’t shrink from difficult ideas in his film.

“It’s really pretentious, perhaps,” jokes Mielgo. “It’s a question that has been around for ages and we still don’t have an answer. Something that is happening is that I realize that love is also evolving and becoming a different thing. Love was basically a tool to put two people together to have a strong family.

“But nowadays, things are changing drastically. There isn’t a need to have a big family. It’s more a focus on the individual. So, how do we evolve?”

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