The average Oscar watcher may be clueless about the list of contenders in the animated short category. However, toon insiders can often tell you which titles are going to land a nomination a few months before the race has even begun.
The 1998 winner, Jan Pinkava’s “Geri’s Game” was one of the industry’s darlings, and last year’s Oscar-winner “Bunny,” a wonderful, mystical, CGI work by Blue Sky’s Chris Wedge, benefited from strong word-of-mouth many months before the award was handed out in March.
According to Terry Thoren, CEO of L.A.-based animation studio Klasky Csupo and organizer of the World Animation Celebration festival, the following shorts seem to be the front-runners in the field:
- Steve Moore’s “The Indescribable Nth” is a meticulously hand-drawn short about the owner of a snow-dome store whose life is transformed after he becomes a father. “The film evokes an immediate emotional response,” says Thoren.
- “When the Day Breaks” by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis comes with strong award pedigree. The short won the Palm D’Or at last year’s Cannes festival and won top honors at the Annecy Animation fest. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, it tells the bittersweet story of Ruby the pig, whose life takes an unexpected turn when she witnesses a stranger’s death. Tilby was previously nominated for an Oscar in 1991 for her short “Strings.”
“It’s more of a tone piece and has the feel of an Eastern European short,” notes Thoren. “It’s not linear, but it follows the characters — animals living in a human society — in their everyday lives.”
- Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove’s “Village of Idiots” is another Canadian entry. “It’s a fable about a man who lives in a small village outside of Warsaw who dreams of leaving his home,” says Thoren. “It’s the old grass-is-always-greener story. The short is ultimately about finding happiness within and not always looking for answers on the other side of the fence.”
If there are any trends this year in the animated short category it’s that the popular titles all seem to have deep messages: In essence, the shorts have become the big art films that arrive in little packages.