Although they represent a wide range of visual styles and media, the 10 films shortlisted for the Oscar for animated short include a broad spectrum of European and Asian styles, as well as one thoroughly modernized Mickey Mouse toon. The candidates were chosen from 56 pictures that qualified in the category.
In the striking “Possessions” (Sunrise Inc.), created for the upcoming anthology feature “Short Peace,” Shuhei Morita brings life to designs adapted from 19th century ukiyo-e woodblock prints. A samurai who takes refuge from a storm in a remote Shinto shrine must face the angry spirits of umbrellas, fabrics and other objects that resent being abandoned by humans after decades of faithful service.
Jonathan Ng offers a technically updated homage to traditional Chinese ink painting in “Requiem for Romance” (Kungfu Romance Prods.). A subtly shifting collage of simple, brush-stroke figures and moody blue washes, “Requiem” offers a visual counterpart to the conversation between an Asian-American couple whose relationship is dissolving.
Eoin Duffy uses CG to capture the look of origami paper-folding for Albert, a squirrel seeking his lost neckerchief in “The Missing Scarf” (Belly Creative Inc.). The clever design and crisp animation of the character offer an effective contrast to the simple graphic look of the other animals he encounters.
The constantly metamorphosing images in Theodore Ushev’s “Gloria Victoria” (National Film Board of Canada) include quotes from many 20th century painters, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. The shifting visuals move to excerpts from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”).
In contrast, the faceless figures in Daniel Sousa’s “Feral” (Daniel Sousa), a monochromatic, more deliberately paced story about a “wild child” raised by wolves, recall the alienation in the canvases of Giorgio DeChirico.
Other artists found inspiration in the work of animators and live-action filmmakers. “Mr. Hublot” (Zeilt Prods.) by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, the tale of a mechanical man finding much-needed companionship with a mechanical puppy in a frantic world, recalls the look of Katsuhiro Otomo’s “Steamboy” and other Steampunk visionaries.
The bleak seaside landscapes and lumpy stop-motion figures in “Hollow Land” by Uri and Michelle Kranot
(Dansk Tegnefilm, Les Films de l’Arlequin and the National Film Board of Canada) suggest simplified versions of the dark fantasies of Czech director Jan Svankmajer.
Chris Landreth, who won the Oscar for 2004’s “Ryan,” combines live action, motion capture and CG in “Subconscious Password” (National Film Board of Canada with the participation of Seneca College Animation Arts Centre and Copperheart Entertainment), an evocation of a man’s panicky efforts to remember the name of a friend he bumps into one night in a bar.
Max Lang and Jan Lachauer, who were nominated for 2010’s “The Gruffalo,” tell another additive children’s story in “Room on the Broom” (Magic Light Pictures), adapted from a book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The friendly witch and her growing troupe of familiars recall the brightly colored look of marzipan holiday candy.
Finally, Lauren MacMullan’s “Get a Horse!” (Walt Disney Feature Animation) seamlessly blends hand-drawn and computer animation into a fast-paced tribute to the classic Mickey Mouse shorts of late ’20s and early ’30s. A clever juxtaposition of cutting-edge 3D technology and the weightless “rubber hose” animation of the silent and early sound era, “Get a Horse!” provides a welcome reminder of the humor and appeal that made Mickey the most popular animated character in the world within a year of his debut in 1928.