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A Wide World of Animated Shorts

A record 92 animated short films have qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards, a list that will be winnowed to 10 contenders when the shortlist is announced Dec. 16. Alongside entries such as Sony’s “Hair Love” and Magic Light Pictures’ “Zog,” challengers include lauded films from animators such as Tomek Popakul’s “Acid Rain,” Siqi Song’s “Sister” and Theodore Ushev’s “The Physics of Sorrow.” Ranging from studio darlings to festival gems, the diversity of projects in the category makes for a somewhat unpredictable race, yet each year a handful of shorts float to the top, generating awards season buzz.

1. Curse of the Monkeybird (Warner Bros.)
Director: Pete Browngardt
Producers: Pete Browngardt, Sam Register
The slapstick “Indiana Jones”-inspired 2D short features classic Looney Tunes characters searching for a cursed treasure inside a jungle temple. “It was a dream come true to be able to write and direct a Porky Pig and Daffy Duck cartoon from scratch,” says Browngardt. “They are one of the great comedy duos of our time.”

Popular on Variety

2. Hair Love (Sony)
Director: Matthew A. Cherry, Bruce W. Smith, Everett Downing, Jr.
Producers: Karen Toliver, Stacey Newton, Monica A. Young
This heartwarming CG-animated short depicts the relationship between an African-American father, his daughter Zuri and her hair. “Having my first animated project hit the big screen was incredible,” Cherry says. “It was always my hope that ‘Hair Love’ could have a theatrical run and to have it happen in front of a major Sony Pictures Animation release was a dream come true.”

3. Kitbull (Pixar SparkShorts)
Director: Rosana Sullivan
Producer: Kathryn Hendrickson
“Having grown up watching 2D animation from classic Disney to Ghibli films, the medium has a strong nostalgia for me,” Sullivan says. The hand-drawn “Kitbull” was created as part of Pixar’s experimental SparkShorts program. “It was a dream to work alongside animators and painters who were masters of their craft.”

4. The Physics of Sorrow (National Film Board of Canada)
Director: Theodore Ushev
Producer: Marc Bertrand
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Georgi Gospodinov with narration by Rossif Sutherland and his father, Donald, “The Physics of Sorrow” is the first fully animated film made using encaustic wax paintings. The film tracks the outlines of an unknown man’s life as he sifts through memories. The project took eight years to complete: “Conceptually, encaustic painting was an obvious choice,” says the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, “except for the fact that no one had ever done animation with it, so I had to invent the technique.”

5. Purl (Pixar SparkShorts)
Director: Kristen Lester
Producer: Gillian Libbert-Duncan
A CG-animated story about a ball of yarn’s struggle to fit in at work, “Purl” was the first film to emerge from Pixar’s SparkShorts. “I really admire storytellers who go into their lives and find a personal truth or experience to talk about, and in making this I had to challenge myself to do the same,” Lester says.

6. Zog (Magic Light Pictures)
Directors: Max Lang, Daniel Snaddon
Producers: Michael Rose, Martin Pope
Oscar-nominated U.K. studio Magic Light Pictures teamed with South Africa’s Triggerfish for “Zog,” an adaptation of the book by Julia Donaldson. “No matter where they are, audiences want to be surprised and delighted,” Lang says, “and characters like Zog and Pearl, who have inherent tensions built into them, create great opportunities for both comedy and empathy.”

ALSO IN THE MIX

7. “Acid Rain” (Poland)
Director: Tomek Popakul
Producers: Grzegorz Waclawek, Piotr Szczepanowicz
Topping both Animafest Zagreb and GLAS 2019, the Annie Award-nominated “Acid Rain” is undoubtedly one of the most-discussed shorts of 2019. With sound design as impressive as its visuals, director Tomek Popakul has created an animated trip layered with sociopolitical issues and great beats. The 26-minute short film, which was produced by Animoon, FINA and the Polish Film Institute, follows Young and Skinny on an unusual road trip to a woodland rave that comes to a disturbing climax. The film, which employs motion capture to create natural movements for its dancers, is underscored by the continuous throb of electronic dance music. With warped perspectives, undulating backgrounds and a psychedelic palette, “Acid Rain” is a truly immersive experience.

8. “Coaster” (U.S.)
Directors: Amos Sussigan
Producers: Amos Sussigan, Dan Lund
“Coaster” is a coming-of-age animated short that follows a recent graduate experiencing the literal ups and downs of adulthood after moving into his first home, which happens to be built atop a roller coaster in sync with his emotions. The nearly eight-and-a-half minute CGI-animated short is slickly brought to life by independent filmmaker and Disney effects animator/designer Dan Lund, who, in addition to serving as effects design lead for both “Frozen” and “Frozen II,” has also worked on the studio’s Oscar-winning shorts “Paperman” and “Feast.” Lund produced and co-wrote “Coaster” with director Amos Sussigan, who is currently working on Ryan Coogler’s “Space Jam 2.”

9. “Cycles” (Walt Disney Animation Studios, U.S.)
Director: Jeff Gipson
Producers: Nicholas Russell, Lauren Brown
From first-time director Jeff Gipson (lighting artist, “Frozen,” “Zootopia,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet”), “Cycles” is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first-ever virtual reality short film. Centered around the true meaning of creating a home, and the life it holds inside its walls, the idea for the film was inspired by Gipson’s childhood with his grandparents, juxtaposed with his experiences as an adult moving them into an assisted living facility. Debuting at SIGGRAPH 2018, the production team completed “Cycles” in just four months with roughly 50 collaborators as part of Short Circuit, Disney Animation’s experimental professional development program. The team developed new techniques in-house to effectively tell a story in this burgeoning medium, including VR storyboarding, and unique use of light and color saturation to help guide the viewer’s experience.

10. “Daughter” (Czech Republic)
Director: Daria Kashcheeva
Producer: Zuzana Rohacova
Daria Kashcheeva’s animated family puppet drama, already an Academy Student Awards gold medalist, is a serious contender in the 2020 Oscar race. The 15-minute stop-motion animated film was produced at FAMU, in co-production with MAUR film, and premiered at Annecy, where it won both the Cristal for best student film and the Young Jury Award. An intimate and moving interplay between two characters who haven’t really been able to communicate with each other over the course of their relationship, “Daughter” is beautifully photographed, employing a hand-held camera feel with big close-ups, low depth-of-field and a lot of motion, lending it an authentic, documentary-like immediacy.

11. “Egg” (France/Denmark)
Director: Martina Scarpelli
Producers: Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, Lana Tankosa Nikolic, Pierre Baussaron
Martina Scarpelli’s disturbing and provocative “Egg” offers a fresh perspective on the complex subject of eating disorders and anorexia, using a blend of 2D and 3D animation to break through the limitations of the popular discourse. The 12-minute fantasy/horror animated short, which was inspired by the director’s own experiences, is an exploration of strength, obsession and desire, delving into the dangerously alluring nature of the illness without glamorization. The stark black and white, hand-drawn “Egg” creates an artificially perfect world where simple, angular shapes are offset by the roundness of the egg, reflecting the unattainable perfection so many people experiencing anorexia feel they need to embody. Co-produced by Miyu Productions and Late Love Production, “Egg” has won more than 30 awards on the festival circuit, including the Golden Dove at DOK Leipzig and the Grand Jury Award at the AFI Fest, and was recently shortlisted for the prestigious César Awards.

12. “Hands” (U.S.)
Director: John Canemaker
Producer: Peggy Stern
“Hands,” the latest short film from Oscar-winning animator John Canemaker and producer Peggy Stern (“The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” 2005) is an adaptation of Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 short story from the “Winesburg, Ohio” literary series that caused a sensation 100 years ago and remains topical and relevant today. Beautifully drawn, “Hands” follows Wing Biddlebaum, an eccentric, nervous, isolated individual — an Anderson “grotesque” — who was a victim of homophobic prejudice as a result of his benevolent touching of students in his charge, leading to personal catastrophe. Biddlebaum’s restless hands, once the character’s means of communicating with the world, and likened by Anderson to “the beatings of the wings of an imprisoned bird,” fly across the screen.

13. “Hors Piste” (France)
Director: Léo Brunel, Loris Cavalier, Camille Jalabert, Oscar Malet
Producer: Julien Deparis
The two best rescue workers in the region are ready for their new mission, but despite their professionalism and determination, it won’t go as planned. The attempted mountain rescue of a stranded skier goes horribly wrong in hilarious festival favorite “Hors Piste,” which was produced at the French animation school Ecole des Nouvelles Images. The six-minute CG-animated short has been a festival hit, screening at more than 150 festivals and winning 47 awards, including a nomination at the Annie Awards, a BAFTA for best animated student short film, the best animated student short film prize at SPARK Animation, and the best animated short prize and Jury Award at NYICFF.

14. “I’m going out for cigarettes”/“Je sors acheter des cigarettes” (France)
Director: Osman Cerfon
Producers: Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, Pierre Baussaron
Twelve-year-old Jonathan lives with his sister, his mother, and also some men, all of whom look the same and pop up in the unlikeliest places. Produced by Miyu Productions, this surrealist family drama screened in competition at SXSW 2019, winning prizes at Locarno and Stuttgart, among other festivals. The digitally-animated 2D short employs a graphic visual style influenced by American comics artists like Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns, as well as the work of Russian animator Igor Kovalyov.

15. “Maestro” (France)
Director: Illogic
Producer: Bloom Pictures
Delivering a memorable symphonic performance, French collective Illogic returns with the follow-up to their 2017 Oscar-nominated graduation short “Garden Party” with an expanded cast of CGI woodland creatures. The six original Illogic members — Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon and Lucas Navarro — formed Illogic during their studies at French animation school MOPA. Dramatically set to a piece from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma,” the two-minute “Maestro” was produced at Bloom Pictures, the collective’s new animation studio in Montpellier.

16. “Marooned” (U.S.)
Director: Andrew Erekson
Producer: Jeff Hermann
In this stylized look at the not-too-distant future, DreamWorks Animation’s “Marooned” tells the story of a cantankerous robot named C-0R13. With a score by Irish composer Amie Doherty, this eight-minute CG-animated short film with all the feels is loaded with Easter eggs like nods to “The Rocketeer.” Stranded on an abandoned lunar outpost, C-0R13 longs to return to Earth, and with a partially-built ship and his last power source, this determined robot will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. But when C-0R13 accidentally stumbles on a deactivated robot named A-L1C1A, his character and his mission are put to the test when his naive little friend helps him learn what it truly means to be selfless.

17. “Mind My Mind” (Netherlands/Belgium)
Director: Floor Adams
Producer: Willem Thijssen, Tom Van Gestel, Floor Adams
Directed by Dutch filmmaker Floor Adams, “Mind My Mind” is a hand-drawn, 2D digitally-animated comedic drama about Chris, who relies on social scripts to survive the social world. For him, it’s not easy to go off-script. Especially since he’s obsessed with German dive bombers and just wants to date a girl. The nearly 40-minute short film has screened at numerous festivals, picking up the grand prize at Indy Shorts in the U.S. and winning audience awards at Anima, Stuttgart and the Go Short International Film Festival. “Mind My Mind” is co-produced by CinéTé, Fabrique Fantastique and Curious Wolf. CinéTé producer Willem Thijssen previously won Oscars for producing Michael Dudok de Wit’s “Father and Daughter” (2000) and Belgian animator Nicole Van Goethem’s “A Greek Tragedy” (1986).

18. “My Moon” (U.S.)
Director: Eusong Lee
Producer: Sarah Kambara
Produced by King of Pine in collaboration with Chromosphere, the studio behind the visuals for last year’s Oscar-nominated short film, “Age of Sail,” the beautifully animated “My Moon” includes background and color design by Lauren Zurcher and the incredibly talented Jasmin Lai. The eight-minute, digitally 2D-animated short, which won first prize at the FLICKERS Rhode Island International Film Festival, is a dreamy mediation on the relationship between three celestial bodies, the Earth, the Sun and the Moon. Tinged with sadness, the story revolves around the nature of the way these three beings coexist, highlighting how the Earth needs both emotional and practical interaction with the Sun and Moon in order to survive.

19. “The Opposites Game” (U.S.)
Director: Lisa LaBracio, Anna Samo
Producer: Gerta Xhelo
“The Opposites Game,” produced as part of the “There’s a Poem for That” series, is TED-Ed’s first Oscar-qualifying entry. Running a little under five minutes, this powerful short film tackling gun violence, which is based on the poem by Brendan Constantine, has screened at more than 30 festivals including Animafest Zagreb, Anima Mundi and the Encounters Film Fest, winning the Best in Show Award at the 50th ASIFA East Festival. Inspired by events in Constantine’s own classroom, “The Opposites Game” was written as a tribute, not only to his passionate young students, but to his friend Patricia Maisch who helped disarm the shooter in the infamous Tucson shooting of 2011.

20. “The Ostrich Politic” (France)
Director: Mohamad HouHou
Producers: Justin Jegat, Laodice Kolk
A finalist at the Student Academy Awards and BAFTA Student Film Awards, “The Ostrich Politic” was directed by Lebanese filmmaker HouHou during his studies at French animation school Gobelins. The seven-minute, photorealistic CG-animated short was a hit on the festival circuit, including at Annecy and Clermont-Ferrand, winning the prize for best animation at the LA shorts Fest. Broadcast online by ARTE channel, it has been viewed more than a million times. Zooming in on environmental destruction, the short has a dark charm, using cinematography and lighting to evoke “Modern Times,” Busby Berkeley choreographies and the “Dr. Strangelove” war room atmosphere all in one go.

21. “The Procession”/“Le cortège” (Canada)
Director: Pascal Blanchet, Rodolphe Saint-Gelais
Producer: Julie Roy
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, “The Procession” is the first collaboration between illustrator and graphic novel writer Pascal Blanchet and animator and filmmaker Rodolphe Saint-Gelais. Lavishly set to music by Pierre Lapointe and Philippe Brault, the 2D-animated short has a chic visual style inspired by a mid-20th century aesthetic with Art Deco flourishes. A poem in black, white and pink, the film’s refined elegance and implacable geometry show us how, despite the pressure to keep up appearances, love finds a way.

22. “Roughhouse” (U.K./France)
Director: Jonathan Hodgson
Producers: Richard Van Den Boom, Jonathan Hodgson
In “Roughhouse,” U.K. filmmaker Jonathan Hodgson’s BAFTA-winning animated short about teenage bullying, three friends embark on a new adventure in a strange town, but when a manipulative new member joins their gang their loyalty is torn apart with terrifying consequences. Conceived out of what Hodgson calls “a nagging sense of guilt,” and completed over a 15-year period, the 15-minute hand-drawn film explores themes of leadership, adult bullying and in particular how changes in a person’s status can radically alter the way their peers behave towards them. “Roughhouse” was co-produced in France with Papy3D Productions and Arte; Hodgson previously won a BAFTA for “The Man With The Beautiful Eyes,” in 2000, and was nominated again in 2002 for “Camouflage.”

23. “Sister” (U.S./China)
Director: Siqi Song
Producer: Siqi Song
Siqi Song’s graduation film “Sister” has won four Oscar-qualifying awards at festivals including the HollyShorts Film Festival, the Aspen Shortsfest and the Austin Film Festival, and was nominated for the Annie Awards, the Sundance Film Festival Jury Award and a BAFTA Student Film Award. The eight-minute needle-felted stop-motion short grapples with China’s “One Child” policy, of which the Chinese-born Song is a survivor. In the film, a man thinks back to his childhood memories of growing up with an annoying little sister in China in the 1990s, wondering what his life would have been like if things had gone differently. Created as part of the CalArts Experimental Animation Program, “Sister” blends fantasy with the harsh realities of living under this draconian policy to chilling effect.

24. “Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days” (Canada/France/Portugal)
Director: Regina Pessoa
Producers: Abi Feijó, Julie Roy, Reginald de Guillebon
“Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days” is about the special relationship between renowned Portuguese animator Regina Pessoa (“Tragic Story with Happy Ending,” “Kali the Little Vampire”) and her uncle. A testament to Pessoa’s love for this eccentric, who was an artistic inspiration and played a key role in her becoming a filmmaker, “Uncle Thomas” is a moving tribute to a poet of the everyday who was obsessed by numbers and calculations. The 13-minute mixed-media short film, which combines hand-drawn digital and stop-motion animation, contains undeniable formal mastery, employing a distinctive engraving aesthetic that wields textures, shadow and light to create an account that’s both personal and universal. Nominated for an Annie Award, “Uncle Thomas” was co-produced by Ciclope Filmes, the National Film Board of Canada, and Oscar-nominated animation studio Les Armateurs.

DON’T FORGET

“Coffee Break” by María Cristina Pérez, Mauricio Cuervo Rincón (Colombia)
“Girl in the Hallway” by Valerie Barnhart (Canada)
“Dani” by Lizzy Hogenson (U.S.)
“Dont Know What” by Thomas Renoldner (Austria)
“Jing Hua” by Jerry Huynh (U.S.)
“Sitara: Let Girls Dream” by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (Pakistan)

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