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Oscars 2021 – Best Animated Short

Alex reviews the nominees in the short film categories for the 2021 Oscars. The following are his thoughts on the Animated Short nominees.

Burrow

The second from Pixar’s SparkShorts division to receive a nomination, this is one of the studio’s lighter entries when compared to the subject matter of SparkShorts’ first nominee, last year’s Kitbull. Burrow focuses on a cute little bunny who has just moved into a new hole and is set on getting started with building her dream home. The inexperienced bunny is too bashful to ask for help from her friendly animal neighbors, but she quickly finds out that constructing a home by herself is probably more work than she is cut out for.

The 2D animation style, a stark contrast to Pixar’s typically photorealistic CGI, offers charm and personality through the simple character designs. There are comically amusing wide shots giving us a sense of geography as the bunny keeps accidentally digging into other critters’ homes, each subsequent encounter proving more disastrous. The necessity to ask others for help is a familiar yet nevertheless solid message for kids. As for adults, chances are they’ll admire the way Burrow also endorses communal support, particularly as they have spent the past year living in isolation from their neighbors. It really takes a village of animals to build a bunny’s warren.

Yes-People

It is funny how the implication of words can depend on a given situation. Sometimes, even the simplest of words can have the widest array of changes in meaning, as illustrated in Yes-People. The short chronicles the daily activities of an Icelandic apartment complex, its tenants a vast array of colorful characters. They range from an elderly couple, a private music tutor and her disgruntled adolescent son, and an obese man in an unhappy marriage with his alcoholic wife.

As the title suggests, only one term is spoken by the ensemble, that in the affirmative (with the exception of an instance where a character grumbles disapprovingly upon seeing falling snow outside their window). The enjoyment of Yes-People is seeing its characters apply this term to various situations; The music tutor struggling to vocalize confidence in her student’s botched flute practice; The obese man pulling out a chocolate chip cookie to munch on in his office cubicle; The sounds of passionate lovemaking that can be heard from several floors below. The mileage gained from this one word is cleverly creative and makes for a delightful, simple short.

If Anything Happens, I Love You

What do you do when you feel like everything you love has been taken from you? It is the unspoken question a married couple confront while coping with the untimely passing of their young daughter. They hardly make any eye contact with each other, words never spoken. Neither can spend a day without seeing an old relic of their little girl, like a blue shirt she used to wear, or a dent in the wall from her kicking a soccer ball too hard, which reopens emotional scars.

Done in sketchy pencil drawings, the film’s monochromatic palette casts a somber cloud over a couple contending with an unspeakable tragedy. A literal shadow of their daughter lingers in their presence, struggling to offer comfort. Color appears sparsely in little pieces, such as the girl’s blue shirt, or the golden glow of candlelight when she tries spaghetti for the first time. Indeed, these visual punctuations plays a part in the film’s moving climax when the parents finally let down their emotional barriers, their daughter’s absence bringing them together once more. By far the most emotional of the nominees, this stands a good chance at winning.

Opera

I enjoy watching these short film nominees because of the desire to see auteurs overcome the time limitations to create something exhilarating, wondrous, and wholly unique. Opera is one of those examples, the most audacious of the nominees in this category, if not the best.

Picture it like this: In a single shot, we see the daily inner machinations of a giant pyramid populated by an entire civilization of tiny figures. To describe the amount of detail within would take up an entire article, but I will raise a few highlights based on my notes. Denizens near the top live a life of luxury; a bloated king engorges upon the food offered by his acolytes. We see a reenactment of the Last Supper. As we make our descent, the imagery turns dark, along with tone. Workers live in horrid conditions more akin to slavery. Sodomites are lurking in the shadows. At the bottom, a brutal battle breaks out between two races of citizens, and in the grim aftermath, the day starts all over again.

From the description, there is a lot for viewers to unpack within Opera‘s nine minutes and demands repeat viewings just to catch all the tiny little details within the pyramidic world director Erick Oh creates. Readings can be made  concerning religion, power structures, and human history. If Anything Happens may be the one that will pull voters heartstrings the most, but out of all the shorts here, Opera was the one I found the most stimulating and provocative.

Genius Loci

The term Genius Loci is described as “the prevailing character or atmosphere of a place” in western culture. The questions the film of the same name explores are what kind of environment our heroine, Reine, inhabits, and whether she allows said environment to define her.

As the film opens, Reine is hanging out at a friend’s flat and is invited to stay over for dinner. The withdrawn Reine declines, and while her friend leaves the kitchen for a second, Reine climbs out the window and explores the urban jungle. Adrien Merigeau visualizes Reine’s isolation through abstract figures constantly changing shape, and color schemes shifting from vibrant to monochromatic. She can only see people as either figures of menace, or environmental entities, such as a woman turning into a tree.

Why does Reine feel cut off from her threatening surroundings? Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she is black? Perhaps it is both, a sub textual reading that can be made, particularly due to France, the short’s native country, and its own complex history with racism? Fear and anxiety are strongly conveyed in the animation as Reine risks succumbing to societal views of her in a literal transformation towards the film’s climax. Genius Loci conveys feelings of Otherness through strong visuals and ends on a note in favor of compassion and autonomy.

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