Borrowed Time: a sheriff returns to the site of a crash, the source of his guilt, the symbol of his grief. The animation is twelve steps above incredible, from the flecks of gray in his beard to his slightly crooked teeth and the just-noticeable ripple of his mustache in a gentle breeze, the animators clearly know what they’re doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj tell the story precisely and economically, every frame adding a tragic detail. Builds to an impressive emotional valve in just under 7 minutes.
Pearl: told from a hatchback car that has traveled the country with a dream and a song, Pearl is the story of a girl, her father, and their music, clearly a family gift. We got to see this short in the Oscar package at the fabulous Bytowne theatre, which means we saw it on the big screen, which is actually not how it was intended to be shown. Pearl is the first virtual reality movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Director Patrick Osborne chooses a blocky animation style paired with endearing music that makes me wish that I too had enjoyed the VR experience, because it’s a whirlwind of pride, sacrifice, and in virtual reality, you’re the one with camera: every viewing would literally be a slightly different movie.
Piper: this is the one most of you will already be familiar with, having screened in advance of Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory. It’s about a baby sandpiper being taught to forage for her own food. The beach is not always as serene as it looks and an unexpected wave leads to some PTSD for one cute little birdie. But she learns confidence and resilience, and the joy of helping others, all in less than 6 minutes. The animation is stunning. The ocean’s foam impressed me, the movement of each individual grain of sand. In great Pixar tradition, writer-director Alan Barillaro offers us something truly beautiful.
Blind Vaysha: pictograph-style animation (Sean called it “deliberately ugly”, I would describe it more like wood-cuttings, if I was feeling generous) tells a parable of a little girl born effectively blind – her left eye seeing only the past, her right only the future, which means the present is one big blind spot. And guess what? There isn’t any happiness in the past or in the future, it’s all happening right now and if you can’t see that, you can’t really see anything. Director Theodore Ushev has a great theme and plays on it with swirling visuals, challenging the audience to experimentation.
Pear Cider & Cigarettes: after several warnings to remove children from the audience, this “graphic” offering by writer-director Robert Valley is narrated in the first-person about Rob’s charismatic but troubled friend, Techno. Techno’s near god-like status comes crashing down as he slowly poisons himself to death with alcohol. It’s definitely the only animated short with full-frontal nudity. It was originally a graphic novel, or novels, comprising several volumes, which is why this short film clocks in at a hefty 35 minutes, every single frame of which is hand-drawn by Valley himself, over the course of half a decade or so.
The verdict: Piper’s going to win. Borrowed Time is probably its only real competition, and I feel they’re both deserving. I’m not sure how many Academy voters will have seen Pearl in VR but even the theatrical cut is immersive and interesting. Can the animation team from Google really win an Oscar? While Blind Vaysha certainly has an eye-catching style, the story didn’t draw me in, and it ended too abruptly and without much resolution. Pear Cider and Cigarettes down right turned me off. If you’re going to bother animating a 30 minute sequence, you should also go to the trouble of writing, then editing your story- the narrative style just didn’t work for me. I feel unpatriotic down-voting both Canadian efforts, but them’s the breaks; Pixar’s still at the top of the heap. Take aim, animators.