Oscar’s Best Animated Short Film nominations strengthen claim of animation as a distinct medium

A still from Oscar nominee for Best Animation Short "Sanjay's Super Team." Pixar via Tribune News Service

“Best Animated Short Film” is one of the oldest categories of the Academy Awards, given by the organization every year since 1932. It is also arguably one of the most ignored. There are many reasons underlying the lack of attention the category has received, but primarily it is due to the fact that the public has little or no ability to see the nominated films. Also, compared to the blockbusters that are nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film category, those short animated films that are nominated are known to have small budgets and are mostly made by less experienced directors. That said, large movie studios, seeking an easy win, have lately decided to produce movies fitting this category. This year’s nominees are truly a mix in terms of country of production, size of studios and experience of directors. There are three foreign movies, a movie produced by a massive animation company Pixar and another made by a living legend in animation. Almost none of these shorts is concerned with mass appeal. Thus they are bold, artistic movies that remind people why animation is an art form of its own.

Pixar’s movie, “Sanjay’s Super Team” (2015) will look very familiar to those who have watched “The Good Dinosaur” (2015) in theaters. A sweet short that illustrates the significance of religion through a kid’s perspective, “Sanjay’s Super Team” also touches upon the generational gap in a profound way. It is certainly not the best Pixar short, but it is an important one as it features an Indian cast and centers on a non-Western religion. It is pleasant to see Indian characters from a studio that is known to have diversity problems in its movies.

Gabriel Osorio Vargas’ “Bear Story” (2015) is likely to win this year’s race. A festival favorite, the Chilean picture illustrates an abducted circus bear’s struggles to return home. “Bear Story” is pleasant to look at but not exactly the most original movie. The dark horse of the category is definitely the Russian short “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” (2015), which features the bittersweet tale of two astronaut best friends. It is witty, clever and very touching. The movie is reminiscent of this year’s Best Picture nominee “The Martian” (2015) not only because it is a space drama but also because it has the same affecting tone and feel.

Another favorite is Richard Edmund Williams’ “The Prologue” (2015). Mainly known for his work as the Animation Director of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988), Williams is one the most iconic animators alive today. For “The Prologue” (2015), Williams collaborated with his wife, Imogen Sutton While “The Prologue” was shown, the children were advised to leave the room due to its mature content and very understandably so; the movie is very artistic and equally violent. It proves how a seemingly naïve and childish medium like animation can be used to depict gore.

The last nominee, “World of Tomorrow” (2015), is certainly the most ambitious effort. Part futuristic sci-fi and part satirical comedy, “World of Tomorrow” is clever but also laugh-out-loud funny. While most short movies are not able to convey complex messages, “World of Tomorrow” is able to do so. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the short is comparable to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s famous 1943 picture book “The Little Prince,” in terms of profundity.

Compared to “Inside Out” (2015) or “Anomalisa” (2015), the animation shorts are significantly less developed. However, they are undeniably more innovative and experimental. While animation features often attempt to imitate the language of live action films, animation shorts try to establish animation as its own medium. Perhaps it is best for these movies to be ignored, since lack of attention from the public leads directors and producers to take risks and attempt to create something unique.