Every year as we get closer to the Oscars, talk swirls about the films in contention for best picture and the actors and actresses who are and aren't getting nominations. Smaller categories often get passed over, but in the case of animation shorts, viewers can see an entertaining showcase of this year's nominees at the Tower Theater starting this weekend.
This year's lineup is a diverse bunch, and aside from being animated, about all they have in common is their short format (all but one are under 10 minutes long). For many people whose typical exposure to the world of animation comes via Pixar's annual CGI productions, this is a great way to see how some smaller outfits are interpreting the genre.
That being said, most audiences will be familiar with "Piper," the animated short about an adorable young bird fishing for shells on a beach that ran before last summer's "Finding Dory." "Piper" was, and is, a fantastic example of how a powerful message can get across with a short running time.
While most of the nominated shorts are family friendly (more on that later), "Piper" is the most likely candidate that will appeal to young children. The content of Pixar's Oscar competition is considered family-appropriate, but their subject matter is aimed at an older audience.
These competitors include "Borrowed Time," a brooding short about an adult sheriff who returns to the scene of a tragedy from his youth involving his father, and "Pearl," a musical short presented almost entirely from the interior point of view of an old beater car as it acts as the stage for a father and daughter who chase their love of music.
One of the more thought-provoking shorts is "Blind Vaysha," a kind of fairy tale about a girl born with a unique eye condition: one eye only sees the past, and the other sees the future. This short, directed by Theodore Ushev, uses some creative animation over a split screen style that demonstrates how, for example, when Vaysha encounters a man her own age, in one eye she sees a child, and in the other she sees a hunched old man.
The final nominee is "Pear Cider and Cigarettes," a first-person narrative about an artist named Rob who travels to China to be with his childhood friend Techno, who is awaiting a liver transplant. "Pear Cider" is the only nominee to veer into R-rated territory and will be presented at the end of the showcase at the Tower Theater with a preceding title card that will give parents and kids an opportunity to exit the theater if they choose.
In addition to the five nominees, the animation showcase also includes "The Head Vanishes," "Asteria" and "Once Upon a Line," which beef up the total run time by another 20-plus minutes. This added value should be especially appreciated by parents who want to skip "Pear Cider," but still want enough content to justify the total ticket price. (The three added shorts were not screened for critics.)
Altogether, the animation showcase is a fun and inspiring package of unique animated work of the sort that often slips under the publicity radar. For families who have any interest in the genre, the shorts are well worth a look.
As mentioned, the animation showcase is not rated, but "Pear Cider and Cigarettes" enters R-rated territory with some profanity and sexual content. The other entries should be appropriate for ages 8 and up.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can find more of his movie reviews on YouTube.