Tropic Sprockets / The 2O21 Oscar Shorts: Animation

By Ian Brockway

The animation category has always been somewhat eccentric, unconstrained by boundaries of plot, narrative or conventions of time and space. More than any other group, the animated shorts defy logic and are the closest to actual dreams.

This year is no exception. From the fanciful to the introspective, the jubilant to the abstract, these selections cover a full range. As in the realm of dreams, all varied emotions are represented.

First, from the artists of Pixar and Madeline Sharafian, is “Burrow.” A young rabbit wishes to make a home underground, but he has competition from other rodents. Reminiscent of the illustrations in Peter Rabbit, this film is colorful and full of whimsy.

“Genius Loci” by Adrien Merigeau, is rhythmic, wonderful and full of existentialist thought. A young woman’s philosophic rumination causes her to actually shape-shift, traveling between realms and dimensions. The woman has a holistic mindset and perspective where gravity has no pull and all things are alive and living as one thing. This colorful and rapidly moving film is rich in symbol and spirit, and references Matisse, Kandinsky and Marc Chagall.

In “If Anything Happens I Love You” by William McCormack, memory becomes a physical presence. Two parents are grieving the loss of their 10-year old daughter. Silence and sadness isolate them. Each parent blames the other. A chance bounce from a soccer ball upsets a record player which ignites a young girl’s ghost as if from a thundercloud. The slate gray and black animation is profoundly moving, yet all is not sad as the couple envision many happy times spent with their daughter. The ghost is alternately depicted as a sad bird, a formless black cloud and a pair of welcoming arms. The film’s final scene is a percussive call for gun control and the banning of AR-15s.

From South Korea, Erick Oh’s “Opera” is a colorful and stunning watchful exercise in just under nine minutes. Constructed as a sort of pyramid-shaped Buddhist Mandala, it is both sinister and sacred, illustrating the totality of experience: sex, mastication, birth, weddings, partying, feasting, worship and death, Virtually every human aspect is represented here in a dizzying and meditative display. With echoes of Dante, Paradise Lost and Moby Dick, inch after inch of the screen is filled with bacchanalia and motion. The endless activities of the pale round heads make a hypnotic choir that can lead to meanderings from the demonic to the divine or the humanistic, depending on one’s point of view. “Opera” is singularly beautiful in scope and tone and you will be hard pressed to find another short quite like it.

From Iceland, “Yes-People” presents a quirky medley of characters (of all shapes and sizes) in a style that recalls the cartoons of Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Colorful and humorous with chuckles, this urban group is frequently embarrassed by the subject of sex.

Lastly, there are three honorable mentions. Sally Hawkins and Rob Brydon star in a friendship story “The Snail and The Whale.” An amateur magician imparts joy to the young in “To Gerard” and indigenous Hawaiian histories are celebrated in the heartfelt “Kapaemahu” where the guardians of wisdom and health are beautiful, awe-inspiring, calm and transgender.

Every one of these shorts are engaging, spirited and frequently provocative. Seen collectively as a group, these films make a kaleidoscope of feeling and emotion.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com