This Year’s Animated Shorts Nominees Are Unbearably Bleak

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/ElectroLeague/Courtesy Jalil Moghaddan/Miyu Productions/Mast Films/
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/ElectroLeague/Courtesy Jalil Moghaddan/Miyu Productions/Mast Films/

From death row and incest to war and more war, this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Shorts are perhaps the bleakest—and worst—in recent memory. Although Pixar, which goes unrecognized this year, has no shortage of wins and nominations in this area, this group is really missing that studio’s brighter, happier stories. It could use an ounce of levity!

This year’s lineup brings, if nothing else, a fascinating blend of animation techniques to the Oscars. From doodle-esque black scrawl to stories hand-painted onto literal clothing that moves to create action, there’s a great array of creative styles. That said, the short most likely to take home the win feels like standard, Pixar-like animation without as much heart—which makes sense, considering it was written and directed by a former Pixar employee.

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The shorts may have appearances from Tim Blake Nelson, John Lennon, and a sweet young French girl, but that doesn’t make them any more entertaining. Nevertheless, we watched them so you don’t have to—and we have a good idea of what will win, to keep your Oscar ballot looking strong.

Our Uniform

The lightest subject of the bunch, Our Uniform follows a young Muslim woman explaining why the textures of our clothing define who we are in society. The film—which is also the shortest of the bunch—is based on true stories; we see the girl questioning her identity in class, the way gender places her in society, and why she has to wear a Hijab. She wants to let her hair down. Yearning to unwrap the fabric from her head, the girl spends her class time daydreaming about moving to a place where everyone is free to wear whatever clothes suit them best.

Our Uniform may be the least moving of the bunch, but what the film lacks in lasting impact, it makes up for in style. The entire short is made with hand paintings on actual items of clothing. The girl tells her story while appearing as a character on a Hijab. She speaks of others’ clothing while they appear on the jeans, the dresses, and the scarves they sport. While Our Uniform doesn’t pull at the heartstrings the same way these next four shorts do, it’s the underdog—and my personal favorite—of the five nominees.

Letter to a Pig

Coming in at 17 minutes, Letter to a Pig is the longest of this year’s nominees—and although 17 minutes is still brief, the short feels quite long. Set during dual time periods, Letter to a Pig follows Haim, a young Jewish boy running from the Nazis during the Holocaust, and then, years later, picks up as he talks to a classroom full of confused middle schoolers about being a survivor. While hiding, Haim took up residence in a pigsty—although the beasts are gross and muddy, none of the hogs judged him like humankind did.

Considering the state of the world, Letter to a Pig will definitely be one of the front-runners in this category. The animation is abstract—as is the story, at points—and told through black-and-white doodles, contributing to the dark nature of the story. But thanks to its violent ending, Letter to a Pig is almost too upsetting to be the Academy’s choice; it may even be more distressing than Best International Feature front-runner The Zone of Interest. For that reason, we’re guessing the Academy will pick a war story with a happier ending—more on that later.

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“I don’t like it when my parents leave me.” This line opens Pachyderme, a film in which Louise, a 9-year-old French girl, is whisked away to the countryside to stay with her grandparents when her parents—who often abandon her—need time alone. She is afraid of the world and tries to blend in with everything around her, giving her the opportunity to observe from far away. While staying with her grandparents, Louise tries to understand the sad parts of her life—but as a victim of incest, Louise also struggles with amnesia.

Pachyderme discusses an intense subject matter with grace, giving its protagonist the opportunity to live happily and find beauty in life even after her traumatizing upbringing. Alas, the watercolor-inspired animation itself is weak compared to its rivals. Ultimately, Pachyderme is the weakest of the bunch; the tragic story is handled with respect, but it’s not given enough time to fully develop into something more poignant.

Ninety-Five Senses

We’ve arrived at the best nominee in this category. Unique, gorgeous, and affecting, Ninety-Five Senses follows a man (voiced by Tim Blake Nelson) who loves to explore his five senses, although he no longer has the opportunity to enjoy them. The man thinks about the most memorable sights, tastes, and smells of his youth: the whiff of a fresh Reader’s Digest magazine, the shouts of his grandma, and the vision of his entire life falling apart before his eyes. Thanks to a mistake he made as a teenager, the man has spent his entire adult life on death row, where his senses are extremely limited.

Now, as the man enjoys his final meal, he thinks about the sense he may have in the afterlife. When all his senses on earth are gone, will he ever have any new experiences? Ninety-Five Senses may be sad, but it’s also masterful, displaying a new type of animation that exquisitely demonstrates each new sense. Harrowing-yet-inspiring, Ninety-Five Senses deserves the Oscar win, although it will likely lose to the next competitor on this list.

WAR IS OVER! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko

Written and directed by Pixar alum Dave Mullins (Lou), WAR IS OVER! has the greatest chance of winning the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Not only is it executive produced by Yoko Ono, as well as her son with John Lennon, Sean Lennon, but the short also brings a call for worldwide peace—a message the Academy likely enjoyed as multiple wars currently cause unrest in the world. Although its theme is timely, WAR IS OVER! takes place in an alternate timeline in World War I, where soldiers from opposing sides play chess across the battlefield, sending their moves via a friendly carrier pigeon.

Because a former Beatle is loosely attached—yes, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has a shining moment in the film—and a very cheesy ending, this short is likely to dominate in the category. WAR IS OVER! has the same emotional resonance of Kendall Jenner’s hokey 2017 Pepsi ad, with a message that effectively says, “War doesn’t have to happen if you’re nice to everyone.” Beige and brown and totally dull, WAR IS OVER! doesn’t deserve the win, but it still has all it takes to triumph on Oscars night.

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