Victoria Mullins is a current student on the MPhil in Children’s Literature, wondering how it’s already thesis time (hello Disney and German Expressionism!). Her life mantra is: What would RuPaul say?
With the seemingly endless deadlines that descend as you enter into adulthood, guilt can begin to raise its ugly head to say “tsk, tsk” as you entertain the notion of a “short break” from reading to watch something. I say “short break” as, even if you avoid films in favour of an episode of your favourite series, Netflix’s reformation of cinematic television and seamless viewing format have made it all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of binge-watching. I am so susceptible to Netflix’s siren calls that, in times of high stress, I try to avoid sailing past its alluring red-and-black website as much as possible. But, it is often in the eye of the deadline storm that I find myself most in need of the “me time” that film and television can offer. Without this time, I can become increasingly resentful of the project keeping me from it. So, I recently discovered a marvellous medicine for reclaiming the self-love of “me time” during times of high stress: short animated films.
Animated shorts are a great way of engaging with different material in a very limited amount of time. I have also found that there is a greater variety of aesthetics and narratives to be found in shorts. As they require less funding to produce, shorts are less burdened by the commercial side of filmmaking. This not only affords shorts a greater freedom of expression, but also makes them a platform for more independent production. Shorts are a great way to engage with a greater scope of animation, with output from a greater variety of animation studios and countries. So, whilst animated shorts are a good way to take a break from reading, they are also great for expanding your knowledge of animation as a whole. Here is a list of a few of my favourites, in no particular order after number one. Hopefully, you’ll give some of them a watch; even if you have already seen them, they are seriously worth watching again (and again, and again).
Bear Story (2014)
An old, lonesome bear tells the story of his life through a mechanical diorama. (iMDB)
- Originally known as: Historia de un Oso
- Runtime: 11 minutes
- Director: Gabriel Osorio
- Writer: Gabriel Osorio, Daniel Castro
- Music: Dënver
- Producer: Pato Escala Pierart
- Production Company: Punkrobot
- Made in: Chile
- Animation type: CGI
- Winner of the 2016 Oscar for Best Animated Short
It seemed fitting to start with the film that inspired me not only to write this post, but to expand my knowledge of animated shorts. I became familiar with Bear Story as I used it as my visual text for essay two. Although I have subsequently watched it MANY times, I am yet to grow tired of its captivating visuals and soundtrack. Instead I found that, with each viewing, I noticed a new detail that only furthered my enjoyment of the film. There are lots of subtle visual references to animation/cinematic history in there: from Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops to Lotte Reiniger to the Japanese storytellers of Kamishibai street-theatre.
Inspired by the exile of Leopold Osorio (the director’s grandfather and previous secretary to President Allende), Bear Story uses allegory to reflect on the atrocities of the Pinochet regime and the impact it had on domestic life in Chile. As Osorio writes in his Director’s Statement:
Bear Story leaves some questions unanswered. What happened to the bear’s family? Where are they? These are the same questions that thousands of families ask themselves, who up to this day still don’t know where their loved ones ended up. I hope these questions are never asked again. (http://bearstory.cl/)
Although inspired by the events in Chile, the films portrayal of oppressive regimes bears haunting resemblance to many other historical abuses, the effects of which people still live with today. If you take anything from this post, please watch Bear Story. It not only holds an animated mirror to reality to tell an important story in a beautifully thought-provoking way, but it also reflects on the power of animation – or, indeed, narrative as a whole – to inspire change. It showcases the animators’ hope that, through bringing injustices to light, they might be avoided in future.
Mr Hublot (2013)
Mr. Hublot is a withdrawn, idiosyncratic character with OCD, scared of change and the outside world. Robot Pet’s arrival turns his life upside down: he has to share his home with this very invasive companion. (iMDB)
- Runtime: 11 minutes
- Director: Alexandre Espigares, Laurent Witz
- Writer: Laurent Witz
- Music: François Rousselot
- Producer: Laurent Witz
- Production Company: ZEILT Productions, WATT Frame
- Made in: France
- Animation Type: CGI
- Winner of the 2014 Oscar for Best Animated Short
If you are interested in posthumanism, or just really like Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (also made into an animated short), I seriously recommend watching Mr Hublot. Taking inspiration from the 1985 dystopian sci-fi film Brazil (d. Terry Gilliam) and the mechanic sculptures of Stéphane Halleux, Mr Hublot presents an overcrowded steampunk city in which all the inhabitants are animatronic. As Hublot is a famous Swiss watch brand, the film plays with the notion of time (my favourite sequence is a montage presented from the viewpoint of the clock face). The events of Mr Hublot feature around the relationship between Mr Hublot and his Robot Pet, illustrating the restorative powers of companionship. The aesthetics are truly wonderful, inspiring a successful Kickstarter campaign that funded a book called The Art of Mr Hublot (2014).
Young Vincent Malloy dreams of being just like Vincent Price and loses himself in macabre daydreams which annoys his mother. (iMDB)
- Runtime: 6 minutes
- Director: Tim Burton
- Writer: Tim Burton
- Narrator: Vincent Price
- Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
- Made in: USA
- Animation Type: Stop Motion
If you’re a fan of Tim Burton, or Expressionist cinema, or horror, you will love Vincent. About a boy who wants to be like Vincent Price, narrated by Vincent Price, Vincent makes continuous references to the American horror actor’s films – a layered joke that I really appreciated. I found the whole film to be laugh-out-loud funny. Aesthetically, it borrows from German Expressionist cinema to create the striking style that has since come to be Burton’s trademark. Employing chiaroscuro lighting (extreme high and low tones) to create incredible shadows, Vincent displays direct parallels to the visuals of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) amongst others. In both visuals and subject matter, the film also recalls Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Watching Vincent is a MUST if you are interested in the Tim Burton Universe theory. Not only is it one of Burton’s earliest films, but it also features a melancholy protagonist who passes his time by experimenting on the family dog (surely a precursor to Frankenweenie (2012) and Corpse Bride’s (2005) Victor and, of course, The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) Jack Skellington?).
“A magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time” – Salvador Dali
“A simple story about a young girl in search of true love” – Walt Disney
- Runtime: 7 minutes
- Director: Dominque Monféry
- Writer: Salvador Dali, John Hench, Donald W. Ernst
- Music: Armando Dominguez, (adapted by) Michael Starobin
- Producer: Baker Bloodworth, Roy E. Disney
- Production Companies: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Feature, Animation Paris
- Made in: France, USA
- Animation Type: cel animation, 3D computer modelling
- Nominated for the 2004 Oscar for Best Animated Short
If you haven’t already seen Destino, watch it! Said to be inspired by Freud’s notion of the subconscious world, it presents an ill-fated love story between Chronos and a mortal woman, Dahlia. The pair dance across the constantly morphing landscapes of Salvador Dali’s paintings, creating a truly outstanding visual style.
Although completed in 2003, the project was actually started in 1945 as an 8-month collaboration between Disney artist John Hench and Dali. Unfortunately, due to Disney’s financial woes following WWII, they were unable to keep Dali on the payroll. So, the production ceased with only the storyboards and a 17-second animation test made by Hench to show for it. But, in 1999, whilst working on the revamp of Fantasia, Roy E. Disney came across the original material, and subsequently commissioned its completion. Although Destino is only a reflection of Dali and Hench’s original work, it is still inspired and presents the artistic potential of animation. Indeed, Dali, in a letter to André Breton, famously named Walt Disney – alongside the Marx Brothers and Cecil B. DeMille – as one of “the three great American Surrealists.”
The Maker (2011)
A strange creature races against time to make the most important and beautiful creation of his life. (iMDB)
- Runtime: 6 minutes
- Director: Christopher Kezelos
- Writer: Christopher Kezelos, Ziad Jamal
- Music: Paul Halley
- Producer: Christine Kezelos, Christopher Kezelos
- Production Company: Zealous Creative
- Made in: Australia
- Animation type: Stop Motion
If you are a lover of classical music and adorably odd creatures, you are sure to enjoy The Maker. The film was started as a means to help composer Paul Halley reach a greater online audience, and, with over 6 ½ million views on YouTube, it has certainly done so. Giving life to the creatures of artist Amanda Louise Spayd, The Maker uses Halley’s music to present a thought-provoking narrative that illustrates the preciousness of life. It showcases the enjoyment of having a purpose and finding companionship. As director Christopher Kezelos explains:
In their fleeting existence our characters experience joy, love, hard work, purpose, loss and lonelieness. As the tag line suggest, ‘life is what you make it’ and we are all makers in this world. (http://www.themakerfilm.com/)
Looking to Kezelos’ other work, I would also recommend his 2010 short Zero. Another stop motion animation, it presents an oppressed zero that, born into a world of numbers, ‘discovers that through determination, courage, and love, nothing can truly be something’ (iMDB). It is a heart-wrenching tale that has been used as an anti-bullying teaching aid in schools.
Creature Comforts (1989)
A humourous and thought provoking view of what animals in zoos might be thinking about their captivity and surroundings. (iMDB)
- Runtime: 5 minutes
- Director: Nick Park
- Producer: Sara Mullock, Alan Gardner (assistant producer)
- Production Company: Aardman Animations
- Made in: UK
- Animation type: Stop Motion
- Awards: Winner of the 1991 Oscar for Best Animated Short
If you are a fan of Anthony Browne’s work, or are interested in the depiction of animals in mainstream narrative, I would definitely recommend watching Creature Comforts. Created by the man behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, Creature Comforts is an early example of Nick Park’s trademark plasticine model animation style. Presenting animals in a British zoo being interviewed in a documentary style format, Creature Comforts draws its animal voices from the inhabitants of housing estates, elderly homes, etc. to draw parallels between zoos and livelihoods in Britain. The disenchanted Puma – perhaps the film’s most memorable character – was voiced by a Brazilian friend of Park who hated living in Britain. The short was so popular that it was later expanded into a series, with some of its characters being used for Heat Electric TV ads.
Although a list of only 6 films, I hope that this post will encourage you to venture into the world of animated shorts. Whether they be Pixar or Simon’s Cat (which I would also recommend), animated shorts are both aesthetically diverse and contain insightful reflections on our world. They also provide an opportunity to reclaim the “me time” that is all too often sacrificed to the altar of deadline stress. And, as RuPaul would say: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”