I might have mentioned this already, but I had a baby last year, my 4th. Yes, I’m insane. I know. This was right in the middle of all the big Oscar-type films being released. Now, I actually managed to keep up with seeing most the nominees, but where I fell behind was getting around to reviewing them. You may have noticed that’s a thing I try to do. I don’t have nearly enough time to catch up with reviews, but I’m going to do what I can starting with all the shorts. Then I’ll have my top ten, followed by my awards posted real soon.
The same team that adapted The Gruffalo into an Oscar-nominated short 3 years ago returns with Room on the Broom. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with The Gruffalo, but I’ve been reading Broom to my kids for years now. It’s a great bedtime story. A friendly Witch keeps picking up stray animals until her broom experiences technical difficulties. She also has a scary run-in with a dragon.
It’s not all that complicated. The film shades each animal with a little more character depth than on the page and there’s a tiny lesson about sharing thrown in as well. Simon Pegg does a fine job with the narration. The faux stop-motion CG looks nice. Everything about it is all very agreeable. There’s a lot of professional talent on display. The story is padded and paced a bit too leisurely. Still, it’s a nice companion to both the book and The Gruffalo.
This short opens with an explanation of a Japanese myth involving tools attaining souls after 100-years just so they can mess with people. Then we follow a repairman in feudal Japan as he tries to make his way through a forest during a thunderstorm. He finds shelter in an abandoned shrine but no rest as he is soon vexed by various leftover items. Like in a video game, he must first defeat the umbrella level, then tapestry level, and finally the big boss. The anime style is striking and it’s nice to see it recognized, but this unique short is not very compelling. I’m sure some of the specific cultural elements went over my head, but even then nothing really wowed me. There’s something here about where society places its values but it doesn’t shine through.
I already wrote about Get a Horse! when it played in front of Frozen. Here’s what I said then:
“A very fun short film, Get a Horse!, is attached to the feature. It begins as a black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon before literally leaping out of the screen. It’s a clever idea that’s not exactly hilarious or next level. It’s merely eye-popping and pleasant. One day all the new crazy tech will yield another landmark like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but until then this is a nice diversion.”
I’ll just add that the initial surprise is definitely diminished on a second watch, especially without the 3D. There’s not much here beyond a promise for the future.
Mr. Hublot is some kind of egg-man robot with OCD. He lives in a future world that looks like a cross between steampunk and Jeunut. He goes about his lonely days flipping on and off switches and the like until he sees an orphaned robot dog in trouble. Something about this walking toaster brings Hublot out of his shell and into an all-new friendship.
It’s at this point that the film launches into a montage with an absolutely abysmal theme song. Besides the quality of the music, it feels like a big no-no to have such a thing in a short film. It just doesn’t work. Which is a shame because Hublot has such a fully realized world. There’s great sound design and the animation is impressive, but it’s bogged down by some terrible choices. It has charm, but it’s also a little trite.
This is the best of the group. A wonderfully hand-drawn and abstract work of art. It begins with wolves in the middle of a hunt. Then, a small feral boy arrives out of the shadows like he was willed into existence. He is found, cleaned up, and placed into society. Things don’t go so well.
It’s a pretty linear narrative but the sketch style and the imagery give it a conceptual feel. It’s pure, personal, and ambitious. It really understands how to use visuals to get to the core of an idea. Man is a primal force. He must adapt. You can put a bow on him but keeping him institutionalized is a constant endeavor. The wheel will never stop spinning. That might sound like babble but this film expresses it in such a beautiful way. It’s exceptional work.
The shorts open in theaters January 31st and VOD February 25th.