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The Independent Critic

 2014 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 
Possessions: Directed by Shuhei Morita

This Japanese language short from director Shuhei Morita is an imaginative and energetic short that weaves layered backgrounds into what appears to be  a combination of hand-drawn and CGI animation into an appealing story that, perhaps, cautions against just discarding unused and unwanted objects and makes a pretty decent argument for recycling. In the film, we find a man walking through the woods during a storm who stumbles upon the crumbling remains of a household where he is able to take shelter.

Once inside, he discovers a world unlike any other including a dancing and singing frog made of broken paper umbrellas and, in the next room, fabric panels that lead him to a geisha on the wall. Then, a dragon appears.

Is this all real? Is it all a dream? The film is fanciful and entertaining, though the animation itself is on the weaker end of this year's nominees for Best Animated Short Film. While the Academy always loves a socially responsible film, it'll be a stretch for this one to pick up the golden statuette.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B+

Room on the Broom: Directed by: Jan Lachauer, Max Lang; Written by: Julia Donaldson, Max Lang

This half-hour British television special (I've never quite figured out how a "television" special ends up with an Oscar nomination) will likely most please fans of Max Lang's The Gruffalo, a delightful short film from a couple years back. Lang co-writes and co-directs this film, which has a delightful story about a witch (Gillian Anderson), her cat (Rob Brydon), and the animals who try to talk their way onto the witches broom including a dog (Martin Clunes), a bird (2014 Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins), and a frog (David Walliams). Toss into the picture a dragon (Timothy Spall) and the film's narrator (Simon Pegg) and you have an all-star vocal cast in the Academy's customary annual winning British short film.

Room on the Broom isn't quite as captivating as The Gruffalo in terms of story or animation, but the film has a rhyming to it that younger children will adore and its simple yet endearing messages will likely be welcomed by any family. The Gruffalo ended up having quite the life on home video and it will be interesting to see if this latest Lang production will gain a similar life.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B

Mr. Hublot: Directed by Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares; Written by Laurent Witz

The only Oscar nominated short film to truly captivate me in every possible way this year, Laurent Witz's Mr. Hublot comes to us from Luxembourg with what is easily the most captivating story and pleasing animation of this year's nominees. While it would be a tad surprising to see Mr. Hublot get the nod over Disney's entry, Get a Horse!

That's a pity. While Get a Horse! is a worthy nominee, Mr. Hublot is the class of the bunch. Mr. Hublot is a quirky, withdrawn character with OCD. He's scared of change and scared of the world. His entire world starts to change when a Robot Pet arrives and turns his life upside down in the sweetest, funniest and most heartfelt of ways.

If you look closely, or are simply familiar with animation, you can see Witz's inspirations and you will likely be enthralled by a design that sort of resembles steampunk meets Wallace & Gromit meets Up! and, I'd dare say, I even say a bit of Despicable Me in the character design.

Okay, maybe not.

This fantasy world is beautifully realized with magnificent detail and the environment is easily another character in the film. The film's original music is whimsical and wonderful, while what little actual dialogue is in the film is perfectly placed and manifested.

4.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: A+

Get a Horse! - Directed by Lauren MacMullan; Written by Paul Briggs, Nancy Kruse, Lauren MacMullan, and Raymond Persi

In most years, I'd easily be rooting for this Disney short that is easily the most visible of this year's Oscar nominees due to its prized placement in front of Disney's current hit Frozen. The short is a retro-styled, black-and-white short featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie and other familiars on a hayride that goes completely crazy in that Disney-fied goofy and wonderful sort of way. An almost silent film with the exception of sound effects and silly music, Get a Horse!  then manages to perfectly blend in a delightfully immersive 3-D experience into the entire equation.

Director Lauren MacMullan gives a beautiful tip o' the hat here and creates a film that is both reverent to the Disney past while celebrating the Disney present and future. The end result is one of the year's more original and entertaining short films.

Grade: A-

Feral: Written and Directed by Daniel Sousa

Feral is the year's most "adult" of the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short, a moody and atmospheric wonder about a young boy rescued from an abandonment in the wild by a kind hunter. Almost reminiscent of the horror film Mama, our young boy here creates a world where he tries to cope with this new reality but it's hard not to ask yourself if he was truly rescued or was he actually even more encaged.

The film features muted tones that are tremendously effective in creating the boy's sense of loss even as he's been brought to civilization, but Feral is also a film that feels remarkably familiar and it's that familiarity that keeps the film from having as strong an impact.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B