Oscar Nominated Short Films Animated

This year's collection features a wide variety of themes and animation styles.

This year's Oscar contenders for best animated short film may indeed be cartoons, but for the most part they're not for the kiddies. Displaying a wide range of both themes and visual styles, the diverse collection largely traffics in dark and often nihilistic themes.

The notable exception — and the best known, thanks to its having been showcased during the theatrical run of The Good Dinosaur — is Pixar's Sanjay's Super Team (U.S.). Inspired by director Sanjay Patel's childhood, it's a delightful tale of a young Indian boy who longs to watch his favorite superheroes on TV but is pulled away by his devout father who wants him to participate in morning prayers. Although at first sullenly resistant, the boy eventually uses his imagination to channel the Hindu gods into his fantasized adventures. It reaches a touching conclusion, and the inclusion of a photo of the two characters' real-life inspirations is a charming touch.

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There's also fun to be had with We Can't Live Without the Cosmos (Russia), Konstantin Bronzit's effort about two best friends who undergo training to become cosmonauts. At first amusing in a silly, slapstick way, the 16-minute short proves surprisingly moving by the end.

Gabriel Osorio's Bear Story (Chile) is a haunting if narratively opaque fable about a sad, elderly bear who treks every day to a street corner where he exhibits a mechanical diorama. For the price of a coin, passersby can peer inside and witness the story of a bear who longs to return to his family after being taken captive by a traveling circus. You'll score extra points if you guess that the story being presented in the diorama is actually its bear presenter's own.

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Both World of Tomorrow (U.S.) and Prologue (U.S.) employ the increasingly rare style of hand-drawing, although to greatly different effect. The former, directed by cult favorite Don Hertzfeld (It's Such a Beautiful Day), features stick-figure characters and abstract backgrounds in its convoluted sci-fi tale of a little girl given a tour of the future by her third-generation clone who delivers numbing, existential observations about the intermingling of humanity and technology. The latter, directed by Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), is a six-minute exercise in brutality in which a frightened little girl watches a quartet of Spartan and Athenian soldiers engage in a battle to the death. Featuring animated full-frontal male nudity and extreme red-drenched gore, it is certainly visually impressive even if its reason for being remains obscure.

The program also features several non-nominated animated shorts (not submitted for review) to bring it up to feature length.

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