A Wide World of Animated Shorts

A record 92 animated short films have qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards, a list that will be winnowed to 10 contenders when shortlist is announced Dec. 16. Alongside entries such as Sony’s “Hair Love” and Magic Light Pictures’ “Zog,” challengers include lauded films from animators such as Tomek Popakul’s “Acid Rain,” Siqi Song’s “Sister” and Theodore Ushev’s “The Physics of Sorrow.” Ranging from studio darlings to festival gems, the diversity of projects in the category makes for a somewhat unpredictable race, yet each year a handful of shorts float to the top, generating awards season buzz.

1. Curse of the Monkeybird (Warner Bros.)
Director: Pete Browngardt
Producers: Pete Browngardt, Sam Register
The slapstick “Indiana Jones”-inspired 2D short features classic Looney Tunes characters searching for a cursed treasure inside a jungle temple. “It was a dream come true to be able to write and direct a Porky Pig and Daffy Duck cartoon from scratch,” says Browngardt. “They are one of the great comedy duos of our time.”

2. Hair Love (Sony)
Director: Matthew A. Cherry
Producers: Karen Toliver, Stacey Newton, Monica A. Young
This heartwarming CG-animated short depicts the relationship between an African-American father, his daughter Zuri and her hair. “Having my first animated project hit the big screen was incredible,” Cherry says. “It was always my hope that ‘Hair Love’ could have a theatrical run and to have it happen in front of a major Sony Pictures Animation release was a dream come true.”

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3. Kitbull (Pixar SparkShorts)
Director: Rosana Sullivan
Producer: Kathryn Hendrickson
“Having grown up watching 2D animation from classic Disney to Ghibli films, the medium has a strong nostalgia for me,” Sullivan says. The hand-drawn “Kitbull” was created as part of Pixar’s experimental SparkShorts program. “It was a dream to work alongside animators and painters who were masters of their craft.”

4. The Physics of Sorrow
(National Film Board of Canada)
Director: Theodore Ushev
Producer: Marc Bertrand
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Georgi Gospodinov with narration by Rossif Sutherland and his father, Donald, “The Physics of Sorrow” is the first fully animated film made using encaustic wax paintings. The film tracks the outlines of an unknown man’s life as he sifts through memories. The project took eight years to complete: “Conceptually, encaustic painting was an obvious choice,” says the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, “except for the fact that no one had ever done animation with it, so I had to invent the technique.”

5. Purl (Pixar SparkShorts)
Director: Kristen Lester
Producer: Gillian Libbert-Duncan
A CG-animated story about a ball of yarn’s struggle to fit in at work, “Purl” was the first film to emerge from Pixar’s SparkShorts. “I really admire storytellers who go into their lives and find a personal truth or experience to talk about, and in making this I had to challenge myself to do the same,” Lester says.

6. Zog (Magic Light Pictures)
Directors: Max Lang, Daniel Snaddon
Producer: Mike Buckland (Triggerfish Animation)
Oscar-nominated U.K. studio Magic Light Pictures teamed with South Africa’s Triggerfish for “Zog,” an adaptation of the book by Julia Donaldson. “No matter where they are, audiences want to be surprised and delighted,” Lang says, “and characters like Zog and Pearl, who have inherent tensions built into them, create great opportunities for both comedy and empathy.”

ALSO IN THE MIX: Andrew Erekson’s “Marooned” (DreamWorks Animation); Regina Pessoa’s “Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days” (NFB); Martina Scarpelli’s “Egg” (Denmark); Floor Adams’ “Mind My Mind” (Netherlands); Eusong Lee’s “My Moon” (Chromosphere); French collective Illogic’s “Maestro.”

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