Fisher, 2011, by Yoram Benz
Visions of the World through Animated Shorts

by Evelyn Robinson, published February 14, 2014

Shorts have the remarkable capacity to project poignant messages, with only a few minutes to communicate a message which will resonate with their audience. More than full-length feature films, shorts strive to capture the full essence of a moment and are often used as both cautionary tales for younger audiences via animation/claymation/live action, encompass an intuitive and philosophical reflection on life, or celebrate a special moment. Especially with animation as a medium which is becoming more accessible to wider audiences, people are contributing more content online and in light of this trend, organizations across North America and Europe are turning towards animation as a way to reach out to specific campaigns while others focus on the sublime wonder of life.

Contemporary Issues
In December of last year, the Staffordshire County Council in the UK set up a series of animated shorts addressing Britain’s adolescent and teen population regarding the effects of alcohol abuse as a counter to the prevalent drinking culture. Named “Alcohol Fails” the shorts depicted how alcohol plays a negative role on contemporary activities. Providing support for these problems has taken an important position as far as priorities go for local governments, which like those in America have invested in rehabilitation programs which can assist the greater public. Confronting this topic at an earlier age is crucial for protecting youth against the negative consequences of substance abuse, and using media against media is the most effective when working adversely to a culture which promotes dangerous habits. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television is a major contributor to this trend. Other countries like Canada have also introduced shorts into their mainstream channels as a counter-method to this as well.

Dark Humor
Sometimes the ills of society are best portrayed through ironic and exaggerated means. Joseph Pierce’s bleak short “The Pub” explores the dark side of life as an immigrant worker in London, with monstrous caricatures and long-cast shadows painting a grim and hopeless daily grind. Little room is left for future dreams, while some of Britain’s most topical problems – xenophobia, the benefits system, unemployment, sexism, and hen/stag culture – dominate the themes. Anthropomorphism and striking shades of black and white make for an artful yet disturbing commentary on life, which follows the trend of several newer, neo-noir style shorts.

Igor Coric’s animations, by contrast, take on a lighter approach (usually with full color), mocking society’s obsessions with futuristic parodies such as “Chipset” where humans respond to a scenario based on the computer chips in their head, which ultimately goes wrong once their natural instincts try to interfere. These are entertaining and amusing to watch, but a very serious message resides beneath their quirky surface.

Light-Hearted Commentary, with a Tragic Touch
Other shorts take a more light-hearted approach to the world. Tim Minchin’s “Storm” is one such delight, mocking the institutions and their hippie resistance which often comes under the guise of pretentiousness. In his hilariously eloquent monologue, Minchin also celebrates the wondrous nature of the world around us, and how we often over-convolute the simple beauty that is free to enjoy and explore. 

Other shorts focus on more tragic aspects of this – often, wondrous creations like in the shorts “The Maker,” “Reflections,” “Benigni,” and “Fisher,” and several others emphasize the fleeting nature of life itself, a temporary euphoria of relationships forged between people or the wonder of things that emerge in the surrounding world itself before it is cruelly swept away – although some leave the possibility for rebirth and re-evaluate how to hold onto those moments and make the most of things after. Some of these also take the forms of semi-documentaries/mockumentaries, like the eerie “Pirate of Love Vol. 1” which was inspired by a discarded tape cassette containing a series of songs devoted to a trucker’s unknown lover. Between illustrations of the songs and interviews with the producers, it leaves a bittersweet taste but a memorable one.

Ultimately, the most quintessential portraits of our world through animated shorts come through art pieces, revelations and sensorial overloads of music, dialogue (or lack of) and cinematography/animation. These can be completely immersive, meditative, and involving, and hypnotic, from the “poetic surrealism” of “The Owl” to some of the inventive 3D effects of Pixar shorts. These seem more like illusions than true impressions of the world where the imagination runs rampant, often surpassing our own mental creations with its vividness of collaborative thought.

It could easily be argued that all shorts are art-focused, given the importance of making something out of very little time, which is perhaps why it remains one of the fastest developing forms of cinema that there is.