Amazing Kids! Magazine

Perry’s Previews Movie Review – 2017 Oscar-Nominated Animation Shorts and Director Interviews

By Perry Chen, Movie Review Columnist


2017’s animated shorts Oscar candidates are a mixed bag as usual. Though this year’s nominees did not boast a traditional or mixed media animated piece, the batch of animated shorts are absolutely diverse in themes and style. Each bears its own stylistic distinctions through visuals and pacing, while ultimately finding unity in its emphasis on emotion, be it in the haunting regret of a past mistake or the boundless joy in a new discovery.

Blind Vaysha directed by Theodore Ushev

Blind Vaysha director Theodore Ushev (R2) accepting ShortsHD award with his team (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen watching Blind Vaysha director Theodore Ushev draw for him at ShortsHD Awards (photo by Zhu Shen)

Blind Vaysha was directed by Bulgarian immigrant Theodore Ushev, who works at Canada’s National Film Board and is the first Bulgarian to be nominated for an Oscar. He drew inspiration from a contemporary story by his friend and fellow countryman. The film’s visual style evokes imagery reminiscent of 13th century woodcuts with hints of German Expressionist influence—both of which Ushev described to be his main stylistic inspirations during our interview. These elements tie well with the premise of the story—in which the girl Vaysha bears a left eye that sees only the past and a right that sees only the future but is consequently blinded to the present. The world through Vaysha’s eyes is portrayed through a diptych that serves to starkly contrast wistful recollections of the past to dreary omens of the future. Ushev hopes to illustrate how “many people are nostalgic to the past and afraid of the future, yet stay paralyzed and unable to act in the present.”

Near the end of the film, I would have much preferred if the narrator had kept her descriptions concise instead of watering down the theme’s power with extraneous explanation. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” especially in regards to a medium as utterly expressive as animation. I highly doubt the Academy will turn a blind eye to such a prominent flaw.

Perry Chen with Pearl director Patrick Osborne (L), production designer Tuna Bora (R2), and producer David Elsenmann (R) at the 2017 Annie Awards (photo by Zhu Shen)

Pearl directed by Patrick Osborne

This year marks the first nomination in Academy history for a 360-degree virtual reality animation short. Pearl is director Patrick Osborne’s second nomination after winning Feast in 2014, using the Google Spotlight’s VR platform. According to the producer David Elsenmann, Pearl launched on multiple platforms. “We premiered at Tribeca in 2-D form. Simultaneously debuted in VR form. And YouTube, theatrical, and film festivals. We watched it spread at 15 festivals.” 2017 marks a milestone for virtual reality, a medium of animation which, given the steady progress of technology’s artistic applications, will inevitably become a growing presence in the coming years. Production designer Tuna Bora describes their goal for VR filmmaking as “a cross between artistry and technology.” Artistry does indeed play a major role in the film’s appeal, most notably in the charming expressiveness of the story. The entire narrative is shown from the car’s perspective, offering a window into the lives of a single father supporting his daughter as the years go by. From simple joys of childhood to the coming of age, the film’s score not only strums on guitar strings but the heartstrings as well. Upon viewing, Pearl evidently proves to be relatable across generations of American audiences. “Everyone has a car in this country,” Osborne stated, “[There] is an emotional connection we have with that automobile, […] You attach emotional weight to your automobile, and you live life in it. That’s why people relate to the story.”

The visual department is commendable and does a fine job with overall character design and movements. However, one scene near the end felt particularly jarring in its utter lack of detail when compared to the rest of the film; it depicted an overhead view of the car driving through a low-poly forest, in which the leaves were no more than two-dimensional sheets of flat color and the shadows were amorphous cutouts of gray on the road. The technology to make more detailed leaves clearly exists, but one could potentially argue that the simplicity was owed to lack of budget. This same argument cannot be said of the rearview mirror, which was completely floating in midair for the duration of the film, unattached to the windshield. This offers no stylistic benefit and appears to be a lack of attention to detail. This year, I find it unlikely that Pearl will be driving home with the Oscar.

Borrowed Time – Father and Son by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

Borrowed Time co-director Lou Hamou-Lhadj (L4) accepting ShortsHD award with co-director Andrew Coats (R2) and team (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen with Borrowed Time co-director Andrew Coats and his drawing (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry Chen with Borrowed Time co-director Lou Hamou-Lhadj and his drawing (photo by Zhu Shen)

Borrowed Time focuses on a gaunt, weathered sheriff as he recounts a haunting memory of a fateful accident in his youth and struggles to come to terms with the old wounds reopened by memory. Co-directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj both have a wealth of experience as Pixar animators who have both worked in major animated films, but they hope Borrowed Time can serve a different purpose. Coats revealed that they both felt some degree of frustration with how the public perceived animation and wanted to use Borrowed Time to help illustrate that it isn’t merely a children’s film genre. “We wanted to champion American animation as a medium to tell any story,” Coats says, “What better way to do that than to target something uniquely American? […] You can make an animated western or an animated horror film, and if you’re true to that, suddenly the ‘animation as a genre’ argument falls away.” The story is told with exceptional animation, especially in the character designs of the young and old versions of the main character. The sheriff is a “gaunt, haunted individual who grew to be a shell of a man,” as Coats describes. The challenge in creating a vibrant, younger version, as Hamou-Lhadj notes, was “creating a youthful and appealing naivety within […] strong features, and reversing the toil and guilt […] in his older design.”

At the ShortsHD Awards on February 25, 2017, I met the directors and their creative team. It was quite a treat to get their drawings of the characters from Borrowed Time. The directors worked on Pixar films such as The Incredibles, Cars 2, WALL-E, Brave, Monsters University, and Inside Out and are thrilled to work on The Incredibles 2 now.

Perry Chen with Piper director Alan Barillaro (L) and producer Marc Sondheimer at 2017 Annie Awards (photo by Zhu Shen)

Piper directed by Alan Barillaro

It’s no surprise this year that Pixar’s Piper is up for consideration. Piper, a recent Annie Award winner, is the only film without even a single spoken word, but debut director Alan Barillaro stated that this is for good reason. “It may seem simplistic, and that’s what you want. Simple and expressive.” However, big studio productions have a reputation for being anything but simple in regards to their visual effects. Much of the film appears almost as if it were shot through a wide-aperture lens, resulting in a blurring quality that emphasizes the small size of the shorebird subjects. More impressively, Piper combines the most notoriously difficult elements of CG animation—water, feathers, grass, sand, and bubbles—before portraying them to near-photo-realistic levels of detail. Pixar’s animators do more than simply flaunt their technical superiority; they rub their superior production quality in the faces of all the other nominees (and we love them for it!). But beyond the ostentation of the film’s visual effects, there lies a charming tale of a sandpiper chick that holds a powerful lesson: A simple shift in perspective can lead to satisfying prosperity. Likewise, I believe Piper will have the best chance at such prosperity on awards night February 26!

Editor’s Note: The Oscar-nominated animation Pear Cider and Cigarettes is not appropriate for young audiences. To read a review on this animation, please get a parent’s permission before visiting

I encourage the audience to watch these animation gems in a movie theater near you. The shorts are distributed by ShortsHD and Shorts International, the premiere short film entertainment distributor worldwide.

Editor’s Note: The winning Oscar candidate was Pixar’s Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro.

Copyright 2017 by Perry S. Chen

About Perry Chen:

Perry S. Chen is a 17-year-old award-winning film and entertainment critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 11th grade from San Diego. He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc. He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog, as well as restaurant reviews for DiningOut San Diego Magazine and San Diego Entertainer. Perry won the San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016 for his movie and restaurant reviews. Perry is currently writing, animating, and directing his most personal film to date, “Changyou’s Journey,” produced by his mom Dr. Zhu Shen, about his beloved father Dr. Changyou Chen, a cancer researcher who passed away in July 2012 from terminal cancer after a long, brave battle, please watch trailer and support Perry’s animation film, and follow the Facebook page:

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