Of the eight films included in this year's Oscar program, only five are nominated for Best Animated Short Film; the other three were presumably added to bump the program up to feature length. But they're high-quality filler, and no collection of shorts is ever entirely cohesive. If it were, it would be a feature film.
Highlights of the nominated shorts include the semi-obligatory Disney offering Paperman, a standard boy-stalks-big-eyed-girl story redeemed by a mix of traditional and computer animation in glorious black and white, and especially its urban setting, reminiscent of the art deco Metropolis from Max Fleischer's 1930s Superman cartoons. The narrative is predictable, but Paperman is a feast for fans of architecture porn.
If the romantic fantasy of Paperman feels as though it could be set in a new corner of the The Incredibles's city, then the non-Disney stop-motion Head Over Heels is a cubist take on Up. Indeed, Head Over Heels achieves the seemingly impossible feat of doing something new with the concept of "old people in a floating house." It also works as a thematic sequel to Paperman, catching up with a once-happy couple decades after the thrill is gone, when gravity is literally pulling them in opposite directions. The short has a strong sense of melancholy and heartbreak, and certain aerial shots manage a dizzying sense of scale.
The real discovery of the batch may be Fresh Guacamole, a short-short which expertly replicates the style of Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer: the use of real-life objects in stop-motion, Foley sounds cranked up to 11, and an obsession with eating inedible things. Fresh Guacamole never quite reaches the level of existential horror found in Švankmajer's work, but throughout its two-minute running time, there's still that giddy fear that things are not right, and things might get far less right at any moment.