Mike’s Favorite Animated Shorts of the Decade (50-41)

This might be the one list I was most excited for. It’s the last one I came up with, too. I had all the others and then, I don’t know, about two weeks before I unveiled that I was gonna be doing all this, I thought, “Animated shorts would be a really terrific list to pull off.” Because, like songs, animated films are something that we all can consume pretty quickly and easily and have real opinions on. And each year, it’s one of my favorite categories to delve into when we get to awards season. And all too often do we forget about all the great ones we watch and never go back to them. When in reality, a perfectly crafted animated short of is one of the greatest viewing experiences you can ever have.

This was also a list I had to do the most homework for. Because aside from what gets shortlisted for awards, there are also dozens of other shorts that come out each year that most people don’t even know about. Occasionally they’ll be highlighted on a video site or get press, but most of the time they come and go without anyone knowing about them. So I really tried to dig and find stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about in the hopes of making a list that was truly worth discussing. I almost wanted to be as inclusive as possible and go to 100, but in the end, I felt 50 was the way to go. Because I’m really happy with the 50 that I chose.

I’m gonna try to make this a point going forward, that I’m going to seek out more animated shorts on a yearly basis, and make them a part of my repertoire for watching and showing people things. Here’s what I’d suggest we all start doing — before you sit down for a movie night with friends or family or your children or whomever… just put on one animated short before your film. Like Disney and Pixar do. They give you a short film, and then the feature starts. I think it’s a great way of doing things and exposing yourself to great, compressed stories that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

So, in the spirit of that, here are my favorite animated short films from this past decade:

Note: All of these films should be widely available to find online. I haven’t posted links just because of how often these things get taken down. But with a simple search, I bet you can find most, if not all, of the films on this list. And do look them up, because they’re all worth seeing.

50. Dear Basketball

This film has taken on an unintended poignancy in the past month after the tragic death of Kobe, his daughter and the others who were with them on the helicopter that crashed. And it’s that poignancy that’s really led me to go back and revisit this film. Which, I’ll admit — I was critical of this film when it came out and when it won the Oscar. But that was more from an awards standpoint than anything else. I standby my opinion of it in that regard. But as a pure short and a love letter to a sport, it’s really quite amazing. Glen Keane is a terrific animator and he gives us some gorgeous images, and really it gives you a sense of who Kobe is as a man and as an athlete and the love he has for his sport, his fans and everyone who feels the same as he did. And that’s a powerful message. And it’s a shame that the film is now something we watch with a touch of sadness rather than of joy, but it speaks to the legacy of the man that it does strike that chord with us in that way.

49. Let’s Pollute

Wonderful ‘education’ film that teaches you how to be better at polluting the environment and shows us the glorious history of our determination to destroy the natural environment with machines and emissions. It’s a really terrific piece of satire. It’s also the right length and really well-animated. Kind of one-note, but effective in getting its point across.

48. The Silence Beneath the Bark

The animation here is gorgeous. It’s about two tree creatures that wake up during the winter after the snow causes them to wake up from their slumber. They each go above ground to explore and meet one another. There’s a joy to this that I can only describe as the feeling of being a child and discovering the wonder that’s out in the world.

47. Luminaris

This isn’t a purely animated film in the traditional sense. It’s pixelated. So they took animated objects and backgrounds and blended real actors into them. And it’s presented in a stop-motion kinda way, which could be jarring at first, but settles in pretty quickly.

It’s the story of a world controlled by light. We follow a man and a woman who work mundane jobs creating lightbulbs. But the man has a secret plan to change things. It’s a wonderful film about wanting to break out of the tedium of your existence. It’s the perfect length and has a really sweet ending.

46. Coda

This is not a particularly uplifting short, but the way in which it’s animated and its visual beauty make up for that. It starts with a man stumbling drunk out of a bar and getting hit by a car and killed. His soul wanders away from his body and is followed through the streets by Death, who talks with him in a park and takes him in this incredible journey. It’s a hell of an experience to witness. You’re watching this particular soul become accepting of the inevitability of death. It’s a pretty heavy short, but really well done.

45. Mr. Hublot

This is a short that is very much up the alley of the shorts the Academy loves to nominate and vote for. It’s that steampunk style of computer animation and has a quirky setting with an emotional hook by the end. The film is about a lonely man living in a high-tech society who has severe OCD and is afraid of change. And one day, he rescues a dog and brings it into his home. Of course, the dog starts to take over his life, in both positive and negative ways. The film builds to a really cute moment at the end as well. It’s really well done.

44. Feral

I always love shorts with this expressionist style of hand-drawn animation. It’s so beautiful to look at. The film is about a feral boy living in the forest with wolves who is found by a hunter and taken to society. And the film is about him having to adapt to this ‘civilized’ way of life and struggling to fit in. It’s really well-told.

43. Uncle Thomas: Accounting for the Days

There’s a specific subset of animated shorts (you’ll see several examples of them throughout this list) that are about ‘childhood reminiscence’. People animating things they remember from their childhood (some examples are Sister, from this past year’s nominees list, Me and My Moulton, and others that will later appear). Here, it’s about a girl remembering her uncle, who was an important person in her formative years. It’s a love letter to him, and all the things she remembers about him. It’s sort of an ode to the average person, the kind that don’t do anything special and are only remembered by those whose lives they’ve impacted. It’s a really touching short, and beautifully drawn.

42. Madagascar, a Journey Diary

I love this short. It’s basically an animated travelogue of Madagascar, taking you through the sights and sounds of it all, with some stunning animation along the way. The animation is varied, but also simple enough to truly pop off the screen in wonderful ways. It goes from hand-drawn to rotoscoped to stop-motion. I’ve never seen a more convincing piece of media for wanting to visit somewhere than this. It’s just so evocative and feels like a foreigner traveling to a new place and seeing everything first hand. It’s almost as if you tried to recollect what your experience was going somewhere. It’s not about specific things but rather images and sounds and people. And that’s what makes this so wonderful.

41. The Bigger Picture

I love how they made this short. They built life-size sets, painted art on the walls and then used puppets to create this really fascinating look. Essentially a lot of the animation is stop-motion through painting. They just kept repainting the walls to show movement. And the film is about two brothers discussing what to do with their aging mother, who has started to descend into dementia. They want to put her in a home, but she doesn’t want to go. It’s definitely a more serious and adult short than most, but the way they tell it is just so fascinating, and even if the subject matter is too heavy for you, the style of it is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s truly incredible.

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