2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best Animated Short

Today is Best Animated Short. I know most people tune out during the shorts categories, but this one at least has cute stuff in it, so maybe some people pay a little bit of attention during it. Though I know most people could care less about them.

Most of the time this category is fairly easy to pick apart. You know Pixar or Disney is one of the top two most likely to win and then you have to decide if it’s gonna beat the other emotionally-affecting short that’s on the list. Most years you’ve got a really solid hold on the category and at worst it’s usually ‘will A win or will B win’?

This one feels kinda like that, though maybe more skewed toward ‘A should win, but… Pixar…” Which the argument I feel like I’m usually having when I pick this category every year.

Best Animated Short


Genius Loci

If Anything Happens I Love You



Not a terrible category, though for me pretty ho-hum. Not that I think they could have done much better based on the shortlist, but I also watched about half of the 96 shorts that were eligible and I think the shortlist could’ve been better, which could have led to a better overall category. But of these 5, I feel like all of these make sense based on what they usually nominate. Most people have no idea what they usually nominate, so I’m not sure it does us any good to get deep into that.

This, like most Animated Short categories, comes down to ‘will Pixar win or will this other one that makes people cry win’. So let’s figure it out.

Fortunately for us, the Oscars/distributors/etc are starting to understand the internet age and are starting to put these shorts online before the ceremony and allowing people to see them, which not only increases visibility on the shorts themselves but also on the entire category. If nobody can see the product, nobody can have a rooting interest or really care about what wins. So it’s nice that I can post links to four of these five shorts and know that they’ve been officially put out there for people to see:

5. Genius Loci — This is your typical ‘artistic’ nominee. One of these always seems to get on, often foreign language. It’s that beautiful hand-drawn animation style that animators love to see and love to nominate. Though the rub there is… they never actually win. Most categories, this one especially — voters have that spider sense of which ones they’ve heard of and/or seen and can gauge which feels like it’s most likely going to win. And this doesn’t have that at all. The only people voting for this are the ones who saw all five nominees and actively thought it was the best choice. And I can’t see the majority of people doing that.

4. Opera — Maybe this ends up my #3 in the end, but it’s hard to see people en masse taking this. While it is an incredible achievement, I’m not sure people will have that fire that gets things to win in this category. The short, since this is the only one not fully available online as far as I can tell, is a perpetual motion machine of a short. Here:


That image is one small piece of the entire area. All those little pockets have thing happening inside them and all of the pieces are moving all at once toward a larger ‘theme’, if you will. So the first time through the camera starts in tight at the very top of this pyramid of sorts and you see all the different things start to come to life and begin to work until the entire thing is in view and all of the parts are moving all at once, allowing the viewer to watch whatever they want (though the action does try to direct your eye to specific points at specific times). And ultimately the action plays itself out and then the whole thing resets and it happens again. And the idea is about history repeating itself and people stuck in the same cycle of birth, life, war, death, etc. It’s a really stunning achievement of animation, but I’m not sure how many people are gonna see this and think ‘I wanna vote for that’. In terms of pure craftsmanship, this is the best short on this list. But emotionally — you don’t really connect to it as much as you appreciate what it’s doing and appreciate how they did it. And that is never a recipe for something to win this category. Maybe you can argue for it as third, but in the end, I’m not sure this contends.

3. Yes-People — This is just cute. That’s all it has going for it. The joke is that they’re playing on all the different ways you can say the word ‘yes’ and all the different meanings it can have based on the situation. It’s pretty much one-note in that all it does is run through all of these ‘yes’ jokes, but it is cute. So while Genius Loci has better animation and while Opera is the better achievement… people tend to vote for the short they feel emotionally connected to (think Paperman, Hair Love, Bear Story). So I think the ‘this is cute’ reaction to this one puts this above those other two in terms of likelihood of winning. Still don’t think it really has a chance, but in this category, everything kind of has a chance.

2. Burrow — It’s Pixar. That automatically makes it top two based on stature and visibility. (The full short is on Disney+, by the way. This copy isn’t the best and starts a few seconds into the short itself.) To its credit, it’s 2D animation, which is gorgeous and colorful and everything Disney and Pixar have been lacking over the past decade. But the story… kind of generic. You feel like you’ve seen it before and you sort of know where it’s going and don’t really have that emotional connection to it. Not that it’s stopped them from voting for Pixar before on that. Piper, that short about the bird and the ocean, was pretty much the same as this, narratively. Though that one at least had the photoreal nature going for it. This… I feel like if they vote for it, it’s because of the beautiful 2D animation or it’s a reflexive Pixar vote (which they haven’t really done all that much. Pixar went 15 years (2001 to 2016) without winning. Disney had a couple of wins in between there, but Pixar themselves really didn’t win all that often, though they do have two wins in the past five years (2016 and 2018). So you have to respect this on the Pixar name alone, but other than people not wanting to vote for the downer sad short, I’m not sure I see this as the automatic winner here.

1. If Anything Happens I Love You — The full short is on Netflix. And I imagine people have heard of this from word of mouth and from others who’ve seen it. Everyone has Netflix and things like this do get promoted and shared around. Plus, on top of it — really sad short. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Don’t just read my description of it. But it’s the story of a disintegrating marriage, and two people who are growing further and further apart. And then about midway through the short, we see why they’re growing apart, and it’s because they lost their daughter in a school shooting. It’s really sad, but also beautifully animated. My concern about this as a winner is twofold: 1) I’m not sure how much people want to vote for the short that leaves you feeling like shit when it’s over, and 2) I’m not sure how many people are gonna see the gun violence theme as being manipulative to a fault. Because I can see how people might have that view. But I don’t know how many people that’ll be and whether or not it’ll factor into the voting, given what the rest of the category looks like. So, in the end, I think this is probably the most likely winner, simply being the most emotional short of the bunch, but I also wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Pixar won this instead. Which is pretty much how this category goes every other year when Pixar isn’t the number one. So this is nothing new for us. We’re gonna be 50/50 going into Oscar night, but at least you’re able to get it down to that and feel pretty good about your chances.

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