Fur your consideration - A quick review of 11 short dramatic animation from 2022
2023 has started off, but before we get too far in I wanted to take a look back on the short animations that I think are worth your time to look at from 2022. As there are quite a bit of items in the recommended list on the Ursa Major site, I decided to go through and watch them and curate them into 11 items I think do what they do really well and are well worth consideration for nomination.
The videos here are all short, only one of them breaks the 20 minute mark. The reviews will contain spoilers so be sure to watch the embedded feature prior to reading my thoughts on them if you would like to experience them for yourself.
Be sure to take some time and enjoy the hard work these artists put into these works. Also check out the other items in the recommended list if you have time as there are some interesting items that I thought were good, but there are too many to write about extensively.
Possibly my favorite animation that came out in the later part of the year was Horns. This simple short 5 minute film expresses a touching and simple tale with heavy atmospheric tones. A young billy goat named Noah accompanies his father to a bring your child to work trucker rally.
The art style is dynamic and has weight, the moments of happiness and fondness flow to that of mourning and sadness seamlessly.
The music accompaniment and sound production is what pushed this tone into the top spot for me. The moments when the truckers toot their horns flows with the music and is seamlessly blended. Every time it sounds, like the horn of an actual big rig, it sends chills through you. It makes the emotional weight of the final horn of the animation stronger.
The fact that the main characters are billy goats who have horns as well, also gives the title duel meaning. It is rare to see a situation where the sound, music, character, art, and themes blend together seamlessly to be so cohesive.
The Legend of Pipi
Far less somber than Horns, this animation is an adventure comedy that features a tiny cat warrior trying to save a princess. Well… multiple princesses…
The production value here is very professionally done. From the open narration in a clean and polished splendor to when it shifts to ‘reality’ and the art becomes a bit simpler and rougher in style. This is another short where everything comes together to deliver a memorable experience.
Its comedy comes from its subversion of fantasy tropes, in a way similar to Shrek, but the means of subversion are different entirely. Definitely a tad more violent and crass in a PG-13 kind of way. But perhaps equal in its unexpected dragon courtships.
Part of the funniest moments are when the animation lowers frames or simplifies in wacky ways to express the aloof and simple motivation nature of the bumbling hero. Like when he realizes he rescues the wrong princess in the first encounter his hand becomes supersized and just bats the fair maiden aside, flinging her off screen, before sliding off to the next adventure, literally.
Tales from Scorchwater Valley - The Rhino and the Redbill
This is one of the longer ones in this list. However, despite its length it does not waste time. The two main characters, a bird and rhino, we are introduced to are in a symbiotic relationship. We discover this through their natural banter that allows us to know why they rely on each other. One has vision impairment, and the other doesn’t have the strength to get to their destination without the pachyderm.
The voicework is very well done with Richie Ammon’s deep, seasoned and no nonsense voice portraying the rhino and his bird partner’s more aloof and bantery voice being voiced by another bird many furries should be familiar with, Adler the Eagle.
The trouble they wind up in puts their friendship and ability to work together to the test. The animation and telegraph of action is fantastic. Given how complex some of these scenes get this shows an expertise in cinematography along with a mastery in animation.
There is an indication that this is a pilot. I really hope that they do get to continue on with the story. Certainly worth subscribing to Alex’s animation channel to see any future developments in this and any other future projects.
Bidoof’s Big Stand
This one is a bit less independent than the others on our list as it is a Pokemon made animated short. The thing I liked over the other Pokemon shorts on the recommended items is the underdog story of this aloof Bidoof who finds himself caught by a trainer.
The journey from an outcast among his peers to being a useful member of his trainer’s team is full of ups and downs.
But the climatic moment of the short's battle was where I really found enjoyment. In it there is a reference to another anime where the buck-toothed pokemon dodges a devastating beam with a sneeze before countering with a devastating attack. This emulates the maneuver that Goku uses against Kefla in the Dragon Ball Super series. Upon review of that particular scene, as cool and memorable as it was, I would argue that the Bidoof’s short is actually cleaner and just as impactful and memorable. The Dragon Ball Super scene referenced is very flashy and a bit messy with where the opponents are in relation to one another. This flashiness I would blame on the issue that Dragon Ball, from the Z series and onwards, has with spectacle creep.
This short doesn’t have such a demanding need to one up itself from its decades of production, and thus can just focus on the maneuver itself.
Monkey Wrench - The Ghost Egg
This is the longest one on the list. The main characters aren’t really the most anthropomorphic characters, but plenty of the side characters certainly are. A lynx assassin, a domestic cat rival, and a vulture-like bird client. It’s a story about space mercs trying to get the bird of strange vernacular through space to help him escape a “Ghost Egg”... oh and an apparent bounty on his head.
The thing that sets the bar here is the complex and expressive animation of the characters as they deliver the lines even during non-action oriented dialog, which is refreshing to see and I think should be done more often. But it doesn’t need to be done in every interaction, it’s okay for some conversations to be a bit less animated. The conversation between the cat merc and our protagonist when the cat was threatening to attack them for the bird, for instance, was kind of a bit distracting having their conversation emoted so heavily to the point there was strange repetition in them. It’s okay to use the word “said” in dialog sometimes as a writer, so in that same vein it’s okay to have less emotion and action in animated dialog as well.
But since it's rare to see in indie animation, as it is far easier to just flap lips, overall it’s refreshing and makes this one stand out and is a positive in most circumstances.
There are also several comedic bits that cause a chuckle, like some mook soldiers noting that they couldn’t hit their target because of lack of eyes. This is funny because it is obvious within the realm of logic, but stylized characters you sometimes suspend disbelief on things of that nature. Rug pulling that suspension of disbelief is amusing.
The combat scenes are well choreographed and had complexity including fighting in antigravity with an all out brawl between several mercenary parties all wanting the bird.
The final bit where the bird client’s mother picks him up I recall being shared as a meme with me earlier in the year, so it definitely was an animation that had garnered more reach than others on this list.
Tales of Zale - Flickering Lights
Another one with a more meatier run time. The environment of this world is alive and well animated. The characterization of the animal characters is also well done and voiced. The strength of this short is how the environment and animals interact in the story. Rain, wind, and the natural elements have weight.
The story starts off with a fox leaving a forest to explore what appears to be an abandoned city to try and find more of his kind, leaving a bird friend of his behind to begrudgingly tend to his family.
There are oddly some threads that promise some moments of tension which you believe may generate conflict that end up seeming to resolve without much on screen effort by the protagonists. To me means there could have been a simplification of some of the story elements, or some need to expand a bit to better incorporate those elements. In a way it seemed like a short animation tried to tie in a B-plot. Which given the condensed nature of short animation can be tricky to pull off.
Unless the buffalo and younger bird sister died in the end and that’s what them walking off in the fog meant? I mean the area she was in did seem to catch fire. And if so, the fox’s bird friend is really gonna get it from his father.
A project of just three people, the animal animations here are excellent and the sound design is wonderful. Given how animalist the initial few seconds were, it was almost shocking to me when the animal started to talk. Even more so since many animations I watched beforehand were dialogless and I thought it was going to be another one of them.
The voice acting and lip syncing was good, except for maybe the “I won’t let you take it” line before the conflict scene being a bit flat for the tension the scene is supposed to have.
The action scene was simple and shorter than other features listed above, but animated well.
Out O' the Inkwell
Not quite entirely furry, but the “antagonist” is a cartoon animal character that comes to life and makes the life of their creator heck. The concept of an animation working against its animator is also a relatively covered trope, like in the internet classic Animator vs. Animation. But apparently this trope goes back even further than I thought, with this animation of the same name in 1921 that probably inspired this modern version. The older version is technically far more impressive given the technology at the time.
This can always be the issue with wearing the inspiration on the sleeve.
However, the combination in this feature of two dimension and three dimensional animation in the feature is still very impressive. From the toons leap across the third dimensional room across an unwieldy stack of books, to the way the animator eventually defeats the toon being particularly brutal from both a narrative and animation standpoint as the character gets damp and melted. With the inspiration and reference I can see why this one had already won awards.
The art style and coloring make this one stand out, and it is a cute little story about a person recalling his moments with friends while alone in their room.
When the story really started to grab my attention though was when it showed a news report about a certain disease that was making the news before they shifted to what seemed like a Sonic film.
It was then that you could sense why they were remembering their friends, it's because they were in a moment where they couldn’t see them in person. This would make the animation a thing of its time, but I appreciated it for its own memories of those times, and it makes one know that they weren’t alone in experiencing its loneliness. Also it highlights the wonders of technology to bring us together even when we are apart, as much as the extroverts loathe it.
A few caveats though; this seems to take place in the Summer, but it was late winter 2020 that COVID became a major known issue to the public. And while the news clip in the animation had a bumper about vaccines, those would not be available to most people until spring of 2021, well after people were encouraged to isolate themselves and talk on Zoom chats as is done at the end of the animation.
However, memories do have a way of merging, so it’s important to note they could be an unreliable narrator, but art is about the expression of the character and their thoughts in the way they think of them in the end. It doesn’t deter from the emotion of the situation.
The deep purple hues and style of the alchemist creating their potion was well done. Animating liquids is not an easy task.
The style change upon taking the potion also juxtaposed against the more deep and down to earth hues are also well animated. It was exotic and trippy and well done. Not quite Dumbo’s elephants on parade, but a step toward it. Its symbolism also gives clues as to what the alchemist was trying to use their position for.
In the end, the work that the apprentice is doing is one of self-discovery, and after taking the position there is an element of fear in the feline when their teacher finds the books on the fact that they were working on potions to transmogrify their gender, but this turns out to be unneeded as the guardian of the apprentice appeared accepting of it.
The animation here covers a story about an estranged connection between a daughter koala, who owns her own laundromat, and her mother. It is able to portray this conflict without any dialogue. I do think it underestimates itself in its message conveyance, however. After skipping a phone call from her mom, the koala sees a young bunny and her mother enter the shop and the child accidentally knocks over a bottle of detergent. With the already established estranged relationship, the protagonist’s grimace toward the situation was enough to send the message that mistakes in her household were less forgiven from her parents, but it spends time on a cut away to a flashback to highlight that fact anyway.
The story of generational judgment and conflict, and overcoming those situations is pretty universal so it should strike a chord with many in the fandom. The animation has low frames, but the expressions are able to convey the emotions and body actions are able to capture the situations and communicate it very well.