“Water Lily – Birth of the Lotus” (2015)

The animation on this short is great, and has a rather mystical and otherworldly feel to the whole thing. It tells a kind of nice little story, even though most of the short’s events are shrouded in complete mystery, and are left completely up to the viewer’s interpretation. I feel like if had the pacing been slower, and the relationship between the two leads been allowed to develop a bit more, this could’ve been a truly incredible work of art. But still, it’s decent, and it’s well made, which is all I expect from an animated short.

Rating: 3.5/5

“The Driver is Red” (2017)

The fact that this incredible animated short film wasn’t even shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short this year is a travesty. Also, the fact that barely anyone knows of its existence is also a travesty. This incredible, terse, and atmospheric recounting of a true story, is a chilling and unforgettable experience. The voice acting of Mark Pinter is incredible, as he perfectly captures the raw emotion of the Holocaust survivor who’s given the duty and the honor of capturing the architect of all the systematic slaughter. Some people may complain about the art style (the short is made up of a series of crude sketches that are animated so it looks like they’re being drawn), but honestly, there’s something so quaint, old-school and unobtrusive about it that gives it a certain charm. Plus, the well-acted narration is vivid enough, that more detailed animation just isn’t necessary, and the sketches do a good job of illustrating the story for us, on top of giving this short a unique presentation. If you’re able to get your hands on this (as of writing this, it’s available to watch on Amazon Prime in the US) I would highly recommend you check out this one of a kind experience as soon as humanly possible.

Rating: 5/5

“Age of Sail” (2018)

This 360-degree Virtual Reality animated short has a similar concept to Captains Courageous with a little bit of Up and The Old Man and the Sea thrown in for good measure. These are not bad combinations, and the plot isn’t bad either. But this works a lot better as a VR gimmick, rather than a narrative story. The pacing is a mess, with scenes that just start and end abruptly, and the progression of the character motivations aren’t all that convincing. In order for this story to work properly, this really needed to be a full-length feature film, so that the events could truly sink in (pun intended). Still, we do get some decent atmosphere, some of the bickering between the two leads is entertaining, the voice acting from Ian McShane and Cathy Ang is great, and they do have good chemistry between them. It’s solid, but it could’ve been so much better.

Rating: 3/5

“Reaping for Dummies” (2013)

This student film has an excellent idea for a cartoon (there’s something very Looney Tunes-esque about its core concept), and there are even some well executed gags. The problem with this one? It’s too short. Way too short. This premise is so great, that honestly, it probably could’ve worked for a full half-hour short. Instead, it’s just three minutes long; that’s barely enough time for the set-up, let alone the whole short. Still though, the animation is actually quite solid, and like I said, it’s entertaining enough despite it’s rather rushed pacing. This is a short that I could definitely see getting remade, because the concept and potential for it is so great.

Rating: 3/5

“Here’s the Plan” (2017)

This quieter, softer, and gentler look at marriage life has a huge advantage compared to other animated films about marriage, in that because it has a 20-minute runtime, it can let a lot of what happens sink in for the audience. You really do get a sense of this relationship between this married couple and want them to work through their issues. The animation is kind of hit or miss, and while the animation is fine and stylized for the most part, there are times where it’s a bit wonky. Also, the vocal performances of the couple were a little hit or miss, sometimes hitting the perfect range of emotional or loving, but other times sounding like they’re about to fall asleep. Overall, this is a nice and unremarkable short, that warms your heart just enough that makes you glad you sat through it.

Rating: 3.5/5

“Serpendipity” (2019)

As far as the independent cartoon shorts about a quirky romance goes, this one actually has one of the more original ideas in quite a while. But there is, unfortunately, one major problem holding it back. The animation. While the character designs are great, the flow of the animation is often quite poor and rubbery. And when you have slapstick gags in animated shorts like this one, there is one thing that you absolutely must get right; the timing. Unfortunately, the poor timing of the animation, as well some confusing edits that often make it difficult to understand what’s happening, means the execution of the short is off. And that really is a shame, because this is actually a very well-written short with clever ideas, and even a nice heart at its center. It’s clear that there’s passion behind this project, and it’s because of that I can’t, and won’t, be too harsh on this film. It’s clear this is made by very talented people with a lot of potential to improve in their craft, even if this final product doesn’t fully work.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Times Like Dying” (2016)

This low-budget indie Western short is a compelling little film that tells a straightforward, cliché premise competently and professionally. The cinematography is good, the acting is good, and even some of the budget restraints were able to be turned around into strengths, like not showing the bank robbery but only hearing some of the audio (which created a nice, chilling effect), and then hearing accounts from the characters after the fact (which helped establish their character). Because the film’s premise has been done to death, there’s not a whole lot that’s especially standout, but it does almost everything right, without any missteps. That makes this a short film worth checking out for fans of Westerns, and for fans of low-budget indie films.

Rating: 3.5/5

“A Fox’s Tale” (2011)

The animation on this short is bright and colorful, but the story leaves something to be desired. I don’t know, this cartoon’s premise kind of feels like something that’s been done before, and this one doesn’t really add anything new to it. I kind of wish more had been done with this potential, because, while it starts out fine, it just kind of descends into an overlong and repetitive fight scene. The good animation makes this one worth checking out, but when you think of how great this could’ve been, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down.

Rating: 3/5

“Extinguished” (2017)

This animated short film exists in a universe where love is represented by a flame in your chest, and our main character tries to hide the flame that’s ignited when his neighbor’s…granddaughter I guess…comes for a visit. It’s actually an incredibly similar premise to In a Heartbeat, except it’s a straight adult instead of a gay boy, and it’s a flame in the chest, instead of an actual heart (and given they were both made at the same college, and released on the internet within a week of each other, that can’t be a coincidence). Anyway, this short is passable. The premise isn’t anything all that special, but it’s overall just fine. There are some decent moments. The animation is good, although it definitely pales in comparison to In a Heartbeat’s animation, and there are moments where the animation just looks off. Overall, this isn’t a bad way to spend 4 minutes, and it has cute moments, but it won’t have much lasting effect.

Rating: 3/5

“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” (2012-13)

Based on Frank Miller’s iconic comic of the same name, this animated film (it was split into two parts, but I consider this one movie) is a fine adaptation, but it can’t help but pale in comparison to its source material. Part of the issue is that this film does very little to adapt to its new medium. The pacing is very disjointed, often because scenes are lifted directly from the text, and the pacing of this story flows so much better in comic form, then in movie format. Also, some of the issues I have with the original story are brought over as well, namely that the plot feels kind of all over the place. With all that being said though, I do find this to be a good film. The animation is good, the film strikes an emotional poignancy, the action’s intense, the characters are well written, and there’s just something so satisfying and refreshing in seeing a traditionally animated PG-13 film. It won’t be as remembered and beloved as the original comic, but as an adaptation, it gets the job done.

Rating: 3.5/5