Animated short nominees get surreal, gentle, meta and very, very personal

Partial images from the five nominees for the animated short film Oscar.
The five nominees for the 2023 Oscar for animated short film, from left: “An Ostrich Told Me the World Was Fake and I Think I Believe It,” “Ice Merchants,; “My Year of Dicks,” “The Flying Sailor” and “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.”

A near-death ballet. The virtues of vulnerability. The surreal, the meta ... and the sublime clumsiness of the young and horny. The 2023 Oscar-nominated shorts have all this and more.

An animated image of a boy riding a horse with a fox trotting alongside them in "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse."
“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,” based on co-director Charlie Mackesy’s children’s book, conveys a gentle message of self-acceptance and the virtues of vulnerability.

“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”

The gentle journey of “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” stays true to the Barnes & Noble Book of the Year-winning children’s volume by co-director Charlie Mackesy. It emulates his delicate ink-and-watercolor images, but most important, key characteristics of the Boy looking for a home (and the animals representing aspects of his personality) shine through.


Co-director Peter Baynton says, “The Boy’s vulnerability — it’s expressed through the way he stands, his messiness, how loosely his clothes sit on him, his little S-shaped back, the way he hangs his head.”

The obstacles faced are within the characters, and mostly addressed by being brave enough to be open. “It’s about finding that we’re ultimately the same; that we suffer the same things, that we are connected by our fragility; that, if we dare to be honest, that’s a strength,” Mackesy says. “I wanted to make a book that made you feel less alone, that made you feel understood or braver. It’s OK to say ‘Help’; it’s actually a strength.”

"The Flying Sailor" interprets the case of a man caught in an explosion  and thrown an incredible distance.
“The Flying Sailor” interprets a real case in which a man was caught in a disastrous event (the Halifax Explosion of 1917) and thrown a seemingly impossible distance. The animated short takes artistic liberties with the event.

“The Flying Sailor”

A sailor walks the dock at a busy port. Lovely day. Jaunty music. Then a sudden explosion, and the sailor is hurled high and far into a journey of time, space and memory. And this really happened?

“Don’t be sheepish about never having heard of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, because of a lot of Canadians hadn’t heard of it either,” co-director Wendy Tilby says.

“Our assumption is if it happened here, it must be boring,” co-director Amanda Forbis says.


“The Flying Sailor” is many things, but boring is not one. Its trek is comic and cosmic, and imaginatively realized.

“We wanted to take a few seconds in the air and expand it into a few minutes,” Tilby says. “The central image was this naked, pink sailor flailing, that, when slowed down, would become poignant and beautiful.”

“A near-death ballet,” Forbis adds.

These five documentary short films take viewers on wildly different journeys.

Feb. 23, 2023

A drawing of a tiny house on the side of a frozen cliff in "Ice Merchants."
The wordless “Ice Merchants” tells the surreal story of a father and son who live in a tiny house on the side of a frozen cliff.

“Ice Merchants”

“Ice Merchants,” the first Portuguese film nominated for an Oscar, owes many of its idiosyncrasies to its director’s unusual process. In the wordless short, scored by director João Gonzalez, a father and son who live in a tiny house attached to the side of an impossibly high, frozen cliff make ice each day, then skydive down to sell it.

Gonzalez was interested in “those small rituals and interactions we have with our close ones, even if they can be silly, or we take them for granted. They end up being the base of meaningful relationships. It’s about loss and family connections.”

Producer Bruno Caetano says, “João imagines the situation or place, then as he works on the music, things start falling into place. He goes from drawing board to piano and piano to drawing board. Before he has [key details], he has an idea of the music that will allow the viewer to understand the motivations and feelings.”


An animated girl skateboards down a road with tall buildings in the background and a glowing sunset filling the sky.
In “My Year of Dicks,” a spirited, awkward teen girl in 1990s Texas sets out on a clumsy quest to lose her virginity.

“My Year of Dicks”

Tracing the misadventures of a teen girl’s clumsy quest to lose her virginity, “My Year of Dicks” is one of 2022’s funniest films. Considering how deeply personal (and embarrassing) Pamela Ribon’s true-life tales can be, how could she trust them to another to interpret?

“Is there such a thing as artistic love at first sight?” Ribon asks, regarding director Sara Gunnarsdóttir. “She made these mood boards for skate culture and vampire culture, so I knew we were sharing a visual language. She had a real ‘90s-alternative-indie animation spirit.”

Gunnarsdóttir says, “The scripts had such a big heart and were full of honesty. I’ve been working a lot with the emotional world of teenage girls in the past 10 years; I’ve embraced it.”

Did the project grant Ribon a deeper understanding of her awkward past? “It’s less lonely … I feel like all the wanting and wondering and waiting of being 15 is getting some kind of answer. A lot of times, we don’t get that; it just stays unfulfilled,” she says. “Also, I really can’t compliment my therapist enough.”

Two stop-motion men talk in an office setting in "An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It."
The surreal, stop-motion “An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It” is so meta, you may actually be a character in another animated short watching it and reading this. Are you sure you exist?

“An Ostrich Told Me the World Was Fake and I Think I Believe It”

“An Ostrich Told Me ...” is about as meta as meta gets. It’s so meta, I half suspect this article you’re reading is in it.

“It’s the story of an office worker who’s stuck in this job he doesn’t enjoy and he also isn’t very good at. Time is wasting away — accentuated by the fact that we’re seeing all this time flood past,” says director Lachlan Pendragon of setting a stationary camera where it catches the animated scene on a monitor while also revealing the animator’s arms and hands in a time-lapse blur.

Pendragron doesn’t disagree with comparisons to a stop-motion “Matrix” or “The Truman Show,” or the works of Charlie Kaufman. He says the form “gave opportunities to play around with meta gags of faces falling off and looking behind the camera. You can get away with a lot in stop motion, incredible, mind-boggling stories that are both relatable and strange.”

"2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films"

Rating: Unrated
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes (animated shorts)
Playing: At local theaters Feb. 17. Go to for showings and ticket information.