This weekend, the Saratoga Film Forum is screening this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. They’re divided into three screenings: tonight (7:30 p.m.) are the Animated Short Films, tomorrow (Friday at 7:30 p.m.) are Live Action Short Films, and Sunday (3:00 p.m.) are the Documentary Shorts.
The Academy Awards’ Animated Short Film category dates back to 1932 (the 5th Academy Awards) when it was called Short Subjects (Cartoons). From day one, Disney dominated; the first ever animated short to win an Oscar was one of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies called “Flowers and Trees” which also, as it happened, was the first commercially released film to be produced in full color (two-color Technicolor had been around for a while). Although the poster and titles for “Flowers and Trees” reads “Mickey Mouse Presents,” said rodent does not appear in it. (Disney’s Mickey Mouse shorts were already a successful series in 1932, and remained in back and white for three more years since it was felt that they didn’t need the novelty of color to give them a commercial boost.) You can watch “Flowers and Trees” here—and remember, this was before LSD had been invented. Interestingly, “Flowers and Trees” began production as a black-and-white short.
Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies wasn’t the only successful cartoon series; it is actually tied with Hanna-Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons for winning the most Oscars (seven each) in the Best Short Subject (Cartoons) category. The first Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry short was 1943’s “A Yankee Doodle Mouse.”
The Oscar category Short Subjects (Cartoons) lasted until 1971, when the Academy changed it to Short Subjects, Animated Films in 1971 (“animated films” perhaps having a bit more gravitas than “cartoons”) and, finally, Animated Short Film in 1974.
So when you watch this year’s nominees, think about the cultural impact of their forebears, and of the legacy to which this year’s shorts are heir.