My 5 Favorite Animated Short Films

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me (and several other talented writers) alerting us that he would be writing a book about animated short films. While he will be choosing what short films he considers to be historically important, he was curious to find out what some of his peers considered to be influential animated short films. I was happy to help him, but seeing how much work I was putting into the response, I alerted him that I would be retooling my response as a blog post. Now, hopefully, you dear readers will get some insight into my choices as he will.

Please remember that I do not claim that these are the best animated shorts of all time. There is so much quality animation out there, that making a definitive list would be difficult (just ask Jerry Beck). However, these five short films are ones that I believe are excellent artistic achievements that show just how effective the short format can be. They are sorted by year, not preference, and when possible I have embed the film in the text. Without further ado, let us get on with it!

Peace on Earth (1939)
Director: Hugh Harman

Made during the height of World War II, it seemed the world would never know peace. Death seemed to be an inevitability. What stands out about this short is that it has harsh words for a humanity that fails to live by Biblical principles that promote peace, love, and kindness, it also has a positive message that even if things are torn down, rebuilding is possible. It was also remade into a 1950 short called "Good Will Towards Men," which is as equally good of a call for peace.

Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)
Director: Jack Kinney

When you think of Donald Duck, you most likely don't think of him as a Nazi who is forced to build weapons of mass destruction for Adolf Hitler, but in this Academy Award-winning short film, that is exactly what you get (don't worry: it's all a dream in the end). Though clearly a piece of pro-American propaganda, the short never-the-less has a bite that is not seen in most Disney cartoons. It shows that even though there are enemies that are dangerous and evil, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply ridicule and laugh at them.

Need you think that Walt Disney didn't take the Nazi's seriously though, he would produce the grim "Education for Death" to hammer home the importance of defeating the Nazi party (or else leave America with a very grim future).

Duck Amuck (1953)
Director: Chuck Jones

When animators tell you that anything can happen in animation, there is no better example of that than Chuck Jones's "Duck Amuck." Although the short has come under fire for being little more than random jokes, the brilliance of the short comes in the fact that there is no possible way to predict the amount of randomness that is about to face the viewer. Starring Daffy Duck, he (and the viewer) think that there is going to be a structure before it is revealed that he is being tortured by a crazy animator with a sick sense of humor. Showing that you truly can do anything in animation, the short is nothing but a delightful surprise upon first viewing.

The Danish Poet (2006)
Director: Torill Kove

I wanted to include at least one independant short film to highlight the great work being done outside of the studio system. While this is an impossible task, I find myself revisiting the beautiful film "The Danish Poet" throughout the years. Framed as a romantic drama, the short eventually weaves into a poetic discussion about the circumstances that bring people together and make us who we are.

Last Day of Freedom (2015)
Directors: Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman

My last pick is a fairly recent one, but it opened my eyes to just how powerful a tool animation can be for documentary filmmaking. We watch as Bill discusses his brother Manny, and their life is recreated through beautiful 2D animation that evokes the memories of old newspaper editorial cartoons. At just a hair over 30 minutes, this is also the longest "short" on this list, but it is not only a powerful story but a reminder that animation can be used to recreate our history in a way live action simply can not.