“Dad had always said the job of a dam keeper is to keep the darkness away, but he never told me what to do when it surrounds you.”
The second review in our celebration of the Oscar nominated animated shorts is for The Dam Keeper, a touching animated short directed by former Pixar artists Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. At 18 minutes this is the longest animated short nominated for an Oscar this year, but it’s still the only short that left me wanting more.
In The Dam Keeper, one small town’s survival is due solely to a large windmill dam that acts as a fan to keep out poisonous clouds. Despite bullying from classmates, the dam’s operator, Pig, works tirelessly to keep the sails spinning in order to protect the town from the dark clouds. When a new student, Fox, joins Pig’s class, everything begins to change.
Inspired by a Dutch folk tale about the little boy who saves his town by putting his finger in the dike to prevent his town from flooding, The Dam Keeper’s story is just wonderful. The opening narration by the adult version of Pig, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, where he explains a little bit about himself and his job is just perfect. You immediately fall in love with Pig the second he appears on screen for the first time and feel for him when you see the way the citizens of his town treat him. The story has some amazing lessons about friendship and sacrifice and I’m amazed by how the filmmakers told a story with this much emotion in only 18 minutes.
Something else that makes The Dam Keeper stand out from the other nominated shorts are its unique visuals. The fun thing about animated shorts is that the makers can usually play around with different techniques and animation styles. This short looks like one of Robert Kondo or Dice Tsutsumi’s paintings came alive and I love it! They created a unique effect by taking all of the 2D animated scenes and painted over the animation in order to get the colors, light, and shadows just right. By using Robert Kondo’s custom designed brushes, the short has a lot of charm that it wouldn’t have gotten otherwise; it’s a fun, new, and exciting use of hand-drawn animation that we haven’t seen before.
Another stand out in this short is the music. Composed by Zach Johnston and Matteo Roberts, The Dam Keeper’s score, despite being very simple, works very well with its story. The score has a very Studio Ghibli vibe, which fits the mood of the short perfectly.
The Dam Keeper is a fun, touching, and emotional short that will be loved by people of all ages. It is, in my opinion, the best short nominated for an Oscar this year and I truly hope it will win the award this Sunday. With its unique animation, touching story, and wonderful musical score, The Dam Keeper will be loved for many years by many people around the globe. It made me very excited to see what the future will bring for Pig, Fox, and Tonko House.
Special thanks to shorts.tv, who provided review copies of the nominated shorts.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes