Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Movie Review: 2019 Animated Short Films Nominations

Like I mentioned in my Documentary Short nominations reviews, I really do like trying to see all the shorts nominated at the Oscars every year – because often, short films are the proper place for certain stories (I see many 90 minute movies that really would be better at 45 minutes or less). In animation, that is really is the case. Like the documentaries, you can catch almost all of these films for free – online (with the exception of One Small Step and Bao – but you likely saw Bao in front of Incredibles II this year) – so even if a theater near you isn’t playing the shorts lineup, you have no excuse not to watch these little animated gems. And this is a good lineup.
Like with the documentary lineup, I’m reviewing them in order of preference – my least favorite first, ending with my favorite.
Animal Behavior *** ½ / ****
Directed by: Alison Snowden & David Fine.
Written by: Alison Snowden & David Fine.
Canada’s own Oscar winning animation couple (they won for Bob’s Birthday in 1995 – which was spun off into the Bob & Margaret TV show, and have since spent time doing Peppa Pig and Shaun the Sheep) return to the National Film Board of Canada for this hilarious little short – that at 15 minutes is perhaps a couple minutes too long. The basic premise of the film is a support group for animals, all of which are there to work in issues that are inherent in their species – the blood sucking parasite with separation issues, the female praying mantis who cannot keep a man, an over-eating pig, a cat who obsessively cleans herself, a gorilla in anger issues (there is also a bird, but his issues are harder to drill down to a single species related trait) – all being led by a dog therapist – who himself is getting over his own compulsive issues. In a way, it’s a one joke concept – and it can be pretty base at times – but one joke concepts work best in the short form, and Snowden and Fine execute that premise so perfectly that you don’t much mind. This is the deepest nominee to be sure – but what it does, it does as well as can be executed.
One Small Step *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas.
Written by: Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas & Shaofu Zhang.
The inspiration for this film seems to be if you could make the opening montage from Up unto a 7-minute film, but with a father/daughter relationship at its core rather than a husband and wife. In short, it’s about a Chinese family, in which the daughter dreams of being an astronaut – and the lovely playtime she has with her father as a kid acting out those dreams. As she grows older, she sets her mind to achieving that goal – and has less and less time with her father – and you know what’s going to happen there – and what will happen after. This is the first short from a new animation studio – Taiko – and it looks great, and it has a strong emotional pull to it – like the next film on the list, I cried at the end. Yes, it’s clich├ęd, but it works amazingly well.
Late Afternoon *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Louise Bagnall.
Written by: Louise Bagnall.
Louise Bagnall’s Late Afternoon is a relatively simple film – and you can probably tell in the opening minute what the closing minute (all of 8 minutes later) will be – and you would be right. And yet neither of those things diminishes the emotional pull of the film – or the simple beauty of the animation. The whole film is about an elderly woman – obviously with some sort of Alzheimer’s or memory issues – who over her afternoon tea keeps being reminded of events in her past, and being whisked back into those colorful memories. The animation here is simple – but that is a big part of its charm, and beauty. You know what the final moment will be – but unless you’re made of stone, you’ll still cry when it hits. A good little film to be sure.
Bao **** / *****
Directed by: Domee Shi.
Written by: Domee Shi.
This is undeniably the film in the running that most people will have seen – as it is the Pixar short that was shown ahead of Incredibles II. The Pixar shorts have been a mixed bag over the last few years – from every Sanjay’s Super Team, which was incredible, there is a Lava, which was not. But Bao is one of their best in recent years – a funny, sad, touching story about an Asian woman who creates a dumpling baby who she loves and raises, until he decides it’s time to move on. I know one aspect of the movie has disturbed many people (my sister-in-law hated it) – but I loved the fact that the movie embraced those dark feelings. It is, of course, remarkably well animated and both culturally specific, and yet universal. This is what happens when Pixar gives diverse voices a chance to tell their story – hopefully they will follow through on the feature side soon.
Weekends **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Trevor Jimenez.
Written by: Trevor Jimenez.
The clear standout of the animated short lineup is Trevor Jimenez’ Weekends, which is a sustained mood piece that delves into the feelings of what it means to be a child living through a divorce. There is no dialogue in the 15-minute film, which shuttles the young protagonist back and forth between the house he spends the week with his mother, and the apartment he spends weekends with his dad. It is a confusing mix of feelings – both parents get new partners, and this changes the home dynamics as well. The film is a blend of surreal – and at times disturbing – imagery as the film grows darker in some ways, or perhaps just grows up. As a child, he doesn’t fully understand what he is seeing, but by the end he will have to confront this changing landscape, and the complex world of adult emotions. The film is a quiet visual stunner – and as good as Bao was – also the clear best film nominated here.

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