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(Originally Posted: February 24th, 2019)
I was fortunate enough to see the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at my local theater, and, well, like last year, I am going to do a quick set of reviews for the five shorts that are nominated. Overall, my opinions on this year’s nominees are pretty positive! Unlike last year, where there was some controversial baggage with Dear Basketball, none of the shorts that I know of have that kind of need to put a note next to them. The five chosen are varied, endearing, and charming. They each have their own visual style and their own stories that make them stand out. The two shorts from the Highly Commended section were good, but it’s not hard to see why they didn’t make it into the top spots. Let’s get started! I’m going to go in the order they were shown.
Directed by Domee Shi, Bao tells the story of a wife who ends up becoming a mother to a sentient dumpling. It’s your usual Pixar fare, with endearing designs, beautiful animation, and a touching story about the connection between a mother and her son. Sure, a lot of people reacted mostly to one scene near the end, and decided that was the only thing worth taking away from it, but I love this short from beginning to end. It’s a good sign that the reaction to this short was so good, that Domee Shi, is now going to work on her own theatrical feature. If Bao is any indication of her talent, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in the future. Congrats, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb on the win!
Directed by Louise Bagnall, this one tells the story of an elderly woman remembering moments of her life that connect back to what is going on with her in the present time. It’s a beautiful 2D animated short with some awe-inspiringly creative visuals, and a simple but loving visual look for the human characters. Having lost my last grandparent recently, this short really struck a chord with me as you see that while the elderly woman is not all there, there is still a part of her that is there and loves her daughter. It’s an incredible short and I highly recommend seeing it! Hopefully, Cartoon Saloon taps her for some future projects. Congrats, Louise Bagnall!
Directed by David Fine and Alison Snowden, Animal Behavior may come off like an odd duck among the five nominees. Its animation style is fluid, but the designs are storybook looking in execution. It’s about a bunch of animals in a therapy session talking about their problems, until an Ape named Victor joins the group and things go into an interesting direction. It doesn’t sound all that compelling. However, when you actually watch it, it ends up being the funniest of the shorts. It comes off like a more well-written Adult Swim animated show pilot. It has some very funny lines, and you get a big laugh out of some of the problems the animals are having. For example, there is a parasite that has attachment issues, and a praying mantis who is having trouble with her dating life. I’m not fond of every detail of the designs, like how they have noticeable butts, but that’s the only part I didn’t like. It’s a funny and entertaining short that shows how strong writing can make an odd idea into a comedic experience. Congrats, David Fine and Alison Snowden! I would love to see this become a miniseries!
Directed by Trevor Jimenez, this one tackles the life of a boy who lives in a divorced household as he travels from his dad and mom’s place, and how he sees their lives and his life changes. It’s a somber story that doesn’t really have an answer about what the proper way to handle the realistic situation for certain children. How do you cope with the fact that your parents aren’t together anymore, having to move on with their lives, and that they may see other people? There are a lot of surreal visuals that are great to look at, but I wish there probably was a solid answer as to what should happen? Sometimes, it’s good to not have a definitive answer, but I think the short gets too visually abstract to tell such a conclusion. Still, you can tell this was a very intimate and passionate story from the director, and I think it’s a good short. Congrats to Trevor Jimenez and his team!
One Small Step
Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, this short tackles the story of a young girl living with her grandfather, and dreams of becoming an astronaut. I think what is most striking about this film is the visuals. The CGI animation looks like it’s almost 2D. It’s easily one of the standout shorts from 2018. As a short that has no dialogue in it, you feel the love and connection the girl has with her grandfather, and both characters have their own unique little characteristics that I love. It’s probably one of three shorts from the nominees that made me almost cry. I fell in love with this short’s visuals, animation, and characters. It even made me think if they could do this for a feature length film. I would love to see more CGI films learn from films like One Small Step and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in being visually unique. Congrats to Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas, and their entire team for the nomination!
Now then, we will talk about the two Highly Commended shorts that didn’t make the cut.
Directed by Lizzie Zhang, Wishing Box is a simple comedy short about a pirate who finds a treasure chest with nothing in it. The twist is that his monkey sidekick can pull things out of the chest, like bananas, sharks, and lobsters. There really isn’t much to talk about with this one. It’s a comedy about the troubles of human greed done in a fairly solid comedic way. I can sort of see why it didn’t make it into the top five, but it’s a good short to check out.
Finally, we have Tweet Tweet by director Zhanna Bekmambetova. This short follows the friendship between a small bird and a woman who goes from being a baby to old age. The gimmick here is that the entire short is from the view of the bird and the woman’s feet as they go across a rope. It becomes a tiny bit gimmicky with certain shots that look like they were supposed to be in VR, but that doesn’t really detract from the experience as you watch the woman grow up, find love, have a child, and be at the literal end of her rope. In terms of the CGI visuals, it’s not my favorite short, but the artistry is there, and I was invested with the story. I hope more Russian animation can be this creative and endearing.