Animation Tidbits: The 2019 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

(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.

Bao

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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!

Late Afternoon

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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!

Animal Behavior

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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!

Weekends

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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

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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.

Wishing Box

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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.

Tweet Tweet

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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.

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Let’s Fix the Animation Scene Part 3: Award Season

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Here we are! This is Part 3 of this continuous animation editorial. I know it will end for right now with this section, but I think we can talk about individual films or film studios in the future. For now, let’s talk about the Award Season! We recently had the Golden Globes, and are going to be heading into the Academy Awards soon. I know many say, well, why should I care? Because there are obvious problems with the current way award seasons are being held, and are suffering because of it. You can only say “I don’t care” or “this is fine” until it becomes a problem that can’t be pushed away. You can say you don’t care, but deep down you do. After the “controversy” of last year where Ferdinand and The Boss Baby got nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner, there needs to be some course correction. So, these are my two cents on what I would do. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, but who knows! Maybe in the future, they will start doing some of these changes. Let’s get started.

Define what gets into the five Best Animated Feature slots!

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So, let’s talk about this first part. Should there be a definition for Best Animated Feature? When you look at the reviews for the five films from 2017, two stood out. The Boss Baby’s overall Rotten Tomatoes score was one of the lowest scores for an animated film being nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Shark Tale, and Ferdinand’s overall score was just above average. We can go into the intricate details of Rotten Tomatoes another time. This definitely caused film and animation fans to turn their heads with loud spit takes. So, how did these two films make it over The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The LEGO Batman Movie, Window Horses, The Girl Without Hands, Napping Princess, A Silent Voice, and Mary and the Witch’s Flower? Well, maybe the definition on what qualifies for the five slots should be clearer. Is it the quality of animation? Well, they all had pretty good animation in their own respective ways, so that shouldn’t just be the case, or else The Girl Without Hands would have definitely gotten one of the spots. Is it the quality of the writing? If that was the case, The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, while not being as bad as toxic individuals make them out to be, did not have as strong writing as say, Coco or Loving Vincent. It’s not just one thing that makes an animated film great, and we will get to For Your Consideration Campaigns later on in the editorial. Maybe there needs to be tighter rules for the nominations, like…

Maybe gate off the lesser received animated features?

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Now, that doesn’t sound fair, right? What makes someone’s work more awards worthy than another? Again, I’m simply spit-balling ideas here. Well, if the award shows like the Oscars want to be about “the best of the best”, then maybe not letting films like The Boss Baby or the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close get nominated for the major awards of their categories. No one goes out to make a bad movie. Even making a self-aware film that knows it’s fairly cheesy and schlocky, has to have effort put into it.  Maybe there does need to be a certain entry fee in terms of the overall reception of the movie that makes or breaks your entry into the awards? Let’s be real here, if The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were getting universal acclaim, no one would have had an issue with them getting nominated. Sure, maybe not bringing in the review scores into the calculation seems tough, because film is subjective. However, if you want to be awarding or nominating the best films of any category, then films that get certain scores below a certain number shouldn’t be allowed into the competition. While films like Illumination’s The Grinch are major money-makers, that shouldn’t be the only reason it makes it onto the list, because the reviews of it are not all that great. It would mean that the Academy either picks the five best reviewed animated features, or just have three or four films nominated that year, because the rest were not all that stellar in the Hollywood animation scene. Still, that won’t fix the problem that…

The animation section of the award organizations should be the only ones voting for animation!

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Yeah, while it might have been a good idea on paper to open up the voting of Best Animated Feature to everyone at the Academy or the Globes, or whatever, there is a reason the Academy has an animation branch. Why on earth would you dissolve that section, if you made it for the specific reason to vote on the Best Animates Features and Best Animated Shorts category? That’s like having expert meat people letting a vegetarian grade a side of beef. Other arms of the Academy don’t have the knowledge or the awareness of how animation works, or the fact that foreign/indie features exist. This bleeds opportunity for For Your Consideration Campaigns to strike at voters who may not know better, or even care about animation. It doesn’t help either that…

The Academy members/Globe Critics/everyone need to watch all the submissions!

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Listen, it’s been well known that members of the Academy and other award groups do not watch all of the submissions. I mean, on one hand, having to take time to watch over 50+ films for multiple categories, takes up a lot of time on a really tight schedule for the voters. On the other hand, since most of the members in the Academy are actors, tech individuals, producers, directors, and so on, you look like a jerk if you do not watch the work by other members. It also gives the short hand to films that are not as recognizable as the big budget flicks. It’s funny, because despite having multiple nominations under their belt, GKids are still held as this oddity, which isn’t fair to the hard-working people of that company, and the studios, animators, composers, and actors that worked on those films. You owe it as a member of the Academy to watch all the submissions for the animation category. You are essentially discriminating against films that are not US-made. Maybe if you saw the ones that weren’t good, you can skip them, but watch the ones you haven’t seen. Who knows, maybe GKids would be raking in more awards if it didn’t have to compete with Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. So…

Should the Oscars and other award groups pull an Annie?

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So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, the Annie awards are an animation-focused award show. A few years back, they decided to do a foreign/indie category so films like Mirai, Ernest & Celestine, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World could have a chance. They would get their own award category, because they honestly deserved just as much recognition, and sometimes more recognition than the big budget Hollywood films. Granted, doing so might come off like giving the foreign/indie films a “kid’s table” award, but maybe this could be a “Best US-made Animated Feature” and a “Best Foreign/Indie Animated Feature” situation that could be fruitful, and then have a third animation category that is like Best Animated picture or something. It would mean other companies like Funimation, Elevenarts, and Shout! Factory would have a chance alongside GKids to be nominated for awards. Because, as it is right now, the one thing preventing true competition between big budget and foreign animation releases are…

Beware the For Your Consideration Campaigns! Fix them!

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I get it. These marketing campaigns cost money, but if they pay off, it means people’s interests will be piqued, and that means more people will go see the film, which means more money. However, can we please stop having them be so invasive? How many times have these campaigns actually backfired and earned the studios and filmmakers ridicule? Like, there was Shark Tales, and then there was, again, the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close campaign. It got no other major awards outside of one Best Picture nomination from the Academy. I’m sure that’s what you want to be remembered for, right? Being an incredibly terrible film that paid its way into one award nom? I’m also simply tired of these campaigns being the reason you voted for the film in question, but not the film itself. Did you watch the film? Did you vote for it, because you thought it deserved the award most, or because a company spammed you with its campaign? I would rather vote for a film that I liked, and thought it deserved it, more than being harassed or manipulated by campaigns. I heard some changes were made to the rules of how campaigns can be handled, but it was hard for me to find the specific changes. Remember, vote on which animated film you think should win, and not because of some dumb campaign, or you being a stubborn mule in not checking out all of the nominees.

There we go! Part three is done, and I think I’m done talking about this topic for a while. That is, unless the voters decide to misuse the votes, and give me plenty of ammunition to talk about the Academy some more.