BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Animal Behaviour (Directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine)
Synopsis: A group of five animals with emotional and psychological problems meets for therapy with compassionate canine Dr. Clement. Their group dynamic is rattled by a new member, Victor, a gorilla with anger management issues who believes that talking cannot change someone’s innate tendencies.
Review: A word to the wise viewer taking in these Oscar nominated shorts: enjoy the comedy in Animal Behaviour because it’s the last bit of true levity you’ll get among the nominees. Taking place during a therapy session for a group of animals with emotional problems, the short has some genuine moments of humor mostly derived from the outlandish anthropomorphic situation we are dropped into. There’s the leech with dependency issues, the pig with a tendency to overindulge, the praying mantis who can’t keep a mate, and so on and so forth. It’s all a bit bizarre but still a sharp short.
Bao (Directed by Domee Shi)
Synopsis: A lonely Chinese mother suffering from empty nest syndrome is thrilled to become a parent again when one of her homemade dumplings comes to life. As Dumpling grows, however, the inevitable conflicts between parent and child arise and Mom must acknowledge that no one stays little forever.
Review: My original review of Bao (shown before Incredibles 2 this summer) can be found here. It still packs a nice little punch, especially if you remember halfway through that you forgot to call your mom when you told her you would.
Late Afternoon (Directed by Louise Bagnall)
Synopsis: Emily, an elderly lady with dementia, is increasingly alienated from the world around her. Whenever she sees her reflection, Emily wanders through memories of her childhood and young adulthood, and thereby attempts to use her past to reconnect with the present.
Review: Here’s a real emotional success story, featuring simple animation and a huge heart. Following an older lady combating a failing memory with her joyous recollections of the past, Late Afternoon looks like it’s jumped off the pages of a picture book from forty years ago with its overly round faces and detached limbs. Still, it’s so delicate in the way it unfolds that the feelings it stirs will likely sneak up on you. It isn’t hard to figure out the path the short is following but director Louise Bagnall says a lot by choosing her passages carefully.
One Small Step (Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas)
Synopsis: Bolstered by the unwavering support of her devoted father, a humble cobbler, Luna Chu grows up determined to become an astronaut. Although she is sometimes daunted by the obstacles she faces, Luna always shoots for the stars.
Review: Coming on the heels of Late Afternoon, One Small Step keeps your heart in your throat as it takes you on the journey of a girl aiming for the stars with the help of her supportive father. Without dialogue, we are guided by the storytelling of the animators and it’s marvelous how well they navigate some tricky emotional turns clearly and with a compelling voice. It’s a rewarding and moving bit of fantasy that manages to keep itself grounded even as it ambitiously reaches higher.
Weekends (Directed by Trevor Jimenez)
Synopsis: After his parents split up, a young boy must adjust to living with his mother during the week and his father during the weekend. Their new routine is difficult on all of the family members, but is especially confusing to the youngster as his parents move on with their lives without each other.
Review: The strangest offering is also the most complex, narratively speaking, as a boy travels between the homes of his divorced parents. Over time, the boy doesn’t change much but the relationship with his parents does, as do their lives as they meet other partners and create new families. Abuse and emotional immaturity are explored with care and without judgement. Seen through the eyes of their son, it’s a revealing look at the things children observe which parents might not be aware they are taking in and understanding.
Final Thoughts: The 2019 nominees feature a nice selection of animated shorts that don’t shy away from emotional issues and adult matters. Many people see a film like the charming Bao and think that’s what all nominated shorts are like and it’s nice to see the Academy being inclusive of material and themes that cater to a more discerning taste that challenge us. Four of these clearly target the emotional cortex of the voter while Animal Behaviour is aimed straight at the funny bone. I found Late Afternoon and One Small Step to be the ones that stuck around in my mind in the days that followed and could easily see one of those two emerging with a gold statue.