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What you need to know about the 2019 Animated Oscar Shorts

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Animation from around the world

The art of animation is something truly spectacular. Through dedication and passion, any artist can create a world of limitless possibilities through a variety of techniques and art styles. While it's very easy to honor the big budget animation features that flock by the dozens to theaters, smaller projects typically get left by the wayside. There's no easy avenue to watch animated shorts in America unless you actively search for them, and even then it's not an easy task. 

For many animators, animated short films are passion projects that are creator driven and come from a place of passion and love. A director may spend months, if not years creating a brief 15-minute short film that tragically few will be able to see. That's why I find it so important to honor and acknowledge that animated short films that crop up every year, and I'm proud to be covering the Academy Awards nominees for Best Animated Short Film for Flixist. If you want to watch any of these shorts, I highly encourage you to go to shorts.tv/theoscarshorts to give these nominated shorts.

In alphabetical order, here are brief synopsizes and my personal thoughts on all five of this year's nominees. 

Animal Behavior

Director: Allison Snowden, David Fine 
Country: Canada
Length: 14 minutes

What It's About

A group of animals gather together for their weekly therapy session when an irate gorilla that insists he doesn't belong there shows up and starts belittling the other patients. 

How Is It?

The thing that struck me most about Animal Behavior is that it seemed almost like a short play. A group of characters are confined to a small room and they essentially have to deal with their own psychological issues in some way. Most of it is played for laughs, like how the praying mantis is having trouble finding a boyfriend when she cannibalizes them after sex, but it's a premise that I've seen before, just with animals. 

Now that doesn't make the short bad. On the contrary, it's actually pretty good, but a lot of the set up seems very "been there, done that." What matters most here is the execution and Animal Behavior nails that part very well. This is a short that has a lot of little moments that can be mined for a healthy amount of detail. For example, seeing the look of horror on the gorilla's face after he lets his temper flair is solid, but what really sells the moment is the therapist's reaction to it. I won't spoil the ending, because it ends on a really funny moment, but this was a quirky and enjoyable short that did exactly what it set out to do. 

Bao

Director: Domee Shi, Becky Neimann-Cobb
Country: USA
Length: 8 minutes

What It's About

A Chinese woman brings a dumpling to life and treats the dumpling as a child, whether the dumpling wants it or not.

How Is It?

Out of all of the animated shorts, this is probably the one that most people have seen just because this short played before last year's Incredibles 2. When I think back to when I saw it for the first time in theaters, people seemed to remember this short because it had a woman eat a dumpling that she raised like a son. People only seemed to care about that act of murder more than the emotional weight of the story, which is a shame because there is a lot of thematic weight to the film. 

The entire short is not only a metaphor for motherhood but for growing up and having to accept that thing can't always stay the same. People grow and develop. They lead their own lives and eventually, they'll have to leave their home to start their own lives. If you know the twist at the end, it isn't hard to see coming, since all of the signs are there from the beginning, but it's still a movie that made me a little misty-eyed by the end, if only because of how simple it is. 

Special mention has to be made of the Chinese aspects of the film, whether it's through the soundtrack or just the general Chinese imagery. I mean, it's a movie about a sentient dumpling that takes about 10% of its runtime showing how dumplings are made in beautiful, painstaking detail. Technically this is the most gorgeous film of the bunch with gorgeous CGI and fluid animation. Look, Pixar has been consistently great with their animated shorts, and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Bao took hold the gold. It's the favorite for a good reason. 

Late Afternoon

Director: Louise Bagnall, Nuria Gonzalez Blanco
Country: Ireland
Length: 10 minutes

What It's About

Emily, a woman with Alzheimer's, relives the highlights of her life and gets lost in her own imagination.

How Is It?

Late Afternoon was defined for me by two things; it's dream-like animation style, and the dedication to Emily's mental condition. The actual short is really about Emily sitting in a chair and slowly remembering her life and little moments that led her to where she is. We see her as a child, a teenager, a young adult, a mother, and finally as an old woman. There's no real narrative connection to each of these moments besides them being snapshots of her life and the people that she knew, whether it be her father, her friends, or her husband. I admire that whenever she leaves her flashbacks, she assumes the form of who she was at that point in time and interacts with her caretaker Kate as that version of Emily. For example, when Emily returns from being a child, she acts like one while having her tea and biscuits. 

It's the animation that really does sell the short with its watercolor-inspired palette. Every scene just flows and moves into each other so fluidly that there's hardly a rough transition. My issues came from how it never really went anywhere with the premise. We see Emily slowly remember who she was, but by the end of the movie I couldn't really figure out what I was supposed to take away from it. That Alzheimer's is bad? Your memories make up who you are and not your mental condition? There wasn't really a defacto message besides what you took away from the short. I guess that's a bit admirable, but when the movie is as abstract as it was, I could have gone for a little bit more guidance and purpose.

One Small Step

Director: Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
Country: USA/China
Length: 8 minutes

What It's About

Luna wants to go to the moon, so in order to fulfill her dream she studies hard and tries to better herself, all with the support of her shoemaker father. 

How Is It?

It took me some time to really decide this, but I think One Small Step is my favorite short of the five. What started off as Luna wanting to go to the moon because of a childhood dream, it eventually grows into a dedication and determination that anyone can achieve their dreams as long as they work towards it. It's the platitude "reach for the moon and you'll land among the stars" made manifest, but it takes a few unique turns along the way. 

Luna is never painted as being perfect and bright. She's actually really flawed. She studies for hours and practices as hard as she could, but she just can't quite be good enough. Her father's support is helpful, but even that can only go so far. Over the span of 8 minutes, Luna goes from being a wide-eyed optimist, to a stressed teenager, to an adult proud of her accomplishments, all of which was told without any dialogue. 

By the time I reached the end of One Small Step, I felt satisfied with the journey I went on. I went to the moon with Luna both in her dreams and in reality, but each time felt magical for completely different reasons. Not only that, but this is the second film this year to really play up the connections to Chinese culture, though not as successfully as Bao. Then again, One Small Step was never a story about a Chinese girl reaching the moon; it was about how anyone can follow their dreams regardless of who they are and what those dreams may be.

Weekends

Director: Trevor Jimenez
Country: USA
Length: 16 minutes

What It's About

A boy travels between his divorced parent's houses and sees how both of them are living their lives and moving on from each other, for better and worse. 

How Is It?

I'm surprised that we didn't get any bizarre, nightmare fueled short films, but thankfully Weekends fills that void in spades. I don't know if the short was intended to be an uncomfortable sit, but I was definitely unnerved watching it. All of the discomfort comes solely from the animation, which will show how the young boy imagines different people in his life, mostly his step-father who may or may not be abusive to his mother. There's nothing quite like watching a giant man catch on fire and melt as he chases his step-son around a house. 

But that's really the most notable thing about the movie besides the recurring song throughout the short being Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing." We don't really learn too much about the boy himself, but I feel like he's more of a surrogate for the audience to see how his mom and dad are both handling the divorce. One of them is living a happy life while the other is under more emotional turmoil. Throughout it all, both parents are at least united over their love for their child instead of viewing him as baggage or a commodity.

Also like Late Afternoon, I feel like Weekends is a bit too abstract for its own good. One of the big recurring visuals in the movie is the boy riding a red horse in his dad's apartment, but I don't think I can confidently say what the horse represents or why we see him riding it at the end of the movie. It certainly does look unique, but other than providing a cool visual, it wasn't clear to me what it meant. Weekends is compelling to watch and features some frightening imagery that I loved, but it plays it a little bit too safe with its plot and structure for me to give it a full recommendation.


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Filed under... #Academy Awards #Animation #Flixist Originals #Short films

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