Released: February 15, 2019
Runtime: 73 minutes for entire shorts program
Program: Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts for 2018
During every Oscar ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with nominees that virtually no one has ever even heard of, let alone seen: the shorts.
Divided into three competitive groups – Animated, Live Action, and Documentary – the Academy Award nominated shorts can make-or-break a person’s Oscar pool ballot.
Thankfully, for several years now, the slate of nominated shorts have been made available through separate feature-length programs to movie theaters nationwide. This year, many theaters (like Circle Cinema in my city of Tulsa, OK) have debuted one program per week leading up to the Oscars.
Below is a look at the five films nominated for Best Animated Short Subject for 2018, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Animal Behaviour (Canada, 14 minutes)
dirs. Alison Snowden & David Fine
From a pig to a leech and more, animals in a self-affirmation therapy group each mirror their own anxieties, issues, or denials according to their species stereotype. It’s cute and punny so far as it goes, with requisite butt-sniffing humor, but given that the concept and animation aren’t particularly unique or groundbreaking, Animal Behaviour doesn’t feel award-worthy.
Bao (U.S.A., 8 minutes)
dir. Domee Shi
The annual Pixar nominee (this one played in front of Incredibles 2), Bao is an adorable, emotional metaphor about the highs, lows, and emotional passages of parenting…as told through the bond between a mother and her…dumpling?
Yes, the Pixar short embraces a magical realism that transforms a dumpling – a.k.a. a “bao” – into the child of a stay-at-home mom. A slightly strange start quickly turms comic, cute, sad, briefly shocking, but ultimately sentimental. That lump in your throat won’t be a dumpling; it’ll be all your feels.
Late Afternoon (Ireland, 10 minutes)
dir. Louise Bagnall
From Cartoon Saloon, the Irish animation studio behind features like Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, Late Afternoon is about an elderly woman struggling to hold on to the wonderful memories from her life.
The animation, in a simple-but-effective 2D line-drawn aesthetic brought to life with vibrant water colors, follows a consistent visual design but, within that, employs a variety of styles. Fully realized environments represent the present day while memories of the past take form in sparse outlines, iconic shapes, and lush collages.
This is genuinely sweet, poignant, and deeply affecting in its own right, but (on a personal note) as someone whose own mother is in the evolving stages of Alzheimer’s, Late Afternoon proved to be an especially cathartic tear-jerking heart-tugger. Now where’d I put those damn tissues?
One Small Step (U.S.A. & China, 8 minutes)
dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
A girl wants nothing more than to be an astronaut, and her loving shoemaker father helps her to dream. This simple premise first plays itself out with charm and warmth, but then progresses as the girl grows. As she pursues a self-determined path to make her dreams a reality, it causes an unintended distance to grow between her and her father.
One Small Step (a collaboration between US and Chineses animators) is the kind of short you’d expect from Pixar – one where sentiment, heartbreak, and emotion are all earned, not calculated – which is the highest praise I can give it.
Weekends (U.S.A., 15 minutes)
dir. Trevor Jimenez
Told without words, a mesmerizing 2D storybook sketch style of animation brings to life the story of a 1980s Toronto boy whose parents are divorced. His weekends with Dad are fun while Mom must carry the brunt of daily responsibilities during the week.
There’s a gentle empathy for all three characters, felt even more deeply through the boy’s magical, surreal, sometimes haunted dreams, and his observation of the people his parents begin to date.
The visual storytelling is so deftly effective, and honestly I can’t say enough about detail and quality of the unique animation. Weekends is a tender, plaintive gem, where the nostalgia leans heavily – and beautifully – into melancholy.
Along with the five nominees, this theatrical presentation also includes two non-nominated contenders to help fill out the feature-length program. They were not made available for review, but here are their titles and run times:
- Wishing Box (additional film) – 6 minutes
- Tweet Tweet (additional film) – 11 minutes
And finally, my prediction for Who Will Win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject:
Such a tough choice here, so it is with little confidence that I predict Weekends will win – but here’s my thinking. Bao and One Small Step are similar enough that they could split votes, and I don’t think Animal Behaviour is on par with the rest of the slate. That leaves a close call between Late Afternoon (which I love) and Weekends, and I’m going with the latter because the animation is that much more distinct.