The animated short offerings are a much stronger category, overall, than the live action shorts turned out to be. That’s not to say that everything is a fun and easy watch. There are a few here that may hit different people in different ways. From the loss of family because of them growing up and moving out, to the loss of self due to aging, there’s a lot of heavy topics. But more than the live action, the animated shorts this year approach some weighty ideas and stories from different perspectives, with varying tones and amounts of humor.
Keep reading after for a few bonus shorts that you can watch, collected from the Annie Awards and elsewhere. My favorite short is down there, and wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar.
Let’s get this one out of the way. It’s fine. Not great, possibly not even good. It’s passable as a cartoon short. This is the only one where I actually checked to time to see how much longer was left. The story thin, the characters simple, and the pacing slow. This is the Bohemian Rhapsody of this category: serviceable but undeserving of a spot.
Pixar’s requisite slot. People often assume the Pixar submission will the leader, but last year every submission (other than Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball”, which one) was a standout film. And where last year’s “Lou” felt a little bit like it had a message to sell, and “Piper” from the year before felt like a technology show-piece, Bao is a personal and touching story that isn’t afraid to lean into cultural framing. More like 2016’s Sanjay’s Super Team than anything else, Bao does a great job utilizing internal thoughts and external narrative to make a short that feels completely immersive and personal.
In case Bao was a little too humorous for you, here comes Ireland’s Late Afternoon. On the outside this movie lives up to the name: it is about Emily, and elderly woman, sitting in a chair during the late afternoon. But on film, the short follows her internal thoughts as she drifts from the present to a fragmented past through the veil of Alzheimers. Completely sincere, what could have devolved into sentimentality, through the soft and approachable animation style, is kept in check with the edge of her disease. The swirling colors and landscapes are both childish and a reminder of how difficult it is for Emily to hold on to any single moment.
One Small Step
USA & China/8 Mins/2018
Better than “Animal Behaviour”, this film from a joint US/China production is still too simple to be a standout. The story follows a young girl who wants to be an astronaut. She’s constantly encouraged by her father, and even when he’s gone his memory gives her encouragement to foster he own passion. The animation is crisp and bold, leaning a bit into the style of The Incredibles, perhaps the poster design even more than the movies themselves. But what holds this back from being great is that there’s very little done with the animation medium itself. This could just have easily been a live action short. Other than Animal Behaviour, every other nominee uses the freedom that animation offers to create a somewhat impressionist (Late Afternoon) or expressionist (Weekends, and even Bao to a degree) narrative. The script from One Small Step could be read without a single note about how the visuals will impact the storytelling. However, I think that its accessibility may give it an edge, with the other shorts possibly splitting the vote.
While nothing else made me cry like Late Afternoon did, I think that Weekends is my pick for Best Animated Short for this year’s Oscars. The basic story of this is simply following a child back and forth as he spends his weekends with his father and the rest of the week at his mother’s house. What works so well here is how animation is used to delve into the emotions of
(that you can actually watch)
By now you could use an emotional break. Well, this 5 minute short is the respite you need. Vignette after vignette, each lasting only a few seconds, it takes a moment for the viewer to realize what the cartoon is attempting to convey. But once it clicks, the result is hilarious.
Les Lèvres Gercé
Another short short, clocking in at roughly 5 minutes, this one still packs a punch. The style is almost like moving woodcut art, and the story is just as unforgiving. The film follows a mother and child, always at the kitchen table. It soon becomes clear that the mother simply doesn’t understand what their child is trying to tell her about themself, though hopefully it comes through by the end. A counter to the fanciful use of animation in the imagery of Weekends, Bao, and Pépé La Morse / Grandpa Walrus (the following film), Les Lèvres Gercé uses animation to to create a concrete setting that seems as immovable as the parent. Lines are clearly drawn, and the wood grain hints that the world we see is like a box that the mother is incapable of breaking out of.
Pépé La Morse / Grandpa Walrus
Here I have saved the best for last. A nominee for Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject (losing to the Oscar nominee Weekends), I think this takes the structure of weekends, of mixing visual hallucinations and interpretations and impressions of the characters, and uses the art of animation to push things even further. A family that doesn’t seem to be able to connect with each other all venture to the shore to say farewell to the patriarch of the family. The wake does not go as planned, and soon each family member buds off to have their own mystical moment.
What’s wonderful about this film is that the moments aren’t what you’d expect to see in order to bring a family together in mourning. They are bizarre and clearly not comforting. Rather than see an idealized version of their grandfather, or father, or husband, each family member is faced with a manifestation of their own conflicting feelings, and are forced to confront them head-on. It feels like a fresh take inspired by the darker parts of a Miyazaki film. The result is a short film that is both emotionally affecting and new.
The director, Lucrèce Andreae, is currently working on an animated feature film and I cannot wait to see what she creates.