When it comes to this year’s Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films presentation, The Academy and Shorts.TV, which distribute this to select theaters nationwide, took the word “short” literally.
The five nominees are shown, of course, though they only add up to 55 minutes. Normally, a handful of other contenders are added to the program to get it to “feature-length”. But there are only two additional shorts this year, bringing the final length to a meager 75 minutes.
That’s not the only odd aspect of the “2019 Shorts” theatrical experience. First – let’s look at the nominees:
“Animal Behaviour” is a Canadian film directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine, who won the Animated Short Oscar in 1995 for “Bob’s Birthday”. “Behaviour” features talking animals in group therapy. It’s a clever concept, though the execution is a little too straightforward. However, enough of the dialogue-based humor and messages work. B-
“Bao” is the Pixar nominee that screened before “Incredibles 2” last summer. An empty-nest mom raises a dumpling… literally like it’s her own son. The story is quirky. But unlike some Disney and Pixar nominated shorts in recent years, the emotional punch is fairly strong. B-
“Late Afternoon” comes from Louise Bagnall of Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, the makers of last year’s Animated Feature nominee “The Breadwinner”. This is a moving story about an older woman looking back on her life. There’s a late surprise you may see coming. I didn’t, so this “wow” moment (the only one out of all the shorts this year) combined with the wondrous visual style, make this the finest of the group. A-
“One Small Step”, from U.S. & China collaboration Taiko Studios, is an inspiring and visually dazzling short about a young girl’s passion for becoming an astronaut. The animation is top-notch. The score is terrific. This works well as a companion piece to fellow Academy Award nominee, “First Man”, with a fluid – albeit simple narrative. B+
“Weekends” recently won the Annie Award for Best Animated Short. Inspired by writer/director Trevor Jimenez’s upbringing, this is a visionary, honest and bittersweet portrayal of a boy dealing with the separation of his parents. B+
Heading into Oscar nomination morning in January, The Academy asked the directors of all 10 films on the Animated Short shortlist to record themselves watching the Live Nominations Announcement. During the end credits of three of the 5 nominated shorts, we see the instant reactions of the filmmakers as they hear actor Kumail Nanjiani announce that they have been nominated. Seeing these does take you out of the moment a bit, but the reactions are priceless.
Traditionally, after the 5 nominated films are shown, some of the other five films on the “Top 10” shortlist are presented, as part of the “Highly Commended” section. This year, The Academy had some excellent shorts to choose from. “Age of Sail”, from Oscar winning “Paperman” director John Kahrs, and DreamWorks Animation’s “Bilby” are both in this second group (both, frankly, should have received nominations).
However, inexplicably, none of the others on the “Top 10” shortlist are part of this year’s “Highly Commended” group. There’s no “Age of Sail”. No “Bilby”. No “Bird Karma” – another DreamWorks contender. Instead, The Academy went off the board, showing two outsiders:
“Wishing Box” is about a pirate and his monkey who discover the powers of a small treasure chest. Funny concept, but the CGI animation is rather obscure. And compared to this year’s nominees, the story is too basic and old-fashioned. C
“Tweet-Tweet”, from Russia, stars a cute, little bird. But the title is misleading. This is not a “cute” short, a la Pixar’s Oscar winning “Piper”. Instead, it’s a serious look at the life of a girl/woman. It’s a tad too long and doesn’t completely deliver, but its central theme of the timeline of life does pack a bit of a punch. C+
So, I could critique the “2019 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts” presentation from multiple angles. Shorts that should’ve been nominated weren’t. Shorts that should’ve been shown aren’t. And the presentation itself is too… short.
As for the films themselves – it’s a rare year when there isn’t at least one entry that truly doesn’t belong. All five of the nominees are at the ‘good to very good’ level. And while the two “Highly Commended” shorts are average, they’re both certainly watchable.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, the “2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation” gets a B.
Running Time: 75 min.