Friday, February 22, 2019
OSCARS 2019: The 2019 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts
For the last few years, the Oscar nominated short films – once almost impossible to see if you weren't an Academy member – have been made available to the public through cable on-demand programs and various online markets like Amazon about a week before the ceremony. This year, however, it seems the shorts won't be made available to rent until after the 24th... Everywhere that is, except the iTunes store. Being determined to see as many of the nominated films as possible, I naturally bought them through this manner. I had a credit on my iTunes account anyway.
And I have to tell you, I'm never going to buy a movie through iTunes ever again. My attempt to buy them through my computer resulted in a weird error screen, the program repeatedly asking for my password, redirecting me to edit my payment information, and eventually crashing when I attempt to look at my purchase history. So I ended up having to watch the shorts on my fucking tablet. After successfully buying and downloading the shorts package, I was then faced with obnoxiously frequent buffering. Why does something I own have to buffer?
Anyway, enough of the bitching. Here's my thoughts on the animated shorts.
“Animal Behaviour” hails from Canada and seemingly continues a tradition of demented animation that has been going on for a while. The short details a group therapy session for a group of various animals. The delicate equilibrium of this setting, held together by a dog/psychologist named Leonard, is thrown off with the newest member joins: A large gorilla with anger problems.
“Animal Behaviour” essentially has one joke but it's a pretty good one. The short contrasts human neurosis with behavior that's considered perfectly normal in the animal world. So we see a leech who is considered clingy by her partner, a pig that overeats, a cat that obsessively-compulsively licks herself, and a pigeon haunted by childhood memories of pushing his brother out of his nest. It's an amusing idea that is extended to cartoony lengths, such as the leech breathing into a bag or the dog doctor revealing his own compulsions. (Hint: They involve a stick.) The slow build-up here, where the different anxieties and problems of the various characters are revealed, is funnier than the slapstick chaos that eventually follows. However, it all comes around for a decently muted conclusion. The animation is nice too, especially the sequence devoted to the pigeon's horrifying memory. I also like the amusingly round and stout character designs. [7/10]
“Weekends” follows a young boy named Bruce. His parents are recently divorced. Weekdays with Moms are characterized by quiet piano playing, mishaps while cleaning house or cooking dinner, and outdoor exploration. During the weekend visit with his Japanophile father, however, Bruce gets to mess with samurai swords, play video games, listen to Dad Rock, watch gory action movies, and eat Chinese take-out. The arrangement seems to work yet Bruce still dreams about his parents getting back together. This goal is squashed when his Mom brings home a boyfriend and his dad gets engaged.
“Weekends” is likely to summon up emotions for any child of divorce. While my life after my parent's divorce wasn't anything like this, I can still relate to these feelings. This melancholy sense that there's something missing in the house, the permissiveness of one parent versus the other attempting to hold it all together. The weirdness when step-parents or boyfriends enter the picture. “Weekends'” highly stylized character designs allow for a strong degree of symbolism. Mom's frailness is hinted at by the brace on her neck, Dad's stoic quality by his reflective sunglasses. The boyfriend has a candle growing out of his head, indicative of both his short fuse and blazing temper. The way the movie uses various pop culture signifiers – Dire Straits, Nintendo – becomes a reoccurring joke of sorts. It doesn't quite end on a salient point, as that final dream sequence is a bit of a question mark, but there's some potent emotion leading up to that frustratingly ambiguous ending. [7/10]
One Small Step
You might notice some themes emerging through this year's animated shorts. “One Small Step” is about Luna, a little Chinese-American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Her father supports her one hundred percent in this goal. This support is shown through the way he fixes her various pairs of shoes – playtime astronaut boots, saddles, track meet sneakers – as they break apart over the years. As she goes off to college, struggles with academics, and eventually is rejected by the space program, she starts to take her Dad for granted. And guess what happens next?
“One Small Step” works despite being rushed and maudlin. At only eight minutes long, it doesn't have quite enough time to pack in all the necessary emotion. When the inevitable loss comes, we don't feel it as much as we should have. Nevertheless, this one still tugs at your heart strings a little in the scenes that follow, as the way Luna remembers her father are portrayed in a very sweet manner. Also, this is maybe the prettiest of the nominated shorts. The short seamlessly combines hand-drawn illustration and computer animation. Though a little too predictable and touchy-feely, “One Small Step” is still worth seeing. [6.5/10]
Yes, a surprising number of this year's animated shorts are connected by concepts of parenthood and Asian motifs. “Bao,” which was packaged with this summer's “Incredibles 2” and is left out of the shorts package, is similarly themed. In it, a Chinese woman, lonely because of her busy husband, sees the dumpling she has made for lunch spring to life. She starts to raise the little dumpling baby as a child. There are several years of joy, the mom finding happiness despite his doughy child's tendency to get injured. As he grows older, the two grow apart which is very upsetting for the woman. You might have noticed that this is a metaphor for overbearing parenting in general.
Though no less obvious in its themes than “One Small Step,” “Bao” is much more effective overall. There's a lot of humor here, in the way the woman's eyes bulge out at the various antics her child gets into. Or the way she dives into frame to prevent him from playing soccer. (The adorably pudgy character designs get a lot of credit for this too.) The emotion is real too and you really relate to the lonely woman's desperation to hang onto this child she loves. That makes the climatic reconciliation especially meaningful. When combined with the lovely animation – the food looks absolutely delicious – and pretty score, it makes “Bao” one of the best of this lot. [8/10]
Also excluded from the shorts package for some reason, “Late Afternoon” comes from Ireland. Only the second of the shorts to feature any major voice-acting, the film is about an elderly woman named Emily. As her nurse arrives to prepare her lunch, she feels a wave of memories washing over her. Of her childhood spent playing on the beach or exploring caves, of finding love during college, of her own years as a parent, and finally how she arrived at this point.
“Late Afternoon” features probably my favorite animation of the lot. The short does a gorgeous job of visually illustrating how memories manifest. Little items – a biscuit floating in a cup of tea, a simple photograph – reminds Emily of very specific events. How they enter her mind is visualized by waves of colors enveloping her. Using this same trick, we see years of her life compressed into a few short minutes. Such as when waves on a beach become the water in a bathtub, revealing a pregnant belly. It's also just really pretty to watch and leads up to a fittingly emotional conclusion. Overall, another strong one that also has a story revolving around parenthood. [8/10]