Review: A Variety of Styles, Emotions in Animated Short Film Oscar Nominees

As good or bad as you may believe the state of movies and the movie-going experience may be, I thank my lucky stars every year around this time that someone packages all of the Oscar nominated animated, live-action and documentary shorts into programs that play all around the country, so that those among us who are Oscar completists can see every honored film year after year. And as with every year, the animated program is among the liveliest of the shorts categories and the only collection of films that features bonus material—two additional awards contenders that didn’t quite make the cut, Wishing Box (from the US) and Tweet Tweet (from Russia).

One of the five nominated films is Canada’s Animal Behavior (Dirs.: Alison Snowden and David Fine), a slight but funny romp about a group of animals in a group therapy session, working out their personal issues, such as a leech’s fear that she is too clingy, or a praying mantis’s hang-ups regarding her sexual cannibalism. The session is run by a psychotherapist dog and disrupted when a new patient, a gorilla, joins the group with his severe anger issues.

Bao Image courtesy of Pixar

The most familiar to audiences is likely Disney-Pixar’s Bao (Dir.: Domee Shi), which was attached to The Incredibles 2 and centers on an aging Chinese empty-nest mother who is given a second chance at raising a child when one of her dumplings comes to life as a sweet baby, which grows up to be a typical, not-always-so-sweet kid and rebellious young man. It's easily one of the weirdest Pixar shorts of all time, which makes it all the more enjoyable, creative and ultimately quite moving.

Ireland’s Late Afternoon (Dir: Louise Bagnall) is a dreamlike work that dives inside the mind of an elderly woman, likely suffering from Alzheimer’s, whose thoughts are sent soaring through her past at the slightest provocation, like drinking tea or flipping through a book or looking at old photos. The American/Chinese co-production One Small Step (Dir: Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas) follows the dreams of a young Chinese-American girl, living with her single father, whose life goal is to become an astronaut. In just eight short minutes, the film packs in a lot of emotional weight and simple visual beauty.

Another nominee from the USA is Weekends (Dir: Trevor Jimenez), the story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents—his father, whom he spends weekends with, is obsessed with Japanese samurai culture and movies, and his mother, who is dealing with yet another unsuitable partner. The film is one of three in the program that feature no dialogue, which serves to highlight the visual nature of the medium and makes works from other nations much more digestible. The entire program runs about 75 minutes and is suitable for children about age 10 and older (but there’s nothing offensive in any of them). Not the strongest grouping we’ve seen in recent years, but a nice representation of the variety of animation styles out there and the emotional range they can achieve.

The Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts program opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.