Film

Review: Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts Features Five Fantastic Films

The 2020 Oscar nominated animated shorts are an excellent example of the expressive potential of cinema, each of the 5 films offering visually dynamic and thought-provoking bits of emotional storytelling. Audiences are likely to be not only impressed by the artwork in these shorts, but potentially moved by the subject matter as well. Though they offer warmth and humor, every one of the films showcased here tackles big ideas and weighty themes in their chosen medium.

Daughter

This film from Czech director Daria Kashcheeva boasts an evocative papier mâché style, with impressive, frantic camerawork navigating its stop motion world to tell the story of a young woman dealing with the decline of her elderly father’s health. Daughter is dialogue free, and relies on its striking image to explore its ideas—trauma, disappointment, emotional disconnect, memory, and reconciliation.

Kashcheeva manages an array of emotional and dramatic high points during the film’s short runtime, with much of the story happening in flashback and moments of daydream from the daughter of the title. The animation itself is vividly executed, ranging from fanciful to grotesque, and the film’s lighting, gifting the film an unsettling realism, is a wonder to behold.

Hair Love

Image courtesy of Sony Animation

Hair Love

Matthew A. Cherry and Everette Downing Jr.’s heartfelt short has a simple setup: a young African American girl, in anticipation of an important day, tries to do her own hair for the first time, consulting YouTube videos for help. When it proves too much, she recruits her father, but the task is even more challenging for him. The conceit serves as a backdrop for the filmmakers to explore not only the beauty of the father/daughter bond, but themes of personal resilience, cultural identity, and the importance of processing grief.

With its cute, pastel art style and bouncy animation, the Sony-produced Hair Love evokes the pleasing look of Disney’s more recent 2D cartoons, and directors Cherry and Downing have a great deal of fun with the film’s more exaggerated imagery—such as evoking a boxing match as the father digs into his daughter’s hair for the first time. When it is eventually revealed where the pair is going, the importance of their shared styling resonates with well-earned poignancy.

Kitbull

Produced by Pixar’s Sparkshorts division, Kitbull is director Rosana Sullivan’s tale of a jittery stray cat’s run in with a pitbull puppy in a trash filled city yard. On the surface, the film is an odd-couple buddy cartoon not unlike The Fox and the Hound and numerous other animal-centric stories. But Kitbull manages to achieve a real weight with its violent images of animal abuse and its exploration of the ensuing trauma.

Though the film pivots to an unsurprisingly happy ending, it’s the middle section, full of real stakes and true tension, that elevates Kitbull from merely sentimental to hard-hitting. The lively animation is a real treat, and the animators attention to detail, especially in the nuanced animal movements, make for a deeply moving viewing experience.

Memorable

Bruno Collet’s French language short Memorable is a beautiful marriage of form and content—the very way it is animated, the style of the art direction, and the cinematic choices reveal what the film is about with stunning clarity and simplicity. Telling the story of an elderly painter suffering from dementia and the effect the decline has on his wife, the short contains musings on relationships, aging, the pursuit of an artistic life, and the subjectivity of personal experience.

The mostly clay animation evokes the works of Vincent Van Gogh, most notably the artist’s self portraits and famous Starry Night painting, offering an impressionistic portrayal of the disease. The voice work is also top notch, adding a humor and weight to the exquisite production. If it were up to me, Memorable would win the statue next Sunday.

Sister

Siqi Song’s film is dedicated to “the siblings we never had,” a reference to China’s one child policy that was enforced from 1979 to 2015. The short is mostly colorless, existing in the narrator’s grey-toned memory of childhood, growing up with his younger sister during those years. Song exhibits a macabre sense of humor with his handmade, yarn doll aesthetic. In a daydream sequence, the baby’s belly button is yanked out and she deflates around the room; in another moment, after he is punished for something she did, he pulls his sister’s nose until it resembles Pinocchio’s.

Of course, watching the film with an understanding of the political situation in China at the time, it’s easy to see where the story is heading. But even so, the deeply personal portrayal of a frighteningly brutal reality, along with the quaint animation, lends Sister a tone of subtle anguish that is deeply effecting in its quiet delivery.

The Oscar Nominated Short Animated Films are now playing at Landmark Century Centre Theater.

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