The 2019 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts: Family Time, by Sarah Brinks
There’s a surprisingly consistent theme across the animated short films nominated this year: The many phases families experience throughout a lifetime. Four out of the five films explore this theme in different ways.
“Animal Behaviour” is the one exception to the family theme. The film is about an animal group therapy session where each animal in the group is trying to overcome their compulsions. A leech is trying to stop being so attached to her romantic partner, a cat is trying to stop licking herself, and the new guy, a gorilla, is trying to stop being so angry and alpha male. The voice work of each of the characters is strong and the writing is very clever in parts. I didn’t respond strongly to the animation style but there are some fun jokes in the background of the therapy office that add color and depth to the world the film creates. Overall, this is not one of the strongest films in the group but it is entertaining.
“Bao” is Disney and Pixar’s entry this year. The film opens with a woman carefully making bao buns. She sits down with her husband to eat them when, to her surprise, the bao she puts in her mouth starts crying like a baby. She realizes the bao is sentient and starts to care for it. We see the bao grow up and the mother become more and more overprotective. The bao eventually meets a girl and moves out. The film ends with reconciliation and the realization that the bao was a visual substitute for her real son. “Bao” is sweet but falls emotionally flat, especially in comparison to the other films in this category.
The devastating effects of dementia impact not only the patient but all the people around them. “Late Afternoon” is an exploration of memory and the effects of dementia. The film is loosely inspired by writer/director Louise Bagnall’s own grandmother’s life. An elderly woman enjoys a cup of tea and a biscuit, then half her biscuit falls into her tea. This sends her down a trail of memories, exploring tide pools, writing her name in the sand, and leaning into the sea wind as a little girl. This beautiful and sad film explores what it is like to be constantly trying to orient yourself in your own memory and the euphoria of the short moments of lucidity that come with dementia.
One Small Step
A little girl, Luna, is obsessed with space and her father joins her in her make-believe as they blast off in a cardboard-box-spaceship and land on the moon. Luna, in her space helmet and space boots, grows up. Her father, a cobbler, often shows his silent support by fixing her shoes. After his passing, we see Luna discover the shoes he kept and redouble her efforts in school and finally make it to the moon as a real astronaut. The film is silent but when Luna steps onto the surface of the moon, you know from her expression that she is thinking about her dad and how proud he would be. The 3D animation is beautiful throughout both the make-believe sections and the rest of the film. “One Small Step” has a similar story structure to “Bao” but, where “Bao” falls emotionally flat, “One Small Step” is incredibly moving.
“Weekends” addresses the theme of the phases of family life by exploring the two halves of a little boy’s life after his parent’s divorce. The film is inspired by writer and director Trevor Jimenez’s youth as a child of divorce. The boy’s life with his mother is in a house with classical music and home cooked meals. Weekends with his father is Dire Straits on the radio, an apartment downtown, samurai swords, and Chinese takeout. We see how both his parents explore new relationships, some of which last and some of which don’t. Interspersed throughout the film are the little boy’s dreams that capture his feelings and fears. The film’s style, 2D animation composed over a hand-drawn charcoal background, is strange but also effective, especially in the dream sequences. The personal quality of the film is felt in every frame.