While not as oppressively bleak as their Live Action counterparts, the 2019 Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films are still not up to the standard set by years past — but hey, at least Kobe Bryant’s not here to pat himself on the back again this time around. Some frivolous, some deeply felt, this year’s nominees represent a more even slate than last year — meaning we don’t have the lows of Dear Basketball, but we’re also missing anything resembling the highs of Garden Party. If this slate doesn’t quite measure up, they’re somewhat more kid-friendly than last year, so there’s that.
Animal Behavior. Directors: Alison Snowden and David Fine. Country: Canada. 14 minutes. Looks like someone saw the title of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist and took it literally without watching the show. This group-therapy session involving a cat, a leech, a pig, a bird and a praying mantis led by a dog doctor who overcame his own butt-sniffing addiction plays things cute. That it does so with a high degree of predictability isn’t necessarily a failing, although I don’t see this one being a genuine contender for the award.
Bao. Director: Domee Shi. Country: U.S. 8 minutes. If you saw The Incredibles 2, you probably caught Bao beforehand, so you likely already know what you think of it. For those of you who missed it in theaters the first time, Bao is the sort of saccharine, highly polished pabulum Pixar has become known for these days, distinguished solely by its heavily ethnic slant. If you’ve seen it, watch it again and tell me it’s not about infanticide and cannibalism. I mean, it’s probably not, but that reading could be argued…
Late Afternoon. Director: Louise Bagnall. Country: Ireland. 10 minutes. A genuinely effective use of animation as a visual medium, Late Afternoon is tailor-made for the Academy. It’s a deeply touching portrait of an elderly woman confronted by dementia, with a focus placed on not only the subjective experience of its protagonist but also the strain that experience places on her relationship with her daughter/caregiver. Bring your hankies for this one.
One Small Step. Directors: Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas. Countries: U.S. and China. 8 minutes. Another heartstring tugger, this time centered on the relationship between a little girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut and her supportive cobbler father. Maybe a touch on the trite side, it’s still an effective piece of animation that avoids the syrupy-sweet excess of its Pixar competition. Not my favorite of the bunch, but a definite possibility for this year’s statue.
Weekends. Director: Trevor Jimenez. Country: U.S. 15 minutes. Easily the most entertaining and original work among these shorts, Weekends is also potentially the most personal and emotionally honest. With a Plympton-esque visual aesthetic and some viscerally engaging Symbolist dream sequences, this story of a young boy coping with his parents’ divorce goes to some very fun places while still carrying some real emotional weight. It’s also one of the only films I can think of with both Erik Satie and Dire Straits on the soundtrack, so bonus points for that. My favorite of the lot, which means there’s not a snowball’s chance that it’ll win.