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Reviewing the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

by Stephen Silver

Oscars 2020: Watch the Animated Shorts

Fathers, daughters, and sisters

The Oscar-nominated animated shorts are traditionally dominated by Disney and Pixar, with the films that are shown in theaters to massive audiences prior to Pixar and Disney Animation Studios releases are always nominated and often when. 

This year, Disney showed no short prior to Toy Story 4 or Frozen II, and the only nominated film that comes from the House of Mouse grew out of Pixar’s “SparkShorts” program. But what this year’s animated shorts category does have in common with most slates of the past are plenty of animals, differing styles of animation, and at least a couple of very sweet human stories. The big theme this year is family.

The films are showing together, theatrically, beginning this weekend. Also, the films are embedded here in full, if available. 

A look at the nominated animated shorts this year: 

Hair Love  

The best animated short this year was probably the one seen by most people since it showed in theaters prior to Angry Birds 2. Written by former football player Matthew Cherry, and co-directed by Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. and Bruce W. Smith, Hair Love grew out of a Kickstarter campaign and was later picked up by Sony. 

The seven-minute film tells the story of a girl African-American girl and the struggles of her father in helping her to do it. He first struggles- as demonstrated in a funny fantasy sequence in a boxing ring – but eventually figures it out, thanks to a YouTube tutorial from the girl’s mom (Issa Rae), a YouTube hair vlogger. The ending is especially sweet. 

Kitbull

This film, from director Rosana Sullivan, is the one that came up through the SparkShorts program, and in addition to YouTube and as part of the theatrical shorts program, it’s streaming on Disney+. 

The film, one of many shorts this year that’s completely or nearly wordless, takes nine minutes to tell the story of a pitbull and cat who slowly become unlikely friends. Pixar has a long tradition of telling stories without words, going back to the “Married Life” sequence in Up, and the filmmakers here are clearly up to the challenge. 

The animation doesn’t look very Pixar-like- in fact, it’s 2D hand-drawn- but the film does a fine rendition of the film’s three “characters”- the dog, the cat, and the city of San Francisco. 

Memorable 

French Director Bruno Collet’s stop-motion film is quite an achievement- using that animated form to demonstrate what it’s like to go through Alzheimer’s. 

While certainly very sad, Collet’s film is one of the more inventive uses of animation in memory, as we see the protagonist, a painter, slowly show the effects of the disease, at one point even confusing a hair dryer with a gun. 

It’s a tragic film, but also one that’s quite thought-provoking. 

Daughter (Dcera) 

Another stop-motion film is Daughter, from filmmaker Daria Kashcheeva; the short categories are much less bereft of female nominees than the all-male Best Director category. 

The film is about a strained father/daughter relationship, told in flashbacks, as the father lies in the hospital. 

Made in the Czech Republic by a Russian-born filmmaker, the film centers on a small bird, that was brought home by the daughter years ago, and takes on significant symbolic weight. The animation is impressive, yes, but the climactic catharsis even more so. 

Sister 

If a gut-punch is what we’re looking for, that’s what’s provided by Siqi Song’s documentary about China’s one-child policy. 

Produced in the U.S. through the CalArts Experimental Animation Program, Song made the film as an actual second child, which was illegal in China until only a few years ago. The animation is a bit crude, and not quite as visually inventive as some of the other films in the category, but it works, especially in its big twist. 

One Child Nation, a documentary last year, covered the same ground, but the accomplishment of Sister is that it makes the same points more effectively in a much shorter time than the doc did. 

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