The remarkable animation certainly doesn’t hinder these stories, either; it’s clear that the artists of each short film rightfully earned their spot on the list. From the hand-drawn and incredibly detailed style in Weekends to the warm and bubbly computer-generated look in One Small Step, there’s no shortage of unique art styles to keep the viewer captivated. They’re all so unique, in fact, it’s arguably unfair to compare them based on animation alone. Although Bao won the Oscar at the end of the day, there couldn’t have been any wrong decision when it came to deciding the winner. After all the clear hard work and love put into them, every short is deserving in its own right.
Trailers for each of the shorts can be found on the Oscars website at https://oscar.go.com/video/best-animated-short-film-nominees.
By Jared Geyer
Animal Behaviour is a standout from the other four stories because it is the only one that doesn’t feature humans. While the other stories talk about the trials and tribulations of growing up and losing loved ones through different means, this comedy-driven animation is about a group of animals in a therapy session. The only other cartoon with even hints of comedy is Bao, which still leans in more on its emotional side than laughs, so Animal Behaviours’ comedy was a warm welcome from the get go.
Some humour based around the different animals and their traits was somewhat formulaic. There are some jokes that don’t entirely land, such as a joke involving emotional trauma a bird character has. Joke delivery is one of the hardest things any type of actor, animator or storyteller can perfect. A joke can be funny on its own, but if the delivery or timing is wrong, it can be ruined. Animal Behaviour has its moments where it doesn’t stick the timing and delivery.
A good way the film counteracts its weaker punches is with different characters’ reaction to the situations. There is a wide variety of different character archetypes to bounce off of eachother. Some characters aren’t used for anything but a one-off gag (the bird) while others are growing focal points in the story (the monkey). There is an emotional climax, but since the rest of the short was comedic I wasn’t sure if the moment was genuine. The story has tonal and comedic inconsistencies, but the dry delivery and cast of characters makes up for it. The art design is great and perfectly fits the tone the creator was going for. The animation is very fitting as well. Animal Behaviour is more stilted than the other four animations, but it really doesn’t warrant fluid animation to tell it’s story any better.
By Jared Geyer
Bao is about the struggles of a mother coping with her son growing up and spending less time with her. The relationship between the mother and son is represented through the mother raising a baozi bun that comes to life after she cooks it. Bao packs a lot of storytelling and relatability in its short runtime. This is not just a film that mothers can relate to, younger audiences can also relate with the anthropomorphic bun as it grows up and becomes more distant with the mother. The bun wants to spend more time with friends as he grows older, ignoring the gestures his mother makes to get him to socialize with her more. The mother ends up eating the bun after he gets engaged and begins to leave the house again, an analogy for the moment the relationship with her real son met its breaking point.
Bao reminds the audience that the progression of time results in changes that we aren’t able to control. People grow older and want to branch out from what they know. The friends and relationships we have may sour or become obsolete in a few short years. We have to accept that time is precious and the relationships we can keep intact, like the ones with our mothers, can’t go to waste. This message is brought across in the span of a few minutes in Bao; not a single scene is wasted. There is no dialogue, which brings more attention to the vibrant facial expressions and outstanding set design.
The animation is brilliantly done and doesn’t feature the typical art style that modern Pixar and Disney films use. Pixar short films usually do branch out and use different art styles, such as the hyperrealism with Piper or the more simplistic blend of 2D and 3D with Day & Night. The most impressive animation comes from when the mother is cooking food. The hands melding with dough looks a little off, but that’s probably the best anybody has ever done. The animation looks about as realistic as possible, down to the light powder on top of the dough or the individual grass pedals in a field. Bao is a sight for the eyes with emotion to boot.
By Isaac Parrish
From Irish director Louise Bagnall, A Late Afternoon guides us through the thought process an elderly woman with dementia named Emily as she slowly pieces together the environment around her using clues from her early memories. She relives her life all over again exclusively in the moments that were most precious to her, and by the end she remembers one of the most precious things of all: her daughter. As the viewer, watching her finally remember this felt like a personal victory. We were taken on a journey of discovery with Emily for something undefined and ultimately seem to have found what we were looking for.
The soft animation style is fitting to the theme of the story. There are no hard strokes, only rounded images, which gives off a more bouncy and blissful tone. It feels like every bit of art in this short could easily be some abnormal shape of a cloud you could point out to your friend while staring at the sky.
A Late Afternoon handles transitions spectacularly. Throughout Emily’s journey, the audience is taken back and forth between her memories of the past and her current reality. Rather than rely on fading in and out between scenes, the whole film feels like one fluid motion of thought. Emily’s first flashback to her running around the beach as a child is triggered by witnessing part of her biscuit sink into her tea. The viewer is never lost; it always makes sense for the film to be in whatever spot it’s in, and that’s praiseworthy writing.
Emily never recovers from her dementia, but the short does provide a form of closure in the end that won’t leave anyone disappointed. A Late Afternoon was a very sweet experience that viewers won’t regret seeing.
By Isaac Parrish
Directors Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, as well as founder of Taiko Studios Shaofu Zhang, created One Small Step. The audience is taken through the life of Luna and her relationship with her father as she aspires to become an astronaut. Since her childhood, Luna’s father attempted to help her with whatever setbacks she encountered. Owning a shoe shop, for instance, came in handy whenever Luna’s footwear needed fixing. As she gets older, Luna isolates herself from her father more and puts all her focus into studying.
The relationship between Luna and her father felt so real to watch it was like witnessing part of your own family grow up. Luna never became annoyed with her father, but began taking his kindness for granted as she got older, something many viewers can relate to. It wasn’t until later that she remembered how much of an impact he truly made on her life. Without his constant support throughout the years, Luna may not have even wanted to take the path that she did. Where she ended up was largely in thanks to her father, and it’s this realization that brings the short film so close to home. We all ought to be at least a little grateful for those who’ve raised us.
Apart from Pixar’s Bao, One Small Step is the only other short on the list that utilizes computer animation and it looks beautiful. Everything is so bright and colorful, it’s as if watercolor painting was transformed into a 3D art style. Something so dazzling is only to be expected from former Disney animators. Zhang, Chesworth and Pontillas are all former animators that worked together on many films including Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana.
Out of all the nominees on this list, One Small Step is the one I think I’ll most distinctly remember. It was the most effective in getting me to experience the story from the protagonist’s perspective, and although the subject matter probably helped, it was the superb writing and storyboard decisions by Taiko Studios that made the short so memorable. The animation and writing is all put together so well I wish I could see a whole movie about Luna. This is only Taiko’s first project, so perhaps they’ll pull off something like that in the future. I look forward to seeing what else they come up with.
By Jared Geyer
Weekends is my favorite out of the five nominees. The short delves into the mind of a child who struggles with the separation of his parents. His mother is a quiet but loving women who lives in a quaint house in the woods, while his father lives in a city apartment. The art style completely compels the viewer. While the frame-by-frame animation is extremely choppy most of the time, the watercolor-like style of Weekends gives off a flat vibrancy that perfectly exemplifies the tone that the creators were looking for.
The story itself is halfway told through the dreams of the child, who blends the horrors he sees on TV with his dad with the realization that his parents are moving away from each other and seeing other people. Scenes the child sees on TV are mixed with the abusive relationship his mother goes through, creating a perfectly haunting scene that shows exactly how the kid is feeling. These types of dream sequences are scattered throughout the short and feel extremely personal. The creator of the short, Trevor Jimenez, based the short off of personal experiences he had growing up as a child. This adds another layer of authenticity to the storytelling in Weekends.
The storytelling of Weekends is not a entirely straightforward short like Bao where the message is clear cut. Some of the dream sequences could be interpreted in many different ways. The absence of dialogue helps with the free flowing nature of the animation. The story has progression, but not a beginning, middle and end. Not too much seems to be achieved by the end of the story and there are no major character arcs. That’s just the way life is sometimes.
The pacing of the film is consistently charging ahead from one moment to the next. The story presents itself much like how anyone would remember their childhood, where only the important moments are remembered, but motivations, feelings and aspirations in those moments are forgotten. Weekends perfectly encapsulates what the progression of time feels like as a child. Children usually have no real consequences, so you see the consequences of adults around you. You are the viewer of other peoples’ stories while yours is taking shape. The surrealism of the dream sequences adds to the special quality of this film. Weekends wonderful storytelling that shows the brightness and darkness of families in this situation. I did not grow up this way, but I still connect with the feelings and grief of the child and adults. Weekends is a wonderful powerhouse of artistic expression and I highly recommend it.