The shorts never get enough respect. That’s literally true this Oscars year as the Live Action Shorts category is one of four that is being presented during the commercial break. However, they hold the key to a perfect Oscar ballot prediction. Not only that, but there are some fascinating pieces of filmmaking being done on the short form.

It’s always a bit unclear on how to seek out and support short films as a consumer. Kickstarter, Vimeo and the myriad of other online fundraising and distribution platforms have helped alleviate this. However, ShortsTV has been instrumental in promoting the 15 Oscar-nominated short films. The Shorts are currently playing in theaters in limited release. They will also be available online come Friday, February 15th. For those looking for a guide for what to watch and what to skip, see our review of the 15 nominated shorts this year.

And the Nominees For Best Animated Short are:

  • “Animal Behaviour” – Alison Snowden and David Fine
  • “Bao” – Dome Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb
  • “Late Afternoon” – Louise Bagnall and Nuria González Blanco
  • “One Small Step” – Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
  • “Weekends” – Trevor Jimenez

“Animal Behaviour”

Even in a short, a bit can run too long. “Animal Behaviour” starts out with a strong concept that roars to life almost instantly. A group of animals attends a support group to help them cope with their animal urges. For example, a leech tries to not suck the life out of their host. A cat tries to not lick its own butt and cough up a hairball. There’s a praying mantis who has relationship troubles because she beheads her mates after sex. One gets the joke very quickly, and albeit laughs very quickly as well. This somewhat productive therapy session gets broken up by a gorilla with rage problems. Over the course of 14 minutes, “Animal Behaviour” wrestles with the topic of whether or not these animals can control their urges or not.

Even in 14 minutes, “Animal Behaviour” wears out its welcome. Directors Alison Snowden and David Fine demonstrate considerable wit, both visually and in the script. The sketches may be the crudest of the bunch but in a charmingly blocky sort of way. The zingers fly fast and free. However, they never amount to much. Instead, it just feels like an experiment that lands relatively ok. The animals acknowledge who they are and there’s a saucy little joke to tie it all together. It plays like a box of candy at the movies. It’s sweet and lasts only a small portion.

GRADE: (★★½)

“Bao”

Thanks to the annual Pixar offering, we are usually treated to a Pixar short as a nominee. This year’s submission, “Bao,” by Domee Shi, ranks as one of Pixar’s best. The short focuses on a Chinese Mom with a major case of empty nest syndrome. She toils away at making dumplings until one comes to life. The Mom raises this dumpling as her own and revels in getting to be a mom again. However, the dumpling grows up quickly and the Mom is forced to realize all over again that kids don’t stay adorable and little forever. Pixar delights in capturing a broad swath of life in one succinct story. They do it once again as they boil down the trajectory of parenthood in one, sweet, eight-minute short.

Director Domee Shi uses her Chinese heritage to imbue the short with a fresh, unique spirit. The relationship between this mother and child dumpling is imaginative and charming. Immediately, the short hooks the audience with its compelling story and doesn’t let go. By the end, one feels that they’ve gone on a complete journey with this pair. The short demonstrates remarkable storytelling quality. The animation possesses the trademark Pixar sheen, continuing the studio’s continued excellence in animation quality. In the end, it feels rote to drone on about how strong a Pixar short. Yet, “Bao” deserves the attention and accolades. It underscores what Pixar does best: marry story, heart, and technological innovation.

GRADE: (½)

“Late Afternoon”

Plenty of Oscar films have dealt with the loss of memory that comes with old age. “Late Afternoon,” from director Louise Bagnall, dramatizes this with its protagonist Emily (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan). Emily exists between the present and past, as she finds herself uncontrollably recalling things from her childhood and adulthood. During one visit, Emily tries to piece together her memories to recognize her daughter, Kate. Dealing with family members with memory issues is commonplace and hard for many people. “Late Afternoon” has its heart in the right place as it conjures up what this must feel like for the family members that can’t retrieve their memories.

Hand drawn animation has all but faded from animated movies today. This makes “Late Afternoon” stand out among the Pixar style submissions this year. The Irish short recalls many GKids films in its style, particularly “The Secret of Kells,” another Irish film. As Emily toggles between her memory and present, the animation brings to life the fuzziness and sketchiness of her memory and sense of being. It makes the emotional subject even more affecting. Yet, even as the short is able to express these emotions, it never digs deep enough. It fleets away too quickly for us to be invested in Emily and Kate’s relationship. We feel for them, as many have experienced similar situations with aging parents or grandparents. However, the short, pardon the pun, stops short of involving the audience in a more comprehensive and compelling look at aging and memory.

GRADE: (★)

“One Small Step”

Small Step,” from directors Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, doesn’t reinvent this wheel. However, it proves to be a delightful new entry into the canon. The short centers around the father-daughter relationship between Chu and Luna. Luna, a Chinese American young girl, dreams of being an astronaut. Chu encourages this passion and works harder as a shoemaker to support his daughter’s ambition. As Luna grows up, the pressures of school make it harder to chase her dreams. Nevertheless, Chu continues to support Luna in her quest to be an astronaut. The representation optics around this short are powerful. It’s great to see a diverse protagonist, as well as a father championing his daughter’s love of science.

The story beats of “One Small Step” appear almost unmistakenly Disney in this respect. This makes sense since Pontillas and Chesworth both have backgrounds working on Disney productions. However, the Taiko studios production forms just enough of its own identity to distinguish itself. In fact, though somewhat similar, “One Small Step” pairs very well with fellow nominee “Bao.” The style of animation in “One Small Step” makes it perfect for a wide family audience. It’s a message of pursuing one’s dream, even when things get tough, is plucky and admirable. “One Small Step” never misses a chance to charm or pull at one’s emotional heartstrings.

GRADE: (½)

“Weekends”

A young boy finds himself transported between his divorced parents home in the final of the five animated short nominees. Director Trevor Jimenez’s short, “Weekends,” tells the story of divorce through the eyes of this couple’s son whose weekends alternate between his mother and father’s home. He develops new traditions, witnesses his parent’s new lovers and struggles to adjust to the changing world around him. “Weekends” really wows because it manages to use interesting visual language to tell a heartfelt familiar story. The logline and emotions behind it feel familiar to children of divorce. However, the short expertly dramatizes the feelings of change and uncertainty we all feel.

The animation style is truly beautiful. We swish between both parents’ homes in a frenzied, almost unreal way. Updates to their lives come fast and furious as the central child in the piece tries to create a new normal. Still, the swift motions to the animation find beauty within the instability. Being from the point of view of a child, the movie plays with dream-like enthusiasm crashing against a more dissatisfying reality. This comes to light most readily in the parents’ new relationships, which play on familiar tropes but are nonetheless affecting. The short takes its audience on a visual ride that manages to always be emotionally engaging as well.

GRADE: (½)

Continue to the next page for the Documentary and Live Action Short Films.