Tag Archives: Best Animated Short Film

A Review of the 2020 Oscar’s Best Animated Shorts

I was pleasantly surprised by 2020 Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short.  In previous years, you see a deluge of American (and sometimes Canadian or British) shorts.  This year, not only do we see a surprising mixture of shorts from different countries but we’re seeing vastly different art styles telling intense story lines along a sliding scale of comedy and drama.  In previous years, it was rather easy for me to decide which was my favorite but this is the first time that I had to seriously consider among not two but three of the nominees!  They were that good.  Let’s go through each of the nominees and end with “Hair Love,” which is my pick for best animated short of 2020.

Image result for daughter short oscars

Daughter

From Czech Republic, “Daughter” focuses on the story between a woman and her dying father and their strained relationship.  Right off the bat, we are tuned into the short’s art style which is probably the most distinct out of the five.  The stop motion combined with the jolting camera is one of the most surreal experiences I have ever seen and really makes you feel close and personal with the characters despite their obviously non-human like appearance (as a side note, this short’s art style reminded me of the 2007 Animated Short Winner, “Peter and the Wolf” which was produced in Russia).

I admit that I was slow to grasp the story’s message, handling death and our mortality, due to unusual shots and jittery editing.  It wasn’t until afterwards, when Mary and I were discussing it, that we landed on that mortality theme.  Part of the story involved the girl finding a dead bird, showing the bird to her dad (who didn’t know how to console her), running to her room, and then changing into said bird.  The daughter reminisced this as she was in a hospital room with her dying dad when a bird flew into the hospital’s window and died upon impact.

All of this coincided with the daughter’s internal struggle about whether or not her dad loved her.  The lack of fatherly affection eventually drove her away from him and the last she saw of him (before his death) was through a train window.  Thankfully, she receives an uplifting clue of his love as she found her bird mask underneath his pillow.  A sign that he remembers her fondly even after she left him.

Image result for sister short

Sister

Family themes were very strong in this year’s shorts as demonstrated in this odd but thought provoking piece, “Sister,” produced by both American and Chinese collaborators.  This stop motion piece (involving very fuzzy set pieces), tells the story of a man talking about his younger sister during childhood.  Only it turns out, he doesn’t have a sister, due to China’s One Child Policy.  This reveal dramatically shifts the piece from nostalgic remembering to wishful thinking.  Where his parents instead of getting an abortion had raised a second child.

What stood out to me about this story was the very weird child imaginations of games and memories.  The enlarging of the sister-baby was humorous but I was uncomfortable of the belly button…noodle?…and the baby suddenly changing to a balloon.  I DID like the tooth tree though!  That was pretty great.  Although the reveal that his sister’s existence was fabricated, I do feel like we could’ve stayed on them longer and allow us time to care and grow with the two siblings and make the impact stronger.  Still, I love that critical message against the One Child Policy, it’s a subject that unfortunately doesn’t get talked about a lot.

Image result for kitbull

Kitbull

This year’s token Pixar short, “Kitbull,” is so delightfully different from Pixar’s usual style that I was really struggling whether or not to pick it for my overall winner.  It’s true, I think that Pixar gets a lot of credit for being a great animation but sometimes I’m like, let’s give someone else a shot!

Anyway!  “Kitbull” is so delightfully cute that it pains me.  The kitten is probably the best animated kitten I have ever seen and it really just carries this film.  I love the way that it freaks out, that it flips on the dime between playful and scared, and all its adorable kitten noises.  The pit bull, the second of our deuteragonists, is kind and playful but is scarred by emotional and physical abuse but acts as a soft foil to our feisty kitty.  I think this is one of the best representations of pit bulls in media and that’s awesome.  This short is further propelled by its soft art, it’s clean animation, and its easy-to-follow story despite the lack of a narrator.

Image result for memorable short oscars

Memorable

“Memorable” hails from France and is actually not the first time we’ve seen an Animated Short from France about memory loss (2016’s “The Head Vanishes,” was submitted but not nominated) but this short was so wonderful that I broke down crying by the end of the credits.  The art style and story are very in-tuned with each other, its impressionistic style reflects upon the main character’s artistic talent.  And as the artist’s mind is slowly fading away leaving him a shadow of his former self, the art style degrades making the world more and more abstract and empty (I love that he himself is becoming rougher and rougher around the edges to demonstrate his memory loss).

Despite the very heavy theme this story carries, it manages to find room for levity whether it’s the funky, Tim Burton-esque characters or, more importantly, the husband’s sense of humor which gives this character depth.  You can honestly imagine what this man was like before he lost his memory and why his wife fell in love with him in the first place.  This comes to a dramatic ending of sadness and humor as he dances with his wife and her colors slowly float away leaving a blank canvas that is now his mind.

Hair Love

“Hair Love,” produced in America, is my pick for Best Animated Short and I’m pleasantly surprised it won it despite the heavy competition.  Honestly, everything about it was just so tight and focused.  The animation style was appealing, I fell in love with the characters (and I want to hang out with the dad), and the pacing was really wonderful.  But overall that story was just really good.

I just love how everything flowed together and we didn’t need any narration to help us along the way.  The young girl wakes up to and excitedly checks her calendar to realize it’s a big day, today.  What that day is we don’t know until the end of the short when we realize her mom is being released from the hospital.  That’s a great pay off.  But what’s even better is that twist that her mom was the same woman who guided her on the internet hair style videos.  Yes!  So good!

And this I think makes the short that much better on a second watch!  The dad’s struggles aren’t just to appeal his daughter but to connect with her and, by second-hand, his wife.  I love that animation bit where he’s struggling to control her hair and it turns into a full on boxing match!  So great.  It’s nice that out of the heavy themes and rather depressing stories we were given this year, the one that won was uplifting, optimistic, full of heart and “Hair Love.”  Well done!

A side note about nominee reactions

Hey ShortsTV, I have a favor to ask.  It’s fine to show the creators reacting to their nominations but can we NOT show it during the end credits?  It can really detract from the watching experience, especially after watching something heavy like “Sister” or “Memorable.”  Thanks!

“World of Tomorrow” is My Pick for Best Animated Short Film of 2016

Like last years’ Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short, my selection for the 2016 winner is an easy decision as none of the shorts had the same depth and innovation as my clear favorite did. So before I get to why I liked “The World of Tomorrow” the best, let’s take a look at the other nominees first.

Probably the weakest nominee on our list is “Prologue.” Now, “Prologue” is noteworthy for its combination of colored pencils with a hyper realistic art style but the story was super lacking. In fact, did it even have a story? No, it really didn’t. It’s just about these four dudes fighting each other (in a game I called “The Half Naked Fight”) and a young girl gets traumatized from viewing this deadly battle. That’s it. Violence has weight if there’s a purpose behind it but without tension, it’s meaningless. Why are the dudes fighting? Which side should I be rooting for? And why should I care?

“Bear Story” suffers from its middling plot, style, and story that, in the end, make it another weak contender. I don’t really know what to say about this short since it’s so…meh…I think what really bothers me about the short is there are a lot of unanswered questions, some of which are ones I’m sure the creators don’t want you to think about. For instance, are the circus workers human? Where do they live? How do they know about this animal city? Why aren’t there other humans doing something about this human city? Do the animals live in fear of humans? Even the ending was confusing in the wrong way as it left me more frustrated than satisfied. And unfortunately, the rather stiff animation seems almost jarring when you compare it to other computer-animated shorts. Next.

“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” should be retitled as “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos and Each Other.” The two cosmonauts’ friendship rivals their love of outer space and that makes this short super character driven. The minimal art style is reminiscent of Tintin, Doug, and other simplistic cartoons and this is amazing given the breadth of emotion delivered in this film. Because of the style, outer space looks so beautiful, perfectly complimenting the cosmonauts love for it. Really, the major fault I had for this film is the ending which, like “Bear Story,” left me confused when it really shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t focus on this part of the film but it bothered both Mary and I and I can’t let it go. Mary postulated that he committed suicide while I think he somehow found a way to reach outer space and join his friend. Perhaps we should enjoy the ending though as he was reunited with his friend in the end. Pretty good short though!

Now, “Sanjay’s Super Team” I can imagine winning the Oscar but not just because it’s a Pixar film! The other Pixar short I saw in 2015, “Lava,” was no where near as good as this short and I was super glad I didn’t have to watch it again when I saw all five shorts in the theater.  I like this short because it was incredibly fluid, visually stimulating and gorgeous. I like the parallels between the father and son’s influential figures and I liked the action scene as well. If it wasn’t for “World of Tomorrow,” I’d say that “Sanjay’s Super Team” would win the award no problem!

Then why does “World of Tomorrow” (directed, produced, animated, written, and edited by Don Hertzfeldt) deserve the Oscar? Well, I think it boils down to “World of Tomorrow’s” delivery of a very earnest, and somewhat sad, look at humanity through the guise of fun, surreal, and often times light humor. I can only imagine how difficult it is to achieve this but “World of Tomorrow” exceeded tremendously. What’s more, the child-like stick figure characters match well with the undefined and abstract-like backgrounds.   There were so many good scenes but the one that got to me was when Future Emily talked about clone degenerations and then her eyes blinked rapidly and sporadically. It made me uncomfortable and that was great. The ending scene where Future Emily absorbed Emily Prime’s memory of her mother was quite melancholic but I still had this sense of…optimism? I’m not quite sure how I feel.

I guess in the end, “World of Tomorrow” was the animated short I had been looking for for a long time. When I review the Oscar Animated Shorts, I’m looking for a short that has a stellar art direction mixed with an unconventional storyline or a story that made me think and change my perspective on a certain topic. The last time this happened to me was 2013’s Disney’s “Get a Horse” which, although not really mentally stoking, had a very surprising and refreshing take of the classic Mickey cartoons and that was great! I love being surprised! “World of Tomorrow,” was the opposite as, although it didn’t have a twist or a surprise “gotcha moment,” was still very sweet and emotionally stimulating. And unlike “Bear Story” or “We Can’t Live without Cosmos,” I didn’t find myself frustrated or confused by the storyline, it had a goal and it delivered it to perfection. I highly recommend for anyone to see it.

Btw, anyone notice how there was a severe lack of dialogue in four of the five shorts? Only “World of Tomorrow” had dialogue and it was brimming with it. I kind of find that interesting as the previous two nominated years had a healthy mix of the two. I’m not really surprised truth be told as when you have an animated short, a media where you are free to create anything you like without much limitation, you can easily tell a story using character actions and visual cues.