The 2019 Animated Short Film Oscar nominees range from a mere 7 minutes to 15 minutes. Here are my reviews of all five nominated animated short films in order of presentation.
I will review the short film first, then give a general overview and end with my rankings.
Hair Love: 7 minutes
I absolutely fell in love with Hair Love. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears at this very moving story, which is essentially a silent film save for the YouTube video narrated by Issa Rae. There were a few twists and turns that didn't surprise but did move me emotionally. The little girl is absolutely adorable and the animation conveyed so much with so little. Hair Love is also a fine example of representation done right, a scenario that is both uniquely African-American and universal. It is a massive credit to show a strong, united black family, one that can have some gentle fun at a father's initial ineptness with female hair but whose love for his daughter comes through. Brief but rich in storytelling, Hair Love gives me the same feel that I got from Paperman, which went on to win Best Animated Short.
Dcera (Daughter): 15 minutes
The longest of our nominees, Daughter is a Czech animated film, also silent, that tells of the complex relationship between a father and his daughter told in flashbacks and present day. She longs as a little girl for his comfort, but he stumbles through it. When she gets older, he attempts to be more outgoing with her but she is too sullen to respond to his efforts. As he now lays dying, both are set free.
The animation is Daughter is quite rich and detailed in this stop-motion animation short. It is well-crafted but for me, despite its running time felt a bit rushed. I found it inventive but perhaps a bit too sad. Granted, I know what they were going for and was moved by this story of parents and children attempting to connect. To be fair there is something of a happy ending but perhaps the somber nature of Daughter made it a bit too hard for me. Still, the animation is worthy of recognition.
Sister: 8 minutes
The first of two Animated Short Film nominees that has dialogue in voiceover, the Chinese-language Sister is the memories of a young man and his annoying sister. Born in 1991, the sister causes him all sorts of issues large and small. Still, despite this there is a bond between them. Or there would be, if she had actually been born. However, as she in reality was aborted, most likely due to China's one-child policy and the fact that she was a female.
If there is a drawback to Sister, it is the ambiguity of the abortion (and I say this as someone openly pro-life). The film ends with a dedication to all those babies the State forced their mothers to abort, but because some people may not be aware that the Chinese Communist government had such a draconian One-Child Policy, some viewers may be put off by the story. It might be good to see the recent Amazon documentary One Child Nation, which covers this subject. Even if you support abortion, I think there can be agreement that the State forcing abortions on unwilling families is a horror. As for the animation itself, it is effective and almost cute, particularly when the sister grows to a massive size as an infant, reflecting how many older siblings look on the newborns taking so much attention. Sister is sad, especially since there is no hope due to Sister not being alive. However, Sister is also well-animated in its stop-motion work.
Memorable: 12 minutes
Memorable, in French, is the only nominated Animated Short Film that has actual dialogue. Here, this story is that of painter Louis, clearly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. Reflecting an artistic style not unlike that of Vincent van Gogh, Louis starts having major struggles with objects. He does not know how to operate a cell phone because as he puts it, "It's 1965". He attempts suicide but confuses a hairdryer with a gun. His fish die because he forgot to feed them and puts on an album cover thinking it was the album itself. Louis' children think their mother Michelle is exaggerating his illness, but as they dance one last time, it's clear he does not recognize his metaphorically incomplete wife.
Memorable can best be described as an animated Amour, only perhaps not as depressing and without euthanasia. The stop-motion animation is like the others highly effective though not as beautiful as the others I saw. For me though, I felt a bit removed from Memorable, and it did not hit me emotionally as the others did. Yes, the animation was good and like the others, worthy of recognition, but something about it left me cold. Curiously enough, so did Amour.
Kitbull: 9 minutes
Kitbull is about the most unlikely of friends: a street kitten and a pit bull. The kitten makes a home in a junkyard where she spots a dog put outside. She is wary of him, but soon they build up something of a friendship by playing with a bottle cap. Later, on a dark and stormy night, she sees the dog has been heavily injured, clearly forced to participate in dog fighting. He helps her when she gets caught up in some trash, but she in fear ends up attacking him. Regretful for her fearful reaction, she helps him escape. The next day, they come upon a friendly woman who with her husband take both in to start new lives together.
At first, I was wondering why Kitbull had been nominated. The traditional animation, while very pleasant, didn't seem to help a story that seemed to be going nowhere. It wasn't until we saw that far from being the violently aggressive dog of reputation that in reality the pit bull was quite gentle and kind that I began to be moved to Kitbull. I soon saw that Kitbull was playing with ideas about friendship, kindness and the importance of true love. I was emotionally hit by Kitbull, and while I did not cry I did respond to it.
The special screening for the 2019 Animated Short Film Oscar nominees included four shorts not nominated: Henrietta Bulkowski (the longest at 16 minutes), The Bird & The Whale (6 minutes), Hors Piste (5 minutes) and Maestro (2 minutes). Quick thoughts on them:
For better or worse I recognized the voices, and I was not charmed or impressed by either the story or the animation. I actually found it a bit creepy.
The Bird & The Whale: a small whale searching for his family finds a bird in a cage, lost after a shipwreck. They build a friendship until a storm comes upon them, and while the bird dies she gives the whale a new life and the family he so needed.
I thought well of the score, a duet between the whale (cello) and the bird (flute). Even though it has a hopeful ending, I still found it sad. Still, the animation was quite beautiful.
Hors Piste is the only laugh-out-loud animated short film, nominated or not. It's an amusing story not meant to be taken seriously, particularly when owing to their own idiocy our intrepid mountain rescuers end up in outer space! It's all meant to be amusing, almost endearing. It has an almost 1980's vibe with the music and style.
For better or worse though, seeing Hors Piste come shortly after the helicopter crash that killed NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna as well as John, Kerri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan does put a slight damper on the hijinks. That, however, is not the film's fault.
Maestro: a surprise forest concert takes place with a squirrel conducting a nightingale, turtles and porcupines in a brief opera performance.
The animation is downright beautiful. It's clever and quick and amusing all at once.
Of the five nominated Animated Short Film there really isn't a bad one in the bunch in terms of animation. Each film is beautifully drawn, though only two (Hair Love and Kitbull) are in traditional animation. The others are all stop-motion. Surprisingly, all of them had a theme of sorts: family. All but Kitbull were exactly about family relationships: between fathers and daughters (Hair Love and Daughter), between siblings natural and adopted (Sister and Kitbull) and between husbands and wives (Memorable). Granted, Kitbull was not exactly about families per se, but it was close enough.
Surprisingly too, three of the nominated shorts were rather sad with little to no sense of hope. Hair Love and Kitbull, the only traditional animated shorts, were the only ones to end on anything close to an optimistic, hopeful ending. The others weren't bad but they were about death both real (Daughter and Sister) or eventual (Memorable).
With the exception of Memorable, which I think could have been replaced by any of the non-nominated shorts shown save Henrietta Bukowski, I thought well of the nominees and think any of them would be worthy. However, out of all the nominated ones, there is only one that I thought was the clear standout.
I predict Hair Love will win Best Animated Short Film.
Here are my rankings in order from Best to Worst (the non-nominated ones in parenthesis):
(The Bird & The Whale)