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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2018 (90th Academy Awards) review

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2018 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
My pick: I suspect that this year’s winner will be “Garden Party” [pictured], a spectacular debut from new French animation studio Illogic that I am sure we will be seeing a lot more stunning work from.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Death, despair, and decay. Some very black humor. These motifs run through most of this year’s Oscar-nominated animated short films. Oh, and childhood. In one case, the despair of childhood. Fun times.

I suspect that this year’s winner will be “Garden Party” [IMDb|official site], from a new French animation studio called Illogic — consisting of filmmakers Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon, and Lucas Navarro — that I am sure we will be seeing a lot more stunning work from. The adventures of frogs and toads and other small creatures as they invade an abandoned mansion — they really like the pool out back! — play out via absolutely spectacular photorealistic imagery that captures all sorts of materials and textures, from stone and metal to cloth and food, as well as the animals themselves, of course. (There’s no dialogue, but the sound design, all natural sounds of water and amphibians, is as lush as the visuals.) The film is told, for the most part, from the unaware perspective of the small creatures, but gradually we get hints of what might have happened to the inhabitants, and begin to wonder whether the mysterious absence of humans is localized to this one house or could be much more widespread. The peace and the beauty of the natural world on display becomes a sharp counterpoint to that unspoken question. The world would not miss humans at all. [watch at Amazon US|Amazon UK|iTunes US|iTunes Can|iTunes UK]

women’s participation in this film (learn more about this)
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist

“Negative Space”

“Negative Space”

I would love, however, if “Negative Space” [IMDb|official site] took the Oscar instead — it’s my favorite of the bunch, with its long, slow build to a poignant, just-right punchline. Filmmakers Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata adapt a short poem by Ron Koertge about a man reminiscing about bonding with his father as a child over the correct way to pack a suitcase for maximum efficiency. Dad was always going off on business trips, you see, and helping him pack in preparation was at least some time spent together. Now, as the man (voiced by Albert Birney) packs for a trip of his own, Porter and Kuwahata give us charming stop-motion puppets and delightful Wes Anderson-esque miniature style — I love the boxy little cars! — that beautifully captures the wistfulness of nostalgia and the bitter irony of how the things we learn in childhood stick with us forever. [watch at Amazon US|Amazon UK|iTunes US|iTunes Can|iTunes UK]

women’s participation in this film
female codirector, female coscreenwriter, male protagonist



“Lou” [IMDb|official site] is the inevitable Pixar entry; you may have seen this one in cinemas when it accompanied big-screen showings of Cars 3. The first film from Dave Mullins, an animator on Coco, Inside Out, and other Pixar films, this is a portrait of the collective spirit of the toys that occupy the lost-and-found box on a school playground, and how it rises up into a creature made of all those lost toys in order to rehabilitate a bully. The CGI animation is appealing and clever, of course — that’s Pixar’s thing — and it’s tough to argue with the message about why bullies lash out, and how they might be cured of their anger. But I can’t help but wonder… The lost-and-found box is literally right there. The kids run by it every time they go in and out of the school. If they missed their “lost” toys as much as “Lou” seems to suggest — they are so happy when they are returned — why didn’t they simply retrieve them from the box themselves? [watch at Amazon US|iTunes US|iTunes Can]

women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist

“Revolting Rhymes”

“Revolting Rhymes”

A fractured fairy tale via Roald Dahl, “Revolting Rhymes” [IMDb] is a spoofily noirish remix of the stories of the Big Bad Wolf (and his nephews), Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs into a tale of murder, revenge, and feminist pushback against the expectations that weigh down princesses. Directors Jan Lachauer and Jakob Schuh are between them are responsible for “Room on the Broom” and “The Gruffalo,” and this is very much in the same vein, though pitched to engage the bloodthirstiness of slightly older children… and of course for adults who like a good upending of the classics. Grownups will appreciate, too, the familiar names among the voice cast, including Tamsin Greig (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Dominic West (Testament of Youth), Rob Brydon (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), Gemma Chan (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Rose Leslie (Morgan), and David Walliams (Doctor Who). This is a good slice of storybook fun with some funny dark twists, but I’m not sure it rises to best-of-the-year material. [watch at Amazon US (choose “Part 1”)|Amazon UK (choose “Part 1”)]

women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist

“Dear Basketball”

“Dear Basketball”

The final nominee is “Dear Basketball” [IMDb], and I won’t just be disappointed if it wins: I’ll be legitimately angry. Veteran Disney animator Glen Keane’s hand-drawn animation is perfectly lovely, as you would expect, but the banality of the story it tells suggests that the only reason it was nominated at all is because of the star power of Kobe Bryant. This is based on a “poem” Bryant wrote to commemorate his retirement from the sport, a love letter to basketball, which Bryant himself reads as narration here. It is absurd, overly sentimental claptrap (“You asked for my hustle/I gave you my heart”), and might actually for evidence to the contrary of The New York Times’ suggestion that all the material is ghostwritten at The Players’ Tribune, the site that promotes the unfiltered voices of famous athletes where the poem was published. This short is so toothless that it doesn’t even rise to the level of convincing advertising, even though it is a clearly calculated attempt at a rebranding of the athlete in the wake of a credible accusation of rape from a complainant who was mistreated by prosecutors, vilified by the press, and bullied into refusing to testify at a trial. It’s appalling that talents such as Keane and John Williams, who supplies the score, would agree to contribute to such a would-be manipulation, and even more appalling that the members of the Academy would nominate it. They should be ashamed. [watch at Amazon US|Amazon UK|iTunes US|iTunes Can|iTunes UK] [watch free at Go90 (US only) and Believe Entertainment Group (global)]

women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist

See ShortsTV’s official site for the Oscar-nominated shorts to find cinemas showing this program.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

green light 4 stars

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Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2018 (90th Academy Awards) (2018) | directed by Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Theophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon, Lucas Navarro, Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata, Dave Mullins, Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh, Glen Keane
US/Can release: Feb 09 2018
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: not rated

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card (now updated for 2017’s trolls!) you might want to reconsider.

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  • Owen1120

    A high school basketball player could have written Dear Basketball to the same effect. Apparently, it’s one of the frontrunners, which hurts.

  • Danielm80

    I just filled out my Oscar ballot, and this was by far the hardest category to predict. “Dear Basketball” is the overwhelming favorite to win on almost every Oscar prediction site, but I have a feeling that Kobe will be knocked out by the #MeToo movement. I’ve been a fan of Glen Keane and John Williams for most of my life, but I have to root against them this year, for both moral and artistic reasons.

    I’d never rule out Pixar in this category (and I love “Lou” just because it seems so conventional and, moment by moment, becomes so deeply odd), but I have a suspicion that “Garden Party” may get the award. It seems to be developing a stealth following.

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