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Short Film Reviews

New short films will be regularly added here, so check back soon! Newest entries will be at the top.

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Lost & Found

December 27, 2018


"Lost & Found" is an incredible short film — it's both playful and poignant, silly yet serious — as it follows two toy dinosaurs' attempts to save each other. The story unfolds with colourful stop-motion in a Japanese restaurant, a whimsical but fitting choice for the adorable characters. The directors move gracefully, quickly establishing the premise before moving into a deftly executed roller-coaster of emotional twists and turns. Although the short forgoes the opportunity to dole out more heavy-handed themes, it functions perfectly well as a cute and entertaining adventure, letting its heart spill out, pure and unbridled. In fact, the simplicity of the story disguises masterful storytelling craft at work here: the creative integration of the character design, stop-motion animation, and brilliant writing all work cohesively towards a singular goal, aided along the way with nice little touches (the cleverly written reciprocity of the characters, the ambiguous ending, etc). This ends up creating a short film that is not only deeply moving, but complexly so, as it manages to be simultaneously melancholic and wholesome — and through this, highly memorable.

Watch the full short film above.



Bao

June 14, 2018


Pixar's newest short film — paired theatrically with "Incredibles 2" — is already my favorite Pixar short. "Bao" is Pixar's first short film directed by a woman, and follows a Chinese-Canadian woman who gets another chance at being a mother when one of her dumplings comes alive. At first, it seems like a typical Pixar film, premised on yet another type of inanimate object being given a human face and emotions, but the similarities quickly end after that. From there, the story morphs into something unlike anything I've ever seen from Pixar, or from any American-produced short for that matter.

"Bao" is incredibly unique and refreshing on two main fronts. Firstly, it's too rare that a studio short film features people of color, and "Bao" explores this Chinese-Canadian woman's daily routine so incredibly well on many fronts, visually and narratively, that I am thrilled and impressed. Secondly, given Pixar's recent preference for relying more and more on complicated stories, to see a short film go back to the studio's early days of simple and elegant, yet nonetheless clever and profound, storytelling is a breath of fresh air, and one that's simultaneously very nostalgic yet excitingly new. I won't spoil what happens in this film, but I will say that "Bao" is one of the most creative, most daring, and most brilliant films Pixar has put out in years, and Domee Shi delivers with such aptitude, finesse, and sheer gut that I can't help but be ecstatic for whatever she has in store next.



Two Balloons

April 24, 2018


There is a certain grittiness to "Two Balloons" that is deeply satisfying, and helps turn an otherwise lightweight affair into a handsomely crafted and visually striking film. The plot follows two travelers navigating around the world in a bid to reunite — the only catch is, they're lemurs and they're traveling via hot air powered dirigibles. It's a charmingly quirky idea, and one that could only have happened in animation. However, while the film entertains a high flying imagination, it remains grounded by a tenacious attention to granular details, such as jars of preserved fruits, an analogue weather reader, and a magnifying glass on an old-fashioned paper map. These details, along with the general trend of advanced machinery constructed out of dated technology, create a recognizable fantasy world not unlike the similarly aerial escapades of Hayao Miyazaki's steampunk airships or flying castles. Furthermore, the grittiness of this setup is wonderfully complemented by a dreamlike beauty when the dirigibles are floating peacefully through the ethereal night sky — the best part of the film. "Two Balloons" only falls short when its lithe story doesn't quite manage to deliver all its intended emotional beats; nonetheless, the excellent stop-motion craftsmanship, gorgeous lighting, and tasteful music create an otherwise cohesive production. The overall result is a warmly nostalgic, yet wholesome and adventurous film that will be hard to pass up for audiences who may get to see it on the festival circuit.



Tabook

November 10, 2017


It's exciting when an animated film boldly defies conventional (or stereotypical) notions of what's suitable in animation — and it's all the more fitting when the film itself is about defying dated ideas of how we ought to live our lives. This is at the heart of "Tabook," a brisk and lively short film by Dario van Dree that follows a young woman's perusals at the bookstore, and the judgmental reactions she receives from fellow customers. The film is wickedly funny and full of tension as the story nimbly jumps between her desires and her fears, as she eyes books that explore love and sex, yet carefully tries to be discreet because she is in a public place. It's a relatable story that's simultaneously both deliciously risqué in subject matter, yet also cathartically empowering in its fun and tasteful critique of the taboos around sex and sexuality. Best of all, it's brilliantly told — ingenious comedic wit and timing is brought to life with playfully expressive animation, allowing the film to juggle heavier subject matter with a fun and breezy tone. Although it may avoid more impactful drama to create this effect, "Tabook" is remains a film that's as intelligent and meaningful as it is delightful and hilarious.

Watch the full short film above.


In a Heartbeat

August 1, 2017


"In a Heartbeat," one of the best animated shorts I've seen in a while, has been turning heads for prominently featuring LGBTQ characters. While that's exemplary — "Steven Universe" is far too lonely as the only mainstream, all-ages animation that's adequately inclusive of LGBTQ characters — what truly makes this short shine is its masterful command of storytelling craft, from the writing to the animation to the sound. This film tells a touching story of a closeted boy who struggles to control his heart, which is very eagerly chasing another boy. It's a cleverly executed metaphor, aided by some impressive character animation and stirring music; meanwhile, the fact that our protagonist is attracted to another boy adds an exquisite extra layer of tension, as the film gently shows the additional barriers faced by closeted kids today when it comes to their crushes. The film keeps all these considerations running smoothly as it leads up to the climax, all while also setting the scene, and skillfully putting the audience in the awkward and nervous, yet achingly yearning shoes of its protagonist. I won't spoil what happens, but near the end the film pulls off a superbly nuanced, dramatically suspenseful, and profoundly moving climax. Best of all, while the emotional currents are intensely felt, and the story incredibly pure and empowering, the film is always light and nimble enough to feel beautifully poignant rather than overly melodramatic. It's a shame that the Oscars will probably overlook this for being a student film — it fully deserves a nomination, if not the win — because it's been a while since I've seen a short film in such confident and capable control of the narrative it's telling, deftly juggling its heartfelt story with the smooth animation and music to deliver a work of art that's eloquently told and deeply affecting.

Watch the full short film above.


Pearl

February 23, 2017


The Oscars' first virtual reality animated short film is a marvel of technical achievement that tells a sweet little story, but ultimately trades substance for style in its efforts to be both an immersive VR experience and a compelling cinematic experience. To be fair, this review is based on the YouTube version of the short (embedded above) without a VR headset, so I might have missed out on the full experience that I'm assuming comes with a VR headset or the non-VR, cinematic version. However, if this is what makes the difference between the intended powerful emotional impact and the shallow tugs at the heartstrings that I experienced, then it's clear that director Patrick Osborne did not quite manage to nail that seamless merge between VR and cinema, especially if the majority of viewers won't have access to either a VR headset or the cinematic version submitted to the Academy. Nonetheless, for all its shortcomings, the film remains impeccably well polished: the production design, character design, music, sound, cinematography, and animation are all very well done. Finally, the story, though well-structured, occasionally tender and well-integrated with the music, is also rather vapid and pretentious as we get a taste of, but never truly experience, what the characters are going through. This makes the film fall short of delivering a meaningful, memorable experience, though the far more impressive technical achievements give the short merit worth mentioning.

Watch the full short film above.


Blind Vaysha

February 21, 2017


Combining an exquisite woodcut visual style with a thoughtful story and eloquent narration, "Blind Vaysha" is among the more unique offerings of this year's Oscar-nominated animated short films. In the film, we follow Vaysha, who suffers a mysterious blindness that renders her unable to see in the present; instead, her left eye allows her to see the past, while her right eye allows her to see the future. The story proves thought-provoking as it challenges viewers to consider if they're truly able to live in the present, and is wonderfully delivered by excellent vocal work from Caroline Dhavernas. More impressive, however, is the film's beautiful visual work; the woodcuts are bewitchingly mesmerizing, and maintain a hand-crafted, artisanal look that's mostly rare in today's animation. It's these unique visuals and the eloquent narration that propels the film's story forward, and it relies heavily on this as it avoids making any significant emotional appeal. On this front it succeeds very well, and it definitely stands out from the crowd, though it doesn't make the emotional or intellectual impact required to ensure it remains memorable.


The Magnificent Lion Boy

November 18, 2016


A technically primitive yet nonetheless beautiful film, Ana Caro's “The Magnificent Lion Boy” tells the poignant story of a British anthropologist who discovers a feral boy living amongst the lions of Africa and decides to bring him back to Victorian London to civilize him. Unfortunately, this process does not go that well for him, as the public shuns the child while a stereotypically villainous circus operator tries to nab the boy for a freak show. The short film’s many comparisons of primitiveness and civility would, at first glance, seem like a clear binary between nature and civilization, wild and sophisticated, dirty and refined. However, this binary is challenged with the cruelty of the circus manager and the visceral majesty of the circus lion, and by the end it’s made clear that we’re more intertwined with our base animality than we may think. Fittingly, this narrative flipping of the script is performed with a similar visual approach — instead of the now wildly popular computer generated imagery, or even some old-fashioned traditional animation, the film opts for the primitive, low-tech, and labor-intensive form of charcoal animation. Used to gorgeous effect, similar to Isao Takahata’s expressive turns in “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” it just goes to show that even what may seem simplistic at face value can often be much more than it seems, if only we’re willing to overlook the biases present in our ways of thinking.

Watch the trailer above and watch the full film here.


Deer Flower

November 1, 2016

One of the less formulaic animated shorts to hit the festival circuit this year, and a refreshing change from standard Hollywood fare, is Kangmin Kim's "Deer Flower," a delightfully abstract, yet viscerally real, stop-motion animation examination of traditional Korean medicine. A young boy is taken by his parents to a deer farm in the countryside, where he is to receive something good for him. His parents don't dive into specifics, a subtle suggestion that what they're doing has little scientific evidence to support it (or at least, Western empirical science), a common trend in traditional Asian medicine. Overall the film is critical in its approach, subjecting everything from the sketchy-looking deer farm (perhaps the farthest thing you could find from a modern, sanitized hospital), to the cruelty subjected to the deer, to the side effects the boy suffers, into a thoughtful critique of traditional Korean medicine. Notably, his parents are well-intentioned — the boy's father makes it clear he paid a large sum of money for this rare treatment — but clearly misinformed. Although some Western audiences may find difficulty relating to and understanding the context of traditional Asian medicine, this unique short film nonetheless conveys a personal, reflective and penetrating narrative about it and its role in contemporary Asian thought.

Watch the trailer above.


Borrowed Time

October 16, 2016


"Borrowed Time," a side project of Pixar animators Andrew Coats ("Brave," "Inside Out") and Lou Hamou-Lhadj ("WALL-E," "The Good Dinosaur"), is a meticulously crafted, sublimely intelligent work of art. Despite being a side project, it's better than some of the shorts that have gone through Pixar's official channels; it's been a while since I've seen a short film with so much narrative weight, visceral beauty, and ingenious creativity. The short follows an old sheriff's return to the site of an accident from a long time ago — and one he'd much rather forget. It pieces together what happened through flashbacks, and as it does so it also pieces together an emotional dam ready to burst by the time the short film ends. It relies on a creative storyline rather than emotional manipulation, and as such the impact is organic and raw, a rarity in today's films. Emotionally and narratively brilliant, and complemented by bewitchingly immersive visual work, this kind of animation is something that ought to be happening a lot more.


A Love Story

July 12, 2016


Sweet, charming, and meaningful, former Pixar director Saschka Unseld's ("The Blue Umbrella") latest short film is a heartwarming delight, and one of his best works yet. As the simple title describes, this is a love story, though like "Umbrella," it's not the most conventional one; Ivan and Evie run an orange juice stand and lemonade stand, respectively, across the street from each other, and quickly enter a business rivalry that extends into their adult lives, where they both run sprawling corporate empires not unlike McDonald's or Burger King. As the film berates the modern fast food industry with amusing, brightly colored and visually popping depictions of artificial ingredients and a consumerist economic environment, all while acting as a satirical allegory for the complicated relationship between our protagonists, one can't help but be seduced by the film's innocent, winsome charm and clever, thought-provoking wit as it successfully synchronizes a creative plot with dazzling visuals. Finally, for those previously unaware, there's a surprise twist at the end (spoiler: turns out the entire thing was just a Chipotle commercial all along!) that makes this short feel all the more impressive. Bewitchingly enamoring and fantastically irresistible, "A Love Story" comfortably balances acting as both a pretty effective commercial, and a brilliantly crafted work of art, at the same time.

Watch the full short film above.


Piper

June 18, 2016


Pixar’s latest short film epitomizes what the revered studio does best: delivering fantastic, heartfelt stories with visually wondrous computer animation. “Piper” fits the formula, yet never feels formulaic; the story is thoughtful and fun, while the animation is simply incredible, and the result is bewitchingly charming. Where the short excels in particular, however, is how these parts are so harmoniously synchronized. A dialogue-free short is always challenging, especially one with ideas as thoughtful as “Piper,” yet it’s accomplished without anthropomorphism — the tremendously detailed and realistic animation, from the individual grains of sand to the impeccably precise movements of the birds, could almost pass for a nature documentary. It's impressive and quite sophisticated how the visuals and the story are so delicately and deliberately intertwined in this way, altogether producing a cohesive final product that is delightfully original, visually breathtaking, and simply wonderful.

Watch a clip above, and see the full thing in theaters alongside "Finding Dory"!


We Can't Live Without Cosmos

February 13, 2016


The Oscar-nominated short film “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” may look simple, but hiding just underneath the straightforward surface is a wonderfully crafted short film that toys with very complex ideas. In this film, we follow two cosmonauts who work together to achieve their shared dream of going to space, and are invited to take a look at the importance of human connection and the consequences of losing it. The wonderful thing about this film is how it gently delivers its message with rather straightforward visuals and storytelling. It may look simple, and the story can definitely be enjoyed simply as a funny yet poignant story about two close friends working hard to go to space, but for those wishing to dig a little deeper, the film presents its case in a straightforward manner with just the right amount of subtlety, neither spoiling it by making everything obvious nor hiding it under unnecessary layers of artsiness like lesser films do. It's a bit conservative in that regard, playing well within the boundaries of animated storytelling, but sometimes a more conventional approach can be a simpler pleasure and a nice break from the rambunctious crowd of more ambitious, risk-taking films.

Watch the trailer above.


Sanjay's Super Team

November 28, 2015


With its recent slump and the long line of sequels down the pipeline, it is a frequently floated theory that Pixar is losing its creative mojo, but "Sanjay's Super Team" turns that upside down as it showcases the most perfect blend of stunning visuals and heartwarming story that Pixar has ever created in a short film. It's a wise and touching story about a young boy who would rather watch his favorite cartoon than meditate with his father, and goes on a daydream adventure with Hindu gods reimagined as superheroes. This part takes up most of the film, and is a flamboyant and dazzling display of pure artistry as the animation effortlessly transcends visual styles for a colorful extravaganza that echoes the works of Japan's Studio Ghibli and Ireland's Cartoon Saloon as it takes on the fast-paced action of modern films with a nostalgic and loving incorporation of traditional Hindu culture. The story is more distinctly Pixar, with the heart-tugging emotions and twists we've come to expect; it's also an incredibly wise film that tackles a lot of themes in its short runtime as it leaves you reflecting on your own culture and traditions, or lack thereof. The deep integration between the flamboyant visuals and the heartfelt, personal story, alongside the showcase of Hindu culture, makes this Pixar's best short film yet and a satisfying taste of what we can expect from their new generation of artists and storytellers in the years to come.


Au fil de l'eau

November 9, 2015


​Throughout history, animation has been bringing inanimate objects to life through the use of various mediums, for animation itself is about the illusion of life. This cannot be more true in former Disney director Dominique Monfery's animated short "Au fil de l'eau," where we follow the adventures of water droplets as they struggle to survive in an unforgiving environment to a lively and deeply integrated musical score from Julia Pajot that blurs the line between music and sound effects. Fittingly, this illusion of life, with its seemingly indistinguishable but simultaneously individualized water droplets as characters, is, metaphorically, about life itself. Although the message is open to interpretation, overall this is a beautifully animated and inventively original short film that will nudge you to look, and to listen, a little bit closer.


Bear Story

November 9, 2015


"Bear Story" is a tremendously moving, poetic and personal tale of loss and grief that operates on multiple thematic and emotional levels with strong political undertones. Although not as flamboyantly Pixar-esque as last year's emotional bombardment "The Dam Keeper," it trades heavy hitting emotion for a dimmer but longer lasting fire, enabled by a creatively utilized dash of ambiguity that draws you in to its deeper depths, where the instillation of a peculiar uncertainty and yearning is a miniature replication of the suffering depicted. Such a multileveled approach is also seen with the surface plot, where we follow an old bear reminiscing about his family with a mechanical diorama that tells his story, although the level of correlation between the diorama's story and its operator's is questionable, and in fact subtly invites further analysis. Not only is "Bear Story" incredibly affecting, but it sets itself apart with its unique approach, and the result is quite simply a masterpiece.

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