The five nominees for Oscars in the Short Film (Animated) category share many similarities, besides one outlier film that is unrelated to the other nominees. Chief among these similarities is the theme of loss. All of the films—save the outlier, Pixar’s Kitbull—are meditations on what it means to lose something or someone that is dear. These are heavy, pathos-laden works. Another commonality among all of the nominees—again, save Kitbull, which is sui generis in regards to its peers—is an animation style that is heavy on texture, be it shaggy stop-motion puppets or brushstroke-forward painted scenes. Each of the five tell complete stories and feature beautiful images.

Perhaps the most beautifully drawn of the five films is Memorable, which tells the story of an aging artist suffering dementia. The figures in this film are painted in a chiaroscuro style, with bold, three-dimensional brushstrokes. Each frame is absolutely gorgeous. In addition, the story told in this short is a tear-jerker, as the artist-protagonist fades into himself, unable to remember even what decade it is or recognize his wife as his life partner. Even his waning moments of lucidity are tortured, as he becomes ever more aware that he is slipping into his own personal oblivion. His wife is as tragic a figure, trapped with a man who is no longer the love of her life. She cannot abandon him, but can she live with him?

Every bit as sad—and on a very similar theme—as Memorable is Daughter, a Czech film featuring stop-motion wooden puppets. Daughter tells the story of a man on his deathbed in the hospital and his adult daughter, with whom he has been estranged for several years. Most of the film is flashbacks to the daughter’s childhood, with enough interstitials set in the present-day to keep the viewer from being confused. Just as the daughter is prepared for her big make-it-right speech, the father dies. In his pocket, she finds a silly little mask she had drawn as a child. It was all he had in his pockets in his dying moments. It is a heartbreaking tale.

Sister, a Chinese film made with woolen-like stop-motion dolls, is working very hard to be as emotionally gut-punching as Memorable and Daughter. It is not nearly as effective, or affective. It tells the story of a boy who, growing up, was constantly dueling with his younger sister in a classic sibling rivalry wherein the parents always side with the younger child. But then the protagonist/narrator—the older brother—pulls the rug out from under the viewer. He never had a sister, because of China’s One Child Policy. His sister was aborted and did not exist. It is a performed pathos and does not come off; the two films above were genuine and worked hard to make the viewer feel something. All Sister does is make the viewer roll their eyes.

The final Short Film (Animated) that focuses on loss is much more lighthearted than the previous three. Hair Love is a paean to the difficult, textured hair of black folks, focusing in on one girl who wakes up determined to twist and manipulate her unruly strands into a sophisticated do. Try as she might, with guidance from an eponymous website, the young protagonist cannot tame her crazy hair. Finally, she goes begging to her father, who is frustrated that she is not ready yet—clearly these two have somewhere to be—but eventually relents and helps her. The two bond over crafting the perfect do. The film ends with the father and daughter visiting the girl’s mother, who is hairless and in chemo therapy.

Kitbull is an outlier in every sense from these other films. It is a Pixar production and it sparkles in its computer-rendered animation. It is a delightful story of friendship and the only tears its audience will be reduced to will come from laughing too hard. Kitbull follows an intrepid stray kitten navigating the tough streets of San Francisco. She is a master at fish thievery, lives in a box and is obsessed with her plush toy that she snuggles during cat naps. Her life is idyllic—as far as homelessness allows, anyhow—until a dog-fighting ring moves into the building next to her box. A ferocious pitbull is chained near her and the two have some scary encounters. Until…they become friends. By this time, the pitbull is marked for death by his dogfighter-owner and the kitten and the dog escape and get adopted by some San Fran hipster for a happily ever after. Kitbull is silly in comparison with the heavy material its fellow nominees are trying to tackle, but any cat owner will instantly fall in love with the protagonist kitten: she is the perfectly cartoon cat we have all been waiting for.

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