Oscars 2020: Animated shorts nominees are heart-wrenching

Don’t sit down to watch this year’s batch of animated shorts without a handful of Kleenex. The five Oscar-nominated films, featuring a remarkable range of style and dazzling artistry, are a uniformly heart-wrenching bunch.

“Kitbull,” from director Rosana Sullivan, depicts the transformative friendship between a stray kitten and an abused pit bull puppy. It’s a product of Pixar’s SparkShorts development program, although its animation is more old school than the company’s usual fare. Don’t be surprised to find yourself pondering an animal shelter visit after this one.

From director Siqi Song, “Sister,” set in a monochromatic palette and a woolly textured style, takes place in 1990s China as a young man looks back on life with a little sister — with a disconcerting coda.

Daria Kashcheeva’s Czech film “Daughter” sees a woman at her sick father’s bedside looking back on rocky memories of their relationship during her childhood. Kashcheeva’s papier-mâché figures, with ink-stained faces and shadowy eyes, have a hauntingly weathered aesthetic.

Matthew Cherry’s “Hair Love” is the most lighthearted of the bunch, yet still has a teary twist at the end. Its story of a dad struggling to do his daughter’s hair using a YouTube tutorial from her absent mother (voiced by Issa Rae) is warm and occasionally hilarious.

“Memorable,” the French entry from Bruno Collet, is a truly spectacular work of Van Gogh-evocative stop-motion art. Based on the later-life work of artist William Utermohlen, it’s about a painter slipping into dementia, which saps his memory and induces hallucinatory visuals while his patient but grieving wife tries to tether him to reality.

This is not a program to which I’d recommend bringing very young kids, but these Oscar-nominated shorts are — as always — an introduction to some of the world’s very best animators. It’s also heartening to see three female directors here, which is three more than in the academy’s feature-film directing category.

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