Oscar-nominated animated short films include stop-motion ads, basketball nostalgia, and realistic frog noir

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      Themes of loss, growth, and childhood memory dominate this unusually satisfying collection of animated shorts, most of which clock in at seven minutes or less, with one half-hour exception.

      We reviewed Kobe Bryant’s ambitious “Dear Basketball” out of a recent travelling ’toon fest. This career-summing exercise in B-ball nostalgia is marred only by an overbearing John Williams score (seriously), and perhaps by unpleasantries circulating about the athlete himself.

      The French-made “Negative Space” was directed by Japan’s Ru Kuwahata and American Max Porter, who work together as Tiny Inventions. They’ve crafted playful stop-motion ads for Ben & Jerry’s and others, and here expand a short poem about a father and son who say little but bond over suitcase-packing techniques. The puppets are simple, the mood introspective, and yet this has the best punch line (in English) of the bunch.

      France also backed the spectacular “Garden Party”, directed by a team of six students, as it happens. It evolves from amazingly realistic nature study into a kind of frog noir, as a number of delightfully individuated amphibians make their way through a seemingly deserted villa, with clues gradually revealed as to how the place fell into disrepair. The rippling water alone makes this an unforgettable thrill.

      “Revolting Rhymes”, the long one here, is a fabulous BBC rendering of Roald Dahl’s twisted take on familiar fairy tales, as filtered through a CGI update on Quentin Blake’s nutty drawings. (Pro tip: the seven dwarves are all ex-jockeys.) It’s a cliffhanger, though. So, good to know that Part 2 can be found on Netflix.

      Unlike last year’s scintillating “Piper”, Pixar’s new “Lou” is such an on-the-nose bulletin about bullying, based on a playground ogre and his war with a lost-and-found locker, it can only really work on kids. (It’s currently touring with Coco.) That’s the last and least of five official nominees, but its focus on human detritus carries over to “Lost Property Office”, a beautifully sepia-toned study of loneliness and reinvention fashioned entirely from cardboard by obsessive sculptor Dan Agdag.

      It’s the best of three honourable mentions, but the remainders are also worthwhile. One person’s “Weeds” is another’s delight in a very brief look at what flora will do to survive desert conditions—and it carries an unexpected whiff of the immigrant spirit. And the tale of a dragon who sneezes fireworks, “Achoo”, is set in ancient China. But it was made by a different team of talented students in France. Vive les cartoons!