In English, French, and Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Anxious animals, problematic puppets, and grieving girls dominate this latest fistful of Oscar ’toon contenders: the usual five plus four extras that arrive with Academy commendation.
There’s both a “Daughter” and a “Sister” here (plus another “Sister” in the live-action shorts package), so you know there’s a theme a-brewin’. One of many stop-motion items here, “Daughter” is a Czech-made callback to the Jan Švankmajer style of wordless Eastern European animation. Here, via purposely crude paper puppets, a woman tending her dying father recalls her emotional connections to him when she was a small child.
Another little girl entreat her dad in “Hair Love”, a spunky item (exec-produced by Jordan Peele) about the travails of coping with African hair, with some help from a mom voiced by Issa Rae. Unfortunately, cheesy music, corny comedy, and a cloying finish make this a sweetly drawn disappointment. In China’s “Sister”, fiber-fuzzy puppets represent a cozy family, with big brother recalling the most trying traits of his little sibling. This wonderfully imaginative work takes a twist at the end—one that might be misinterpreted by those who know little about recent Chinese family policies.
Another puppet ’toon, “Henrietta Bulkowski” is named for a grown woman, although her growth has been stunted by a spinal deformity that makes her stare at the ground. So naturally, she dreams of flying. With the help of a junkyard guard voiced by Chris Cooper, she gets her wish, to very cloying effect. Much more effectively, France’s Bruno Collet uses claymation in the aptly titled “Memorable” to depict an aging painter whose slide into dementia finds his world, and his own visage, literally coloured by Van Gogh, Giacometti, and the other artists who influenced him.
Also from France, the funniest flickette here is “Hors Piste”, which follows a pair of helicopter medics who go through hella trouble when an Alpine rescue goes wrong, and wrong, and wrong. Elsewhere, critters large and small face stormy times in Ireland’s self-descriptive “The Bird and the Whale” and “Kitbull”, with the latter’s dog-and-cat tale being Pixar’s fine first attempt at a hand-drawn style. With any luck, this curiously uneven program will be capped by the terrific “Maestro”, a French-made two minutes of Italian opera performed by nocturnal forest animals. Remember, it’s not over until the fat squirrel sings!