Pixar is best known for its lauded achievements in animated features, but their short films have also earned awards, critical acclaim, and audience love while packing just as much of an emotional punch in a smaller helping. For those fans who can’t enough of these little masterpieces, Disney’s upcoming streaming service Disney+ has just spotlighted its first Pixar exclusive: a series titled SparkShorts.
Each episode will showcase a short film by a new filmmaker, delving into a bigger pool of talent that will show off fresh stories, animation styles, and more. Studio president Jim Morris says, “These films are unlike anything we’ve ever done at Pixar, providing an opportunity to unlock the potential of individual artists and their inventive filmmaking approaches on a smaller scale than our normal fare.”
Pixar recently found success with the short film Bao, which addresses the nuanced relationship that immigrant parents have with their children while following the story of a woman and a steamed bun that comes to life. Bao also marked the beginning of increased East Asian representation in media that doesn’t rely on harmful stereotypes. The film, written and directed by Chinese-Canadian Domee Shi, lovingly portrays the loneliness a mother feels after her children leave home and the important role that food plays in the lives of Asian families.
The Pixar SparkShorts line-up continues that kind of inclusivity with nuanced depictions of characters and what it means to experience life, albeit through a more fantastical lens. These films, which will debut on the Disney+ platform on November 12th, have a common theme of tackling ideas of diversity, from gender to disability. Each of these stories highlights the fear of being different and what it means to eventually embrace it.
Watch the trailer for Pixar’s SparkShorts:
Now here’s a round down of the six animated shorts and how they’ll stand out in both story and animation style:
Purl is an excited ball of yarn who just scored a job at a start-up. However, she isn’t prepared for the male-centered culture. The bright pink ball of yarn doesn’t quite fit in and she needs to do some soul-searching to figure out if this is the job for her. While it seems like a silly premise, Purl taps into an all-too-real experience of the current job market. Taking a woman’s experience in the start-up world and personifying it as an intricately-detailed ball of yarn is an interesting choice. While it seems infantile, this is geared towards children and could make the idea of gender inequality in the workplace more digestible and understandable for kids.
Smash and Grab
In the immortal words of Blink-182, “Work sucks, I know.” The two robots of Smash and Grab are painfully aware of that and are ready to escape the engine room of a locomotive where they’ve been trapped for years. Slightly resembling the Pixar character WALL-E, these two robots try to escape what they were made for: work. It is another Pixar film that addresses the feelings of robots and how they might experience the world. Smash and Grab seems to also be sprinkling in criticism of capitalism and what it takes to try and remove yourself from its vicious cycle.
Pit bulls have a bad reputation. Many believe the oft-maligned breed is capable of cold-hearted murder at the drop of a hat. However, Kitbull wants to work against that stereotype with a pit bull becoming friends with a fierce stray kitten. Just the description reveals a short all about not judging a book by its cover through an adorable animal relationship. Unlike other Pixar movies, Kitbull relies on 2D, hand-drawn animation as opposed to the typical 3D computer-generated character renderings.
This short leaves the world of anthropomorphic balls of yarn, robots, and cute animals and moves into the realm of human characters. In Float, a father discovers that his son is able to, well, float. He wants to keep his son safe from the judgmental eye of the world by hiding him. However, keeping his power a secret only delays his son’s eventual discovery. Once the truth is revealed to the public, the father must decide what’s best for himself and his son. Through a sci-fi story, Float addresses what it means to have a child who may be labeled as different and how a parent decides to address that difference. While following the typical human character design seen in Pixar films, the brief clips of Float in the SparkShorts trailer show its beautiful use of light.
Wind is described by Pixar as magical realism. The film follows a grandmother and grandson trapped in a strange chasm where they scavenge to survive and, eventually, escape. Wind’s poster and clips tease that it may take place in space as the young boy is shown floating in the air, tethered with a rope around his waist. This will be an interesting experiment in animation physics and how to continue to innovate ways to depict stories in space — or at least minimum-to-zero gravity.
Autism is mostly stereotypically portrayed by an awkward young boy who can’t make eye contact and says weird things at inopportune times. Media representations of the spectrum have created a rather surface-level understanding of what it means to be autistic. Loop wants to change that. In Loop, a non-verbal, autistic girl and an able-bodied boy are partnered on a canoeing trip. They must learn to communicate with one another to finish their trip and ultimately learn how the other experiences the world. The glimpse into Loop’s animation style shows a standard character design, but the story is what will make the short film shine.