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September 26, 2023

DisneyPlus releases new Pixar animation series

By SEAN GLAISTER | February 6, 2020

For years, Disney’s animated shorts have always come to the rescue on free nights when I had nothing much to do. 

Unfortunately there are only so many times that I can rewatch Disney’s collection of animated shorts on Netflix and still tear up to The Little Match Girl or have my heart ache during Paperman (although I still do). Now, however, I may not have to worry about it.

With the release of Disney Plus came SparkShorts, a Pixar project. SparkShorts has so far released six new animated shorts to Disney Plus, all of which were put together by a team of animators in just six months with a limited budget. 

“The SparkShorts program is designed to discover new storytellers, explore new storytelling techniques and experiment with new production workflows,” Jim Morris stated on Pixar’s website. Morris is the president of Pixar Animation Studios. 

He emphasized the program’s innovation in animation techniques.

“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,” he wrote. 

In Pixar’s usual style, each short finds its own creative way to depict a life-inspired moral. Loop, the most recent release, portrays the challenge a talkative boy and an autistic girl face as they canoe across a lake.

Adding to the mission brought by Pixar’s SparkShorts is another platform giving storytellers the chance to produce their own films: Short Circuit. Short Circuit, the first season of which debuted on Disney Plus on Jan. 24, is a new series of animated short films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. 

Similar to SparkShorts, Short Circuit gives employees within the animation studio the opportunity to showcase their talent by pitching a film idea and securing a team to ensure the idea comes to fruition.

As described on the streaming platform, Short Circuit is “an experimental, innovative program where anyone at the Studio can pitch an idea and get selected to create their own short film.” 

If a streaming platform was the requirement for Disney to finally get “experimental” and “innovative,” then I am even more grateful for the platform’s existence.

Fourteen two-minute animated shorts were included in the first season’s release. Each one is incredibly unique in its story, perspective and visual themes. At the beginning of each, the director greets you in a studio and introduces their inspiration for the project. 

Ranging from a conversation with their grandmother about moving into an assisted-living facility (Cycles), to seeing their bald husband in the corner of the eye (Lucky Toupee), any inspiration goes. 

The short films Downtown, Zenith and Jing Hua use street art, the movie Fantasia and traditional ancestral culture respectively as their inspiration to create animations whose colors and music leave you in a dreamy state.

Just a Thought tickles my attraction to quirky illustrations of romance. The film features thought bubbles which appear right over the main character’s head. In this case the embarrassing thoughts of a young boy with a crush on a girl are put on display for the whole classroom of students around him. 

Lighting in a Bottle and Elephant in the Room are two more interesting shorts. While one includes a personified bolt of lightning taken from the sky and the other includes a baby elephant taken from the jungle, both portray one of my favorite morals: learning to let go of someone or something so that they can return to the home they belong to.

Lucky Toupee and Hair-Jitsu humorously animate the motion of hair to ensure laughter from all audiences, but they still manage to teach moral lessons as well.

Puddles and Fetch both emphasize the power and importance of a kid’s imagination and naiveté, and they’re full of super cute stories and plot twists.

The Race and Exchange Student use exaggerated fiction to entertain audiences and to establish clear messages. 

The first uses the motif of the Grim Reaper to show that life isn’t always about work and winning. The second plops down a human in a school of aliens to make it clear that people’s differences make them nothing short of unique and valuable.

Cycles proves animation’s power to evoke emotions, even with almost no dialogue. Cycles begins with a woman telling her mom that it’s time to move to an assisted-living home, and then it fantastically depicts the memories created and stored within a home, which accentuate the sadness of leaving it.

I’ve always believed in the brilliance of an animated short. It blows my mind that a team can create an entirely new world from scratch, fill it with characters and illustrate a full-blown story in just a few minutes of film. 

Within Short Circuit, every film, incredibly unique in its own way, still reached me and filled me with emotions and revelations that I would not have otherwise found. Hopefully, for the benefit of us all, Disney continues to use its streaming platform to experiment and innovate some more.

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