Annecy Animation Festival 2019: Disney’s Short Circuit
The Annecy Film Festival presented a never before seen screening of Short Circuit, the upcoming Disney+ anthology short animation show. Much like the shorts shown in front of Pixar movies, each episode is a unique open-ended story, as well as having different feels, animation, and design styles. Disney has described the animation style as “experimental”. Three of the episodes were shown to the audience.
The Exchange Student tells the story of a little girl from earth who has to attend an alien school. Just a Thought takes place in a comic-strip world and focuses on a little boy daydreaming about a girl he has a crush on, which is a bit of an embarrassment as everyone in this particular universe can see his thought bubbles. Finally, there is Jing Hua, an incredible short set in the style of Chinese art. It focuses on a woman expressing her grief over her late loved one in the form of Kung Fu dance. Jing Hua is especially interesting, as not only was it completely dramatic but felt like it could very well have been part of Disney’s Fantasia (or at least Fantasia 2000). Not only was the choreography very powerful, but the imaginative visual style was very much worth watching on the big screen, with the ink lines jumping out from the character. It was exactly in the spirit of a lot of the other short film and student graduation animations presented at the Annecy festival.
It’s extremely tempting to largely focus on Jing Hua as in many ways it overshadows the first two shorts. That being said, both Exchange Student and Just Thought were both cleverly designed using animation techniques similar to those in the Oscar-winning Disney short Paperman which allowed 3D models to look like hand-drawn art. If anything, the technology has only improved with even more seamless CGI. The problem however with the shorts is that, well, they are short. Generally, they felt like they had half the running time that these sorts of vignettes usually get. It’s a bit of a shame, especially with Exchange Student, which was extremely likable and had an engaging visual style to it. The short had no dialog, yet successfully managed to make us understand that the girl and the aliens spoke different languages. Also, it was a good choice to not make the alien kids into bullies, but just a bit confused about the different ways of the earthling children. The use of colors was also very pleasant to the eye. But sadly, it had barely started before it was over. Just a Thought could have easily gone for much longer too, but it was mainly a collection of slapstick gags, so it felt a tad less frustrating.
The directors for each short came up to describe the back-stories behind their projects. Some of these stories were very personal and in a very unexpected Disney presentations moment, Jerry Huynh, the author of Jing Hua, broke into tears while telling how the short was dedicated to his late grandparents and cousin, and he shared the stories about their passing. Needless to say he got a long ovation.
I think it’s great that Disney is experimenting with different animated shorts which allow upcoming directors to showcase their ideas and talents. Again, I wish that the format was a tad longer or allowed for the directors to have more of a flexible time-limit. What was perfect for Jing Hua didn’t feel like enough for Exchange Student, which felt like it had an underdeveloped story, interesting enough where it could have been its own feature. Nonetheless, If this is the direction Disney+ is heading, I can’t wait to see what more they have up their sleeves.