A couple of weeks ago, I got to visit one of my favorite places on the whole earth: Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California. It was an early press day in honor of the new Disney Plus ShortCircuit show, a series of 14 shorts imagined and created by various Disney Animation employees. What a treat it turned out to be!
Walking through the halls of the animation building is a thrill on its own. The walls are covered in original artwork and lithographs based on Disney and Pixar animated movies. Turn a corner, bump into Litwak’s arcade game from Ralph Wrecks the Internet, and turn another only to run into props from Frozen. Scenes and props are everywhere, and if I worked there, I can only imagine it would take months before a ‘bathroom break’ stopped turning into an excuse to explore the hallowed halls.
We’re unable to take photos, but you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s a dream for any Disney fan and I can’t get enough.
This particular visit, we ate breakfast in the Caffeine Patch and broke up into four groups to rotate through spaces where we had small-group Q & A sessions with the directors of the new Disney+ series, ShortCircuit. But first, we got to watch all the experimental films.
All 14 shorts were unique, and each was prefaced by a short intro into the director’s role at Disney Animation and how this short movie came about. From real-life inspiration, some sad, to the imagination of a young family member, each of the 14 movies (ranging from 90 seconds to two minutes) was a labor of love, something that took four months to make, including a rotating team of employees who volunteered to take part in the endeavor. What an honor it would be to have people asking to be included!
But more about the ShortCircuit program. Everyone has to apply, and that application is a blind process so those making the decision have no idea whose idea it is. The application also includes drawings or other visuals to back up their story. Once the winners are announced, the real work begins.
During the four-month process, the directors are assigned a team and people float in/out of the team depending on other Disney projects they are assigned. During the first round, a lot of people had just finished working on Frozen so they had some gaps in their schedule that allowed them to participate. As time went on, the winners of the initial round were able to be mentors to the winners of the second and third seasons.
I’ll go into details of my three favorite shorts in a few, but what stood out to me the most in the director interviews was the new bonds that had formed during this process. People that had entirely different roles were suddenly leading a team and being mentored by those involved in big screen movies we all know and love. They made friends and developed relationships that went beyond that of a normal co-worker. I think there are a lot of us out there would love to have this opportunity.
Out of the 14 shorts, several stood out to me. People were discussing their favorites, but we all came to those decisions for different reasons. I like an emotional reason, something I can relate to or that tugs at the heart strings, but I also have really come to enjoy some humor. Every one of the 14 movies we watched had immediate fans, and everyone’s favorites, and reasons for them, was so varied. Here’s a little bit about my top three, though I honestly enjoyed all of them. Disney’s got so much talent, both already successful and up-and-coming, and we need to be paying attention.
Before I go into my top three, I want to say that what I thought were my favorites while I was there ended up changing. After I had time to really think about the story line and ruminate — while sitting in Los Angeles traffic on my way home to the Inland Empire, a 90-minute drive — my feelings changed. I have a lot of favorites, but here are what turned out to be my true top three.
- Exchange Student, by Nataie Nourigat: This is the story of an exchange student at a new school, but it’s not just your normal school. Her alien classmates aren’t friendly nor do they accept her, until she does something that catches their attention and changes their minds. I feel like this is life on a regular basis. We all try to fit in to an extent, and we’re all fish out of water when we start a new school, a new job, or move to a new neighborhood. We all are that outcast, the one mocked or teased or ignored, until we do something that makes them see we’re not what they think. This was a two-minute lesson on being yourself. Do your own thing, be brave, be courageous, and don’t give up. A turning point is just around the corner.
- The Race, directed by Terry Moews: a rigorous bike race features a hard-pedaling man, aiming for the finish line, with the grim reaper trying to keep up because it was “his time.” Yet the grim reaper makes mistakes, takes out the wrong people, devastating lives while still not reaching his intended victim. The racer realizes what’s coming for him and instead of realizing his goal, he wants to make sure his life’s purpose is taken care of first, the love for his family. This one took a turn, and it was amazing. If we all focused more on what’s important, and less on winning a prize, getting the best job, making the most money, appearing to be something important, how much better life could be.
- Elephant in the Room, directed by Brian Scott: this one had me teary. It’s the story of a lost baby elephant who ends up being a helper for a farm family in the jungle. Its days are spent carrying the harvest, until the child of the elephant’s new ‘owner’ realizes that the baby doesn’t belong there, but instead belongs with its family, wild in the jungle. The dad doesn’t feel the same way, but the boy takes an unusual route to reunite the baby with his parents. This shows how far people will go if they just let prevail, and how love wins every time. The baby elephant loves the boy, but his family comes first, and he can show his appreciation to the boy and his dad without giving up on his true purpose. We can’t force people to do things against their will or to be something they’re not. Family first, even though family takes many forms throughout our lives. Sniff.
One important thing about these shorts is that we’re not all going to get the exact same message. We may feel something different, and if we said what we thought the point of that movie was, it may be a 180 from what you felt. And that’s okay. Disney’s magic isn’t one-sided and that’s the beauty of it, and one of the biggest reasons you’ll want to watch this series.
The ShortCircuit program is ongoing, continuing to allow people to realize their dreams. They can apply until they are chosen, and then once they are chosen, they are unable to apply again. Their doors have been opened and they can share their newly found skills with other winners. The fact that Disney allows people to effectively refocus their roles for four months is just one more reason to love a company that has my heart.
Thank you, Disney Animation and Disney+ for the invite…and for the laughs. The Race had everyone giggling at the Grim Reaper’s antics and mistakes.
The Disney Plus ShortCircuit movies debut on January 24, beginning with Puddles, a movie inspired by the directors young nephew’s imagination..and a lot of puddles that are actually the entrance to a new world. Don’t we all wish we could be that innocent again?