As far as art in popular culture goes, the animated short film tends to fly under the radar. The first Pixar short was made in 1984, and the Disney Pixar films that come to theaters are often prefaced by animated shorts.
Recently, the hype that once surrounded the short film has died down to background noise. Fear not: It doesn’t hail the end. With the release of Disney’s new streaming service, Disney Plus, just a few short months ago, the entertainment megacorporation is constantly releasing new content. Now, with the release of the new Disney Plus series “Short Circuit,” there may yet be hope for the animated short.
Animated shorts sometimes serve as companion stories featuring famous fictional characters the audience knows and loves; other times they feature original characters in their own storylines. All the films, each no more than five or six minutes in length, have something in common: They all serve as modern-day fables, featuring heartwarming or bittersweet endings with a clear moral takeaway for the viewer. More than anything, though, the animated short film really serves as a playground for the artist and the storyteller to flex their creative muscles and play with the limits of their art.
“Short Circuit” is an experimental program first announced by Disney in May of 2019. The concept: Anyone at Disney Studios, whether they were the head of an entire department or a first-day animator, could pitch their idea for a short film and potentially be selected to direct its production. Following the announcement, three of the films were premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
The flagship season of “Short Circuit” dropped on Disney Plus on Jan. 24 with 14 episodes all immediately available for viewing. Each film is prefaced by an interview with its director wherein they explain their inspiration for the film and give viewers a peek into the creative process. Each episode on its own never totals more than six minutes, making the series extremely binge-able; the average viewer could watch all 14 in roughly the span of an hour.
Each film is unique and comes with its own charming if brief storyline. “Puddles” tells the story of a little boy who discovers a magical world in puddles on the sidewalk that his screen-addicted older sister fails to notice. “Exchange Student” explores the idea of a girl who is the only human on a planet of cliquey alien peers, and “Hair-Jitsu” dives into the imagination of a feisty toddler desperate to avoid her first haircut. While the stories may be cute, they aren’t always particularly memorable in the way that previous Disney Pixar animated short films have set the standard for.
What makes “Short Circuit” so special isn’t the stories it’s trying to tell, it’s the creators and their work. Disney is providing artists and creators with a chance to showcase their talents the way they want to, and the results are stunning. Each art style is unique, whether the director chose computer animation or a more traditional hand-drawn style. The intro interviews, while skippable, are often the most fascinating part of each episode, providing a peek into the creative process and inspiration for each video.
“Cycles,” for instance, was inspired by director Jeff Gipson’s relationship with his grandmother and the house she raised her family in. “Elephant in the Room” drew its artistic inspiration from more well-known short films like “Paperman” and “Feast.” Perhaps most impressive is “Downtown,” the shortest of the films at just 97 seconds long. It takes viewers on a fast-paced journey through the vibrant street art of an otherwise dull city.
The bottom line: Watch these films not for the stories themselves, but to pay homage to the talented artists at Disney and the effort they put into their work. “Short Circuit” will leave viewers with full hearts and a new appreciation for the creative teams behind their favorite animated stories. It will appeal to young and older viewers alike.
I give “Short Circuit” five out of five stars.