pixar shorts
Pixar tackles grown-up issues of identity and gender inequality in the workplace in "Purl." (Image via Animation News Network)

New Extra-Short Pixar Shorts, Called SparkShorts, Are Telling Employees’ Personal Stories

Grown-up issues packaged in child-friendly animation.

Pixar has produced multiple short films based on their feature-length productions, especially the worlds of “Cars” and “Toy Story,” and any time a new feature film is released in theaters, you can count on Pixar shorts. In an attempt to discover new voices, Pixar turned to their staff and created SparkShorts, a program where employees could tell their stories on a smaller production scale. Anybody from Pixar could participate in the program, whether or not they worked in the story department.

The SparkShorts series consists of six films, all of which were produced in six months, each with a running time of about 10 minutes. Each film is different from traditional Pixar flicks, but the production quality is just as remarkable. This past month, Pixar released three of the six extra-short Pixar shorts on YouTube: “Purl,” “Smash and Grab” and “Kitbull.”

1. “Purl”

Out of the three films released, “Purl” is easily my favorite. Like most Pixar movies, each of the short films has an underlying theme. In this case, “Purl” touches on identity and gender inequality in the workplace. The film follows Purl, a bright pink ball of yarn, who starts her first day at B.R.O. Capital, a male-dominated firm. Throughout the film, Purl slowly loses her distinct characteristics and conforms to become “one of the guys” to fit in and gain respect.

Although the topic of discrimination in the workplace may seem mature for Pixar’s target audience, they make up for it by representing women as cartoonish balls of yarn. The film was based on director and writer Kristen Lester’s experience in the animation industry; when Lester first started out, she had to change who she was to do the thing she loved. “Purl” is a story that many women can relate to and is delivered in a smooth and honest way. It’s understandable but doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

2. “Smash and Grab”

After watching this short, which follows two robots who finally discover a way to freedom, I was definitely picking up on some “Wall-E” vibes. Both robots work on a train and are attached to a power source that they need to survive. After a load of cordless power supplies is put on the train, one of the robots cuts himself free and hooks into the wireless system. In the end, both characters manage to escape their mundane tasks on the train, but they get caught by robot police.

Like how “Purl” highlighted gender differences in the workplace, “Smash and Grab” draws attention to dissatisfaction and trying to detach yourself to be closer to the things you love. Writer and director Brian Larsen thought that robots were the best way to express this idea because robots in other films have frequently been portrayed as wanting a better life, like so many people who know the struggle of being tied down.

3. “Kitbull”

Even more than the storyline, what I liked most about “Kitbull” was the unique animation style. Pixar films tend to shy away from 2D animation and hand-drawn images onscreen, but “Kitbull” embraces both. The short follows a little black kitten who lives in a junkyard in San Francisco. One day, a pit bull moves into a doghouse next to the junkyard, and while the kitten is initially jealous, she quickly befriends him.

“Kitbull” was inspired by writer and director Rosana Sullivan’s love for cat videos and her own childhood timidity. Sullivan’s describes her younger self as somebody who was afraid to form bonds with others, so “Kitbull” teaches a very simple lesson: Get to know someone before you start to judge or fear them. Despite the animation style, the emotion-driven storyline is what identifies this short film as Pixar’s.

What’s Next?

All three Pixar shorts have been well-liked so far, gaining over 30 million views combined on YouTube. The other shorts are set to premiere later this year, but on Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+. The next round of short films includes “Float,” “Loop” and “Wind,” which will all feature humans as their primary characters, rather than objects and animals.

“Float” features a Filipino dad who learns that his infant son can fly. The Pixar short will revolve around the father trying to decide whether to hide his son or be there for him when his ability is revealed to the public. “Loop” follows an autistic girl and a talkative boy who are paired together on a canoeing trip and have to learn how to communicate with each other, while “Wind” tells the story of a grandmother and grandson in a magical world, and how they are trying to escape from their reality into a better life.

All in all, the next round of Pixar shorts should be tear-jerkers, as most of the storylines surround family, disabilities and hope.

Almost every Pixar-produced film, feature or short, over the past decade has been impeccable. Their stories are universal — any person of any background can relate to them. Although some Pixar shorts focus on more cultured topics, young kids can still enjoy the simplicity of the stories and how visually appealing they are.

The first three Pixar SparkShorts were personal stories, and from the way they were told, it’s clear that everybody involved was extremely passionate about telling the them right, reminding us what good storytelling is and how it doesn’t always require a big budget to leave an impression.

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