Sometimes, all we need is just a snapshot of something animated to make our day better. Something to entertain us, make us smile or even make us think. Instead of putting 90 minutes to two hours aside for a full-on feature-length movie. Pixar has got a host of wonderful shorts, all under ten minutes, available at your fingertips on Disney Plus. They’re called Sparkshorts.
From as early as 1984 Pixar studios (formally known as ‘Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project’) have been making computer-generated shorts. The first offering is ‘The Adventures of André & Wally B’. This was a one minute, computer game looking animation, about a man running away from a bee. It’s not the best short. Yet it was used by the studio as a test for future projects like ‘Toy Story’ (1995). A few years later in 1988 Pixar won an Oscar for ‘Best Short film, Animated’ for their fourth short ‘Tin Toy’. Since then, they have been making at least one short a year. Ranging from funny shorts with features like ‘For The Birds’ (2000) and ‘Boundin’ (2003) to heart-warming shorts such as ‘Geri’s Game’ (1997) and ‘Lava’ (2014).
In January 2019 Pixar announced its exciting new ‘SparksShorts Program’. It had already been up and running a few years before their official announcement but were now ready to release the first of the shorts.
The program was put in place to help Pixar explore, experiment, and propel talented storytellers within their teams. Once the storyteller/Director is chosen they are given a team and six months to develop their idea.
There are currently ten SparkShorts on Disney Plus, all incredibly individual, emoting and in a range of visuals from 2D to CG. Each one has a person and a story behind them which we wanted to explore further. So below is all ten titles and the reasons behind their story.
If you did want to find out even more there is also a 90-minute feature called ‘A Spark Story’ (2021) on Disney Plus. It follows two of the filmmakers and explains the whole concept of the program.
The first SparkShort to be released in early February 2019 was ‘Purl’. Written and directed by Kristen Lester, the eight-minute computer-animated short follows a hardworking and cheery ball of yarn called Purl on her first day at work in a very male-dominated, environment. Within the short you see Purl struggling to fit in with the male-dominated crowd, whilst trying to keep her authentic self.
The story was based on ‘Lester’s’ own journey, within the male-dominated animation industry. At the beginning of her career, she was often the only woman within a story team. She explained in an interview for Deadline, “I would be sitting in a room, and we would be talking about a female character or something. And they’d be doing something that I didn’t feel was authentic and true to my experience. And I was the only one in there ranting”. ‘Lester’ has now seen the industry open up to more people and always jumps at the chance at would on female-led projects.
Smash and Grab (2019)
The next short to be released, only seven days after ‘Purl’, was ‘Smash and Grab’ on 11th February 2019. Written by Brian Larsen and produced by David Lally this 7-minute computer-generated animation features two extraterrestrial robots who risk their own lives for the chance to be free.
In a Pixar YouTube video about the short, Larsen and Lally explain that the story is essentially about people that live restrained lives but essentially want more, they want to be free! The duo decided to wrap this feeling up in an interesting story about two robots who are designed for two specific jobs. We soon find out that the robots no longer want the jobs they were designed for and want to cut loose from their restrictions to pursue a life outside of their workstation.
Larson also reviles that some of the idea from this short came from his own job. During projects he often finds himself and the team stuck in a rut with a single idea and sometimes all they need is something to break them out.
Written and Directed by Rosana Sullivan and produced by Kathryn Hendrickson, ‘Kitbull’ is a heart-warming 2D, hand-drawn, animation. The story, which was released the week after ‘Smash and Grab’ on February 18th, 2019, is centred around an abandoned Kitten and an abused pit bull.
The unlikely pairing was created from Sullivan’s love of online cat videos which she often watched and went down rabbit holes with, to destress. In the Spark Short YouTube video – Meet the Filmmakers Behind Kitbull – ‘Sullivan’ explains that at first she just wanted to draw a little kitten doing something silly. But it soon evolved into more than just a cute kitten as she managed to relate it to herself when she was younger and was a quiet, shy child. She wanted to show that when you open yourself up to meaningful connections. Like with the Kitten and the abused Pitbull, you also open yourself up to a brand-new world of opportunities.
Written and directed by Bobby Alcid Rubio and produced by Krissy Cababa. Float was released later in 2019 on 12th November. It encapsulates the feeling of a parent growing alongside their child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability.
Rubio based the story on his own experiences with his son Alex, who is on the autistic spectrum. Within the ‘Making of Float’ Rubio admits that when his son was first diagnosed, he didn’t take it well. With his wife’s encouragement, he decided to tell his story through this short in a way of offloading and connecting with people in similar situations.
When Float was first storyboarded Rubio designed the lead characters as Caucasian but a Pixar Co-worker soon told him to change them to Filipino American as the story was based on him. As soon as he did this the story took on a lot more meaning. In an interview with GMA Network Rubio explains ‘I definitely envision this as a gateway for more Filipino stories to be told, because there are so many talented Filipino Creators in the industry and we all have stories to tell’.
A month after Float was released on the 13th December 2019, a powerful tribute to immigrant sacrifice was also released, in the form of the eight-minute film ‘Wind’. Written and Directed by Edwin Chang and produced by Jesús MartÍnez.
The short revolves around a grandmother and a grandson who are stuck in an endless chasm. They try to find their way out to greener pastures by collecting debris to build a rocket, but for the grandson to make it to the new land, there will have to be sacrifices.
In an interview with CAAM media, Chang explained that the concept for the film was inspired by his grandmother. After the Korean war was left a single mother with four sons. She took care of them, educated them, and did everything for her family, eventually even helping them to move to the USA for a new, better life. Whilst she stayed in Korea.
Another Sparks Short that is a positive representation for autism was ‘Loop’, released in January 2020. Written and directed by Erica Milsom, Adam Burke, Mathias De Clercq and Produced by Michael Warch and Krissy Cababa. This short is about a young non-verbal girl ‘Renee’ with autism. And a young boy ‘Marcus’ who tries to understand her mannerisms and how to communicate with her.
The idea of the story being set around a canoeing trip was based on Milsom’s love of the hobby and how therapeutic it can be. In “The Making of Loop”, Milsom explains that during the production of ‘Loop’ the team also brought in a group of consultants from the ‘autistic self-advocacy network’. They watched, fed back and gave further insight into what Renee might have been experiencing during the story. All to make sure what they were putting out was a true representation. To make sure they were being as authentic as possible Renee was even voiced by a non-verbal autistic person called Madison Bandy.
One of the longer SparkShorts is ‘Out’ at almost 9 minutes long. Released on May 22nd 2020 the 3D animation short, produced by Mac Sachar is based on a coming-out story. Even though the short open with the written line – ‘Based on a true story’- writer and director Steven Hunter admits that it is more of a representation of a coming out story. Not ‘the’ coming out story, with an added nod to his love of Sci-Fi and twilight zones.
During the production of the short Hunter, was faced with the reality that after working in the industry for several years. This was the first time he had seen two men kissing in animation. In an interview with Skwigly Hunter expressed that “a main reason for me to tell this story was to create something that my young, closeted gay self could see himself in and feel validated”.
Another 2D animated short. Released on Christmas day 2020 was ‘Burrow’ written and directed by Madeline Sharafian and produced by Mike Capbarat. In the five-minute short, we follow a determined young rabbit in her journey to build the burrow of her dreams. Yet, with every shovel of dirt, she ultimately finds herself deeper and deeper out of her depth trying to find her own personal space.
This story is all about community, friendship and highlights the importance of asking for help when you need too. In a video interview with Movies Ireland, Sharafian went on to explain that the narrative rang even more true for her. She found herself having to ask for help whilst she was making the project and even though the concept was thought up before the outbreak of Covid-19 the story seems to fit the year it was made in. And even helped her to feel free to pick up the phone and talk to loved ones.
Twenty Something (2021)
In the Disney Plus feature ‘A Spark Story’ you follow the production of two shorts the first of which was 2D animation. ‘Twenty Something’ was written and directed by Aphton Corbin and produced by Erik Langley. This short is all about the imposter syndrome that we all feel as we grow and evolve into an adult. Especially when adulting can really feel like a struggle. But as soon as we realise that everyone else around us is just faking too, we can start feeling a lot less like a stack of children in a trench coat!
Corbin, one of the youngest directors in the Spark Short Programme, was spotted after she worked on ‘Soul’ (2020) and came up with the visual concept for the councillors in the ‘Soul’ universe. Her work ethic and passion for storytelling was what led to her getting picked. Her worry about not being adult enough was what sparked the idea of ‘Twenty Something’.
The second short that was documented in ‘A Spark Story’ was Nona. Written and Directed by Louis Gonzales, co-wrote by Mike Wu and produced by Courtney Casper Kent. The endearing computer-generated animation is about a Grandmother getting ready for a day off, where she can watch her favourite TV show E.E.W. Smashdown Wrestling. But this is interrupted by the unexpected visit from her Granddaughter. Making her have to choose between her two favourite things.
In a ‘The Streamr’ interview, Gonzales highlights the importance of writing about what you know, to be able to generate a relatable story. He goes on to explain that basing the Grandmother on his own mother and the Granddaughter on his own daughter is his way to honour them and keep their stories.
All these amazing SparkShorts are on Disney Plus now. Which one is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Check out our Pixar shorts review HERE.
Cobra Kai Season 4 – Review
Cobra Kai season four is out now on Netflix and the All Valley is back and better than ever. Here’s our review.
SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the show, but if not there are spoilers ahead.
It’s January, and new shows are popping up everywhere. This brings us to the show that I and my friends have been holding our breaths for: the fourth season of the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai! After three seasons, I wondered if there was anything left to mine from the Karate Kid lore or the Johnny/Daniel dynamic. I am happy to report that this might be my favourite season yet! It manages to not only expand upon the universe it has created, but to bring in a new villain, who is so bad that he threatens to outdo even John Kreese!
Season four sets us off where the third left off, with Johnny and Daniel having joined forces to fight Cobra Kai. Their friendship arc is the glue that holds this season together. The story focuses largely on whether they will be able to pull it together and make their partnership work. As in previous seasons, their relationship has its ups and downs. The stakes are heightened, however, as the season leads up to the All-Valley Tournament. A bet between the three senseis – Kreese, Daniel, and Johnny – means that losing the All Valley is losing the title of sensei.
This season explores the ways that both Johnny and Daniel work with the kids. It also examines the kids’ struggles as they prepare for the All Valley while dealing with conflict within the ever-changing network of friends and enemies in the dojos. Robbie has left juvenile hall and decided to join up with Cobra Kai as a means of inflicting revenge on both his dad and Daniel. Tori and Sam continue their rivalry. And John Reese’s old friend Terry Silver (of Karate Kid 3 fame) shows up to kick Cobra Kai into high gear.
Daniel’s son, Anthony, who has largely been absent until now, faces his own dilemma when his friends begin bullying Kenny, the new kid in town. This soft-spoken middle school character brings us into the world of the younger kids, setting up yet another storyline. Kenny becomes the victim of a gang of kids (including Anthony), enduring round after round of bullying before Robbie takes him under his wing. After his induction into Cobra Kai, the formerly shy middle-schooler becomes a bully himself.
Shades of grey
This brings me to one of my favourite things about the show. The constant back and forth dynamic between characters makes us feel that anything is possible. There is no black and white in the world of Cobra Kai. Where the Karate Kid told us that Daniel was good, and Johnny was bad, this show gives us a very different point of view. It’s a world where we’re never sure who to root for. In this season, we even see Hawk make a return to the “good guys” side after giving up his spot at Cobra Kai.
With Eagle Fang (Johnny’s new dojo) and Miyagi-Do teaming up, the kids – and the adults – have to learn to work together. Of course, complications ensue. Johnny becomes jealous of what he perceives as Miguel’s preference for Daniel over him. Sam wants to learn both her dad’s karate style and Johnny’s, despite her father’s discouragement. Meanwhile, at Cobra Kai, Kreese is losing his grip on the dojo. His former war buddy, Terry Silver, puts off a rather benign appearance in episode one, growing more and more evil with each episode.
This season is lacking in many of the big fight scenes of the previous seasons, instead choosing to focus their energy on the characters. The All Valley Tournament features several great karate matches and offers a satisfying conclusion to Johnny and Daniel’s arc. In the end, Cobra Kai takes the tournament win, but Johnny and Daniel have reached an understanding.
Tori defeats Sam to take the women’s All Valley trophy but later overhears her sensei paying off one of the referees. It’s clear that Cobra Kai has pulled yet another fast one. But the season ends on an even more ominous – and unexpected – note. Terry Silver assaults the over-aged former Cobra Kai member, Stingray, sending him to the hospital. He then makes a deal with Stingray to blame the crime on Kreese. We end the season with Kreese in handcuffs, Terry Silver set to take over Cobra Kai, and the future of Eagle Fang and Miyagi-Do uncertain. In a last shocking twist, Miguel leaves town in search of his biological father.
Although some may miss the school hallway throw downs, I found this one satisfying in a different way. It just goes to show that the ever-expanding Cobra Kai universe can keep bringing surprises season after season.
CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 9/10
Thank you for reading our review of Cobra Kai season four. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.
Check out our Hawkeye episode one and two review HERE.
Read IMDB information about Spider-Man: No Way Home HERE.
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