You have to enjoy the fact that Pixar continues to usher in new creatives from inside, grooming them to one-day helm their own feature film. The newest member of that club is Teddy Newton, a guy from Brad Bird’s crew on The Iron Giant, who has worked on a few films as an artist and voice actor, cutting his teeth on a short film with adult themes called Boys Night Out. With his latest, Day & Night, Newton has brought to life what could be my favorite of all the Pixar shorts, utilizing a hybrid of 2D cell drawings with 3D computer animation, telling his story through gestures and pictorial representation as language; words are not necessary. The two biomorphic entities we meet during the tale discover what makes each other great, open their eyes to change, and learn to appreciate difference in the most human way possible—friendship.
We’re introduced to the first little guy as he awakens to the new day, one that is literally depicted on his body. He is a window into the computer-generated world we see, as he walks across the screen, the place showing through his contoured outline moves too. Every action occurring does so in accordance to his movements or mood. When angry, a swarm of bees form and howl loudly at his stomach, if he’s punched we see a lumberjack chopping down a tree, it’s fall mirroring his own knockout. Therefore, the mini-movies playing are only seen by us if his body is in a position to show it. If an airplane is soaring towards us it’s all well and good, but when it needs space to lift off and travel skywards, he needs to stretch his arm in order to give enough canvas for the motion to be visible.
But with such a sunny disposition and bevy of daytime activities, the allure of a nightscape becomes too hard to ignore. When he meets another creature like himself, sleeping as sheep jump fences through his body, the prospect of poking and seeing what happens is too much. Once awakened, this nighttime equivalent is just as curious, the two wondering at the starkly different worlds depicting their feelings. Grumpy and surly, Night becomes jealous of the more exciting and lively activities he sees on Day—he wants his own sunbathing, bikini-clad woman on the beach, but his own projection at that spot is darkened sand with debris littered where there was once life. It’s not all bad for Night, however, and not all great for Day. As the two interact and challenge each other to show what they are made of, the scenes shared begin to depict the wonders of their halves. Where Day has jets and smoke trails, Night has fireworks; Day has butterflies and Night fireflies. And don’t even start with Vegas—that place definitely never sleeps.
Through it all Newton keeps things light and entertaining, showing two films at once with the computer generated world becoming the words for these characters to converse by. The movements are completely fluid and seamless, both guys walking and moving amongst each other on a black screen besides their own bodies’ illumination. When they overlap positions we see both Day and Night’s look into that specific time and place, meeting in the middle once sunset and sunrise collide. This is a revelatory moment showing how similar they truly are despite what seem like totally opposite lives. The film portrays the intrinsic method of looking beyond the surface and finding out what a person is on the inside. The point may be driven home a bit heavy-handedly with a radio transmission around two-thirds through the six-minute runtime, but it nevertheless shines. Day & Night is a highlight of the brilliance animation is capable of on a small scale. I would be shocked if it doesn’t win Best Animated Short at the 2011 Oscars as a result.