Disney has been hitting their short films out of the park so often lately that I’m contemplating buying the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 on Blu-Ray I’ve seen advertised at my local Regal Cinema. The only shortcoming of the purchase would be the exclusion of their newest work, Paperman, seen before the wonderful Wreck-It Ralph. More adult in nature than most of the cutesy characters crafted of late from the studio, this tale of love at first sight’s power will get you all warm and fuzzy without the need of one word.
Directed by former Pixar animator (until 2007) and current Disney-proper animation supervisor John Kahrs, the short’s black and white palette is a perfect fit for its mid-century NYC locale and aesthetic. There is a familiarity to the artwork as the studio’s trademark hand-drawn characterizations are rendered with beautifully computer-generated gradients. The slightly goofy innocence of its leading man falls in line against the litany of unsuspecting heroes before him while the object of his affection could be the sister of any number of big-eyed princesses they’d been tasked to save. We really didn’t know what we were missing when Mickey shuttered its animation department back in 2000 and I’m so glad it took them less than a decade to correct the error.
Paperman‘s very simple story is the brainchild of Winnie the Pooh scribes Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer. Depicting its lonely office worker as he waits for the morning train, the strong gusts of wind from the fast-moving locomotives subtly force him into the gaze of the stunning woman standing a couple steps to his left. As a solitary sheet of paper is blown from his mitts to her face, the bright red of her pursed lips remains as a parting gift once boarding the next car. With only a wry smile to share as the girl of his dreams is now lost, he makes sure to keep the memento safe. A longing look out the window at work, however, turns his depression into hope as he miraculously catches a glimpse of her across the street.
Desperate to gain her attention while his boss grumpily looks on, the pile of work on his desk gets folded one sheet at a time into paper airplanes willed out into the open air. Falling short, hitting birds, or reaching the window only to fly behind her, a comedy of frustration ensues until the only piece of paper left is the one with her mark. A last ditch effort to finally reach its destination, this fateful flight does more than get the girl’s attention. Falling into Disney cliché with a deliberate wind guiding its trajectory in a swooping dance through the sky, the delicate aircraft leads them towards their destiny.
Love literally is in the air and these two souls find meaning besides the daily slog of capitalism keeping them chained to their work when infinite possibilities wait. Mature in its depiction, the real world setting helps elevate what would otherwise be a slight, whimsical sojourn into a dramatic fable we all hope occurs to us. There are some instances of hands pulling the strings where pure coincidence can’t quite do the job, but it being a Disney piece allows forgiveness without a second glance. Because as we all know, true love can’t be stopped.