It’s really quite amazing how consistent Disney/Pixar is at telling six-minute long, vibrantly rich stories without words. Each year passes with a new one arriving to build upon the last, sometimes embracing the “fun” side of things and sometimes as an expression of love. I’d put Alan Barillaro‘s Piper in the former category as its titular sandpiper has plenty of the latter with a loving mother coaxing her baby from the brush. Mom shuffles down to the shoreline, plucking a seed from the sand to show her child from afar. And when Piper defaults to looking up, mouth agape Mom remains steadfastly still. It’s time for the young one to fend for itself. It’s time for Piper to realize the world isn’t as scary as it may seem.
The only way to do so is often by acknowledging how scary the world truly is. So when the tide comes and everyone scatters, Piper unwittingly remains to be blasted by the water. The trauma is too much to endure, the tiny bird staying hidden away until a clan of hermit crabs shows it that there’s nothing to fear. They’re much tinier and yet they approach the water with a second thought, letting it wash over them. They do it not because they don’t know better, their motivations are premeditated and a key to survival. All of Piper’s brethren run away as the waves approach, but these minuscule critters simply hunker down and stand their ground. If it works for hermit crabs it should work for sandpipers too.
Barillaro drew up with the idea watching the birds engage in their natural dance outside Pixar’s Emeryville, CA studios. This aspect is effective: the comedy, coming-of-age drama, and resonate universality of discovering the unknown. It’s extremely cute and exciting, a new world of riches exposing itself just as fear subsides in Piper’s attempt to combat it. But while such a minimalistic plot bolstered by the strength of its delivery touches young and old alike, the real draw for me is the astonishing animation. The sand is composed of individual granules moved by bird feet, the water rendered with a liquidity appearing true to life. The characters are obviously personified and yet you’d easily believe Barillaro if he told you everything was real. The uncanny valley is gradually disappearing.
courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures