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"Short Circuit: Experimental Films" Review

Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

Short Circuit

Short Circuit

The origins of the Disney empire can be traced all the way back to Uncle Walt’s very first animated short film, 1921’s “Cleaning Up”. (“Steamboat Willie” wouldn’t arrive for another seven years.) In the century since, full-length feature films have clearly evolved to become the backbone of the Disney brand, but the studio’s devotion to animated shorts has never gone away. In fact, over the past two decades, they have enjoyed a welcome return to relevance, primarily due to Disney-Pixar’s inclusion of a new original short before each of their features, beginning with 1998’s A Bug’s Life. (The streak ended with last year’s Toy Story 4.)

Disney’s latest release on its new streaming platform is an assortment of 14 animated shorts (well, 13—one got yanked over music copyright issues) that not only entertain and dazzle but affirm the company’s commitment to telling great big stories in a wee little bit of time.

Short Circuit, as the collection is labeled, is a batch of experimental animated films that run the gamut, from a cute look at an elementary school crush to a touching tribute to lost loved ones. Employing all manner of techniques, including cutting-edge computer snazziness and traditional hand-drawn animation, the shorts offer a little something for everyone, both technically and in their individual stories. And though some work better than others, they combine to affirm Disney’s dedication to bolstering their in-house talent while demonstrating they are still the best game in town.

1. Puddles
A cute and clever way to kick off the set, "Puddles" meshes whimsy with a timely moral about device use. The twist ending is then upped by an even better O. Henry-ish final moment, making this a particularly memorable short, right out of the box.
Rating: 4/5 stars

2. Exchange Student
Diversity and inclusion provide the undercurrent for this short about a human girl trying to fit into her alien grade school class. It’s a nifty twist on the ol’ fish-out-of-water theme, and the texturization gives it an extra oomph. Not the best of the lot, but a solid effort with a relevant message.
Rating: 3/5 stars

3. Lucky Toupée
The first “grown-up” short (assuming you’re watching these in order), "Lucky Toupée" is polished, to be sure, and the alternative take on leprechauns is a nice touch, but the “twist” ending almost feels like a cop-out. Points for the look and feel, but deductions for the half-baked story.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars

4. Just a Thought
We head back to the world of grade school kids for this look at what it would be like to live in a comic strip and read each other’s thought bubbles. This adorable short is the most “awww” of the bunch and benefits from director Brian Menz’s decision to style every frame as if it were a panel in the Sunday paper.
Rating: 4/5 stars

5. Cycles
Anyone doubting an animator’s ability to make you have all the feels in under three minutes, here’s your proof. With barely a word spoken, "Cycles" whisks you through a family’s entire history in supremely poignant fashion. Bonus points to director Jeff Gipson for having his own mom (whose mother, in turn, served as the short’s inspiration) provide the musical score.
Rating: 5/5 stars

6. Lightning in a Bottle
Though clearly one of the most visually dazzling shorts in the collection, this one falters a bit due to its somewhat ho-hum story. The relatively straight-forward plot works well enough on its own, but when put up against the top-notch entries on either side of it, it pales considerably.
Rating: 3/5 stars

7. The Race
As funny as "Cycles" is emotional, "The Race" takes barely 150 seconds to present a complete (and completely hilarious) story, including a wholly satisfying ending. It’s easily among the best here—not only for its clever, outside-the-box story (and efficiency) but also for its beautifully rendered art.
Rating: 5/5 stars

8. Hair-Jitsu
A delightful hyper-kinetic short to which every kid (and—even better—adult) can relate, "Hair-Jitsu" celebrates kid power at its finest. It’s a vibrant and fast-moving bit of animation that ends with a nice little punctuation mark. Kid barbershops would be wise to keep this one on a constant loop.
Rating: 4/5 stars

9. Downtown
Feeling as though it could be a multi-million-dollar Super Bowl ad for the hottest new sneakers or maybe a soft drink, this wildly inventive short is a testament to the idea that sometimes a splash of color is all you need to make a mark. It also proves that having an actual plot isn’t always required to make a great short.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

10. Jing Hua (Flower in the Mirror)
The watercolor splashes that shape director Jerry Huynh’s touching remembrance of his grandfather, grandmother, and cousin help make this short one of the more memorable in the collection. The touching tribute may not have the look and feel of a typical Disney animated short but its message is universal, and it’s powerfully presented.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

11. Drop
Due to copyright issues concerning the music used in this short, Disney has temporarily dropped (pun intended) it from the Short Circuit collection.

12. Zenith
The least successful of the group, this Fantasia-inspired short is a mind-blowing symphony of color and light, but the finished product doesn’t seem to come together as well as director Jennifer Stratton no doubt hoped. Very cool to look at, sure, but it’s begging for another five or ten minutes to flesh out the story.
Rating: 2/5 stars

13. Elephant in the Room
A harkening back to vintage Disney (director Brian Scott lists The Jungle Book as his favorite Disney flick), this short is both endearing and bittersweet, perfectly blending computer and hand-drawn animation. Pay special attention to the stunning, ultra-realistic use of light and shadow.
Rating: 4/5 stars

14. Fetch
Easily the most technically refined entry in Short Circuit, "Fetch" could pass as a finished trailer for an upcoming Pixar flick. A perfect wrap-up to the collection, director Mitch Counsell’s film about a little girl looking for her lost—um… creature? is a thing of pure beauty. We may have no idea what Oliver is, but it doesn’t matter. The message resonates while reminding us that Disney remains, a century into the game, the go-to house for animation.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

'Short Circuit' trailer