To paraphrase Mark Twain for a moment, the reports of the death of two-dimensional animation have been greatly exaggerated. And nowhere is this more true than in the vaunted halls of Walt Disney Animation Studio. Even though the studio hasn’t put out a traditional animated feature film since 2011’s underrated "Winnie the Pooh," no one should conclude its turned its back on the format. If anything, Disney has buckled down on how to merge traditional story-telling tropes with audience-friendly, cutting-edge technology. The studio is using its short film program as an incubator for these ideas —the latest of which is the heart-tugging treasure "Feast," which is scheduled to play before "Big Hero 6" in theaters this fall.
"Feast" is hot on the heels of two technologically groundbreaking and emotionally engrossing short films: 2012’s black-and-white "Paperman," in which two-dimensional animation is "mapped" on top of the 3D format, creating a wholly unique, enchanting visual style that resulted in the first Best Animated Short Subject Oscar win for the studio in over forty years. Then there was last year’s marvelous "Get a Horse," which combined classic 2D Mickey Mouse animation with mind-bending 3D technology. When the short initially screened, the animation was so authentically antique that it was suggested that the film was a long-lost artifact from the classic mid 20th century Disney era. (It secured an Academy Award nomination, but didn’t win.)
‘Feast’ is the latest short film attempting to marry the world of two-dimensional animation and 3D computer animation, with a distinctly different stylistic bent. And the results are really enchanting.
We saw the film as part of a presentation at Walt Disney Animation, and beforehand director Patrick Osborne, who started animating for the studio during the somewhat turbulent transition period after Disney had purchased Pixar and installed John Lasseter as the new head of Disney creative, explained the inspiration behind the film, the iPhone app One Second Every Day. The app takes an insanely brief snapshot of your life and creates a video calendar that you can share or save. Osborne had two running calendars —one of his life and another of his meals. With "Feast," he wanted to combine those two results.
The film is so cute that you want to hug it until your arms go numb. telling the story of a man whose puppy, a bat-eared Boston terrier named Winston, is always right underneath the table. In incredibly quick flashes, we see how the two grow together, with the eating habits of both echoing the man’s perpetual bachelorhood. Then the man meets someone… and things change for him and Winston. She’s an aspiring chef, and their meals become healthier (there’s a recurring joke of Winston turning his nose up at a sprig of parsley). Until the girlfriend isn’t around anymore.
That’s about all you can say about the short without ruining it, which is something that we do not want to do (especially so far ahead of the November release date for "Big Hero 6"). But what we can tell you is that the movie’s simplicity does a lot to mask just how accomplished a feat of storytelling "Feast" really is. There’s a lot going on here, with the more stylized attempts of ‘Paperman’ and ‘Get a Horse’ replaced by a kind of graceful naturalism (echoed gorgeously by "All is Lost" composer Alex Ebert‘s twinkly score and the fact that the short is set in 1994). Once again, there are 3D objects coated in 2D textures, but this time the textures appear in elegant, painterly color; the lighting is warm and haunting, and the depth of field is shallow, like you’re really on the dog’s level.
In terms of narrative economy, the shorts produced by Disney and Pixar should really be studied, analyzed and dissected. By the end of ‘Feast’ (just like ‘Paperman’), there is a fairly good possibility that you’ll have tears pooling in your eyes, which is truly remarkable considering that the short lasts for only a handful of minutes. But Osborne and his collaborators (including Lasseter, story artists Nicole Mitchell and Raymond S. Persi and animation head Brian Scott) have created something special —you identify not only with Winston the dog (who should be instantly inducted into the pantheon of all-time great animated dogs), but also what his human owner is going through. It’s a strangely sentimental journey, and one that we can all identify with. "Feast" is an epic journey on a miniature scale; a tremendous story told one bite at a time. [A]
"Feast" can be seen with "Big Hero 6" when it opens on November 7th.