Like Pixar, Disney continues pushing the envelope with its shorts program, and “Inner Workings” offers yet another innovation in hybrid animation and quirky narrative.
Director Leo Matsuda (story artist on the Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6” and “Wreck-It Ralph”) takes us inside the cartoony body of a hapless clerk named Paul, whose brain and heart engage in a tug-of-war that nearly tears him apart.
But unlike Pixar’s Oscar-winning “Inside Out,” the intent is purely physical, not cerebral. “I’m a Japanese Brazilian so I’m very disciplined, but I also like to party,” said Matsuda, who was inspired by the human anatomy illustrations from the “Encyclopedia Britannica” that he flipped through as a youth.
Matsuda recreated the graphical look of those layered acetate transparencies in his short along with an ’80s vibe that’s pushed and theatrical. His influences were Jacques Tati, Wes Anderson, Disney’s Ward Kimball and Bruno Bozzetto, whose “Grasshoppers” short inspired the 2D brain visions of Paul winding up dead after every imagined risk he takes.
“Everything is square and boring in Paul’s [Brazilian] world and everything is round in the world of the heart,” Matsuda suggested. Paul resembles the director but contains a square face like Carl’s from “Up,” while the brain and heart look like huggable plush toys.
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“I always perceived the brain as the antagonist of the piece, but Leo kept saying it was the protagonist because it has the greatest character growth,” said producer Sean Lurie (the “Tinker Bell” franchise).
“Inner Workings” also benefited from designer/animator Ami Thompson, a visual development apprentice on “Zooptopia,” who’s been promoted on a soon-to-be-announced Disney feature. Her character designs demonstrated great versatility, particularly with the 2D brain visions made with TVPaint software.
Meanwhile, Ludwig Goransson (“Creed”) composed the highly synthesized ’80s type score and wrote the infectious Brazilian-sounding song, “California Loco.”
“It’s about finding this peace within and the balance in your own life,” observed Matsuda, who’s learned more about trusting his heart and not taking everything to its logical conclusion.