Netflix is betting on social issue films to bolster its awards campaign in the short form categories, starting with three animated shorts to address weighty topics. A robust slate of three short films use the power of animation to tap into emotions and make difficult conversations accessible to broad audiences. “If Anything Happens I Love You,” “Canvas,” and “Cops and Robbers” explore a school shooting, grief, and racial injustice through a visually impressive lens that even young viewers can find approachable and poignant. In a wide-ranging conversation with the creative teams behind these three films captured in the video above, the filmmakers shed light on the creative processes behind these singular works.
Written and directed by Michael Govier (“Conan”) and Will McCormack (who wrote the original “Toy Story 4” script with Rashida Jones), “If Anything Happens I Love You” uses simple hand-drawn line animation to show a couple mourning the loss of their young daughter to a senseless school shooting. Shadowy black figures follow each adult around as they struggle to connect, carrying their grief with them throughout their daily routines.
“Once we leaned into that style of animation, it was scary to do as a storyteller but it really gave back to us and we really found our footing,” McCormack said of the film’s sparse visual style.
In “Canvas,” longtime Pixar animator Frank E. Abney III makes his directorial debut with a short close to his heart. Inspired by the loss of his father, the heartwarming film follows an elderly painter whose inspiration has dried up after losing his wife. Every day he faces the blank canvas unable to paint, until his granddaughter’s curiosity eventually warms and transforms the pain into inspiration.
“Animation can bring about laughs, tears — all these things can be delivered in a way that’s sometimes easier to digest [than live-action],” said Abney. “You may not realize you’re taking in all these things, but you’re experiencing it.”
Inspired by the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was murdered by two white men while running in a Georgia suburb, “Cops and Robbers” uses a collage of various animation styles to transform the imagery of violence against Black people in America. Writer and co-director Timothy Ware-Hill performs his devastating poem, and co-director Arnon Manor oversaw the coordination of over 40 different animators.
“We’ve all seen the videos and unfortunately they are sometimes very graphic and disturbing,” said Manor. “I think animation can convey the strength of a message and emotion in an almost fantastical way, sometimes even slightly removed from the subject matter, but then hit it with a creativity and an artistry that elevates it even further.”
“If Anything Happens I Love You,” “Canvas,” and “Cops and Robbers” are all currently streaming on Netflix.