Saturday Something: Paperman

Disney's Paperman (Mouse on the Mind)For those of you who still haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, allow me to say you are missing out. Big time. Wreck-It is super fun, but Paperman—the seven-minute short shown before the video game tribute—is probably one of the most delightful things I’ve ever seen.

Paperman has a fairly simple plot: boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy goes to great lengths to get girl. Boy fails. And that’s when fate—in the form of some amazingly animated inanimate objects—steps in. It’s a tender-hearted treatise on the undeniable power of fate (and the awesome power of the breeze), and it’s so sweet and sweetly romantic that it made my heart hurt.

I love the starkness of the black, white and gray palette (with just the tiniest splash of red) and the largess of the city. It feels so cold and lonely, such a perfect metaphor for the male character’s life—isolated, monotonous and uninspiring. The lines are incredibly soft, and it’s almost impossible to make out details. This is especially noticeable in the secondary and tertiary characters.

Disney's Paperman (Mouse on the Mind)While the tertiary characters are sort of shaded out shapes, the secondary actors are almost overblown caricatures of characters. Both types—whether they were almost ghostly or so overdone as to be nearly inhuman—only serve to make world seem even more stark, our hero even more alone.

The silence, of course, adds to that desolate landscape, but it’s also part of what brings so much genuine warmth to the short. Because they have no words, the two main characters are forced to channel all of their expressions through body language. The animators captured so much text and subtext in simple movement—the quirk of an eye brow, the slight lift of a finger.

I think, maybe, what I love most about Paperman is its style. Created with a software program called Meander, the short combines hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D computer-generated animation. (More on that in a second.)

The resulting cartoon has all of the emotion and complexity of an old-style Disney cartoon with the fulsome depth of a more modern computer-rendered feature. The style reminded me of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (in a nice way), and the female lead reminded me of Disney Princesses past: the big eyes of Ariel with Belle’s penchant for touching her hair. I can’t wait to see more in this style.

If you’re interested in the technical aspects of the film’s creation, Wired magazine did a full-length story on the new animation style, which Disney continues to perfect. And Paperman director John Kahrs (who was also the animation supervisor on Tangled) did a series of three short videos for Disney, explaining the thought and animation processes behind the charming short. Check them out below:


Did you enjoy Paperman? Or are you waiting for it to be released online? What’s your opinion on the new 2D/3D style of animation? Let us know in the comments! 

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