netflix animated shorts

Netflix churns out content at a mile a minute, but every now and then, there’s a title that demands that you stop and think for a moment. And this month, there are three — though they’ll only ask that you stop and think for about 10 minutes.

Three diverse Netflix animated shorts being released this holiday season are turning attention toward powerful, emotionally resonant issues like grief, school shootings, and police brutality through striking storytelling and eye-catching art. The three shorts include the Laura Dern-produced short If Anything Happens I Love You; the directorial debut of Soul animator Frank E. Abney III, Canvas; and an experimental animated poem, Cops and Robbers.

If Anything Happens I Love You

Directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier and executive produced by Laura Dern, If Anything Happens I Love You is a stark animated short film, styled like characters in newspaper cartoons, that purposely lingers in the empty spaces in-between key moments. It opens on a despondent couple having dinner quietly, their expressionist, geometric shadows arguing and dominating the otherwise empty and near-white room. There’s a lethargy and emptiness to the reality though, as the couple go about their day, never speaking to one another. But suddenly: color! A blue paint streak, a blue children’s shirt, a soccer ball that rolls off a laundry machine and into a dusty room, where a blue turntable is set off by it. It plays a cheesy pop song as the couple’s daughter leaps out of the memories, chases the cat, and is embraced by her parents’ dark, distorted shadows.

If Anything Happens I Love You wears its grief and heart on its sleeve, though not its political message, which steadily becomes more clear as the short runs through the events of the daughter’s life — the memories of her color to the screen in a burst of soccer matches, of cracked walls and birthday parties, and first crushes. It’s a tender and moving portrait of a life that suddenly is overshadowed by a looming dread when the parents send their daughter off to school, the mother’s shadow leaping out and fruitlessly attempting to stop her. The title reveals itself in the last text message the daughter sends to the parents: “If anything happens I love you.”

It’s a gutting ending to one of the most moving pieces of short-form animation released this year, but one that is never in danger of becoming overwrought — one, because of its potent and all-too relevant themes, and two, because it offers a ray of hope at the end. Having finally embraced the memory of their daughter’s joyous life, the couple reunite and are able to forgive each other, just a little bit.

If Anything Happens I Love You is available to stream now on Netflix.

Canvas

Disney and Pixar animator Frank E. Abney III — who has worked on films such as Coco, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4, and Soul — makes his directorial debut with Canvas, a film that harkens back to a few of Pixar’s classic shorts. A silent, emotional, musically-driven 3D-animated short, Canvas followed a wheelchair-using grandfather who has put away his ambitions and seems content to watch his creative granddaughter blossom. But he yearns for…something. The ability to paint? To walk? To enter a room without being overwhelmed with grief? It turns out to be all those things, connected to his deceased wife, whose portrait he had locked away in his old studio. And then his granddaughter stumbles into it by accident.

Canvas is a simple and effective short in the fashion of classic Pixar shorts like Geri’s Game. But Abney III adds an inventiveness to the formula, with a painterly sequence animated entirely in 2D, in which the grandfather dances on the clouds of his old canvas with his dearly departed. It’s a lovely way to show a farewell, and a new beginning on a fresh canvas.

Canvas debuts on Netflix on December 11, 2020.

Cops and Robbers

Timothy Ware-Hill performs an electric piece of spoken word poetry in Cops and Robbers, the most experimental and radical of these three Netflix shorts. “Remember when we used to play cops and robbers,” Ware-Hill muses as he walks on a quiet suburban street, before launching into a fiery tirade against police brutality and racial discrimination. Just as quickly as Ware-Hill rattles off the fears and injustices that the Black community face every day, the animation shifts — from rotoscope, to stop-motion, to everything in between. It’s a fierce, alarming, upsetting, vindicating piece of art that mourns for the “days of hoop dreams.”

Co-directed by Ware-Hill and Arnon Manor, and based off a piece written and performed by Ware-Hill in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Cops and Robbers employed more than 30 individual artists, students and VFX companies from around the world to collaborate for each of the intricate shots that flash by, sometimes in under a second. The shortest short film of the three, it has the rapid fire energy of a rap, and the raw, primal scream of a cry for justice.

Cops and Robbers debuts on Netflix on December 28, 2020.

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