Walt Disney started his career by making animated short films, and it’s a tradition that is maintained, brilliantly, today. It’s a space where artists are encouraged to stretch and experiment, where new technology is implemented, and where new talent is cultivated, refined, and encouraged. Just think of the way 2D and 3D animation has been seamlessly blended in shorts like “Get a Horse!” and “Paperman,” or the bold stylistic expressionism of “Feast” or “John Henry.” These are concepts and ideas that might have been too much for a feature film, but in the context of a short, they soar.
And the latest short film from Walt Disney Animation Studios promises to push the paradigm once more: the short is “Inner Workings,” and it’s set to debut at France’s Annecy International Animation Festival, the most important and well-regarded animation festival in the world, on June 17. Oh, and it’s going to blow your mind.
In years past, Walt Disney Animation Studios has had fun with the festival: in 2013, before the premiere of “Get a Horse!,” directed Lauren MacMullan appeared as a lab technician, explaining to an enraptured audience that the film they were about to see was a recently rediscovered Mickey Mouse short from the classic “rubber hose” era. Moments before addressing the crowd, MacMullan was backstage, trying to make her animation cels look purposefully old and warn. (I saw her perform the same charming charade at the D23 Expo a few weeks later … and totally bought it, too.) The following year, “Feast” would premiere at the festival and receive a standing ovation. Annecy is a place where Disney typically makes a splash–everything from the posthumously completed Walt Disney/Salvador Dali collaboration “Destino,” to the indispensible documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty have debuted there (and debuted big).
This year will be no different because “Inner Workings” is totally amazing. Directed by Leo Matsuda (a story artist on Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph) and produced by Sean Lurie, the short “is the story of the internal struggle between a man’s Brain—a pragmatic protector who calculates his every move, and his Heart—a free-spirited adventurer who wants to let loose.” And boy does it cut loose, in a way that pays homage to animated Disney classics of the past like 1943’s wartime short “Reason and Emotion” and Cranium Command, the 17-minute-long attraction that appeared inside Epcot’s Wonders of Life pavilion between 1989 and 2007 … but with an entirely new spin. We can’t say too much about it besides the fact that you will love it with all your heart (and many other bodily organs), and that it is yet another inventive combination of 3D animation and traditional, hand-drawn animation.
And Disney fans who aren’t attending a prestigious international film festival won’t have to wait too much longer to see “Inner Workings,” as it will be presented ahead of Moana, the new film from Ron Clements and John Musker, that premieres on November 23. Moana will have a special presentation at Annecy featuring work-in-progress sequences from the film (also on June 17), highlighting the extensive research that went into creating Walt Disney Animation Studios’ newest animated marvel. My what a pair that will be!