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Netflix Releases Striking, Important Animated Shorts that Deserve Recognition

"Cops and Robbers" by Timothy Ware-Hill, Arnon Manor

Have you ever wanted to watch a movie, but did not have the attention span to battle through a 90-minute film? If so, short films may be your saving grace. Over the last few decades, this genre of movies has gained in popularity as well as quality. Pixar has long been the hub to find high quality and enjoyable short films, but more recently Netflix has released shorts that give the animation company a run for their money. Here are three Netflix shorts that are all very different and encompass a variety of positive attributes: 

1. If Anything Happens I Love You by Michael Govier and Will McCormack

In this 12-minute gripping film, grief is analyzed and depicted in an artful way. Focusing on a couple trying to cope with the loss of their child after a school shooting, we follow their journey as they encounter memories, guilt, and agony together.

Animator Youngran Nho invented unassuming, yet striking visuals for the film. With visually appealing sketches of the characters paired with the ever-present, looming shadows that follow them, Nho offers haunting yet striking illustrations to tell the despondent story that Govier and McCormack have crafted. What’s even more impressive is that this is Nho’s first opportunity to bring her animation to life for a movie. The artist is currently working on an animated film entitled Groove Tails starring Jamie Foxx, and hopefully she brings her unique style to that as well.

The dynamic duo of Govier and McCormack wrote and directed the short together. Both have written other works prior, and McCormack has directed other pieces, but this is Govier’s directorial debut. The most heartbreaking and memorable portion of the short is shown as the young girl is walking toward her school, and the shadows of her parents are scrambling to stop her, to no avail. Govier and McCormack wonderfully analyze the unthinkable event of losing a child in a senseless and shocking way, and they do it with dignity and grace.

The short was released on Netflix on November 20, 2020, which is also World Children’s Day. The holiday is meant to raise awareness among children and improve children’s welfare, and it feels appropriate that the film was introduced to the world on that same day. 

It is always a pleasant surprise when films that target real-world issues are recognized and praised for their work. Besides earning a spot on Netflix, If Anything Happens I Love You has received 12 wins and five nominations from film festivals. School shootings have taken the lives of a disturbing number of children, and while it may be difficult to watch, it is important to acknowledge the epidemic that many countries—namely the United States—faces. Not many directors and writers have depicted school shootings in this way, and for that we thank Govier and McCormack and hope they continue to do mesmerizing work.

SCORE: ★★★

2. Canvas by Frank E. Abney III

Most short films nowadays do not include dialogue. Through this choice, they use visuals to make a much stronger statement, and to allow viewers to decide what deeper meaning they will take away from it. Unfortunately, Canvas feels too simple in comparison to the other shorts on this list, and dialogue may have helped.

In the nine-minute picture, an older man is shown grappling with his grief after losing his wife. His granddaughter begins to go to his house to spend time with him, and discovers old paintings of his in a back room. With her support, and that of his daughter, the gentleman contemplates painting once again, despite the pain that’s been holding him back.

Visually, the film is not lacking. The realistic animation is intercut with animation that is made to look like paintings on canvas that are coming to life. It is hard not to appreciate the time that has gone into bringing a painter’s work to life in this movie. This aspect also helps connect us to the main character more than we would if they were not included. Still, the connection viewer’s form to the lead character could have been stronger and more established, despite the short runtime.

Abney has had no shortage of work in the animation department. The young talent has been an animator on works such as Soul, Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, and Coco among other Pixar films. It is no surprise that the animation in this film feels reminiscent of Pixar, and appears to be wildly realistic. This short is Abney’s first attempt at writing and directing, and it is a promising one at that. If Abney chooses to create more shorts, it’s safe to say that we can expect deeper stories that are more evolved, with beautiful visuals to boot.

Strong dialogue would have assisted with the emotions Abney was trying to exude with this short. There is a somber yet hopeful feeling, and you want to be moved by what is being shown, but actually hearing about what an old man is dealing with after losing a life partner could have more effectively brought audiences to tears.

The issue may lie in the fact that this short does not encompass issues that are gigantic and life threatening to everyone in the world, as the other shorts on this list do. With so many social issues hanging over us at all times, having them addressed feels necessary, and shorts have the opportunity to do so in a powerful handful of minutes. While Canvas is emotional and visually pleasing, it feels demure, and only ever skims the surface.

SCORE: ★★1/2

3. Cops and Robbers by Timothy Ware-Hill, Arnon Manor

If there’s one positive thing that came out of the whirlwind that was 2020, it was the Black Lives Matter movement. The injustices that black people have been facing for decades finally received acknowledgment, and protests swept the nation. While there are still immense amounts of hard work to be done before everyone is equal regardless of their skin color, more and more art has been coming to light, focusing on this movement and why it is so imperative.

Cops and Robbers is one of these striking pieces of art. Through spoken word poetry and disturbing animation, police brutality and racism are shown through the lens of a black person. 

The short begins on Ware-Hill himself, and appears to be taken by what could be a GoPro. Throughout the heartbreaking roller coaster that is the four-minute film, various types of animation are used, always keeping any viewer’s interest. The names of victims of police brutality are seen, as well as the innocence of being a child as it is related to the fear of living in the United States if you’re a person of color. The animation is created to go along with what the short is depicting at that time. When showing kids play, the sketches seem juvenile and child-like, but when adults are shown living in fear, they are shaky and haunting.

Ware-Hill wrote the spoken word poetry that is heard in the film in response to Ahmaud Arbery’s brutal death, but it relates to every black person that was senselessly murdered in recent history as a result of extreme racism. His words and annunciation express such sadness, anger, and horror that will remain with you long after you’ve finished watching it.

Cops and Robbers should be required viewing for everyone. It may seem stressful and depressing, but if you feel that way, it is all the more important for you to watch. It should be terrifying and it should make you uncomfortable. Nothing is as stressful or dark as living in fear that the one’s who are meant to protect you may kill you for any reason, and this short perfectly encompasses each and every one of those feelings.

SCORE: ★★1/2

Short films have the potential to put the spotlight on serious issues without losing audience interest. It is important to appreciate what these pictures bring to the table, and celebrate them. Please leave any comments about your favorite shorts, or what you thought of these shorts. Furthermore, is there potential for Netflix to catch up with Pixar in this department?

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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