That’s right, there’s more to Disney+ than Marvel and Star Wars. A collection of 14 short films clocking in at around 2 minutes and created by different animators within Disney’s stockpile of talent, Short Circuit gets back to what Disney originally made famous. Each of these shorts offers something different from the others, whether it’s a unique visual feast or a surprisingly compelling narrative for such a short runtime. In many cases, you get both.
Boiling this down to a top five is difficult, and in no way meant to slight the quality of the others, but we’re here to make the tough decisions. I present the five best short films from Disney’s Short Circuit.
Created by Natalie Nourigat, “Exchange Student” features a little girl who is the only human at a school with aliens. She struggles to fit in with her new classmates until she receives a chance to prove her bravery by fetching a lost ball gone over a fence. This act finally breaks through the ice and makes her some friends.
“Exchange Student” does a wonderful job packing a lot of story and creativity into such a short time. Making the other students aliens effectively communicates the strangeness and fear of a new school, and especially a new school experienced by an exchange student. The girl doesn’t speak the language or know the customs, and it makes her an outsider. Making the little girl a person of color further communicates the cultural struggle and bias against her. That one creative decision means more than if the girl was white, I think, because it speaks to a larger racial discrimination in society.
Even better, she ends up making friends and fitting in not by becoming just like her alien classmates, but by being herself. This is an important lesson to communicate. We shouldn’t have to change who we are to make real friends.
Combined with a gorgeous animation style that combines clean, simple lines with wonderful vibrancy, and you have so much to like here.
Created by Jerry Huynh and translating to “flower in the mirror,” “Jing Hua” was guaranteed to be a top favorite of mine the second I saw the gorgeous watercolor animation style. This short tells the story of a martial artist who grieves the death of her master by using her martial arts to create a painted world. It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of animation that skillfully invokes the beauty of Chinese watercolor. The scenery flows effortlessly to life as the martial artist gives of herself to create beauty from loss.
Huynh’s introduction mentions how this began as a journey of cultural discovery of his roots that morphed into a story of grief in the aftermath of his own personal loss. You can feel the personal nature of the story in the loving attention to detail. The main character’s pain is real and apparent, as is everything she gives of herself to create this painted world around her.
It speaks to the quality of the other stories that I can’t proclaim this one as easily my top favorite. I’m an absolute sucker for this animation style, and combined with the emotional honesty of it, “Jing Hua” is very much worth the watch.
“Lightning in a Bottle”
Creator Virgilio John Aquino says in his introduction that this short was inspired by old Spielberg films, and it takes very little time to see exactly what he means. “Lightning in a Bottle” features a boy who literally captures lightning in a glass jar for an upcoming science fair, and immediately reminds me of the kind of wonder and discovery Spielberg has always been so good at. That immediate, life-changing connection between two characters with so little in common, proving how superficial our differences are. Even when the two characters are a little boy and a spark of lightning.
Like most stories of this kind, it doesn’t matter that they were together for a relatively short period of time. They had an effect on each other that they will never forget.
The visual element also stands out among the best of the short films. The lightning effects are absolutely outstanding, contrasting brilliantly with the nighttime setting. The captured lightning has all kinds of gorgeous animated expressions, all made by extending arcs of light off its body. It speaks to the skill of the animation that those emotions are so vivid and clear to read without any facial cues of any kind.
“Lightning in a Bottle” does exactly what animation is supposed to by using its animation to tell a wonderful visual story.
By far my visual favorite of the Short Circuit collection, creator Jennifer Stratton says in her introduction that she wanted “Zenith” to remind watchers of something from Fantasia. She succeeded and then some. With the help of Nathan Curtis’s composition, Zenith tells a space-faring story of an intergalactic elk who brings the universe to life. Oh boy, does it tell a good story.
The many brilliant details in the animation never stopped impressing me. The galaxies at the junctions of the elk’s antlers. Stardust filling in familiar constellations. The frenetic chaos while a black hole sucks them all out of existence. One moment, any still image may look like a photorealistic shot of space. The next will remind you of the best of classic Disney animation.
It’s life, death, chaos, and beauty all wrapped into an amazing intergalactic package. It would easily stand among the inspirations Jennifer Stratton used to create this short.
“Elephant in the Room”
Is it too easy to be moved by animals? Maybe, but I won’t hold it against creator Brian Scott. “Elephant in the Room” may go for a familiar story of connection between a child of man and a child of nature, but who cares when the story tells of this connection so well?
“Elephant in the Room” tells the story of a boy and his father who find a baby elephant that lost its family. The father puts the baby elephant to work on the family plantation, making it miserable, and the boy bonds with it. Eventually, the boy leads the elephant’s family to the plantation, reuniting them. It’s visually simpler than the others, with softer edges and more static backgrounds. The animation is effective in simpler ways. It does fantastic things with the lighting, which makes the most of the scenery and characters.
The same can be said of the story itself. It’s an old tale of man and animal forming a bond until man helps animal reconnect. You’ve seen it a thousand times.
Like the old adage says, though, it’s not the story, but how you tell it, and this one tells its story well. It’s a fine exhibit of how such a familiar tale can still tug at your heartstrings when the storytellers know their craft. Scott and his fellow creators knew what they were doing here. It makes for one of the best of the shorts available here.
Of course, just about every story in Short Circuit tells its story well, whether it’s familiar or something fresher. It physically pains me to not place some of these others in the top 5. Whether it’s the Spiderverse-looking “Downtown” bringing Los Angeles to life in vivid color, “Hair-Jitsu’s” delightful fight scene, or the literally perfect ending to “Lucky Toupee,” Short Circuit is a pleasure for any fan of animated storytelling. You may have an entirely different top 5 than I do. And that’s perfectly reasonable.
We can all agree that these are the kind of films that make you appreciate the medium.