I’m definitely a fan of the recent resurgence of animated shorts preceding feature films. It harkens back to an earlier time when cartoons and news reels were a part of the cinema experience (though I hope they don’t bring back news reels!). Pixar, of course, has always had a short attached to each of their new releases, but Disney Animation has gotten back in the game for their last three movies and the results have been impressive. Paperman (which aired before Wreck-It Ralph) is nothing less than a masterpiece, while Get a Horse! (attached to Frozen) was a fun, creative use of 3D that captured a bit of that historical Disney magic. The recent debut of Big Hero 6 brought with it a new short, Feast, that serves both purposes of an animated short: it serves an hors d’oeuvre for the main film while also telling an endearing and entertaining story of its own.
Feast tells the story of Winston the Boston Terrier. Winston is a stray puppy when he spots a French fry that’s fallen from a man’s table at a sidewalk restaurant. The man offers it another fry and soon adopts the adorable pup. The man takes Winston home and we watch as their relationship grows, and it’s all seen from the perspective of food. Winston starts with bagged dog food and progresses to food dropped from the table, to leftover scrapings, until he’s finally having what seems like entire meals prepared just for him, each more elaborate than the next. Things change, however, when the man meets a woman who switches him to a vegan diet, much to Winston’s distress. Gone are the meatballs, steaks and popcorn and in their place are Brussels sprouts or regular dog food topped with parsley. Winston finds himself struggling to reconcile his appetite with his feelings for the couple, especially when the romantic relationship gets a little rocky.
Feast is gorgeously animated in a mix of computer and hand-drawn animation. Winston is endlessly expressive, simultaneously faithfully depicting a dog but easily communicating his emotions. The story is sweet and funny, and the short has its fair share of laughs. A particular highlight comes when Winston strategically places himself by the TV just before a touchdown in a football game so as to catch the cascade of food knocked off the table in celebration. Feast may not be as poignant or as stunning as Paperman, nor as madcap and wacky as Get a Horse!, but it’s charming and funny and it keeps the revived tradition of animated shorts alive and thriving. These shorts give animators an opportunity to experiment and hone their storytelling skills, and it allows studios to develop new talent while giving them freedom to express themselves. It’s a practice that makes animation richer merely by existing, and I hope it continues in the future.