Have you ever looked at a total stranger and imagined what it would be like to spend a life with that person? That is the story first-time Disney director John Kahrs is trying to tell through his delightful short film, “Paperman,” which plays before the “Wreck-it Ralph” feature that opened on November 2, 2012.
The story starts out when an attractive young woman Meg catches the eye of a sad-looking young man George, both waiting at a New York tram station. As Meg gets onto the tram, she looked at George in a way that Kahrs described in a panel discussion at the 2012 Platform International Animation Festival as “we could have made a great couple.” Unexpectedly, George spots her again in the highrise building where he works, and makes a daring attempt using paper airplanes to catch her attention.
“Paperman” is an incredible film, the best animation short I have seen this year! The art is a seamless bend between CG and 2D animation, retaining the feel of fluid hand-drawn movements. The film is done in black and white, conveying the time period of the 1900s. The color gives it a nostalgic feel, but not enough to distract from the main story. The characters are shown with great detail using the lighting, movements, and evocative music that changes with the mood of the story, from melancholy to light-hearted moments. George has a dark color scheme and looks bored and depressed, while Meg is more lightly colored. Finally, the film conveys a deep story with underlying themes of love, fate, and connections.
I had the great honor to interview director John Kahrs at the Platform Animation Festival, and gave him a drawing I did from the film. He told me that he was inspired by a time when he lived in New York City. During his commute, he saw that “everybody is looking to make a connection out there”, and he had the idea to make a film about connections. John got started doing animation by making flip books out of his mother’s romance novels when he was my age. Making these books really taught him a lot about the principles of drawing. Later, he got a camera and began to make his own short films. His best advice for aspiring animators is to “know how to move the characters and when to stop moving the characters. You have to find the balance between the two,” he explains,”because that’s what life is like.”
I noticed that a man would do anything to get a woman’s attention. The only flaw in the film is that George and Meg took completely different trams even though they worked right next to each other. Meg got onto the tram while George stayed for the next one, and when they both returned from work, they arrived at the station from trams of opposite directions. When I pointed out the flaw during my interview, director Kahrs acknowledged that “this is a giant plot hole, and you are the first person to ask it.” But I told him that the story more than makes up for it.
The director kindly autographed a collectable booklet on the art of “Paperman” and drew me a scene from the film on my now famous animation sketchbook (with original drawings from Pixar director Brad Bird of “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles,” Disney director John Musker of “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid,” directors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of the Oscar-winning short “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” ASIFA-Hollywood President Frank Gladstone, my animation collaborator Bill Plympton, and many more). Director Kahrs said he is working on a “secret” project right now. I look forward to seeing his next masterpiece.
I watched “Paperman” four times already, at the “Wreck-it Ralph” press screening, the Animation Show of Shows, and the Platform Animation Festival. The film is fresh and interesting each time, and I notice new things with each viewing. I give “Paperman” 4.5 starfish. I recommend this film to people of all ages, although adults would appreciate the story more. I believe this charming short will surely earn an Oscar nomination, and may even win, come February!
Moral: Everyone longs for love and connection. With persistence, destiny will take flight.
Copyright 2012 by Perry S. Chen