A Year in Shorts Day 138: "Kitbull"
Pixar has made a name for itself by tugging at the heartstrings of kids and adults alike, both in their features and shorts. This mindset has extended to their SparkShorts program, which has allowed Pixar’s artists to explore more mature themes while also deviating from the house style. Last year’s Out (which was surprisingly snubbed by the Academy!) was one such film And the year before, this program saw better success with Rosana Sullivan’s Kitbull.
I don't know about you, but I love stories about unlikely animal friendships. Did you ever hear about the snake who befriended a mouse he was supposed to eat? I don't care who you are, that shit's adorable. Anyway, if that sort of story is your thing than Kitbull will be right up your alley. It tells the story of a stray kitten who wanders into a rundown backyard populated by a lonely pit bull. The two have a strained relationship at first (the pit bull is very enthusiastic, but the kitten is skittish and easily frightened by the big dog's energy), but as information about the dog's home life becomes clear, the two slowly learn to trust one another. It's a tale as old as time, and a surefire way to connect with your audience, but the short gives it a fairly modern twist. Kitbull goes to some pretty dark places (if you're the type of person who can't stand watching movies about animals getting abused, I'd skip this one), but it never gets so depressing it becomes unwatchable.
Pit bulls get a pretty bad rap (until fairly recently, they were outright banned throughout much of the state of Washington), and it's always nice to see a work that sets out to rehabilitate their image. There's no such thing as a bad dog, only bad owners, and if Kitbull can help start that conversation, then that's a pretty good thing. I might seem like a cynical old bastard (and I'm not really a pet person by nature), but how can you not be moved by this short?
But setting aside the story, what really makes Kitbull stand out is its animation. Kitbull is the first entirely traditionally animated film Pixar has made, and it shows that the studio should consider doing an entire feature like this. (Soul branched out a little stylistically, and hopefully gave them the courage to experiment more in the future). The character designs are simple but wonderfully expressive, especially the kitten, who often looks like nothing less than a ball of fur with massive eyes. It's a bit of a cheat to make an animal look that cute, but I'll let it slide. Overall the short just looks nice, with that endearingly rough look you can only get with hand drawn animation.
Kitbull wasn't the best animated short of 2019 (it lost to Sony's Hair Love, which feels right), but it has heart and it's gorgeous to look at. The short marks a nice aesthetic departure for the studio, and it'd be nice to see further experimentation from them, and the Walt Disney Corporation in general. What's the point of having all that money if you're not willing to risk some of it?
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