The premiere project from the newly-founded Taiko Studios, One Small Step is a gorgeous, family-friendly 3D-animation about the bonds of family and pursuing your dreams. With lovely design and sentimental themes familiar to fans of modern Disney/Pixar, this touching project has a lot of appeal for animation-lovers of all ages.
Luna catches the space bug early in life. After watching a rocket launch on TV, she receives a birthday present of moon-boots from her cobbler father, then catches a ride to the stars with him in her cardboard box spaceship. Suddenly her goal in life—to become an astronaut—is revealed!
Fast-forward several years, and in montage we see her as a teen who is training, studying, and working hard to gain acceptance to the space program. Hardship falls her way, and in the face of heartache we wonder—will she overcome these obstacles and realize her dream?
Yes, yes it’s pretty standard stuff in a lot of ways, but the execution is quite exquisite. The use of a 2D style upon 3D models is reminiscent of Disney shorts like Feast and Paperman, and is no less charming here. The storytelling style of condensing lengths of time via montage has of course been employed across mediums and forms several times before, but its use here is similar in tone and emotion to the memorable sequence in Up.
The Disney DNA of the project is present in more than just its style. Taiko Studios is the brainchild of Shaofu Zhang, who worked at Disney for years and has credits on Big Hero 6, Moana, and Zootopia among other projects. He wanted to create a true international powerhouse in animation, and the studio uniquely straddles China and America. While much of the production of the piece happened in the studio’s Wuhan facility, the directors, fellow Disney vets Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, directed the film from the company’s Burbank headquarters. A recent profile in Cartoon Brew digs more into the company and the unique work-style they needed to develop to accomplish this.
Interesting background aside, a lesson that Disney and Pixar have been famous for inculcating in their respective cultures is that story is paramount. While One Small Step is conventional, and its message of “believe in yourself and your dreams” can fairly promote a degree of eye-rolling, the plot of the film features just enough of an edge that the tone of the film can straddle that schmaltzy divide and prove itself genuinely affecting. This line between effective sentimentality and emotional manipulation can be really tough, and it’s quite a feat that the Taiko Studio team navigates it so aptly in their debut. Just a few months since the film’s premiere and already with a bushel of festival honors to their name, One Small Step premieres online today, and promises a very bright future for this nascent studio.