Though Pixar have become somewhat synonymous in the world of animated shorts, finding these films online is more of a rarity, than a common occurrence. However, this all looks to change with their latest program SparkShorts, a series of films designed to discover new storytellers, explore new storytelling techniques, and experiment with new production workflows, that all look set to be released online. Kicking off this series, is Kristen Lester’s Purl, a deceptively cute tale of toxic masculinity in the workplace.
Set in the high-powered world of B.R.O capital, Purl follows its titular central character as she goes to work in a male-dominated office and finds herself struggling to fit in. A story centred around themes of belonging and understanding, Purl is left with a tough decision – change her ways to fit in or carry on being herself and face a life of loneliness and isolation at work. The story was obviously a personal one for writer/director Lester, as she reveals in this Meet the Filmmakers video:
“It’s based on my experience being in animation”, says Lester, “my first job, I was like the only woman in the room and so in order to do the thing that I loved, I sort of became one of the guys. Then, I came to Pixar and I started to work on teams with women for the first time and that actually made me realise how much of the female aspect of myself I had sort of buried and left behind”.
Purl combines Pixar’s usual saccharine approach with some bitter undertones, to make a film that’s somewhat difficult to judge tonally. On the surface, Lester’s film feels instantly accessible and family-friendly due to its recognisable aesthetic, however there are some more adult themes bubbling under the surface that result in this being more of a discussion starter than you might have expected.
Visually, Lester and her team create a super slick, generic office environment for her wooly story to unwind in, with the obvious result being to create contrast between the fluffy ball of yarn thrown into this landscape. Though this aesthetic choice undoubtedly has the required effect in driving the narrative and making Purl the outsider of the story, I’m not sure depicting the film’s central female character as a pink, fuzzy ball is doing much for gender representation.
Personally, Purl isn’t the type of animation I tend to gravitate towards, as I found it a bit flat and unchallenging in terms of both storytelling and design, but fans of Pixar are bound to gobble it up. What I did like about Lester’s film though, was that is started a positive discussion between my six-year-old son and I (after I’d tried to explain that BMW joke!), as we discussed the film’s themes and how they relate to real life and for this I was grateful…and impressed!
Purl was the first release from the SparkShorts program, which sees a further five films being released as part of initiative, with Pixar’s Twitter account revealing there will be more coming to Disney+ later in 2019