I missed Disney's Wreck-It Ralph in its main theatrical run. I now consider that a shame, as friends have since since informed me that the movie presses all the right cultural buttons for a twentysomething American male who, like me, grew up playing and loving video games. I feel doubly sorry not to have seen it now that Paperman has come available on the net. Pushing another, more distant cultural button by preceding a feature with a short, Wreck-It Ralph's screenings opened with this six-minute tale by Disney Animation of a seemingly frustrated romance conducted by paper airplane between two office towers. The place looks to be a major city rumbling with American commercial energy, and the time looks to be the black-and-white middle of the twentieth century — a cultural moment, in other words, that produced some animation enthusiasts' very favorite work. Look at almost any of Paperman's individual frames, in fact, and you could mistake it for a production of that golden era.
But in motion, something feels very different indeed. We've grown used to Pixar-style computer generated imagery making up our animated movies, and while Paperman looks much more like a classic hand-drawn Disney picture, it actually comes as a product of the sort of technology that drives the likes of Wreck-It Ralph. But it benefits from innovation that enables the kind of weight, smoothness, and physicality of which the hand animators of yore could only dream. Wired's Graeme McMillan reports that "Paperman‘s seemingly seamless way of blending the personality of hand-drawn animation with CGI in the physical space of the story is the result of new in-house software called Meander, a vector-based drawing program that allows for manipulation of the line after the fact — something that [director John] Kahrs described as 'just like painting on the surface of the CG.'" Does that way lay the future of animation? Perhaps it depends on how well Paperman performs at this year's Academy Awards. Keep your eye on the Best Animated Short Film category, cartoon buffs — even more than you usually do.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.