Editor’s note: A couple of weeks ago I (Ron) posted a review of Disney’s short animated film “Paperman”. Part of my review addressed one of the critiques of the short that seems to be the most prevalent. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t already seen it, you may want to watch it first below before reading on.) The critique has to do with the fact that the planes come to life at the end and play matchmaker, bringing the boy and girl together. Filmmakers like Jamie Abbott liked the short well enough, but lamented the fact that the solution to the man’s problem wasn’t rooted in reality. He had hoped that the filmmakers could’ve come up with a clever, realistic solution to boy meeting girl.
Well, a few years ago another similar short got a lot of attention (well, at least among filmmakers, if not the world). That short was “A Thousand Words” by Ted Chung. Like “Paperman” it has no dialog, involves a boy seeing a pretty girl on a train, and it’s also in black and white. But the ending of that film is more in line with what I think of what people like Jamie were hoping for with respect to “Paperman”.
Now that “Paperman” won the Oscar for best animated short, I thought it would be fun to look at the two through the eyes of a non-filmmaker. Thus this post by Imahni.
We’d both love to know what you all think.
Now on to Imahni’s review.
I was at first hesitant to comment on either ‘A Thousand Words’ or ‘Paperman’ because I am no filmmaker. I cannot provide an analysis of their storytelling technique or really anything besides what a film makes me feel. Still, films are not as often made for other filmmakers as they are made for the general public. Being in that last category, perhaps I can provide the opinion of the average viewer.
I shall be blunt and tell you that I prefer the story of ‘Paperman’. Don’t misunderstand me – ‘A Thousand Words’ was good except that I’ve seen it all before. The idea of sending the camera back to Nasim’s old home with a picture of himself and his number on the camera was very clever. However, it was not novel. ‘Paperman’ was novel.
One thing I love about old Disney movies is how they trusted the kids to accept whatever was shown even if it lacked basis in reality. After watching Beauty and the Beast, I didn’t come away disappointed that my plates don’t sing and dance. After watching Pocahontas, I had no expectation of leaves swirling around me romantically while I stood facing a lover. Reality is all too familiar, but once a writer begins too include things from his own imagination, the viewer is left with a sense of wonder. What will happen next? Only the writer knows.
I know “Paperman” has received criticism because of the magic flying airplanes. Some argue that the introduction of magic was too sudden or inconsistent with the beginning of the story. However, isn’t the idea that a paper airplane could make it all the way across the street to just outside her window every time also “magical”? Or that one actually landed in the waste paper basket? Or that the paper airplane with a kiss on it just happened to land right on top of the post office box that also just happened to be right outside the man’s office building? There was magic and coincidence all throughout. For me, that was part of the charm of the film. It was whimsical, and the magical elements gave me more hope for the couple.
Now that the Oscars have been given out, perhaps there is no question as to whether the magic works. For something not based in reality, it certainly resonated with a lot of people.
Which story do you find more fulfilling? Tell us in the comments.
Bio: Imahni Dawson is a student, writer, and musician, with a passion for helping others realize their own greatness. She loves to learn and create through music, prose, poetry, and art.
Ron Dawson says
I’ll be the first to comment. I actually disagree with you about 1000 Words not being novel. Technically, there’s nothing new under the sun. But I thought the charm of the film WAS in its novelty. How he discovers that the girl he likes is interested in him too. How he uses detective skills to figure out where she lives.
With that said, I like these films for different reasons. But personally, I give the edge to Paperman, only because of the use of comedy and the emotional pay-off at the end with the swell of music, etc. That’s a totally subjective viewpoint, and the “artiste” in me wants to give it to the small and simple 1000 Words. Both are excellent stories deserving of praise.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Perhaps novel is the wrong word. It was the ‘surprise’ of the magic in Paperman that I loved. It took me on a more involved emotional journey – from excitement to disappointment to suspense to satisfaction.
I did like the way the man in A Thousand Words found Nasim’s house. That was interesting and something I wouldn’t have thought of.
You are right – both are excellent in their own way.
Jamie Abbott says
Nice commentary. I remember seeing “Thousand Words”, I think on “Critics” with Philip Bloom and Steve Weiss, and I recall enjoying it very much. I will watch it again!
A couple if things: I was never arguing for NO magic in “Paperman”, but for magic that would keep within the parameters established by the first part of the story. I certainly agree there was something extraordinary happening there! (Also, let’s face it, it IS a movie, and an animated one at that. To think it mirrored reality would be quite a stretch!) I simply felt that the change of tone from the opening to the “living airplanes” was too overwhelming, and a more subtle magic would have served the story better.
On another note, I am not sure the Oscars should be considered a judgement on the quality of a film. I agree that “Paperman” was the correct choice this year out of the field of nominees, but does it hold up next to the best work from, say, Jan Svankmajer or other filmmakers whose work does not fall into the “feel good” category and who have never won an Oscar?
Finally, I would say to Imahni, do not sell yourself short! You do not have to be a filmmaker to be able to speak intelligently about a movie, and as a writer you should have somewhat of a command of structure. Also, I notice your last name is Dawson, so I assume you are a relation to Mr. Ron, and would likely have picked up something about what makes a good movie over the years!
Movies aren’t like math problems, where there is only one correct answer. As with any art, it is that subjective nature that draws us in and fascinates us and keeps us talking!
Ron Dawson says
Excellent reply Jamie. Especially your point about the Oscars. As well as Ms. Imahni not selling herself short. As she alluded, she almost didn’t write this article. I pretty much ordered her to as her boss. 🙂
Also, your surname observation was correct. 😉
Imahni Dawson says
I agree with your comment on the Oscar’s not being a determining factor of excellence. However, the fact that it was even nominated must mean something positive!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I shall do my best to remember that. I particularly love the statement, “Movies aren’t like math problems where there is only one correct answer.”
And you are right – as the daughter of a filmmaker, conversations about movies have been a regular part of my growing up.
Aviv Vana says
Imahni, I applaud your willingness to critique on this level even though you may not consider yourself a filmmaker. As a cinematographer I find myself hesitant to speak on script and story since it’s not my “thing.” I should learn from you here.
Ron, lovely family!