The thing that first struck me about Piper, a six minute animated short film, is how realistic it looks. It opens with a large number of birds along a seashore, and it would be easy to mistake it for a live action shot if you’re not looking closely; that’s how meticulously accurate the animation is.

That’s less the case as the film develops, once it focuses on individual birds, mostly a baby piper (as I discovered in reading about the film, more specifically the birds are a species of sandpiper called sanderlings), as then it fudges in the direction of anthropomorphizing the birds as far as their facial expressions and such. It’s Disney/Pixar, after all. I mean, they still look a lot more like real birds than, say, Mickey Mouse looks like a mouse, or Goofy looks like a dog, but they’re clearly cartoon characters.

There’s no dialogue in the film. The birds aren’t anthropomorphized to the extreme of being able to talk.

The gist of it is that the young piper must learn to stop relying on its mother for food and otherwise, and make its own way in the world. This means learning to fly, learning to not be scared of the water, learning to find food, etc.

It’s a cute, fun film. The audience in the theater where I saw it laughed out loud at multiple scenes.

I enjoyed it, and certainly give it a thumbs up. I do want to say, though, that having now seen all five of the 2016 animated shorts nominated for an Academy Award, frankly I would rank this fifth, and yet it won.

Again, I liked Piper. So when I say it was probably the fifth best of the five nominees, that’s not meant as an unfavorable assessment of Piper, but is instead an indication of how pleasantly surprised I was by the quality of the other four.

The main difference is that Piper is very light fare. It’s good, maybe excellent, for what it is, but the other four animated shorts all hit me on a deeper level emotionally, plus made me think more. But if you’re not looking for something meatier, and you just want a feel-good six minutes that’ll make you smile, Piper fits the bill.

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