On December 11, 2020, short film ‘Canvas’ hit Streaming service Netflix.

‘Canvas’, a product of filmmakers Paige Johnstone (Producer) and Frank E. Abney III (Director), a veteran of Pixar’s animation department whose credits include Incredibles 2, Coco and the upcoming ‘Soul’ is a simple, but deeply moving story, entirely in pantomime, about a grieving grandfather and the granddaughter who helps him heal.

In nine (9) brief minutes and without a single spoken word (zero dialogue whatsoever) — the film relies purely on your visual senses to feel the moment. A lot of assumptions can be made, especially when his family visits him; there’s a sadness that is implied with a fleeting hug or the grimace of a face.

Canvas covers the spectrum of emotions in the grieving process. It follows a grandfather who suffers a devastating loss, is sent into a downward spiral and loses his inspiration to create hence struggling to reclaim his passion for painting. Years later, he decides to revisit the easel and pick up the paintbrush… but he can’t do it alone.”

The mood of the short film is lighter, but what’s painful is that underlying sadness — that kind of sadness as we see the older man quietly navigate life.

The grandfather feels frustrated by his creative block. His wife is gone. He knocks over the easel. His granddaughter arrives with a smile (and in a car with a license plate reading CHNWHLP — translated to “children will help”). His wife is still gone, but now he’s not alone.

Scene from the Netflix Animated Short 'Canvas'
Scene from the Netflix Animated Short ‘Canvas’ (Picture: Variety)

But the beauty of Canvas is the grandfather’s reasons for reclaiming his passion. There’s an emotional angle that breathes life back into his hobby and gives a needed perspective to the film. The message that is relayed is that regardless of what life throws at you — from tragedies to setbacks — your passion can never be buried. Something can always bring you back to what you love doing, to bring you purpose and joy, and age is only a factor. There’s a sense of assumed nostalgia that runs through the grandfather’s demeanor that translates well to the audience.

Netflix’s Canvas brings a lighter perspective to tragedy in a touching, emotional short.

Netflix's Canvas
Netflix’s Canvas (Picture: Courtesy)

Abney’s work here is evocative, simple, true. He depicts the mind’s eye of the grandfather as oil paint on canvas, and transitions to harsher, crisper, less forgiving lines for scenes in reality. The images in Canvas tell a story of transition; sometimes, when we’re in the throes of grief, we don’t realize that suppressing joyful memories is often more painful than confronting them. It takes the child’s innocence for him to realize that.

Abney uses the short-film medium to strip away the conventions of filmmaking — dialogue, contrived plot — and emphasize the raw emotion the characters are experiencing. The grandfather feels a deep ache, and we feel it too. But soon enough, hope runs just as deep.

Last week the streaming service released ‘If Anything Happens I Love You which dealt with loss, and that painful emotional void. Canvas however is much lighter on the subject but still deals with loss.

This is part of Netflix’s animated short films that have been posting to the streamer and will continue to do so. A good chunk of these shorts will be from diverse voices, and if they are the same quality that Canvas seems to achieve, we are all in for quite the treat. This is for sure a bid to try and snag more Oscars, but at least this means we get to actually see some of these shorts for once.

Watch the Trailer of ‘Canvas’, and catch the full film on Netflix.