Out of the five nominees in the Best Animated Short Film category for this year’s Academy Awards, Pearl is by far the one I was most excited to see. The short film, directed by Academy Award-winner Patrick Osborne, shows the evolving relationship between a father and daughter through a series of scenes that take place in their family car. Patrick Osborne previously directed the Academy Award-winning Walt Disney Animation Studios short film Feast, a heartwarming short about the relationship between a man and his dog. While Pearl at times feels similar to Feast, particularly in regards to its storytelling format, the short diverges from Feast thematically and delves into slightly more serious subject matter.
Pearl is a 360 Google Spotlight Story – essentially ‘VR’ storytelling – which means the viewer can manually change his or her viewing angle at any time while watching the short. This 360 degree technique has been used for other Google Spotlight Stories, perhaps most notably in 2014’s Duet directed by Disney Legend Glen Keane. Google Spotlight Stories have definitely pushed the limit of animated storytelling, and Pearl is no exception.
The thing that strikes me more than anything about Pearl is how real the story feels. Immediately, I connected with the story and the characters. Osborne is able to find universally relatable moments that most, if not all, parents and children experience and integrate them expertly into his story. Nothing in this short feels forced. Instead, the story easily flows from one scene to the next.