In recent years, Netflix has established itself as a premiere platform for animated content—be they short-form programs or feature-length productions. The latest in this ever-growing library is a short film by director Frank E. Abney III, Canvas. It tells the tale of a grandfather who, after the passing of his wife, loses his passion to paint. Throughout its 9 minute runtime, the grandfather finds himself in a constant struggle between a desire to reinvigorate his passion, and the painful memories that such passion evokes. All of which are further provoked by his visiting art-loving granddaughter.
The beauty and brilliance of Canvas comes from its plot. It’s simple, contained, and universal. Loss is one of life’s inevitabilities. We all experience it at some point or another, and its impact on our psyche cannot be overstated. Upon losing someone special, the memories we’ve shared can do more to elicit heartbreak, than fondness. Rather than being grateful for the moments we’ve experienced together, we may feel burdened by the inability to make more memories. This is a natural response, and one on which the narrative of Canvas is built upon. But there’s more to loss than grief. How do we find the strength to move forward? If we lose our passions to heartache, is it possible to regain them? Abney III dives into those questions here, and while the outcome is exactly what you’d expect, it nevertheless ties effectively into Canvas’s themes.
There’s another layer to the importance of this short. Released as part of Netflix’s Representation Matters Collection, Canvas is the latest addition to the steadily increasing library of ethically-diverse content in animation—a practice that is thoroughly appreciated with each new entry. Each of Canvas’s central characters are black, and are designed in such a way that avoid harmful stereotypes that have plagued the medium in the past. What makes this particular aspect of Canvas even more special is that its story can resonate with anyone and everyone, whether they are black or not. The relevancy of its subject matter spans every group, and further cements the notion that black-led films don’t have to be beholden to themes of racism and prejudice.
You can’t talk about Canvas without mentioning its visuals. Theres a pleasant softness to the character designs and animation that feels reminiscent to Pixar’s recent outings. This comes as no surprise, as Frank E. Abney III has previously lent his talents to recent hits from Pixar, DreamWorks, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. It’s a frankly basic look that’s enriched by such details as the liver spots on the grandfather’s head, and hair textures. Even more remarkable are brief sequences that utilize a painterly, hand-drawn style.
Canvas is available to stream now on Netflix!