A meal can tell a story, but it’s not often we see an entire story told only through meals. That was director Patrick Osborne’s goal with “Feast,” the animated short film that will precede Disney’s “Big Hero 6″ in theaters this November. And there can be no doubt that he accomplished that goal.
Unfortunately while “Feast” may delight your palette at first, it refuses to sit well on further contemplation thanks to its reliance on tired stereotypes and tropes throughout.
Feast is the story of James, a man, and Kirby, a woman, told through the eyes of Winston, a food-obsessed dog (is there another kind?). As Winston goes from suspicious stray to man’s best friend, his meals become more elaborate, and his happiness increases in tandem. But when the steaks and pizza are replaced by sprigs of leafy garnish, Winston has to make a choice between his own happiness and the happiness of his master and friend.
From the concept art Osborne showed press at a recent Disney event to the finished product, “Feast” was made with a clear vision and executed with deftness and expertise. It conveys exactly what Osborne intended: a romance told through delicious-looking food, from the perspective of a lovable little rascal of a dog. It’s just unfortunate that this narrow lens couldn’t have been used to illuminate something more enlightening than another neanderthal man who can’t get off the couch—much less eat a balanced diet—without the eat-your-peas influence of a surrogate mother figure.
It’s all there in Disney’s official description for the film: “The story of one man’s love life is seen through the eyes of his best friend and dog, Winston, and revealed bite by bite through the meals they share.” But “Feast” is not “one man’s love life;” it’s every man’s love life, or so it would have you believe. The human characters—seen from the dog’s perspective—don’t even come into focus until most of the way through. Literally, their faces are either offscreen, blurry, or obscured until Winston begins to put their needs before his. Before then their disembodied feet could belong to anyone.
Nevertheless it’s a shame that “Feast” turns sour so quickly after viewing, because it sure goes down easy while you’re watching it. The film’s dual focal points—the mutt and the meals—come to life in a way that only Disney’s attention to detail can achieve. Osborne told us that he chose iconic foods like burgers and spaghetti-and-meatballs because their symbolism is immediate and undeniable. These foods are nourishing, apparently even to a dog. (Alternately the brussels sprouts and salads that invade Winston’s bowl once Kirby enters the picture are distant and cold, because ew, vegetables. Great message, right?)
I understand why “Feast” is the way it is. It’s not easy to convey complicated ideas in a bite-sized feature like this. Osborne chose purposefully to rely on instantly recognizable themes and archetypes, like the idea that a man won’t eat a salad unless a woman puts it in front of him, or the theory that it’s impossible for a person to be happy until he or she has married a member of the opposite sex and begun producing children.
But Winston moves in a way that makes you want to hug him, even when he’s begging for scraps. Dog owners know this feeling, and just as “Feast”‘s food makes your stomach rumble this little guy will make your heart swell. Similarly the animation itself is stunning, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. The focus on light and colors and the dust motes dancing through the air create a textured world that feels warm and welcoming, like a memory. It’s really beautiful. But endless quick cuts keep the film charging forward, and lines and edges turn jagged as they move, almost as if they’re unfinished, an effect that might have turned jarring if it wasn’t so deliberately applied.
Osborne served as animation supervisor on the Oscar-winning 2012 short “Paperman,” and the two films share many ingredients when it comes to structure and tone. With “Feast,” Disney is retreading and recycling, which is even more maddening when you consider that “Big Hero 6″ has an Asian-American protagonist and a cast of main characters comprised of college-age scientists who use their intelligence and education to turn themselves into super heroes. Pairing the two conveys “out with the old, in with the old,” which may well be intentional; “Feast” is a safe appetizer served before an adventurous entrée.
I have no doubt that “Feast” and “Big Hero 6″ will complement one another wonderfully, and it’s likely that most audiences—especially the target of families with kids—won’t have a single complaint after seeing the short film. And I really did love many things about it. But “Feast”‘s clichés, however effectively they’re conveyed, will ultimately fail to satisfy some viewers. Hopefully Disney can find a new recipe for its next double feature.
Mike Rougeau is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. His favorite ride at Disneyland is still Pirates of the Caribbean, in spite of the holograms. Find him on Twitter @RogueCheddar, but don’t expect him to express anything intelligent if he’s not being paid for it (unless it’s about Game of Thrones).