Disney+ has a collection of shorts made by Pixar called Sparkshorts. Two of the shorts, “Float” and “Loop” are inspired by autism. I decided to watch them and compare or contrast them to see which one is better.
In “Float”, we meet a father whose son is able to float, which is used by the short’s writer and director Bobby Rubio as a metaphor not just for autism, but any disability. I liked the idea of floating, the sparse dialog, and the animation. But I didn’t like the ending at all. At the end, the father is upset because of all the people giving him strange looks because of his child. He shakes the poor boy and shouts “Why can’t you just be normal?” That right there I didn’t like. Couldn’t Alex just accept his child? So what if he floats? I thought it was neat.
And now, let’s talk about “Loop”. Loop is about a non-verbal autistic girl named Renée, voiced by an autistic girl named Madison Bandy (who is herself mostly non-verbal). She is at summer camp and is participating in canoeing with a boy named Marcus (voiced by Christiano Delgado). Along the way, Renée stims by using an app on her phone. The app makes a pleasant tone and says “woof, woof, woof” every time she taps it, which keeps her calm. There are two things I liked best about this scene. One is that we see Renée can still communicate despite being non-verbal. She can text messages to Marcus, and sends him a poop emoji to let him know she needs to use the outhouse on the lake. The second thing I like is sometimes we are shown Renée’s point of view to show that she can’t make eye contact.
As Marcus rows them to the outhouse, Renée touches the reeds and is soothed by how gentle they feel in her hands. Marcus tries it out, and that makes her happy. Then he takes her to a tunnel so she can hear her app echo inside. This excites her, and Marcus realizes that Renée has her own unique way about things.
Suddenly, a motorboat passes by the tunnel, and the motor’s noise upsets Renée. Marcus pulls out, and Renée has a meltdown. They crash on the bank, and Renée drops her phone. Marcus does not know what to do. He’s mad at her, but he knows she’s not at fault. Not sure what to do, he sits for a few minutes, trying to think of a way to calm her down while she hides under the canoe. He sees her stimming just like she did with her phone. He gives her a reed, which she taps while she imitates the app’s ringtone. Marcus sees that she’s calmed down, so he offers to take her back on the lake. She even helps push. After the credits, we see an epilog. Her mother has placed the phone in rice to fix it, and it rings. There’s a text from Marcus that reads “Hey let’s go canoeing again!” ( he even uses a canoe emoji).
I like “Loop” better because it’s a nicer story. Marcus is never annoyed by Renée, not even at having to hear her app’s ringtone over and over. What I saw was more like he didn’t understand her, so he didn’t know how to communicate with her. He had to find ways that she could communicate without her voice.
The best part is that they actually met with ASAN (the Autism Self-Advocacy Network), an organization ran by and for autistic people! They didn’t talk to Autism $peaks! They found Madison through a program called Creative Growth. When they found that she didn’t feel comfortable in the studio, they recorded in her home instead.
THIS is how you represent autism. You involve an autistic person, and have her voice the autistic character! You involve a charity that is run by autistic people, who help you represent Madison by letting her show how she can communicate without words. You don’t present the autism as something she has to overcome. You show it so the viewer sees how unique she is and that she is still capable without being able to talk! You don’t talk to evil companies like Autism $peaks. Why has no one else taken the time to actually research organizations to see which ones will actually help you?
If you haven’t seen “Loop” , I recommend it. I hope that this project will inspire others to actually involve autistic people. This is what we mean by “nothing about us without us. ” If you wish to help us, involve us!