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Paperman: An Appreciation

Some animated features stay animated in your memory, long after their theatrical release.

Paperman floats lovingly on and on. 

It won an Oscar for best animated short way back in 2012, and with every Oscar season it circles around lovingly in our memory. Taking a closer look only heightens its appreciation.

Plot Review

He’s a young man who by chance meets a young woman on an elevated subway platform on the way into the big, grey city. The wind blows a paper against her lipsticked lips, leaving a kiss on paper that he holds on to. Before he know it, she’s gone on the train while they trade a “what if” glance.

He’s a paper pusher at an accounting firm on the umpteenth floor of a big city building. He sees her in the opposite building having a job interview and tries desperately to get her attention. He takes his stack of accounting forms, and keeps trying to throw paper airplanes her way, but alas, keeps missing the open window across the windy alley.

He’s down to his last paper – the one with her kiss. As he winds up to throw it, it blows out of his hands. She leaves the building. Despite his menacing boss, he runs after her. He can’t find her, and only finds the paper with a kiss. Disgustedly he tosses it, whereupon it joins its tossed airplane brothers and takes on life – animation in its purest form. A marching army of paper airplanes guides the boy back on the train to the station. Meanwhile the kissed paper leads the girl to the very same station where they finally meet – boy meets girl, and they laugh and fall in love. 

Happy ending, lovely (yeah, Disney, but still, quite lovely), beautiful all the way.

So Much to Appreciate

First: Watch it again.  

Then consider some of the considerable pleasures of the film.

Glorious Black and White - and Lipstick Red

The film has a lovely black and white feel to it, a kind of rich noir, or maybe just the nostalgic feel of an old black and white TV set. It’s set in the 1950s black and white TV days, with gray city street scenes you might expect from an old film on late night TV.

It captures shadows and beams of light in skilled and nuanced animation.

But it is kissed by one color.

Lipstick red.

The young lady’s lips are invitingly red. Her kiss mark on the form starts the whole adventure. And the young man clings to that kissed paper until it leads him and her to true love’s red red kiss.

A Grey Grey Job in a Grey Grey City

And oh, what grey…

The grey shadow of a grey grey boss in a room full of quiet, balding, grumpy accountants, lined up desk after desk in a grey purgatory of a world high up in a grey skyscraper, facing an every growing grey pile of accounting forms.

The young man stares longingly at the bit of color of the young girls’ lips on the accounting form that she had inadvertently kissed that morning.

He chases those lips across the alleyway, escapes away from that gloomy grey office, carried by the wind and those paper airplane messengers, until they are finally together and those red lips are smiling.

Airplane Frustration - Seriously?!

In a paper airplane slapstick, our young hero desperately seeks to gain the attention of the object of his infatuation, achingly out of reach in an skysparper office window across the alleyway.

Accounting form after accounting form is folded into a neat paper airplane and launched from open window to open window, but just keeps on missing its target. FRUSTRATION! It bumps against the concrete of the building inches from the open window. It lands on the desk of a fat schlub one floor beneath the svelte young lass. It glides helplessly behind her, unnoticed, into the trash bin behind her. It is this close, but suddenly knocked off course by a passing flock of birds.

Our young hero bangs his head against the wall. He spreads his arms in silent wail. SERIOUSLY?! he says, echoing our amazed empathy.


Wordless But Saying So Much

Not a word was spoken. The churchbells all were broken.

Paperman is air and wind and fluttering paper, but not a single word is uttered.

Rather the atmosphere is thick with whooshing air and ominous bossly “ahems.”

Sorcerer's Apprentice Airplanes

Doesn’t the animation of the paper airlines call to mind Mickey’s sorcerer apprentice broomsticks (only much less malevolent).

The animated airplanes remain true to classic Disney animation. 

The Final Loving Laugh

Yes! Our hero and heroine are finally together! 

Fade to black. Awww. Encore! Encore!

Yes again. We have an postcard encore in the luncheonette where our couple share a lovely, gentle laugh.

One More Paper Airplane

…and a final magical paper airplane whooshes goodbye and wishes us well. 

Take a Bow

Hey all those who worked on this – you deserve the Oscar. Take a bow.

In the meantime, we will watch Paperman again and appreciate your work.