I was invited to be part of a press Zoom presentation featuring writer/director Madeline Sharafian for the Pixar SparkShorts film Burrow. The charming short will be released alongside Pixar’s feature film Soul on Disney+. Soul was originally to be in the theaters this year but both will debut on Christmas day exclusively on the streaming service. Sharafian wanted Burrow to be “a rich, concentrated little morsel – not too long – but with love in every shot, sort of life a slice of fruitcake…but if everyone loved fruitcake”.
Burrow is just over 6 minutes long, and Disney says about it: A young rabbit embarks on a journey to dig the burrow of her dreams, despite not having a clue what she’s doing. Rather than reveal to her neighbors her imperfections, she digs herself deeper and deeper into trouble. After hitting (bed)rock bottom, she learns there is no shame in asking for help.
Sharafian has been at Pixar since 2015, working on the films Coco and Onward. Her next project is Domee Shi’s just-announced movie called Turning Red. Sharafian started by discussing SparkShorts in general, which she called “Pixar’s indie branch – like a little mini studio within the studio itself”. SparkShorts get less resources and time than other shorts are given. “For one thing, we’re made in six months”. The shorts are made to strengthen talent at the studio and it was the first time Sharafian had directed something. But the filmmaker also added that she had gone to Cal Arts Character Animation program and did make three student films, where she grew to love creating shorts and learned how to make them quickly.
Sharafian is an absolute delight to listen to, she clearly loves her work and talking about it. Lindsey Collins, who was executive producer of the SparkShorts program threw out the idea to Sharafian about making a short. Sharafian took her up on that offer almost immediately, pitching Burrow the following week. “I saw that door of opportunity open a crack, and it was time to throw my whole body through. I couldn’t risk that closing”. The idea wasn’t a new one for Sharafian, she had it as a concept since at least 2014 and her childhood nickname was rabbit.
The filmmaker also was asked about that nickname. How did she get it? “I don’t know if you noticed, but I have very large teeth”, while laughing. “But when I was in kindergarten, I was jumping on the bed and I did fall. So don’t jump on the bed! I knocked my two front teeth…they were baby teeth…but I knocked my two front teeth up into my face (more laughter).” Her parents were concerned she might ruin her adult teeth (her dad still has the table with her teeth marks in it). And she said, “That same year my adult teeth started coming in, and they were, like…huge. And glorious”. And Sharafian has had the nickname every since, even wearing a bracelet that said “Rabbit” on the day of the presentation.
Sharafian really answered the one main question I had on her own during the presentation, talking about her influences. When I watched Burrow, I thought of Richard Scarry, Peter Rabbit, Frog and Toad Together, Berenstein Bears and other similar products of my childhood in the 1970s. She says of the 2-D short, that the “visual style is inspired by children’s books.” Sharafian said those include Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry.
“The power of asking for help” was a theme she was passionate about when she brought the two-page pitch to Collins. And at SparkShorts there are “barely any executive checks”. She continued, “the studio puts its trust in you and lets you make whatever you want”.
With Sharafian, the studio ended up with a talented filmmaker creating a lovely short that hearkens back to my own childhood.
Save some of your Christmas Day to enjoy Pixar’s SparkShort Burrow and feature film Soul.