When Disney Pixar release a new short animated film, it’s usually something to get excited about. When it is written, directed and produced by a parent of an Autistic child, and he uses the film to give us a glimpse into his and his son’s story, then it’s going to be ground-breaking. ‘Float’, a seven-minute animated short, has been created by Pixar animator Bobby Rubio, who has worked on features including ‘Toy Story’, ‘Incredibles 2’ and ‘Inside Out’. Bobby is father to Alex, a young Autistic boy, and ‘Float’ is his way of sharing their story.
The film doesn’t specifically reference Autism, and indeed could be used as a metaphor for any parent-child relationship where the child is different or diverse, but Bobby and Alex’s story is clear to see in the relationship between the father and boy in ‘Float’.
In the film, the father is playing in the garden with his son; they blow some dandelion seeds which rise up into the air and then suddenly, much to the shock of the father, the boy is floating with them too! His son can float! It’s not dangerous, it’s not hurting anyone, but it’s different and gets noticed, meaning that the boy gets treated differently. Other parents look at him as if he’s weird, or that there is something ‘wrong’ with him.
The father’s response is to hide his son away, keeping him inside and out of view. When they do eventually go out the father keeps his son on a leash and puts rocks in his backpack to stop him from floating away. This works for a while, but then they are in the playground and the boy gets away from his restraints and happily floats around the playground, blissfully unaware of the reaction to him.
The other parents are afraid and the boy’s father, not understanding his son, grabs him and drags him away screaming. Then comes the one line of narrative in the film, words that stop every parent of a disabled, diverse or different child in our tracks, because we’ve all at some point in our darkest moments said it, thought it, or prayed it… “Why can’t you just be normal?!”
It’s a defining moment for the father too… he deeply regrets what he has said and is ashamed, realising too late the hurt and harm that his words have caused. He decides that he, the father, is the one that needs to change; he needs to embrace, accept and understand his sons’ difference. He stops trying to prevent his son from floating, stops worrying about the response of other people, and lets his son float freely. The father has learned a very important lesson, one that is important for us all to learn, that we should not try to change or hold back our different or diverse children, but to let them be who they are, and to celebrate that with them.
The film ends with a dedication from Bobby Rubio to his son which says; “For Alex. Thank you for making me a better dad. Dedicated with love and understanding to all families with children deemed different.”Words that should resonate with us all.
In the ‘making of’ video for ‘Float’, Bobby Rubio comments that; “When my son was first diagnosed, I didn’t handle it well,” “My wife said, you’re a storyteller, maybe you should tell a story through a comic.” We’re all glad that he did, and that this comic became another great addition to the Disney Pixar lexicon.
You can currently watch ‘Float’ on the Disney+ streaming service, although it should be available in other ways in due course. There are clips from the film, along with interviews with Bobby Rubio, in the links below (some of them you’ll need to skip past the introduction or adverts first!)
Clip from ‘Float’ and interview with Bobby Rubio on KTVU ‘New This Morning’ (from 30 seconds in):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9_qGJD-71g
Interview with Bobby Rubio on ‘The Geeky Show’ (from 17 seconds in): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wZLoLfQhjI
An intro to Pixar ‘Sparkshorts’ showing how Bobby Rubio got the opportunity to make ‘Float’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f3W5Ww3GPs
Intro to the six ‘Sparkshorts’ Pixar have released this year, including ‘Float’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7RBc63owY0