Short Review: Paperman (2012)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from


Jack Goldenberg – Finster

John Kahrs – George

Jeff Turley – Boss

Kari Wahlgren – Meg

Sources of Inspiration – Largely original!

Release Dates

November 2nd, 2012 in the USA (premiere and general release)

Run-time – 6 and a half minutes

Directors – John Kahrs

Composers – Christophe Beck

Accolades – 3 wins and 2 nominations, including an Oscar win

2012 in History

An Italian cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, sinks off the Italian coast and kills 32, just months before the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic‘s demise

Queen Elizabeth II of the UK celebrates her Diamond Jubilee after sixty years on the throne

Relations between the EU and Iran deteriorate; the EU places an embargo against Iran, who retaliate by cutting off oil exports to Britain and France Later in the year, Canada also cuts ties with Iran

Greece’s government debt crisis worsens, and the Eurozone provide a second bailout

In Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declares the latter region independent following the ousting of the nation’s president (they re-joined Mali the next year)

A North Korean satellite intended to observe the Earth explodes shortly after launching

The Tokyo Skytree opens to the public and is officially the tallest freestanding tower in the world

Eight years on from the first, the second transit of Venus occurs; there won’t be another for almost a century

Shenzhou 9 takes China’s first female astronaut into outer space to dock with the Tiangong 1 space station

The last known Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, dies in Galápagos National Park, thus rendering the subspecies extinct

American shooter James Holmes kills twelve people and injures nearly sixty others at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado

London becomes the first city to host the Olympics three times, and with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei sending female competitors for the first time, all eligible countries have now sent women to at least one Olympic Games

On July 31st, India suffers the worst blackout in history, leaving hundreds of millions without power

The Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover lands successfully on Mars

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner becomes the first person to break the sound barrier (without a vehicle) during a record-setting space dive over Roswell, New Mexico

Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense against the Palestinian-governed Gaza Strip, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari; after a week of violence in which more Palestinians and Israelis are killed, a ceasefire is declared by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Palestine is granted observer status by the UN General Assembly

Adam Lanza kills twenty-eight people in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; twenty victims are children under seven, while six others are adult staff members – the remaining two are himself and his own mother

Births of Princess Athena of Denmark and Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland

Happy new year everyone! With 2020 finally in our rear-view mirrors, I’d like to kick things off here on Feeling Animated with a new short review, something I haven’t done in well over a year now. As I’ve mentioned before, short reviews can be tricky to fit into my schedule when the film reviews are the priority, but after Your Name, I felt like the time was ripe to cover Paperman.

If you’re a Disney fan, then undoubtedly you know Paperman, the short which accompanied Wreck-It Ralph in theatres and delighted audiences with its fascinating new blend of old and new animation styles. Its director, John Kahrs, revealed in an Animation World Network interview that he first came up with the concept for the short way back in the nineties, during his time at Blue Sky. His daily commute took him through Grand Central Station, where he was inspired by “the random connections you sometimes make with people” on such excursions. This led to his idea of a character “who makes a connection with this girl on his long commute,” saying that the story “is really about what happens when he tries to get her back and make that connection again”.


Many years would pass before Kahrs would get the chance to pitch his “urban fairy tale”, however. Not until he showed it to Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, did he manage to arouse any interest in the project – and even then, it had to wait until after the completion of Tangled (2010), on which Kahrs was also employed as an animation supervisor. Luckily, Disney needed a shorter project to “fill the space between” Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph (what, they didn’t consider Winnie the Pooh enough?), so Paperman got the green light at last.

Upon its release, the short charmed everyone with its simple romance and stylish animation, with many fans of hand-drawn animation (like me) hoping it might lead to a full feature in the new computer-enhanced style down the line. While that has yet to happen, we can still enjoy the artistry of Paperman, which remains one of Disney’s strongest shorts in recent years – it’s among my all-time favourites and, after seeing it for yourself, perhaps it will become one of yours, too.

Characters and Vocal Performances

As with our last short, this one features a minimalistic cast befitting of a romance – the focus is on our two leads. The young protagonist, George, was named for and inspired by George Bailey from the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), with Kahrs saying that both characters experience “the full gamut of life, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. {George is} a real guy; he gets frustrated. He’s got dreams”.

George glum on the platform

We first meet George gloomily waiting for a train, with the setting vaguely defined as 1940s Manhattan; given the timelessness of romance, the focus is kept where it should be, on the personalities of the characters. The film seems to be reminding us with its vagueness that this could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Destino, too, explored the theme of love overcoming all barriers of time and space, as did Your Name, which also focused on ordinary people looking to get more out of life.

From what we see of him, George certainly seems to be in need of a little excitement. Trapped in a typically dull office job of some sort, we see that the apathy of adulthood has already begun to set in; he looks as if he’s only in his twenties, yet the very first shot of him on the train platform shows him to be glum and disinterested in the world around him – at least until he spots a pretty young woman dashing by in pursuit of a stray sheet of paper.

George laughing like a dork

As the two of them share a chuckle over their windswept paperwork, a spark of chemistry is awoken between them which seems to bring him back to life. George watches, almost dazed, as another train carries the intriguing young woman away, but she stays in his mind all the way to work. Then, just as he’s seating himself for another day of pen-pushing drudgery, fortune smiles on him – across the street, who should he spot in the next office block but the very same woman from the platform?

George preparing a paper plane

At this point, we learn what kind of guy George really is, because he doesn’t just let this opportunity pass him by. Instead, he decides to take a risk and, despite the increasing ire of his boss, uses the very paperwork that has been smothering him to try and catch the girl’s attention in the form of paper planes. These are what made the short so memorable; it’s such a simple, almost childlike way of achieving his goal, perhaps a throwback from the note-passing days of his youth, yet the sleek and aerodynamic planes George makes attest to his wasted potential in such an uncreative environment. Just like at the end of Your Name, George is motivated by love to “take the leap” and try to make contact with the object of his affections, but at first, it looks as though his feelings are doomed to go unrequited as plane after plane fails to reach its target.

George looking determined and defiant

Even when the final plane (made from the paper bearing the girl’s lipstick mark) is swept from his hands, George doesn’t lose hope. Upon seeing the girl exiting her building, a look of pure, defiant determination comes into his eyes and he rushes from the confines of his office to look for her, breaking free of the mundanity of his existence before it can wear him down like the older colleagues who surround him. Having the courage to prioritise one’s life and take chances is one of the short’s key messages, which is why George is finally rewarded for his efforts.

George looking grumpily at lipstick plane

The paper planes, which could be read as stand-ins for fate, destiny or any other such concept, are magically brought to life – perhaps by the power of love, who knows? – and physically push their creator towards the woman he’s seeking. (Admittedly, there are some who felt this resolution was a bit of a cop-out, but for my part, all I can say is that it wouldn’t be Disney without that little drop of magic). Against the odds, fate conspires to bring these two young lovers together and the short leaves us at the same point as Your Name did – with the possibility of a happy new relationship.

George is a classic Disney everyman, meant to impart some simple life lessons: Don’t waste life’s opportunities, always strive to make the most of your time and, most importantly, be open to love, wherever and whomever it might come from.

Meg giggling at George

In another similarity with Destino, Paperman keeps its characters deliberately anonymous to allow for maximum relatability. Neither George or his love interest speak, nor are they named in the film, but the credits tell us that they do indeed have names – and hers is Meg. (She’s not the first Disney Meg, either).

Meg at job interview

Now, it must be acknowledged that Meg doesn’t get as much focus as George since he is the main character, so we view her “through” George’s perspective and do not learn as much about her life… not that we learn a great deal about George’s, either. On the day he meets her, all we know is that she is caught up in the same rat race as he is, with her appointment at the building across from him possibly involving a job interview (another subtle reminder of just how young these two are). Much as I love this short, it would be remiss of me not to admit that there’s a hint of sexism to this idea that all a man needs to be content is a good woman – Meg isn’t given a great deal of depth, so it would have been nice to see her side of things explored just a little more.

Meg looking back at George

That said, there’s still enough to Meg that she is able to form a genuine connection with George in their brief encounter on the platform. She appears charmed by George’s goofy reaction to her paper troubles, sharing a similar sense of humour – and as her train departs, she casts a thoughtful look back at him, each expressing their mutual interest. Unlike George, however, she seems to put the encounter behind her for the rest of her day, going about her business peacefully and remaining totally oblivious of George’s futile attempts to catch her notice from across the way.

Meg noticing lipstick plane

Only later, after Meg has left the office and is perusing a flower stand downtown, does her curiosity get reignited by the paper plane which bears her lipstick mark. I love the incredulous look she has when it finds her, as if to say, “It can’t be…”, but she’s still young enough to believe in adventure and gamely gives chase, following the paper onto another train to see where it takes her. These final scenes are the most of her personality we get to see, as in contrast with the more pessimistic George who has to be forcefully propelled by an entire flock of paper planes, Meg is bright and curious enough to follow only one, implying a more daring nature on her part.

George and Meg reunited

Regardless of what gets them there, the point is that George and Meg do meet again at another station, but they’ll have to take it from there – the paper planes fall away, their magic spent, to be replaced by the real deal. Let’s hope things worked out for them; they certainly seem to have hit it off in the credits shot of them chatting in a café!

George's boss turning him around

While George and Meg are the short’s focus, there are a couple of other characters present to flesh out their world. These include George’s unnamed, sour-faced boss, who sternly (and forcefully) tries to keep the lad focused on his work, but he is unable to break George’s spirit the way he’s done with his other, more seasoned employees. He could be said to represent the trap of routine and predictability, which can be deadening if taken to extremes.

Finster pleased by plane

There’s also the large office worker from Meg’s building (presumably named “Finster”), who at one point becomes the unintended recipient of one of George’s paper planes. His momentary delight at believing himself to be the target of some admirer’s affections is played for laughs, but it also emphasises the ordinariness of our leads by reminding us that, yes, this man could just as easily have been in Meg’s place. Everyone wants to be loved – and there’s someone out there for everyone.

Boy on Paperman train

I also have to make mention of that little boy with the balloon on the train near the end, whose mother anxiously pulls him away from the crazy man covered in paper planes; it’s so funny and one of the most “New York” touches in the whole piece.


At a time when Disney were leaving hand-drawn animation behind, Paperman was a welcome project that offered a way to keep it alive, even if it hasn’t been utilised quite as much as some fans hoped. Supervised by Patrick Osborne, the piece blended the mediums of both traditional and computer animation using Meander, a “hybrid vector/raster-based drawing and animation system that gives artists an interactive way to craft the film,” according to Kahrs. He further stated, “We brought together as best we could the expressiveness of 2D drawing immersed with the stability and dimensionality of CG. It really goes back to working with Glen Keane on Tangled, watching him draw all over the images”. Tangled was known for trying to emulate the painterly style of hand-drawn classics at the time and remains one of Disney’s most beautiful CGI features to date, so it’s nice to hear that the team behind it were trying to keep its legacy alive even as the studio largely wrote the style off.

Paper planes dancing in the alley

The animation technique was called “final line advection”, and it allowed the artists a lot more control over the final product because it allowed everything to be handled by one department. Kahrs explained, “In Paperman, we didn’t have a cloth department and we didn’t have a hair department. Here, folds in the fabric, hair silhouettes and the like come from the committed design decision-making that comes with the 2D drawn process. Our animators can change things, actually erase away the CG underlayer if they want, and change the profile of the arm. And they can design all the fabric in that Milt Kahl kind of way, if they want to”.

The results are gorgeous, so fluid and clean, with Paperman having a much more distinctive look to it than most of the standard, plasticky CG features pumped out by the major studios in the last decade. The dance of the paper planes in the alleyway is one of my favourite bits of animation because it reminded me of the first segment in Fantasia 2000, not one of Disney’s most well-known properties. I’m still holding out hope that the technology may be fit for a full feature someday, as I hate to think the 2020s will be the first decade at Disney with no hand-drawn films at all. Who knows, perhaps the success of films from studios like Cartoon Saloon will make Disney rethink their policy on traditional animation.


Short films often have rather scanty plots as it is, but “meet cutes” like this are usually the simplest of all. Still, the story for Paperman made use of writers Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, in addition to Kahrs himself, who developed it in storyboards before penning the original draft. He admitted that the writing process was collaborative, involving constant input from a “peer group of directors” including John Lasseter, with the finished story bearing a resemblance to the 1867 short story The Flying Mail by Danish author Meïr Aron Goldschmidt (that one also involved two people being brought together by wind-blown papers).

Meg sees George at the station

Kahrs elaborated on his inspiration, saying, “Every morning on my way to work I would go through Grand Central Station… and sometimes you’d meet eye to eye with people, just strangers, like a pretty girl or something, and you’d think is there a connection? You feel that connection for a split second and wonder who that person was. That’s the core idea of it – what if two people were really perfect for each other, and they had that chance meeting? And what if they were separated – how would those two people get back together again? And how could a little bit of magic and fate intervene to bring them back together?”

It’s easy to see the sees of something like Your Name reflected in this idea (I bet Makoto Shinkai was partly inspired by this), but it also sounds like the premise of such classics as Brief Encounter (1945) and Casablanca (1942), at least in part. “Love at first sight” has been a stock romance trope since at least Ancient Greek times and, whether you believe in it or not, such fantasies still hold the power to capture anyone’s imagination when done skilfully. After all, who hasn’t dreamed of experiencing something like this one day?


Paperman scenery #1Paperman scenery #2Paperman scenery #3Paperman scenery #4

Led by Jeff Turley, the art team on Paperman made the unusual decision to create their short in black-and-white, presumably to evoke the aesthetic of the classic romances of Hollywood’s Golden Age which their story was emulating, and they did a fantastic job with it; the sharp contrasts in the lighting are reminiscent of film noir at times. However, it also symbolises George’s dull, colourless perspective on life, with the only colour in the piece being the bright red of Meg’s lipstick on the paper – a nod to the way she brightens things up for him. Given what a colourful company Disney usually is, this choice further distinguishes Paperman from its brethren, giving it an unmistakeable style of its own.

George looking at lipstick paperGeorge standing beside Meg on the platform

The character designs of the piece feel familiarly Disney, with critics comparing them in particular to One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). While apparently unintentional, the tall, skinny George bears a marked similarity to that film’s Roger, who coincidentally also enjoys a little “meet cute” with Anita. Kahrs explained that he always intended for the character to have a big nose, saying, “I thought it would be okay if he could have a big nose. It you put breaks in it, and so forth, give it structure. It can still be really fun and attractive”. Meg, meanwhile, has the same doe-eyed beauty as many of her princess predecessors, as she was designed by none other than Glen Keane in one of his final projects before leaving Disney. Kahrs noted that Meg and George were designed to complement one another, with their final forms in the film genuinely seeming to “fit” together.


For the music, Paperman marked an early Disney project for Christophe Beck, who would quickly cement a celebrated place for himself in the canon the following year with his work on Frozen. I’m guessing he was hired for Paperman following his work on Disney’s The Muppets the previous year, although he had also worked with them as far back as 2005 on something called Ice Princess (not to be confused with Disney’s other 2005 film about figure skating, Go Figure).

Beck’s score here is minimalistic, playfully sweet and brimming with hope, at its best in the final moments as George and Meg are brought back together. Actually, the music doesn’t even kick in until after George spots Meg from his window, with its absence up till then perhaps intended to further reflect the absence of feeling in George’s unfulfilling lifestyle that is also expressed in the cinematography. The score builds along with George’s interest in Meg and rises to an emotional swell at the film’s conclusion, which gets a good deal of the credit for making their reunion so moving.

Meg and George together at cafe

As for the voice-acting, while there are four actors listed, there’s really very little to talk about. Kari Wahlgren, the voice of Meg, was another Tangled veteran, although ironically her role in that ended up being similarly silent; she wouldn’t speak as Queen Arianna until Tangled Ever After, after which the role was taken over by Julie Bowen. Recording her part as Meg only took about half an hour. Cast thanks to her involvement in both Tangled and Bolt (2008), Wahlgren put it best in an interview with her school’s alumni association: “Since the film is mostly silent, they just wanted some ‘vocal ambiance’ that they could experiment with. We played with lots of different vocal reactions in the session: snorts, gasps, breaths… I think one chuckle made it into the final mix. I’m actually glad they kept it mostly silent – I think it makes the short even more powerful that way”. I have to agree, even if it doesn’t leave me with much to flesh out this section!

Final Verdict

After being released alongside the hit film Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman went on to earn a solid reputation for itself by winning the 2013 Annie Award for Best Animated Short, and then the Academy Award in the same category later that month. It’s easy to forget now that Disney/Pixar tend to dominate the animation awards at the Oscars, but at the time, it was Disney’s first animated short to win the award since 1970 (when 1969’s It’s Tough to Be a Bird got it), as well as their first animated film of any kind to get an Oscar since 1999’s Tarzan. There’s an amazing anecdote here that I have to include: Apparently, when the film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short, its producer, Kristina Reed, began launching paper planes adorned with lipstick marks off the balcony where she was seated. Security promptly escorted her from the theatre, but she was able to return ten minutes later after a short protest. I can’t stop laughing at this, she sounds like a riot!

Critics greatly enjoyed Paperman on the whole, with Jeff Shannon (writing for Roger Ebert) called it “brilliant from start to finish” and writing that the film proved “yet again that traditional 2D animation is every bit as expressive as computer-generated 3D” – yes, too right it is! Leonard Maltin also liked it, calling it an “amusing and ingenious love story” and “perfection itself”.

There was a small note of controversy regarding some alleged similarities between the story of Paperman and a 2008 short by Patrick Hughes called Signs, but Hughes himself dismissed any idea of plagiarism, saying, “There are similarities, but I really admire the short, I think it’s beautiful. Every piece of work I’ve ever done, I’ve had someone say the same things about me”. Good for him, being so gracious about the whole thing.

Surprisingly, the complete short was released on YouTube back in 2013, but unsurprisingly, it is now private. Luckily, it was also later released on Hulu and on the specialist TV channel ShortsTV, which is devoted to showing short films – and I would imagine it’s now on Disney+, although I still don’t have that. For old-fashioned physical media lovers like myself, it was included as a bonus feature on the Wreck-It Ralph DVD… or some of them, anyway. For some reason, my copy doesn’t have it, but I did find a bootleg version on YouTube and a better quality one on Dailymotion, so there are ways of viewing it if you can’t find a physical copy.

To summarise, I can only emphasise that this is one of my favourite animated shorts, with its simple premise and expressive cinematography speaking volumes about what the medium of animation can do in the best hands. Paperman forms a sort of “bridge” between one generation of Disney and the next, thanks to the involvement of such talents as Glen Keane and Christophe Beck, but also in its transition between old and new animation styles. Its story of romantic connection might not be anything new, but it’s told with such hope and warmth that you really can’t help falling in love with it, as it celebrates the little moments that make life great… moments that any one of us can experience, if we only have the courage to take a leap every now and then.

Thank you so much for joining me, and welcome to a fresh year here on Feeling Animated! There are lots of goodies to come as we continue with our anime season, starting with a First Thoughts review of Paprika (my first Satoshi Kon) and then two glorious Takahata works. From there, we’ll wrap up with Arrietty, explore two classic fusions of live-action and animation, and then move into the long-awaited Pixar season, which will occupy the rest of the year. I’ll be sprinkling in the usual book reviews here and there, too, along with the remaining films in the First Thoughts series. Hopefully, theatres will even reopen at some point so we can see Raya and Encanto, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, I’m in lockdown again, so if you are too, please take care, keep yourselves safe and staaay animated!


I consulted various web sources for this review:

By Source, Fair use,  – credit for poster – Wiki page – IMDB profile – a YouTube upload of the film (the quality is altered slightly to avoid copyright strikes, but it has the original soundtrack and it’s been there for over four years now, so hopefully it won’t be removed) – alternatively, this copy might work better depending on what region you’re in


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