Grief and Innocence in Netflix's Canvas
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Netflix’s 9-minute animated film “Canvas” tells the story of a grieving grandfather and his struggle to paint again after suffering a significant loss. The story throws the viewer into a tale of imagination, longing, and renewal. The protagonists of this story, the grandfather and granddaughter, tell a story through contrasts: an elderly man and his child granddaughter, wisdom with childhood curiosity, and happiness and sorrow. The film dives the viewer into dreams and imaginative visions that deepen our understanding with our elderly protagonist.
The story features the grandfather, his daughter, and his granddaughter. His granddaughter is full of childhood innocence and curiosity. The grandfather shares a connection to art with his granddaughter- he is a painter while the granddaughter channels her active imagination in crayon art. The grandfather is often seen sitting at his easel, unable to bring himself to paint. The granddaughter falls asleep at the table in front of her drawings. The granddaughter is kind and carefree, following her childhood curiosity. The story follows her curiosity as she finds the grandfather’s painting- he is at first angry when he finds her, then he is understanding. This is a pivotal moment in the story, which ultimately inspires him to paint again.
The story draws similarities to Pixar’s “Up”- the hero is an elderly man who is struggling with loss and finds difficulty moving forward in his life. Also similar to “Up”, the film channels imaginative fantasy elements. While “Canvas” has no flying balloon houses, it is a film that draws these universal themes of loss, love, and renewal.
This story is depicted in a whimsical animation style which is similar to an oil painting. The film features no dialogue, only a soundtrack, and various background sounds. Dreams and imagination- through art, dreams, and imagination- are central to understanding the characters. The granddaughter drew a picture of her family in the sky, showing her compassion for her family. The grandfather dreams about his lost love who has since passed.
Director Frank E. Abney said that the inspiration for this story emerged six years ago when he experienced a rough patch creatively. Abney was the executive producer of the Oscar-winning short “Hair Love”, directed by Matthew Cherry. He also worked on the Pixar animated film “Soul”, which will be released on Christmas Day on Disney+.
Abney’s mission as a filmmaker to create stories with black representation and complex black characters. He stated in the Variety story, “As a Black animator, a Black Director, I feel that that’s part of my responsibility to get that representation out there. And then to have a studio like Netflix respond to that, just one of the characters alone, it was really refreshing and inspiring as well.”
In a story in Variety by Terry Flores titled “Inside Animator Frank E. Abney III’s Netflix short ‘Canvas’ a personal portrait of Loss, Love, and Life”, Abney said that he was inspired by the loss of his father. He stated in the piece that he lost his father at the age of 5, and he watched his mother navigate life as a single mom. He wondered if something had been left behind. His other inspirations for the characters in this story are his grandfather and his niece. He modeled the personality of the grandfather in “Canvas” after his own grandfather, who he described as quiet and withdrawn, which became the early inspiration for the film. Abney’s niece was an inspiration for the film as well. In the Atlanta Black Star story “Black Filmmaker Shares Journey as His Animated Short ‘Canvas’ Debuts on Netflix” by Matt Bruce, he stated “I was watching my niece,” he said. “And kids are so carefree. They navigate the world without having the burden of things we have on our shoulders as adults. Seeing that and just thinking about how kids have that free spirit that they run around with, that was really inspiring for me. It kind of helped me not focus on all the extra stuff. Melt away a lot of those things I was worried about - my place in the industry, making the right choices, all that kind of stuff- and just focus on creating.”