The makers of the four-minute film, with 12m views in under a week, discuss the shock of their success and the importance of depicting same-sex romance
Its not every day that a wordless, four-minute animated short about two young boys falling in love goes viral. But on Monday, when recent college graduates Esteban Bravo and Beth David posted their senior thesis film on YouTube, thats exactly what happened.
The short, called In a Heartbeat, is a simple yet enduring story, a heartwarming fable of young love and all the irrepressible butterflies that come with it. It also just happens to be about two boys, which despite the ascent of LGBT characters in film and television is still rarefied in animated or childrens cinema.
Although Pixar hasnt yet shown a gay character in a feature film, theres evidence of progress albeit very slow progress in this years Beauty and the Beast reboot. The film has what director Bill Condon hyped up as a nice, exclusively gay moment: Josh Gads character, LeFou, shares a few-second dance with another man which, for the optimist anticipating great strides from Disney, was a pretty insufficient form of progress. In a Heartbeat, though, unmoored from the prudence of Hollywood studios, is far more explicit.
In just about as long as it takes to microwave a cup of ramen noodles, Bravo and Davids film tells the sweet, intimate story of a boy named Sherwin, who has a crush on his classmate, Jonathan. His heart is, literally, jumping out of his chest when the object of his affection walks by, spinning an apple on his fingertips like a basketball, so Sherwin dashes behind a tree to try to contain it. Of course, Sherwins reluctance is about so much more than being nervous to profess young love; hes also, as the films description says it, at risk of being outed by his own heart.
When Bravo and David, both computer animation majors at Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida, started work on the film in January 2016, it wasnt a gay romance. A friend of ours was pitching ideas to us for potential projects, David, 21, told me over the phone. It was her idea to show a person with their heart popping out of their chest, chasing down a crush. But initially it was about a boy and a girl. It wasnt until Esteban and I decided to switch it to a same-sex crush that the film started to feel like a personal story that we were invested in. It was the kind of story we wish we had seen as kids.
Bravo, whos 24 and now an animation intern at Blue Sky Studios (the company behind the Ice Age franchise), added: It still makes sense when its a boy and a girl because that doesnt mean someone wouldnt be afraid to disclose their feelings. But when its put in the context of LGBT characters, there were so many more layers to explore, and we could infuse the story with our own backgrounds.
The two announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project last November, more than quadrupling their initial goal of $3,000 by raising over $14,000.
Now, just 72 hours after In a Heartbeat was released, its already amassed over 12m views on YouTube. The two young film-makers, who grew up on the animated movies of Brad Bird, along with other turn-of-the-century classics like Finding Nemo, A Bugs Life and Cats Dont Dance, have been overwhelmed by the rapturous reception.
Its been insane! Bravo said. For two people making our first film, Beth and I are really excited that people have so deeply responded to it emotionally. The pair have been equally taken aback by the messages, both curious and congratulatory, theyve had to field.