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An Animation That Makes Us Believe in Love Again

Disney and John Kahrs' animated short Paperman won an Oscar. It also won us over.

I have very mixed feelings about love. I mean, I love it (ha,) obviously. I want love. I want to love and be loved. That's the point, isn't it? But I swing quite wildly between teams: love-as-a-social-construct vs. love-as-an-elemental-force.

Backing the first option is centuries of literature, music and culture telling us romantic love and its ensuing life journey (house, kids, participation in a gendered economy) is the best way to be fulfilled. The flip side of that is that we risk devaluing other arenas of fulfillment. Women especially seem to have been taught that love is everything, that not finding it puts us in a kind of twilight zone. Thinking about our attitudes to "bachelor" vs. "spinster" proves the point—maybe the idea of love is pushed too much, something I feel especially strongly—if I'm honest—after it's gone wrong.

Then again, on the other hand, maybe love is everything. Being in love is so nice. It feels so much more real than everything else, no matter how much science (social, biological, or otherwise) might be going on in the background. Paperman is 6 minutes and 33 seconds that perfectly sums up that sparky feeling that happens when you land on someone's wavelength.

Floppy-haired accountant George is standing on the subway platform. He is bored (maybe because he's an accountant?)  Suddenly the wind blows a sheet of paper onto Meg's face. Meg is a stranger, but not for long, because Disney. Her lipstick leaves a mark on the sheet, they meet eyes and laugh…and there-it-is-oh-my-goodness-love. And then she's gone, vanishing on a disappearing train. George goes forlornly to work (it really does look pretty boring.) He sees Meg in the building across the street—but can't work out how to catch her attention. He starts making paper planes, trying in vain to get them across the gap. Like, hundreds of them. But no dice. The lucky last plane—the one with Meg's lipstick mark—gets taken by the wind.

George sees her leave the building and runs after her, risking his job in the process. There's so much about this little film that isn't plausible. But it's set in the '40s, which I've decided is enough explanation for me. It also explains all the paper.

He finds the lipstick plane on the ground, and throws it away in frustration, but it flies off magically to find Meg (becuase Disney.) And meanwhile, the rest of the paper planes find George. The pair guided towards each other by a flock of paper planes—into two trains that finally deliver them to one another. Then they go for coffee, which is a comfortingly attainable ending after all the magical planes.

Paperman is a gorgeous fairytale. But it has just enough of that real hook, that lovely punch-in-the-guts feeling you get when you meet someone good, to make me grin at my desk and keep hoping that maybe love is that simple, that it is something to get excited about. It also gives me another reason to keep catching the subway.