By Chino Hernandez
For almost 100 years The Walt Disney Company has enchanted audiences with the magic of cinema. Whether it be the 1940 fever-dream that is Fantasia or re-imaginings of classic grim fairy tales, the studio has been an innovative force in animation and storytelling. In recent years, the company has continued to push the envelope, giving new voices a platform to tell their stories. Films like Moana (2016), Coco (2017), and Encanto (2021) were lauded for their beautiful portrayal of cultures often ignored on the silver screen. Just this year, the Toy Story spin-off with Lightyear. The film was Disney venture into controversial gender-related topics as it featured a same-sex kiss for this first time.
As Disney continues to push the boundaries, they released the short-film, Reflect, on their streaming service last September. The movie is part of the Short Circuit Series, a brilliant new platform that allows any Disney animator the opportunity to create and release their own experimental short films. Filipino audiences can now watch Reflect on Disney Plus, which launched in the Philippines on November 17.
Directed by Hillary Bradfield, Reflect tells the story of a plus-sized ballerina named Bianca, who struggles with her confidence and body image. In the film, she overcomes her doubts “by channeling her inner strength, grace and power.” Among online cinephiles on Twitter and Letterboxd, Reflect has garnered rave reviews as an inclusive and empowering piece of art.
Film critics from large publications, however, are notably mum. The lack of reception and reaction is unsurprising given the recent trend of ignoring direct-to-streaming films. Regardless, beautiful imagery and precision storytelling is undeniable. The same can be said of the relevant and moving message behind Bradfield’s work: Love Your Body No Matter Its Shape Or Size.
A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine in 2012 has found that Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is most prevalent in elite professional ballet dancers. “High standards of beauty, public body exposure, and repeated exposure to mirrors in the rehearsal rooms may contribute to the development of body image disorders,” writes Antonio Leonardo Nascimento, Juliano Victor Luna, and Leonardo F Fontenelle, in their findings. In Reflect, Bradfield tackles these issues through her plus-size heroine who goes from destesting her reflection to loving every inch of it. It is an important piece of art in a cinematic sub-genre that often sheds a bad light on ballet bodies.
Take for example, the psychological thriller Black Swan (2010) and dance cult film Center Stage (2000), which showcases ballerinas plagued by diseases such as anorexia and bulimia. While these films are masterful in their own right, Bradfield’s Reflect is a breath of fresh air. Instead of focusing on the negative, the filmmaker is asking her audience to overcome insecurities with self-love. While dancers in particular will fall in love with the movie’s message, it’s still very universal for anybody facing similar insecurities.
We take a bow, Bradfield. Your brilliance at conveying a very human story in an animated world shines through.
‘Reflect’ is now available to stream on Disney+