Disney’s incredible new Launchpad program has given six filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds the tools and opportunity to work with some of the best in the business. These filmmakers used their unique perspectives to create Season 1 of Launchpad on Disney+. A few of the directors have shared the inspirations behind their films.
Growing Fangs, written and directed by Ann Marie Pace, tells the story of a girl who’s having trouble fitting in. I spoke with Pace for an interview with CinemaBlend, and she mentioned drawing from personal experience to create this short film. In her own words:
The story is about a girl who is half-human and half-vampire and struggling to fit into either world. That came from personal experience of when I grew up. I'm Mexican American and bisexual. I grew up struggling, feeling that I was in between these worlds, not sure where I belonged, and had to learn through life that being a part of multiple identities doesn't mean you're a fraction of [one] identity. It all compounds and makes you fully who you are. That's kind of what I wanted to explore with Val, but in a way where I could still celebrate the fact that she's Mexican and queer and instead the conflict is this monster element, and the monster story in general has always felt like an outsider story of feeling misunderstood or feared. So it felt like the perfect vehicle to tell this story and still celebrate the beautiful things of Val.
Ann Marie Pace absolutely accomplishes telling the story of a misunderstood outsider while celebrating everything that is beautiful and unique about this character. The monster element brings a great deal of fun, with the main character Val attending a school for monsters and magically gifted but having a human best friend who has no idea these monsters exist.
Stefanie Abel Horowitz wrote and directed Let’s Be Tigers, which follows Avalon during a night of babysitting. Here is what Horowitz shared with me about the inspiration behind her film:
When I started writing it, my Zaide, which is my grandfather, was about to turn 100, my parents were about to turn 70, and my nephew was about to turn four. And so I was really engaged in this idea of life moving on and people passing. I was a babysitter in my early twenties and I babysat this really great four-year-old who at some point tried to shoot me dead with his little finger gun. I said, ‘Do you know what that means?’ And he said, ‘no.’ And I said, ‘If I was dead, I wouldn't be able to be here anymore. I wouldn't see you anymore. We wouldn't get to spend time together.’ And of course he was sad. It was sad. It was a sad thing to talk about.
That made me think about the big tragedy of all of our lives is that we're all going to die and everybody we know is going to die. And in that we're all gonna go through loss and sadness and grief over and over and over again. So how do we process that? How do we share it with the people we love? How do we talk to children about it in an honest way? And I think for myself in a really personal way, I'm not that good at sharing. I'm the daughter of a therapist, and I'm very good at listening, but I'm scared. I think it's scary to be vulnerable. So I think the film is really about, can we make that brave act, and in doing so, be reminded that we're not alone in sad and difficult things?
While Let’s Be Tigers may be the heaviest subject matter of the Launchpad shorts, it’s presented in a brilliant way that is suitable for families and young children to view and understand. We see a young adult who is not quite ready to grieve the loss of her mother and a young boy who just wants to play but quickly picks up on his babysitter’s emotions. The result is powerful.
Season 1 Launchpad short titled The Little Prince(ss) follows 7-year-old Gabriel who loves ballet. Gabriel's friend Rob’s father becomes suspicious of Gabriel’s feminine behavior and decides to intervene. Writer/director Moxie Peng also drew from personal experience for their film, and here’s what they told CinemaBlend:
Growing up, I was always a little bit more feminine than the other kids. I had a best friend, who was my neighbor, and one day his dad came to our house for dinner and he started to tell my dad that I was not normal, that I need to be fixed. I started to cry because I felt like I let my parents down. Then my dad got really angry and he stood up for me and he said that he loved me for who I was, and if I like books and princess it's okay, and he doesn't like [the other father’s] kid anyways, cause he's running around like crazy. [laughs] I didn't keep the last part, but I think the message was very clear. My dad stood out for me and really showed me that it's okay for me to have the freedom to explore things and not have to fit in one box.
Peng’s film The Little Prince(ss) is perfectly summed up in their words above. The message of being yourself and not allowing others to force you into what they think you should be rings loud and clear.