From a Chinese poem that translates to “Flower in the mirror,” Jing Hua is a powerful short film from the Walt Disney Studios Short Circuit program. It has layers of complexity that lend well to repeat viewings and takes you on a journey that can only be described as an outburst of emotion. Inspired by events in Director Jerry Huynh’s life, this award-worthy film feels authentically Chinese and is representative of the wide diversity of talent within Disney’s legendary animation studio.

A Chinese woman is grieving at a grave, her emotions overflowing with nowhere to go but out. She begins performing martial arts in a dizzying outburst that is hypnotizing and heartbreaking. The world around her responds to her emotions with trees blooming and growing as she interacts with them. The poem of the same title is about something you can see but can’t touch, like a flower in a mirror.

The animation style is inspired by Chinese calligraphy and watercolor landscapes. One of the principles of calligraphy is that the brush doesn’t leave the paper and in a similar way, the main character in the short never stops moving. Line art also looks as though it were painted by a brush stroke, with edges fraying and thinning as would happen with a real brush on paper.

This animation style was briefly used in the introduction to Disney’s Mulan, where brush strokes begin to form the Great Wall of China. It’s such a short moment, with the film quickly transitioning to the traditional Disney style. It’s lovely to see it expanded in Jing Hua and updated with modern technology that can more accurately make the short feel like a real moving piece of art.

Jing Hua comes from Technical Director Jerry Huynh, who has leant his talents to Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet. While Jing Hua has a hand-made look, it’s also a technically complex animated project. His experience in this area surely lent itself well to directing such a complicated animated short.

If you’re looking for a piece of modern animation that you can use to convince a friend that animation is art, look no further than Jing Hua. It premieres on Disney+ on January 24th along with fourteen other films from artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios who have been given their first opportunity to direct.

I give Jing Hua 5 out of 5 Magnolia Liliflora Flowers

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