“Purl,” a new short film from Pixar’s SparkShorts program, is a bittersweet eight minutes about anyone who has ever felt different at work.
Upon introduction in the company elevator, Purl looks just like any other talking pink ball of yarn, chattering away to the tall man in a suit standing next to her. She’s a woman, probably, but she could also be queer, trans, a different race, or an older worker. She’s earnest, she’s eager to a fault, and she’s different. The viewer watches with dread as she walks into an all-male office – called B.R.O. Capital – swarming with guys in suits, making dirty jokes, talking about things she can’t relate to, making fun of her.
The plot develops as it has for so many others who aren’t a natural fit in the office: first Purl tries to joke around with the guys at B.R.O., but fails. Then, at the staff meeting, she literally can’t get a seat at the table, so she tries even harder. Masquerading as an aggro-bro brings her quick success, but goes against her sweet and goofy nature and eventually leaves her feeling empty. Purl’s trajectory of abandoning and taking on identities in order to be successful can be read as a history of anyone who is “other” navigating their way through the workplace.
Eventually, we see another new hire arrive: another ball of yarn. Now there are two of them. Over time, they pave the way for more fuzzy, misshapen balls of yarn out there, until the office is bouncing with as many colorful yarn-balls as it is men in suits. And no one thinks anything odd of it at all.
“[Purl is] based on my experience being in animation,” said writer and director Kristen Lester in a behind-the-scenes video clip. “My first job, I was, like, the only woman in the room. And so in order to do the thing that I loved, I sort of became one of the guys. And then I came to Pixar and I started to work on teams with women for the first time. And that actually made me realize how much of the female aspect of myself I had sort of buried and left behind.”