Autism in Media: Pixar’s Loop
Pixar’s short film Loop has recently dropped on Disney Plus. It’s a 9-minute story about two teenagers – one non-verbal autistic, one neurotypical – having to learn to communicate with one another.
That’s the dry, plain description. Now for my actual reaction.
Omg, y’all! I was completely in tears! I’m not non-verbal, but I felt so understood – so seen.
You may have already heard that Loop was created with the help of ASAN in creating the autistic character, Renee, and that they cast a semi-verbal autistic girl for the role. I highly recommend you take about 4 minutes and watch the “Making Of” video just because it’s really encouraging to see neurotypical people taking autistic people seriously and being respectful of our lives.
Now, On To the Short Itself!
First, let me point out that the autistic character is a girl – yay for female autistic representation! – and both characters, Renee and Marcus, are people of color – about time.
The film encapsulates a lot of the autistic experience, from NTs not knowing what to do with us and trying to keep any interactions with us as short as possible to our need for stimming and how quickly our sensory seeking can turn into sensory overload.
When showing things from Renee’s point of view, they did what Rain Man tried to do with amplifying lights and sounds, but even more effectively. In animation, they could use super bright, almost washed out lighting around the edges of the frame and show how Renee works to keep her eyes on the darker areas. They also showed her looking at Marcus’ hands, the edge of his face, or his mouth instead of making eye contact. When she began to get overloaded, they did a great job with overlapping images and sounds. I can’t speak for everyone, but it was a very good depiction of my own experiences.
I’d like to talk a little about my favorite moments from this short film. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is your warning that there may be spoilers here. But how do you talk about a film this short without a few spoilers?
Favorite Part #1: The Reeds
When Renee closes her eyes and runs her hands through the reeds, I swear I could feel the wind and the leaves on my hands as well! I don’t know if this is down to amazing animation or if the experience is just that relatable for me or what. But the look on her face is so sweet, so happy, and I know that look! It’s the same look I get when I get my hands on a GoodFeel, something soft and fuzzy. They captured it really well and I’m very impressed.
Favorite Part #2: The Sensory Overload
Actually, let me back up a little here. This scene happens in two parts. First, Marcus starts to understand that Renee is stimming with her phone’s ringtone. This isn’t really a stretch – NTs often recognize sensory-seeking behavior and sometimes they even encourage it. That’s what Marcus does when he takes Renee to what looks like a culvert or something, where there are great acoustics and reflections of the water on the walls and ceiling.
At first, it’s really cool for her! But after a little time, it’s too much.
There are echoes that make her ringtone layer on top of itself, and the bright reflections on the dark tunnel become sharp flashes. Again, I don’t know if this is just great filmmaking or the fact that I’m susceptible to audiovisual overload to begin with, but I was on the edge of having to close my eyes or cover my ears right about the time Renee got overstimulated.
The thing I love about the sensory overload scene is not a happy thing, but a true thing: Marcus doesn’t get it. This is an unhappy truth of my autistic existence (and probably a lot of other people’s as well). Many NTs don’t get that we have a limit for our sensory seeking and when that limit gets crossed, they get confused or even mad at us. The line I’ve heard often is “But you loved it a minute ago!” To Pixar’s credit, Marcus doesn’t exactly get angry with Renee, but he is completely baffled as to why she was ok one minute and freaking out the next. As painful as it is to watch, it’s important that they showed that part of the autistic experience.
Favorite Part #3: The Meltdown
I love Renee’s meltdown scene. I love everything about it, from growling/screaming and throwing her phone to hiding under the canoe and stimming. It’s all so REAL.
Renee hiding under the canoe really got to me, because that’s the kind of thing I do. I have to get away from all the light and noise and whatever else is overloading me and even if I can’t say it (I go semi-to-non-verbal during meltdowns), I know what I need and I’ll seek it out.
But I think the best part of the meltdown scene is that Marcus just waits her out. He doesn’t push, he lets her come down on her own. And once she’s come out from hiding, he still just sits with her until she’s ready to move on. This meant the absolute world to me! Meltdowns are scary for everyone involved but they don’t necessarily need to be stopped if they’re not harming anyone; we can ride them out and be ok. Personally, if I’m already gone, it’s a bad idea to try to touch me or comfort me because once I get started, I have to finish it. My processor has frozen up and I must reboot. Then, there’s a kind of a limbo recovery state after the meltdown before I can do anything else. All of this is played beautifully and respectfully in this scene.
Honestly, the worst thing I can say about this short is that it’s got that Disney optimism all through it, making the communication between Marcus and Renee work quickly and having them immediately become tight friends at the end. It makes overcoming the barriers look easy. And that’s not a terrible thing! All of us who live on the spectrum or have loved ones who do know the realities of how hard it can be. Loop shows us a different possibility – that maybe it can be easy if people stop thinking it has to be hard. Kind of like Star Trek showing us the best of humanity’s potential, we have to see it before we can do it.
In short, everyone should see this. Loop is a great way to show rather than explain about autism, the autistic experience, and how to treat autistic people. It’s good for kids, adults, teachers, professionals, family, anyone. I would watch it over and over myself, except that Renee’s ringtone is exactly the opposite of what I like – we all have different tastes, even in stimming!
Bravo, Pixar! Loop is an excellent representation of autism and presents autistic people as full-fledged humans with joys and fears and friends and hobbies.
Have you watched Loop? What did you think about Renee as an autistic character or as a character in general? Did anything really hit home for you? What were your favorite or least favorite parts?