The loss of a child has destroyed marriages and lives for some couples. The sheer grief it creates cannot fully be healed, and the simple sight of the person you share that loss with can be overwhelming. Yet many other couples press on, hoping to find a way to keep love alive through it all. In the case of Starling, a film by Mitra Shahidi, the power of loss and everlasting love shines through.
On their daughter’s birthday, a family lights a candle for their daughter that passed away. When they do, a wishing star comes from the sky, determined to spend the evening with her family. However, she must navigate Istanbul to return home to her loved ones when she’s blown off course.
Despite being a mostly silent endeavor, Starling contains incredible storytelling in each shot. Shahidi allows her team to layer astonishing detail in every image. As a result, the bustling city market feels like one. The 2D animation helps each element stand out without feeling overwhelming. A simple stylistic approach allows Starling to create a wonderful world we would want to explore if not for our protagonist’s limited time.
The mission in question, finding her way back to her family, gives our little star limited time. Shahidi expertly frames the story with a time because each time the star must use a little magic, we can tell she loses some of her power. We can track this visually, providing the audience with the stakes and rules of this world without saying a word.
In that way, Starling becomes a tour-de-force of non-verbal storytelling. The character design and backgrounds tell us everything we need to know about every character. The break from Pixar house style also matters. Created out of the Pixar Co-Op lab, Shahidi and her team worked outside their studio’s structure to create a beautiful, vibrant, independent short. It’s among the more gorgeous shorts we’ve seen this year, and the vision on display from each artist reminds us how talented the animators can be when they are given free rein to follow their creativity.
More than any other aspect, the emotion Shahidi creates is devasting to watch. She expertly navigates each moment of loss, from refusal to accept what has occurred straight through to acceptance. There’s pain in this loss, but there’s also happiness. After all, the memories and the power of love never falter. Instead, they grow in new and unique ways. Loss is not something we ever get over, but rather, we learn to live beside as we carry the messages of those departed in our hearts. If Pixar knows what they’re doing, they’re pushing Shahidi forward because the unique nature of Starling will give her a line of suitors for her exceptional services.