Last month, I wrote a post about my excitement regarding an upcoming Pixar short film called “Loop.” Well, the film has now been released (or more accurately, was released a few weeks ago) and I thought I should watch it and do a little review here. I recommend you read my original piece on “Loop” (by clicking here) to get an overview of the film and its importance to the autistic community.
Spoilers for Pixar’s “Loop” ahead…
“Loop” is a breath of fresh air for positive and accurate autism portrayal in a world in which popular media is quick to present stereotypes, misinformation, and under-representation.
“Loop” is very good. Actually, scratch that, “Loop” is fantastic. I honestly believe it is a groundbreaking film, and one that is desperately needed to set a good model for how to portray autism in film. In “Loop,” autism is not presented as a tragedy. Though individual characters may be baffled, autism is not presented as a mystery. The non-speaking autistic character is not treated as broken, or a burden, or a tragedy, or as completely incompetent. “Loop” does away with harmful stereotypes and narratives to present what is perhaps the most accurate and well-thought-out portrayal of a non-speaking autistic person ever shown in a film. The non-speaking character, named Renee, is shown to feel the full experience of human emotions and over time is shown to develop a friendly relationship with her canoe partner Marcus. This flies directly against common myths that autistic people lack emotions, empathy, and are incapable of forming connections with other people. Renee is fully humanized, unlike most other portrayals of autistic people that dehumanize autistics as mysteries to be gawked at, burdens to be mourned for, or robots in human form who feel no emotions.
To rehash some observations I made in my last post on”Loop,” it is super impactful and super amazing that the film breaks traditional stereotypes and imagery of autism as “8-year-old white male” by making the non-speaking protagonist a female and a person of color. Both of those demographics are under-diagnosed when it comes to autism, and so “Loop” adds its voice to help break down racial and gender stereotyping regarding autism. Also, the film weaves in pro-neurodiversity and pro-autism acceptance imagery throughout the film, most notably in the title and its stylization which is a direct nod to the rainbow infinity loop that symbolizes autism acceptance and neurodiversity.
I’d like to take a more specific look at some of the parts of the film, but for that to make sense I’ll give a brief synopsis of the film (which is only about seven minutes long anyway). If you’ve already seen it, you can skip over this part. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet I recommend you watch it first instead of just reading my synopsis. It will be much more powerful that way.
The film opens with Renee sitting in a docked canoe at what a sign on a building reveals to be “Urban Canoe Camp.” Renee is using an app on her phone that plays a ringtone when the screen is pressed as an auditory stim. She is also vocally stimming. One of the camp instructors calls out from the shore “Hey, Renee… I’m putting you with someone new.” Renee turns around and observers a boy (Marcus) run up to the instructor apologizing for being late. The instructor informs Marcus that he’ll be partnered with Renee. “That girl who doesn’t talk?” a flustered Marcus responds. Reluctantly, Marcus boards the canoe with Renee. Renee appears nervous about being placed with a different person, but they set off with the instructor’s encouragement.
As they set off towards the middle of the lake, Renee continues using her app, vocally stimming, and gently rocking back and forth. Marcus tries to make small talk by talking about different canoe models, but upon mentioning that one “tips over too easily” Renee becomes briefly upset at the prospect of the canoe tipping over because Marcus is spinning the canoe in circles. Marcus suggests that they just go back, but Renee gives an emphatic “NO” by rocking the canoe until Marcus agrees to stay out on the water. Marcus has also been oblivious this entire time that Renee has been trying to tell him that she wants to go over to a side of the lake with reeds. Renee notices there are a set of portable restrooms by the side of the lake, and so she shows Marcus a picture on her phone that indicates they need to go towards the restroom. Marcus understands, and they paddle towards the restrooms. As they approach the shore, Renee outstretches her arms to let the reeds brush against her. Marcus had assumed Renee had to use the bathroom, but quickly realizes she just wanted to go towards the reeds. The first sign of character development in Marcus comes when he is initially confused by Renee’s reaction to the reeds, but sticks his hand out and feels the reeds for himself.
Noticing Renee’s love for her tone app, he gets an idea to paddle into a large drainage pipe connected to the lake so that the sound of the app will echo off the concrete walls. Renee is mesmerized and filled with joy by the sounds bouncing off the walls and by the rainbow reflections of the water on the ceiling of the pipe. Soon, however, the sound of a passing motorboat fills the tunnel. Renee is distressed by the sound and covers her ears with her hands. The tunnel is amplifying the sound, and so Renee panics and grabs the paddle and quickly paddles the canoe out of the tunnel, almost colliding with the passing motorboat in the process. The canoe bumps into the side of the lake and both Marcus and Renee roll out onto the shore. Marcus, confused as to what just happened and shaken because they almost got hit by a motor boat, yells at Renee “Why’d you do that?!?!?” The sensory distress combined with being yelled at pushes Renee into a meltdown. Marcus grabs Renee’s arm mid-meltdown, to which Renee reacts by throwing her phone at him (which ends up landing in the lake). Renee takes the canoe and flips it over and then hides under it.
Marcus initially tries to approach Renee, saying thins like “I’m so sorry, Renee! Stop crying!” This is of course unsuccessful in calming Renee. Some time passes and Renee is still experiencing meltdown. Marcus grabs a reed and again approaches Renee, but this time he apologizes again and says he’ll just wait. He leaves the Reed by Renee. Renee eventually grabs the reed and comes out from under the canoe, having calmed down a bit. Renee begins imitating the sound of the tone on her phone, and Marcus reciprocates the echolalia. Renee and Marcus share a moment of connection and closeness on the shore before heading back out onto the lake. A few title credits show before a shot of Renee’s phone is shown on a counter in a bowl of rice. A text comes through from Marcus that reads “Can U canoe at 3:00?”
And that’s “Loop.” It is a very emotionally impactful short film, and this impact certainly isn’t something one could cover by just writing about it.
The first thing I want to mention is the creative choice to show certain shots through the first-person perspective of Renee. By doing this, the film helps reinforce the ideas that Renee is a person with her own thoughts, and emotions, and desires. It also helps build empathy for Renee from the audience, as they are literally seeing her world. Empathy building also occurs when the first-person perspective of Renee keys the audience into Renee’s desires before Marcus notices them, which creates a sort of dramatic irony where the audience knows what Renee wants while Marcus doesn’t. This, on some small level, lets the audience experience the communication challenges that autistic people, particularly non-speaking autistic people, face.
Though, the film does do a somewhat cliche thing whereby whenever the world is shown from Renee’s perspective, sounds get all distant and echoey and the world looks fuzzy and distorted. This was mildly annoying and mildly irritating. I know it’s a way to show the different sensory perception autistic people have of the world, but it risks people thinking that exactly what they see on screen is literally what the world looks like to an autistic person. It isn’t. Then again, maybe I’m taking this too literally.
The film does a good job of portraying the “double empathy problem.” I’d like to write a post on it sometime, but essentially the double empathy problem is the idea that non-autistic people have just as much trouble interpreting autistic communication as autistics do non-autistic communication. Therefore, autistic communication styles are not inherently broken but rather must be interpreted differently. Throughout the film, we see Marcus adjusting to adapt to Renee’s communication style as much as we see Renee adjusting so he can understand. This reinforces an idea of neurodiversity whereby it’s not a simple matter of autistic meaning “wrong.”
The most impactful part of the film for me was the meltdown scene. This is because I have meltdowns that look exactly like the one shown in the film, complete with throwing things, hiding, making all the same noises, everything. Therefore, I know exactly what Renee was going through there and so it really hit me hard. I think it was a very good portrayal of a meltdown, especially what the recovery period afterwards looks like. The perspective shots during this sequence were well done and I can personally attest do give a fairly accurate glimpse as to what a meltdown feels like, somewhat.
During this scene, Marcus makes several common mistakes that people tend to make when it comes to meltdowns. I thought it was amusing that he initially asks “Why are you so mad?” because in my experience people misinterpret meltdowns for anger all the time, even when they have nothing to do with anger. Marcus also grabs Renee’s arm, which is a big no-no when it comes to meltdowns, and as should be expected, that made things worse. Marcus then attempts to calm Renee down by getting close to her and berating her with phrases such as “stop crying, it’s OK,” and “I’m so sorry,” and “let’s just get back out on the water.” This seems to be the standard neurotypical approach to a meltdown, but you must understand that from the perspective of the person having the meltdown, that’s incredibly intense and overwhelming and will only make things worse. Marcus does, however, eventually figure out that the right thing to do is just wait and be there and be supportive, and not be judgemental after the fact. This is how you handle a meltdown. I’m glad that it was modeled in the film. (Shameless self-promotion, but if you want to learn more about meltdowns I have a post about them here).
Lastly, in my previous post about “Loop” I expressed concern that the creators may not have gotten input from actually autistic people on the film. However, after doing some more research I learned that autistic people were consulted on the film (rather than large non-autistic led organizations like Autism Speaks). Also, the character Renee is based on an actual person named Madison Bandy. Madison provided the vocalizations used by Renee in the film.
So indeed, “Loop” is a very powerful short-film that is a massive step forward for autism representation in the media. My only other tiny critique is that the description of the film mentions that it features a “non-verbal” autistic character, when many non-speaking people do not like to be called “non-verbal” because to the most technical detail non-verbal means not using words, when many non-speaking people do use words, just not by speaking them out of there mouths. Also, I’m really interested in hearing what some of my non-speaking blog readers think about “Loop” and its portrayal of a non-speaking person.
“Loop” can be viewed on the Disney+ streaming service app. If you only want to watch “Loop” or a few other shows/movies or something but don’t want a subscription, there is a one-month free trial.
*This review was written on my own volition and was not sponsored or endorsed by anybody or anything.*
4 thoughts on “An Autistic Review and Analysis of “Loop.” – A Breath of Fresh Air for Positive and Accurate Autism Portrayal”
“The non-speaking character, named Renee, is shown to feel the full experience of human emotions and over time is shown to develop a friendly relationship with her canoe partner Marcus. This flies directly against common myths that autistic people lack emotions, empathy, and are incapable of forming connections with other people. Renee is fully humanized, unlike most other portrayals of autistic people that dehumanize autistics as mysteries to be gawked at, burdens to be mourned for, or robots in human form who feel no emotions.”
And it would be wiser to ask, often, “Why are you so tired?” than anger – or even the “resting face”.
Though a lot of people consider tiredness/overload a matter of privacy and courtesy.
It was good to see Marcus understand, apologise and use the reeds.
And both characters adjust to one another over time.
The “Loop” in the middle of the lake is all full of rainbow.
“This seems to be the standard neurotypical approach to a meltdown, but you must understand that from the perspective of the person having the meltdown, that’s incredibly intense and overwhelming and will only make things worse. Marcus does, however, eventually figure out that the right thing to do is just wait and be there and be supportive, and not be judgemental after the fact. This is how you handle a meltdown. I’m glad that it was modeled in the film. (Shameless self-promotion, but if you want to learn more about meltdowns I have a post about them here).”
How awesome was it that Madison provided the vocalisations of Renee!
Always good to check if our films have this type of representation and the team have responses like these.
Do you have double empathetic links to people on Twitter like Damian Milton? He seems to have studied it the most; as well as Ryan Boren and Kieran Rose and Sonya Hallett.
“Renee begins imitating the sound of the tone on her phone, and Marcus reciprocates the echolalia. Renee and Marcus share a moment of connection and closeness on the shore before heading back out onto the lake. A few title credits show before a shot of Renee’s phone is shown on a counter in a bowl of rice. A text comes through from Marcus that reads “Can U canoe at 3:00?””
Yes – this is how lots of people use text, Quincy. And echolalia being reciprocated is a wonderful thing. Like the echoes on the lake.
And in Disability in Kidlit Bartmess talks about that whole behaviourising versus humanising phenomenon.
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This film sounds amazing. I would really like to see it someday.
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Thank you for this review- I agree that this short is just wonderful!
I’m interested in what you say about non-verbal vs non-talking. I actually think the opposite. There are lots of ways to talk- and verbal is just one way. So to say ‘non-talking’ is more indicative of saying ‘non-communicative’ than saying ‘non-verbal’. Non-verbal is used to describe a person who does not use spoken words to communicate- but it doesn’t imply that the person does not communicate in other ways (e.g., sign, gestures, sounds, AAC, etc.). In fact a huge part of describing communication includes ‘non-verbal communication’- things like head nodding or thumbs up are considered non-verbal communications.
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Hello! So, my entire life up until recently I never associated the word “verbal” with words in general, I associated it with spoken words, and so being verbal to me was just a synonym for being able to talk, hence non-verbal. I was fully aware that people I thought of as “nonverbal” could communicate and even communicate with words, I just had a different definition in mind. Now I always say non-speaking because I have met several non-speakers who strongly prefer that term over “nonverbal” because some people have a definition of verbal in mind that means any words at all, and obviously they are using words.