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Simple and beautiful love stories are tales that animated short films are very good at telling. In a Heartbeat is another in a long line of funny and sweet stories, but it has one important difference. This time, both characters in the story are male. In a Heartbeat follows one boy who has a crush on another but doesn't want to let anybody know. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the heart does what it wants. In this case, it does so literally. Check it out.
In a Heartbeat is almost entirely silent so we just have the music and the images to guide us. Our characters don't have names, they're not really important, one is a little bit nerdy, the other reads as the "cool" kid in school. We see our nerdy student watching the other from afar, your traditional school crush, which gets a little wild when our nerdy boy's heart literally jumps out of his chest. The heart tries to draw the two kids together, making the attraction known, but this is something our nerdy boy doesn't want. He fights with his own heart, the metaphor made physical, until he finds himself in a situation where the entire school realizes what is happening, causing his heart to break. Luckily, it doesn't stay that way.
The thing that's the most striking about In a Heartbeat, is just how familiar it actually feels. While the subject matter of a gay crush is certainly not the sort of thing that we tend to see in animated shorts, everything else about the film feels like something we've seen before. Swap out either character for a girl and you could tell literally the same story. That's the beauty of it, it shows how normal this situation is, or at least should be, by using the same sort of imagery and humor that we would expect to see in an animated heterosexual romance. It reminds me a lot of Disney's Paperman short from a few years ago. While the art style is very different, both saw the coming together of a couple via a somewhat magical third party. The fact that the genders aren't the same is a minor detail.
In a Heartbeat is the senior thesis project of two animation students, Beth David and Esteban Bravo. While the film has only been on YouTube for a couple of days it has already exploded online. It's clear from the comments that a lot of people are overjoyed to have a film like this, something that they can relate to that simply didn't exist before.
Growing up is tough enough on its own and dealing with one's emotions can be difficult whoever you are. For those kids growing up gay, it's even tougher. It's wonderful to see a piece of media like this which is designed to show all that as normal. While it may not make growing up any easier, a young boy who sees himself in In a Heartbeat knows that others understand what he's going through simply because the film exists. That in itself can really help.
Beth David and Esteban Bravo have certainly made a huge impact in the animation world already. I'll be keeping an eye out for those names in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if we hear them again a few years down the road working on much bigger projects.