This Short Film on Disney+ Has an Autism Metaphor Everyone Needs to See
As an autistic adult, I appreciated so many things about one of Pixar’s most recent short films, “Float,” available on Disney+ now. Though the film is intended to be relatable for many people, the creator of the short, Bobby Alcid Rubio, wrote it based on his real relationship with his son on the autism spectrum.
It’s the story of a father who realizes his child can defy gravity. To avoid criticism from other parents and to protect his son, the father does what he can to hide this difference from the world. He puts rocks in his son’s backpack so he doesn’t float away and avoids families who know his son’s “secret.”
There’s clearly a lot of love between the two — but the pressure of hiding eventually gets to both the father and son. One day, the young boy gets away and starts floating around a park. He isn’t a danger or even a nuisance — he’s playing in the way he knows how. But when parents see him floating they frown at him or pull their children away. When his father demands that he stop floating, the boy gets extremely upset and starts screaming. He doesn’t seem to understand what he did wrong.
The father aggressively pulls him down, takes him away and ends up yelling at his son, “Why can’t you just be normal?” The young boy shuts down and silently cries. The father immediately realizes the mistake he made. We see how harmful it can be for the boy to be told — explicitly and implicitly — that he’s not normal, especially from his own father. This is one of the moments that makes “Float” such an important watch. The scene comes from a place of empathy for everyone involved. As an adult autistic who knows children on the spectrum and engages with parents, it was an incredibly powerful moment.
I appreciate that parents of autistic children feel a lot of pressure. From other parents, from their own expectations, from fear for their child and from a narrative that tells us what a “normal child” is supposed to look and feel like. In a short documentary about the making of the film (also available on Disney+) Rubio admits that when his son was first diagnosed with autism, he didn’t handle it well. In “Float,” the father goes through this same struggle when he sees the world reacting negatively to his son’s differences.
In contrast, it was a joy to see what happened when the boy’s “strangeness” was embraced. After seeing how much he hurt his son, the father lets his son go — literally — and allows him to float around the park and be himself.
The film is a small illustration of “masking,” a way to hide your autism that becomes reflexive for many autistic adults as they grow up. Much like carrying around a backpack of rocks, masking takes continual effort and weighs you down.
Dandelions also pop up frequently in the film. While blowing the seeds of a dandelion is a beautiful reference to the son’s floating, there’s also the idea that dandelions are often thought of as “just a weed.” People will often remove them so their lawns can be uniform. In reality, dandelions are wonderful for what they are meant to do; they flower, they are entirely edible, they are extremely hardy.
Autistics are also wonderful for what we are meant to do: be our autistic selves. I was happy to see this film — based on a father and son’s experience — tell the story of embracing and elevating differences. In a world where sometimes people are given a bit more fear and a bit less encouragement, I really appreciated the message this film shares.
“Float” is available now on Disney+.