Oregonians may notice some familiar images when they watch “Far From the Tree,” an animated short film that ran in theaters prior to the Disney animated feature, “Encanto.” The scenery, for example, looks like the Oregon coast. And doesn’t that landmark offshore resemble Haystack Rock, in Cannon Beach?
That’s no accident. “Far From the Tree,” a Walt Disney Animation Studios seven-minute short, is written and directed by Natalie Nourigat, who grew up in Portland. As Nourigat says in a short film about “Far From the Tree,” she drew upon her own memories of visiting the Oregon coast in creating her film. Nourigat says the story, about a parent and child raccoon who venture from the woods onto a Pacific Northwest beach together, is, in part, meant to capture what it feels like to visit the the beach for the first time.
Nourigat recalls how the sights, sounds and smells of the beach can feel wonderfully overwhelming, “like you can’t believe this world is real.”
In an interview done for NPR’s “All Things Considered,”Nourigat, who now lives in Paris and is currently head of story on Walt Disney Animation Studios and Kugali Media’s upcoming project “Iwájú,” said “Far From the Tree” was “based on something really personal — growing up in Oregon, going to the beach with my family and how special it was just to all be together.”
Nourigat went on to say that, as she’s reaching her mid-30s, and “wondering if I’m ever going to bring a little person to the beach,” she thought about “parenting and how complicated it is.”
That theme comes through in a gentle, but eloquent way in “Far From the Tree.” The film, which has no dialogue, features the child raccoon exploring the beach with playful curiosity, taking in tide pools, seagulls, puffins, rock formations, and seashells.
But there are dangers amid the beauty, and the parent raccoon is initially very sternly protective. Only toward the end of the film does the parent raccoon soften, show the child raccoon how to dig for clams, and happily race across the sand together.
The final, touching images see the parent and child raccoon again perched safely up on their tree branch, in the woods. But the two share a delight in a seashell brought back from the beach. The film ends with a dedication, “to parents everywhere who are doing their very best…thank you.”
In an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive in 2019,
Nourigat remembered how she was always drawn to comics and manga, but didn’t know how to turn that love into a career.
“My career counselor didn’t know what to do with ‘animation,” Nourigat said, “so I let that dream fall by the wayside for awhile.” Nourigat attended the University of Oregon, majoring in business and Japanese, and earned some money working on web comics.
Nourigat started using her artistic skills at Portland’s Helioscope
studio, where she worked as a storyboard artist. She was also a freelance comic book artist, working for such companies as Marvel Comics, Oni Press, and Dark Horse Comics.
In Los Angeles, Nourigat began working as a story artist, with credits on such Disney projects as “Raya & the Last Dragon” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
If you missed seeing “Far From the Tree” in theaters, it’s streaming on Disney Plus
, as is Nourigat’s earlier short film, “Exchange Student.”
In her NPR interview, Nourigat said she hopes people who watch “Far From the Tree” will also find some personal meaning in the animated short.
“If the film could make somebody feel like something was healed inside of them, or they could understand their story a bit better, or their parents’ story a bit better, or just start a conversation with a parent, or hug their kid a bit closer, that would make me so happy,” Nourigat said. “That’s why I made this.”