A new dog is scratching his way into screen stardom — a Boston terrier called Winston.
The rising pup-star will make his debut in the Disney Animation short film Feast, playing in theaters with Big Hero 6 (out Nov. 7).
"He's a star terrier that's full of energy," says director Patrick Osborne. "Like any of us, Winston is looking for food and some kind of emotional connection."
The stray Winston finds both when he discovers a human named James on the other end of a french fry. The story follows their growing friendship over a 12-year span based on the meals, some accidentally spilled, they eat — all seen from Winston's point of view.
"Every relationship has something that starts it off, and in this case it's food," Osborne says. "I wanted to tell a life story of a man and the dog under the table through the meals they share. It becomes this story of love between a dog and owner."
The years fly by in the six-minute film, and the food changes as the two mature and a woman enters James' life. At first this is a setback for Winston as nachos and spaghetti give way to Brussels sprouts and hummus. But, ultimately, Winston tries to rescue the faltering human relationship, despite the seemingly dismal food prospects.
"At that moment, Winston rises above himself and becomes much more than a dog," Osborne says. "He steps outs of his instincts and makes a sacrifice."
Osborne, 33, was one of the leaders on Big Hero 6 when he entered a new Disney in-house program where employees are invited to submit their short-film ideas. He found himself pitching concepts to fellow dog lover John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Feast was approved, and Osborne has worked for a year with his own team to complete the project.
Although he grew up in Cincinnati with dachshunds, Osborne went with a terrier in his film. "There's something about that expressive face. To be able to work with that is pretty cool," he says.
The team even brought in three terriers for a day of inspection. They monitored how the dogs act and, crucially, how they eat. Food stylists were consulted about displaying the "iconic" food dishes. "You have to know what it is that makes food look good on screen," Osborne says.
The reviews for Feast after its world premiere in August during France's Annecy International Animated Film Festival suggest pet lovers will devour the work. Movie industry website Variety declared that the festival crowd went wild for Winston.
"It was just this incredible feeling of just 'Wow, what a surprise,' " says producer Kristina Reed. "It's like we made something special here."
Osborne, who married his girlfriend during the film's production (no canine intervention required), looks forward to sharing the pooch with the rest of the world.
"It's like Winston was always there," Osborne says. "It's not like we made him, he just always existed. And now we're just showing him to other people."