PICK OF THE WEEK: Desert Critters (Video Animated)

Claude Harrington 04.28.2016

Are you having a tough day? The stresses pilling up? Could you use a little pick-me-up? Then let us recommend something that’s bound to slap a smile on your face: an adorable, endearing two-minute animated short called Desert Critters that we’ve unanimously selected as our PICK OF THE WEEK.

Desert Critters was made by Toh Li Wen, a talented young animator who has a real skill for weaving together character, quirk and story. Wen was born in Singapore and is currently enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts, where he is studying character animation. Given his discipline, it’s not surprising that his two leads–a desert fox and a puppy named Nibbles–really sparkle in Desert Critters. Nor is it surprising that a similar joy and vitality can be felt in his first student film:


Space Critters (1:33)

Space Critters is great, but today we’ll be focusing on a different kind of critters. Desert Critters, in this dazzling video animated by Li Wen Toh: 

[vimeo video_id=”164132084″ width=”400″ height=”300″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]


  • Director: Li Wen Toh
  • Composer: Lucien Ye

3 Things We Love About This Video Animated by Li Wen Toh:

1. Introducing Characters by Not Actually Introducing Them At All: There are two central characters in this story (The Desert Fox and Nibbles). Here’s a quick look at how each of them are introduced:

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Desert Fox

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What do these two character introductions have in common? Or, rather, what do they both lack? The characters! And yet these introductory non-introductions are both crafted in a clever way that builds anticipation and plays into the narrative. The Desert Fox, we immediately know, is stealthy and likes swiping food; Nibbles, missing in action, is a pup who never ends up where he’s supposed to be.

2. The Optimism: There are many things to like about Nibbles–he’s friendly, he’s nimble, he’s passionate–but my favorite quality is his contagious optimism. It’s an endearing attribute that shapes the tone of this animated video, so how does Toh pull it off?

A lot of it comes down to the character design. With those big eyes…

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That eager posture…

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And the playful curiosity of his movements…

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But it’s not only the design that gives Nibble his lovable (and memorable) optimism. It’s also a result of the story choices that Toh makes.

One great example is through inventiveness, in which animated action enables Nibbles to turn a negative into a positive.

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Lastly, I’d like to point out a final (and likely underrated) decision that Toh makes, which is how he carries that optimism through to the very end of the story. That may not sound like an odd choice, but oftentimes in stories that feature optimistic characters, the world-as-they-know-it vanishes at some point towards the end and their upbeat philosophy is tested. Not so in Desert Critters, where Nibbles remains a source of positive energy until the end. Even when his life hangs in the balance…

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3. The Kicker: We won’t spoil the very, very ending. But let’s just say that you should stick around for after the credits…

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