Thursday, 27 February 2014

Top 5 Pixar shorts



Pixar Logo
Top 5 Pixar shorts

      Last month I gave you the list of my Top 5 Pixar animated features, and promised a separate article dealing with their short films. Well…here we are.

   Ever since the release of A Bug’s Life in 1998, every Pixar movie has came out in theatres packaged with a short film which shows before the main feature. These shorts are often an excuse for Pixar to flex its creative muscles and come up with really cool, original little stories, they’re also a great brewing pot for talent, with many of the crew of the shorts going on to write, direct and animate main features down the line.
    Pixar are also keen to create additional short films to accompany the release of movies on DVD and Blu-Ray leading to an impressive catalogue of short films that are just as important, memorable and enjoyable as their feature length counterparts.

   So here are my Top 5 Pixar shorts, remember, these are just my picks so don’t feel too annoyed if your favourite doesn’t make the list, but be sure to list your favourites in the comments.


small fry
5: Small Fry (2011)
   I love the Toy Story shorts, while the Toy Story trilogy ends pretty much perfectly, to the point that we really don’t need anymore stories told using the characters, a part of me (and I’m sure many people) will always want to know more about the characters and their further adventures.
   The Toy Story shorts give us the best of both worlds, they’re short funny stories that add a little something extra to the universe for those who want it, but which are easy enough to ignore if you don’t want anything outside the three movies.

    Small Fry is my favourite of the bunch. The film sees Buzz replaced by a small fast food toy version of himself when Bonnie visits the restaurant Poultry Palace. Buzz then finds himself in an abandoned toy support group.

one of the many new toys introduced in the film.
   What makes the film so great are the new toys they introduce. Each new character is so distinctive and you could believe that every one of them could actually exist. From a transformer knock-off who turns into a pizza to a line of Kung-Fu animals (Tae Kwon Doe geddit?) each character is hilarious and the writers have a blast with jokes making use of each toys limited functionality.

   The film actually harks back to a little remembered episode of the non-canon Toy Story Shorts series that aired before ad breaks on the Disney channel. Andy returns from “Happy Snacky” with happy meal versions of Buzz and Woody, freaking out the rest of the toys, who are terrified to learn that toys are being given away for free, making them redundant.
   It leads to one of my favourite lines in the whole Toy Story franchise, when Buzz asks Mini-Buzz what he can do, getting the response “Well…if you pivot my head, my arm kinda does this punching move…”

   Small Fry is a great addition to the Toy Story universe and shows how many great jokes can be brought out of the setup. There’s more Toy Story shorts on the way in the coming years and I for one, can’t wait for them.

Tin toy
4:  Tin Toy (1988)
   The precursor to Toy Story, Tin Toy tells the story of the eponymous toy, hiding from a baby, frightened of its rough play style.

   It’s easily to see the seeds of Toy Story in this film, it presents the same warped view of the world from a toy’s perspective. The cute (well, actually not so cute…early cg modelling and babies don’t mix…) baby chewing on his toys, becomes a monster to be evaded and the rough and tumble play style of the child is like life and death combat to the toys involved.
   It’s easy, now that we’ve had three Toy Story films, numerous shorts, tv specials and series, to forget what a unique idea this really is, but it truly is a brilliant idea and one expertly realised in this film.

1980's cgi will haunt your dreams
   Tin Toy was originally planned for bigger things, a X-mas special was planned and scrapped, as was a feature length movie that was cancelled due to a spiralling budget. Ideas from the movie however, would make their way into all three Toy Story movies, Toy Story 2 especially, which saw Woody revealed to be part of a rare series of Toys, a fate originally planned for Tin Toy. It’s a history that’s clearly not forgotten by Pixar as Tin Toy and the toys hidden under the child’s bed, make cameos in Toy Story 3, the film which introduces Lotso, the pink Teddy Bear who was originally set to star in…you guessed it, the Tin Toy movie.
    So yeah, without Tin Toy, there more than likely wouldn’t have been a Toy Story and while it’s a great film in its own right, it’s worth including just for that.

la luna
3: La Luna (2011)
   To put it bluntly, La Luna is simply beautiful. Everything about this film is a delight, the character designs, the lighting, the music, even the sound design, the tinkling glass sound the stars make as they’re being brushed up is a joy.

A gift
   The film also does a great job of telling a powerful story in a short time frame without dialogue. Aside from the occasional grunt by the boys father and grandfather, the film is silent yet in just over six minutes we’re given not only a quaint little story about people cleaning fallen stars off the moon to make it into a crescent, but also a more meaningful story about respecting tradition, but finding your own place within it. The little boy is clearly about to take part in what we presume to be the family business and we see him offered a cap as a gift, told to wear it one way by his father and another by his grandfather. On the moon he is offered a broom by his grandfather and a brush by his dad. The little boy chooses to wear his hat in his own way and chooses a rake for his tool. It’s a subtle difference but suggests the boy is finding his own identity within the boundaries of the family tradition.

   Ultimately though, it’s the impressive visuals that will stay with you. It’s a true testament to the skills of the Pixar team, that they are able to take pixels and polygons and turn them into paintings on the screen.

Luxo Jr
2: Luxo Jr. (1986)
   While not the first film the studio produced (The film The Adventures of Andre & Wally B. predates it by two years) Luxo Jr. is the first pixar film to bear the company name (A&WB was released by the Lucasfilm subsidiary The Graphics Group) and gives birth to the company mascot, the charming anthropomorphic lamp that hops along in the Pixar logo.

Playtime
   The film is a basic tale of two lamps, one fully grown, the other a child, playing with a ball. There’s not much of a story, but what’s so impressive is how expressive the two characters are. Both characters are simple desk lamps, the animators don’t give them arms or faces or any of the other things we might associate with anthropomorphic versions of inanimate objects, they’re just plain lamps, exactly as they’d appear on your desk.
    Yet, with a simple arc of the bulb or the shake of the lamps structure, the animators are able to convey so much about these two characters, we sense the small lamp is young and playful, the taller lamp, older, playing with the smaller lamp like apparent plays with their child.

   What makes the film all the more impressive is the date it was released. In 1986, computer animation was an unknown art form. So, when the film debuted at the computer industry show SIGGRAPH, it was shown alongside films showing nothing but 3d balls displaying new advances in textures and lighting, plain tech demos, certainly nothing you’d consider a narrative.
   Among these films Luxo Jr. stood out as something special, it was the film that, more than any other, showed off computer animation’s ability to tell a story, to bring characters to life on the screen, another wonderful tool in the box of future film makers.

This Luxo jr statue stands outside the pixar studios at Berkely. A testiment to the importance of the character.
   It’s hard to understate the importance of this film, without it, who knows how the animation industry would look today. It truly was a game changer, and one that deserves to be remembered.

Blue Umbrella
Honourable mentions
I’m going to start including some honourable mentions on my lists because as soon as I publish anything, all I can think of for the next week is stuff that I should have mentioned in some form or other, so, before we reveal my favourite Pixar short, here are a few great ones that just didn’t make the cut.
For the Birds (2000), a silly, very funny tale with a memorable character and a good moral, The Blue Umbrella (2013) Pixar’s most stunning short to date, the visuals in this film are just astonishing, the music is also great, sadly the complete lack of a story left me unable to include it, it feels more like a tech demo than a real film, and BURN-E (2008) a funny short that does a great job of tying in with the events of Wall-E.

   And my favourite Pixar short of all time is…..

Day and Night
1: Day and Night (2010)
   As much as I love Pixar’s use of 3D animation, I’ll always be a 2D guy. There’s just something about 2D animation that grabs me and never fails to make an impact. Therefore, the only major Pixar release to feature 2D animation has to make my list.

   Pixar have dabbled in 2D on a couple of occasions, specifically in DVD bonus shorts like My Friend the Rat & George & A.J., these however, are heavily stylised pieces and contain little actual animation, the characters move like cutouts rather than having fluid motion. Day and Night is the only work released by Pixar to this day, to use full 2D animation, (There was a Buzz Lightyear animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command that used full animation, but that was produced by Disney, not Pixar) and it’s just wonderful.

City Lights
   It tells the story of two characters animated in 2D, whose bodies act as a window to a world rendered in 3D. One character’s body shows the world during the day, the other’s at night. The two characters have fun exploring the differences in the world they can see and each finds something they like in the other’s world. The impressive daytime skyline of Las Vegas for example, pales in comparison to the fully illuminated lightshow it becomes at night, while a beach, abandoned at night, is filled with pretty girls during the day.

   It’s such a unique concept and I can’t think of anything that better shows off Pixar’s creative talents than this film. It’s an astounding piece of work. The blending of 2D and 3D animation is seamless and seeing the 3D world change between day and night is an astonishing visual. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s a film that could only have come from Pixar. 

The original Pixar Logo

    Did it hit the nail on the head? Did I miss something obvious? Be sure to let me know your opinions in the comments.

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