Pixar Shorts (1984-2000)

In 1974, Alexander Schure brought together a group of computer scientists, all of whom shared a desire to create the world’s first computer animated film. However, no matter how much money Schure poured into the project, they needed help. Six of them left the project and joined Lucasfilm, developed several technologies essential to computer generated animation, and became an independent hardware company to tide the time until they finished their project after Lucasfilms experienced a sudden drop in revenues. They were bought by Steve Jobs, who suggested they started selling to the public to increase revenue. As part of the pitching and advertisement, the newly independent company showed a short animated feature they created using their hardware: Luxo Jr., Pixar’s first short under their own name.

This week, I’m going to try something different from my usual reviews. Instead of looking at a single movie or cartoon, I’m going to be reviewing the first seven Pixar shorts. They’re only going to be short reviews due to being, well, shorts, but that’s why I’m making up with quantity. There’s not much else I can say here due to everything differing between shorts, so let’s get on with it.

Pixar Short 1 - Andre

While Luxo Jr. was the first short created by Pixar as Pixar, they first created The Adventures of André & Wally B. in 1984 as The Graphics Group under Lucasfilm. And this film was extremely important for medium, using motion blur, complex 3D backgrounds, manipulable shapes, all things that we take for granted today. However, there is a slight problem in that this short film isn’t exactly good. I will put aside how it looks, for practically the first of its kind I think it can be excused for the very basic character models even while looking back on it, but it really doesn’t feel like there’s a plot.

What happens is that André wakes up in a forest, and a bee flies up to him. He tricks the bee into looking the other way, wiggles his eyebrows at the camera, then runs away. The bee chases, they crash off-screen, and as the bee flies away he’s hit by André’s hat. All the while the sound makes it feel like they took an excerpt from a Donald Duck cartoon, with André’s ‘speaking’ being unrecognisable noises and a musical score plays in the background.

Really, I can’t say anything else. The maybe two jokes that are there fall flat and while things happen, there is no plot. That being said, I would say watch it. It’s only two minutes, and it gives you a sense of how far Pixar has come.

3/10

Pixar short 2 - Luxo Jr.

From the one no one’s heard of to the one everyone has, 1986’s Luxo Jr. was given its cinematic release alongside Toy Story 2, while also appearing on the home release. It’s a very simple plot (something which is a trend with these shorts), but at least it has one unlike the previous short. A parent lamp watches their child play with a small ball before the child breaks it. The child sadly hops off, before returning excitedly with a much bigger ball, having the parent shake its head. That’s the only real joke here, and it falls flat in my opinion, but the humour isn’t the focus of the short. I feel it’s more about how these lamps act, how they move, how they manage to convey a lot of emotion in spite of literally just being lamps, even when looking at this as a form of entertainment as opposed to a tech demo. And really, it’s fine as that.

Going off of my sound comments in the last short, I feel like I have to be hypocritical here. Really, it’s the same as The Adventures of André & Wally B. in that the characters make nonsense sounds (though this time I don’t even know what to liken the lamps to) while a music score plays. But here, the score is a piano piece which suits itself much better to backing music and in my opinion sounds better, and there’s much more sound effects to direct your attention towards the characters as opposed to the music. And while the sound effects are nonsense, there’s just something unique about it. I want to say iconic, but that’s likely just because they’re the same sounds we hear over every Pixar logo in their movies.

All in all, it’s still a fun watch. But as iconic as it is, there’s nothing here that makes me think it’s necessary to see.

6/10

Pixar Short 3 - Red's Dream

A year after Luxo Jr., the only short under Pixar’s name that wouldn’t get released alongside any of their full movies was made: Red’s Dream. It’s all about a unicycle in the clearance section of a bike shop that dreams of being used by a clown, before juggling and performing for itself. Red then wakes up, and sadly wheels back to his clearance corner. And that’s it, nothing really happens here. Even in The Adventures of André & Wally B., there is a clear relation between characters, each action leads to another thing happening. Here, Red just dreams it’s in the circus, then is back in reality. The main point is probably to make us feel sorry for the unicycle, but I don’t feel there was nearly enough time spent setting up an emotional connection to Red compared with showing it perform.

Not only does the story lack what it’s hoping for, but the actual animation doesn’t look good. Red itself doesn’t look too bad, nor do the bikes in the shop, but everything else feels off. The buildings in the establishing shots feel fake, the puddles look more like mercury than water, and something about how the rain falls into them feels off. The worst of it all is the clown in the dream. It clearly shows that this is Pixar’s first short featuring a human. Granted, he is stylized to not making him look as bad as he could, but it’s still a very notable detraction from the already poor short. There’s not much to say about the music, either. In the first short it seemed to want to be the main focus, in the second it was good, here it’s stock and incidental. I won’t be saying anything about the music the following reviews since there isn’t much to be said, it does its job and not much more.

I wasn’t aware of Red’s Dream‘s existence until watching the Pixar’s shorts, and there’s a reason for that. It’s not painful to watch, but there’s certainly nothing here worth your time.

3/10

Pixar Short 4 - Tin Toy

Tin Toy was released alongside home copies of Toy Story, and is much more clearly its precursor than anything preceding it. The plot here is the most developed one so far. A one man band toy waits to be played with by a baby, but after seeing it treat its toys roughly runs away. The baby chases after it due to it playing while it moves, before the toy hides underneath a sofa, finding a bunch of other toys shaking in fear. The baby falls and starts crying, leading to the one man band going to it to cheer it up, then following it around as it proceeds to play with a bag instead of it. Admittedly, the best joke here comes at the end of the credits (“No portion of this movie, including its sound track, may be reproduced in any manner or we won’t be your friends anymore”), but I don’t think the ones in the short are as bad as the ones in the preceding ones. All in all, writing-wise it isn’t great, but it’s pretty decent.

With Red’s Dream, I said that stylizing the clown made it much more tolerable than what it could otherwise have been like. The reason I say that is because Tin Toy features a realistic baby, and it’s horrifying. Its movements are stiff, its nappy looks more like a cast that’s too big for it, its head is far too big, it’s pure nightmare fuel. The Tin Toy itself, on the other hand, looks pretty good with some decent detail. It and the other baby’s toys at the beginning do look like their real life counterparts, which is especially good for this early era of animation. But all the toys under the sofa look like they came straight out of The Adventures of André & Wally B., and all in all the short looks generally bad when inevitably compared with Toy Story.

In spite of being the first computer animated work to win the best animated short film Oscar, this short is pretty so-so. On its own it’s alright, its only real failure being the baby’s looks, but it’s only hurt by the unavoidable comparisons with Toy Story.

4/10

Pixar Short 5 - Knick Knack

Knick Knack was the last short Pixar would create as a hardware company, and the last short they would make for 8 years. It goes back to being about a single concept as opposed to a developed story, that being of a snowman in a snow globe trying to escape said snow globe to join the more summery tourist trap souvenirs.

I can’t decide what I think of how this short looks. On one hand, compared with the titular Tin Toy of the previous year’s short, they look decidedly worse. In spite of being later on, none of the toys have the same level of detail as Tin Toy. Granted, given the nature of the souvenirs they’re likely to not look as great, but there’s nothing to compensate for it, nothing that makes me go “Hey, that looks great.” But on the other hand, it almost gives the short this stylized feel. I don’t know how intentional that is, hence by indecision, but it is a way of looking at the short that would make it more enjoyable.

But, for the first time out of the shorts, it has humour which works. Taking inspiration from Tom & Jerry and Chuck Jones, to make up for the simple concept most of the short is taken up with the snowman taking increasingly drastic measures to escape his snow globe, with each effort failing and the snowman suffering for it. It certainly isn’t the best example of animated slapstick, but it’s decent. Not only that, but while I said before that the music for most shorts aren’t worth mentioning, I think that the improvised a capella accompanying Knick Knack gives a unique and enjoyable feeling to it.

Not much to say here. Poor visuals, but enjoyable humour and music. Certainly one of Pixar’s better pre-Toy Story works.

6/10

Pixar Short 6- Geri's Game

While watching these shorts, Geri’s Game was the first one that really felt like Pixar to me, likely thanks in no small part to having finished Toy Story the previous year. Released alongside the following year’s A Bug’s Life, Geri’s Game looks at the titular Geri as he plays a game of chess against himself. As the short progresses, you stop seeing him move around the table and instead see the two sides instantly without one interrupting what he’s doing to get up and move, up until the point where Geri tricks Geri and wins the game. Against himself. A sad story of loneliness when you actually think about it, but a fun tale while simply experiencing it.

With the difference in times comes greatly improved animation. All of the props, from the chess pieces to the wooden table, look decent, if cartoony. And Geri himself, I am happy to say, does not look nightmarish in the slightest. The model isn’t perfect at all, you can see hard lines on the face and hands that haven’t been completely smoothed, for example, and the wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes look like they were cut into a claymation figure as opposed to actually being part of a person. However, I feel that it’s just enough to make Geri look stylized, looking good in spite of his flaws (I want to say almost comic book like, but I’m not sure if that’s the right analogy). The better quality model also allows Geri to be much more emotive than previous Pixar short humans, and Pixar takes full advantage of that. Even with them being the same person, a clear personality difference is set between the calm and studious Geri playing white and the quick playing, arrogant Geri playing black. It gets to the point where you stop thinking about this being a man playing against himself, and instead start rooting for white Geri as he starts to get stomped.

As for humour, it’s present, but I’m not sure exactly how much counts as explicit jokes in my opinion. Everything comes from the situation he sets up, how Geri chooses to turn the tides upon losing, and what the stakes of the game were. It’s humorous, but I don’t think there’s any real punchlines. I do want to emphasize this isn’t a criticism. After watching an episode of Back Street Girls: Gokudolls, I know and fully appreciate how you can take a funny scenario and fail to make anything entertaining out of it. It’s just the style of the short, for lack of a better word.

As I said, this is the first Pixar short to really feel like a Pixar short, and is understandably good because of it. Give it a watch.

7/10

Pixar Short 7 - For the Birds

Geri’s Game is a very good short that sets up what Pixar shorts feel like. For The Birds is an excellent short that perfects that Pixar short feeling. It’s the reason why I decided to make this review 7 shorts long, but it’s also the one I’m having the most trouble in describing. The best I can describe it is that it’s about a flock of small birds who end up getting annoyed by a much bigger, much dumber bird while sitting on a power line. But as everything that I’d need to properly describe this short is a joke, I can’t really go into further detail.

As you can probably tell, this is another of the pure comedy shorts. But unlike the previous two shorts, where there’s a build up to a very specific kind of comedy and humour with no punchline respectively, For The Birds tells jokes from the beginning, cuts away before the joke gets old, and gives us a new one as soon as that cut is made. And while humour is subjective, I feel that every single one of these land. From the interactions between the small birds to the big bird cawing alongside the small ones without real regard as to what they’re cawing for, they work.

The animation is great. For their simple designs, the small birds are extremely expressive with whatever emotion they’re feeling at any given time, while the big bird always looks dopey but lovable. And they’re not smooth, you can clearly see the feathers on each bird. It’s not quite on the level of detail as Sully’s fur (given that this short did premiere alongside Monster’s Inc.), but it’s still good. And there’s fine details elsewhere, like the birds having different amount of scratches on their beaks.

For as hard as this short is to describe without just going “This is the joke, it’s funny”, this is a Pixar short in which everything works. An absolute must-watch.

10/10


Do you remember watching these shorts? Want to tell me how Red’s Dream is actually a hidden gem, or anything else? Please leave a comment!

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