Pixar shorts have a history of making us smile or cry with little-to-no dialogue. But which stories make us want to watch them again? Here’s a ranked list that breaks down the good, the bad, and the meh of Pixar’s tiny films.
Piper, a young bird, needs to eat but fears the waves that crash into her as she forages for morsels in the sand. Her fear is soon overcome by hunger, forcing her to discover another way to find food. By burying herself in the sand, Piper realizes that water isn’t traumatizing but amazing. It is an awe-inspiring world. Piper’s new knowledge makes her confidence soar, as do our endorphins listening to her proud cheeps, echoed by her nurturing parent and new friends. With arguably the most developed cast of Pixar characters, Piper highlights how far the studio has come.
A bored lamp, Luxo, Sr., relaxes in the attic until little Junior bounces onto the scene, bursting with energy and deflating a few balls in the process. Even as one of the earlier Pixar shorts, Luxo Jr. is such an animated joy to watch. The squeaky noises of the bouncing lamp, the fluid extension of the head, and the expressiveness of typically stoic lamps bring this short to life and remind us that simple ideas can be effective. When something doesn’t go quite your way, or people doubt your enthusiasm, make a new path and you might find happiness.
Geri’s Game doesn’t try to be clever by “revealing” to us that Geri is playing chess against himself. Instead, we meet a wacky but lovable old man trying to trick himself in the ancient game. His devious facial expressions and the bizarre nature of his competitive spirit make this short a standout. Geri’s enviable passion for chess and general attitude about competition inspires us to embrace our inner weirdness. We can be both winners and losers!
In Partly Cloudy, a colony of clouds pops out babies as quickly as rain. Gus, a grey cloud, makes unusual babies, things considered dangerous and unwanted like crocodiles. When Gus’ latest creation scares off his stork buddy Peck — who delivers his creatures — he fears their partnership is over. However, Peck returns with a creative solution, protective gear, that saves their friendship, reminding us there’s hope for even the most unlikely relationships.
The Blue Umbrella
There are a lot of signs in The Blue Umbrella and all around us. We can all miss these “signs” if we’re not paying attention. That’s what happens when a blue umbrella loses his chance to connect an eye-catching red umbrella. Their respective humans part, breaking his heart and setting off a chain of events that dramatically tear them apart. Thankfully, other non-humans are around to guide them back together. In a universe filled with people browsing their cell phones instead of connecting in person, The Blue Umbrella explores missed connections in a sweet and refreshing way.
A young boy goes on an adventure with his father and grandfather to get the moon’s shape in order. The boy unearths his own preferences amidst their disagreeing viewpoints on how to get the job done. It’s stressful watching the tension build as he tries to make everyone happy while finding it for himself. Thankfully, in La Luna, the payoff is adorable and awe-inspiring. The tension melts away when they discover there is more than one way to achieve a common goal. No single approach is superior to another. The soft and surreal aspects of reworking the moon’s lights grounds this sweet tale.
For the Birds
The snotty attitude of the birds in For the Birds makes it easier to enjoy their self-induced, literal downfall. When a large, very different bird joins them, the clique of catty birds attempts to thwart his effort to join them on the telephone line. It’s hard not to giggle with the cheery main bird at the ridiculousness of the others as they sink to new lows. Don’t they know trying to bring others down weighs heavily on your own character?
Day and Night
Day and Night couldn’t be further apart. Each thinks their section of time is superior to the other. The juxtaposition of the two characters and 2D/3D integrated imagery highlights the beauty in their differences and our own. We all have things that make us the same. The pacing in Day and Night is a little slow, meant to show off the graphics and beauty of day and night. Unfortunately, the sunsets, while beautiful, are not enough to overshadow Pixar’s failure to develop the characters’ relationship.
Lou is a creative use of animation. Made of lost toys, watching it tumble into itself is impressive. Its mischievous grin as it implements a plan to reunite children with their lost toys is comical. When a bully starts taking others lost toys, Lou confronts him, refusing to give the bully back his own toy. After coming to terms with his own loss, the bully returns what he’s taken from others. Lou is yet another reminder that giving is more rewarding than taking.
A tiny, tentative alien fails miserably under the watchful gaze of an unimpressed alien abduction test proctor. The human, peacefully asleep, is tossed around, turned upside down, and nearly killed at the hands of the inexperienced abductor. The proctor’s attempts to console the failed abductor, and the ensuing glee and accidental non-approved destruction of the human’s farm remind us that mistakes aren’t ALWAYS the end of the world. The character building isn’t that strong, but it does evoke that anxiety of going to the DMV for the first time. The stakes in Lifted are much higher and hilariously dramatic. Who knew alien abductions could be such a playful topic?
Sanjay’s Super Team
It’s tough watching little Sanjay struggle between watching his favorite superheroes and joining his father in meditative prayer. The inner battle between satisfying others and pursuing our own interests is a relatable one. Sanjay’s imagination bridges this divide by bringing his characters to life to fight the evil idols his father prays against. Combining the two is not only sweet but shows Sanjay’s growth and admiration for his father. Seeing the real-life inspiration for Sanjay’s Super Team is the icing on the cake. The only reason this short isn’t ranked higher is the lack of any real surprises.
In Lava,an above-ground volcano wistfully croons about the love he sees around him. Unfortunately, he can’t see the effect his song has on a lonely, singing, underwater volcano. Eventually, their songs and eruptions draw them together, satisfying both parties but not the audience. The message is a little unclear. Perhaps, we shouldn’t give up hope because a companion is just around the corner? It could be love, or lack thereof, can make us feel down in the dumps or the highest we’ve ever been. Either way, the murky message leaves causes Lava to miss the mark, even if only by a little.
A magician’s rabbit eagerly and violently demands its insensitive magician feed it during an explosive on-stage duel for a carrot. The creative use of the magical teleportation hat to inflict maximum damage gets extra props. The magician comes off as selfish and unlikable as opposed to hurried, though, making it uncomfortable to watch the hungry rabbit punish him for his escalating selfishness. Like, why not just give the rabbit the snack that is literally in your hand to avoid getting pounded in front of a live audience? Presto! Problem solved.
Knick Knack is a straightforward tale of a snowman trying to get the girl, or, rather, out of his snow globe bubble and into some interaction. He manages to get to a new shelf with a mermaid lady in a fishbowl but ultimately is still trapped in his bubble within her bubble. Is that meta? The short is relaxing and fun in its silliness, but ultimately about as engaging as knick-knacks themselves.
One Man Band
A dueling musician pair vies for the attention of the only potential paying customer in sight. The little girl is harassed to the point of the music becoming noise, causing all parties to lose out on the reward of golden coin. Where was the symphony? The magic of music? The empty town square accentuated how empty and one-dimensional the characters and their motivation seemed. Even the little girl, who in the end is revealed as a rich virtuoso, is grumpy in the end. One Man Band is fanciful but ultimately unsatisfying.
A tap-dancing, fluffy lamb’s beautiful presence inspires his friends to bounce around. During shearing season, he loses his wool and his moxie. It takes a jackalope’s suggestion to dance again that get his spirits up. Pixar is known for showing as opposed to telling, and while Boundin‘s song is somewhat catchy, it’s also unnecessary and highlights the ineffectiveness of the story itself. Whether fluffy or laid bare, Boundin‘ was sadly not groundbreaking in its attempts to teach us not to let small things bring us down.
A toy is excited about the prospect of being played with, only to realize that babies don’t treat toys very nicely. He evades the little monster but is shocked to discover the kid is more interested in his box. This is like the first draft of Sid’s torture chamber from Toy Story, except we don’t get to know the Tin Toy nor the baby very well. What is the moral here? We all have to deal with crazy people sometimes? That’s not enough to save this story.
In Red’s Dream, unicycle “Red” dreams of bygone days where a clown didn’t appreciate its help in their juggling act. Now in the clearance section of a bicycle shop, it feels useless and unwanted. This Ikea commercial gone wrong involves a horrifyingly animated clown and no real resolution. The short feels like an excuse to animate unicycles and juggling for a student project. Useful things can be underappreciated, but having Red wheel back to the clearance rack is a bit morose. At least have a kid buy Red in the end or something! Sheesh!
The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.
Andre wakes up from a peaceful nap and panics because a bee starts bothering him, unprovoked. Being the sneaky genius he is, he points in the opposite direction, and when the bee turns, Andre runs the other way. Being bullied by a bee is annoying. Yep, there isn’t much more to the plot than that. The digital effects were groundbreaking at the time, but the story is forgettable. Hopefully, The Adventures of Andre & Wally B. at least served as the starting point for future Pixar creations. Pixar’s dreams and creations only went up from here. (Up! Get it?)