Friday, November 13, 2015

Pixar Filmography, Volume 2: Back to the Shorts

Following the success of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios went back to making short films, which they hadn’t made since 1989’s “Knick Knack.” Beginning with “Geri’s Game," the shorts have become a tradition with every theatrical film from the studio, and have given up-and-coming filmmakers opportunities to showcase their talents and creative abilities. (John Lasseter did the same thing, beginning with Monsters, Inc. in 2001, by giving other Pixar veterans feature-film-directing reigns.) And each short represents a unique story and perspective.

Geri’s Game” (1997) is apparently set in fall in a park, as an elderly man plays chess with himself—literally showing split personalities between his current self and possibly his younger self. The animation, particularly of human characters as well as leaves, took director Jan Pinkava (who later conceived the idea for Ratatouille) a year-and-a-half to create. (Appeared before a bug's life in theaters in 1998.) 

For the Birds” (2001) centers on a group of snooty little birds being taunted by a bigger bird on a high wire, with silly and riotous results. (The sound effects, and the animation of the feathers, are cute and funny.) Directed by Pixar art director Ralph Eggelston, this was the last short to be produced at the studio’s former headquarters in Point Richmond, CA, before relocating to their now-famous studio in Emeryville. (Appeared before Monsters, Inc. in theaters in 2001.) 

Boundin’” (2003) was written and directed by character designer Bud Luckey (the artist responsible for making Woody a cowboy). It’s a folk-like tale of a dancing lamb in a high mountain plain who, one day, gets his wool shaved and feels meaningless—until an old jackalope appears with words of wisdom. This was the first Pixar short to feature dialogue between characters, which would also be the case with subsequent shorts of successful franchises, including Monsters, Inc., Cars, and Toy Story. (Appeared before The Incredibles in theaters in 2004.) 

One Man Band” (2006) involves two rival European street musicians who compete for a little girl’s money. Directed by Mark Andrews (story supervisor for The Incredibles) and Andrew Jimenez, this short is driven by various musical styles via a stupendous and brilliant score by Incredibles composer Michael Giacchino. (Appeared before Cars in theaters in 2006.) 

Lifted” (2007) is a Spielberg-esque parody of flying saucer adventures, with a twist on an alien abduction that turns out to be a test—largely due to a complex control console. Directed by veteran sound designer Gary Rydstrom, the pantomime and deadpan results are a stroke of comedic genius. (Appeared before Ratatouille in theaters in 2007.) 

Presto” (2008) plays with the old “magician-pulls-a-rabbit-out-of-the-hat” trick in a Chuck Jones/Three Stooges-style comedy of slapstick proportions between a famous magician and a carrot-addicted bunny. Directed by veteran Pixar animator Doug Sweetland, and reportedly set in real time, the opening credits of this short pay wonderful homage to classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1950s. (Appeared before WALL*E in theaters in 2008.) 

Partly Cloudy” (2009) takes the age-old thought that babies come from storks, focusing then on how storks get babies (like postal service, the storks deliver the babies, but it’s the clouds that make them). The story eventually centers on the relationship between a dark cloud and a worn-down stork who delivers the former’s pain-inducing creations. Director Peter Sohn was inspired by the famous opening sequence in the Disney classic Dumbo, as well as his relationship with his mother growing up. The expressions and emotions of panic, worry, anger, sadness, and happiness are understandable without a single word of dialogue. (Appeared before Up in theaters in 2009.) 

Day and Night” (2010) creatively, cleverly and meticulously combines 2D and 3D animation in one of the studio’s most complex shorts. Directed by Teddy Newton, this story centers on anthropomorphized representations of daytime and nighttime, both in the same world but with different perspectives. (Appeared before Toy Story 3 in theaters in 2010.) 

La Luna” (2011) tells a fable of three generations of an Italian family, as a little boy travels with his father and grandfather to the moon for shooting stars. Directed by Enrico Casarosa and featuring a Fellini-like score by Michael Giaachino, this wonderful story is about finding one’s direction in life. It also respectfully honors a family heritage and, in a way, illustrates the theme of passing the baton from one generation to the next. (Appeared before Brave in theaters in 2012.) 

The Blue Umbrella” (2013) is a bittersweet and lovely story (possibly an homage to the classic Oscar-winning 1956 short film, “The Red Balloon”) of two umbrellas who meet on a rainy night in New York City. Directed by Saschka Unseld and featuring a captivating score by Jon Brion, as well as anthropomorphized objects and buildings. (Appeared before Monsters University in theaters in 2013.) 

Lava” (2014) is another love story, only between two volcanoes who long for companionship over thousands of years. The results are beautiful and universal. Directed by James Ford Murphy. (Appeared before Inside Out in theaters this past summer.) 

Coming soon
Sanjay’s Super Team,” about an Indian boy who imagines Hindu gods as superheroes, combining childhood fantasies with his family’s religion—something Pixar had never tackled before. (Will appear before The Good Dinosaur in theaters, beginning November 27.) 

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