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The Art of Pixar Shorts

Still from Disney-Pixar’s Piper (2016)

The release of a new Disney-Pixar movie is always a grand occasion in and of itself—really, who isn’t excited for The Incredibles 2 to arrive this summer? Despite common criticism and misunderstandings of the importance of animated films, the children of our generation have grown up on Pixar, and the studio has undeniably become a cultural phenomenon that defines our world today.

With each release of a new Pixar movie comes another underrated aspect of the company’s work: Pixar shorts. Before Toy Story (1995) became Pixar’s first full-length animated feature film, Pixar had already created a number of short films throughout the 80s and early 90s, intended to showcase the soon-to-be animation studio’s revolutionary graphics and promising technology. Beginning with Pixar’s second film, A Bug’s Life (1998), such “shorts” have been included before every movie (except 2016’s Coco) during their theatrical releases.

Fans may recall sitting in a movie theater in 2009, waiting for Up to begin playing, when they were met with a 6-minute short film about clouds and storks entitled Partly Cloudy. Or perhaps they remember seeing the Academy Award-winning Piper, an impressively constructed short film about a sandpiper on a beach, as they waited to watch 2016’s Finding Dory. These shorts are remarkable in their ability to take the nostalgia-inducing, heartwarming feelings that are presented in every full-length Pixar movie and compact them into six minutes, setting the tone for the featured film to follow.

A combination of stunning CGI technology, intricate music, and lovable characters make Pixar shorts powerful despite their limited time. In Pixar’s usual style, these shorts ensure that somewhat adult themes like love, loss, acceptance, and redemption are accessible and understandable to viewers of all ages. In case you have not had the pleasure of watching some of Pixar’s most sensational yet often overlooked projects, I have provided my top five favorite shorts below to get you started.

5. La Luna (2011), paired with Brave

La Luna is a whimsical story about a young Italian boy who visits the moon with his father and grandfather to sweep up shooting stars. Directed by Enrico Casarosa and shown in theaters before Brave, La Luna showcases practically all of Pixar’s greatest strengths: gorgeous visual effects, sublime music in place of dialogue, and an emphasis on family. The short features richly designed scenery and is heartwarming in its cultural roots, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film in 2012.

4. Day & Night (2010), paired with Toy Story 3

Teddy Newton’s Day & Night feels classically Disney-Pixar. Its combination of 2D and 3D animation brings together the old and the new in an exciting sharing of worlds; and this is exactly what the short’s plot does, too. Comedic characters personify day and night and learn to love each other’s differences, boosting themes of tolerance and friendship that Pixar prides itself on illustrating. Earning an Oscar nomination in 2011, Day & Night is amusing, colorful, and incredibly creative—Disney-Pixar at its finest.

3. Partly Cloudy (2009), paired with Up

Partly Cloudy is one of Pixar’s most memorable shorts, telling the story of clouds that create baby animals and storks who bring them to their new homes. Peter Sohn’s short is cheesy yet brilliantly thought-out, exemplifying the kind of creative storytelling that Pixar strives to achieve. In its traditional narrative arc, Partly Cloudy features both tear-jerking moments and redemptive joy, paired with characters who convey a wide spectrum of emotions. Viewers fall in love with Partly Cloudy because of its undeniably human feel and its impressively articulated lessons: that individuality is beautiful and that everyone deserves a home.

2. Piper (2016), paired with Finding Dory

Alan Barillaro’s Piper is so hyper-realistic that viewers might forget that they are watching an animated short. Its mind-blowing details, magnificent score, and complex number of themes that are interwoven into the plot certainly earned Piper the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2017. The short tells the seemingly simple story of a baby sandpiper who learns to overcome her fear of the ocean; but its beautiful landscapes, implications for learning, and demonstrations of family make Piper a piece of art worthy of the adoration it receives.

1. The Blue Umbrella (2013), paired with Monsters University

The Blue Umbrella, directed by Saschka Unseld, is nothing short of gorgeous. Illustrating the story of two umbrellas who fall in love, Unseld’s short is rich in emotion and portrays a depth of heart that only Pixar could create. The Blue Umbrella excels when it comes to technical artistry, and its contrast of vibrant colors against a sea of black and grey is a masterpiece for the eyes. As it starts to rain at the beginning of the film, the city comes alive, encouraging viewers to find beauty in every rainstorm and love in every interaction.


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