Monday, November 12, 2012

Home Video Preview: 'Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2'

La Luna
Five years ago, Disney released the first Pixar Short Films Collection on home video. It was a seminal compilation of Pixar's early cartoons, starting with John Lasseter's breakthrough experiments in computer animation from the mid-1980s, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. and Luxo Jr. This 13-film collection also included the Academy Award winners Tin Toy (1988), Geri's Game (1998) and For the Birds (2001), all films that would be the proving ground for up-and-coming animators (including Lasseter) as Pixar made its inevitable plunge into feature films. On this single DVD, you could witness the growth of computer animation in leaps and bounds as movement, texture and complexity improved dramatically with each short film.

On Tuesday, Disney will release the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2, and while you won't see quite the evolution of technology you witnessed in Volume 1, you will get a dozen entertaining tales, because the one constant in any Pixar creation is story. Even when computer animation was limited to anthropomorphic desk lamps, unicycles and windup toys, it's always been Pixar's gift to inject a good deal of heart, humor and humanity into its characters.

Tops among the Volume 2 entries is Day & Night (2010), director Teddy Newton's incredibly clever look at what happens when the keepers of light and darkness meet. First, they're overcome with suspicion and jealousy, but with time they learn to appreciate each other's differences with a sense of adventure, fun and common purpose.

Also notable are La Luna (2011), a gentle, dreamy fable about a boy who learns the business of tending to moonlight and falling stars from his father and grandfather, and Presto (2008), the story of a magician who learns there are repercussions when you don't properly feed the rabbit in your hat. I particularly enjoyed Presto for its frenetic silliness reminiscent of 1940s-era Warner Bros. cartoons. The gags come fast and furious as Alec the bunny uses his boss's magic against him to acquire the tasty carrot he craves.


For Toy Story fans, the Volume 2 collection also includes the "Toy Story Toon" shorts Hawaiian Vacation and Small Fry.

Small Fry

John Lasseter accepts his 1979 Student
Academy Award from actress Quinn
Cummings for Lady and the Lamp.
Now, if you're a collector of Pixar DVDs and Blu-rays, there's a very good chance you have all the short films in this collection already. They can all be found scattered among the bonus features in Pixar's home video releases over the past five years (La Luna is included in the Brave Blu-ray, also available this week). That said, the reason to get this disc is for the bonus features, which include the early student work of Pixar directing icons John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up). It's fun to see how their short film projects at CalArts informed (and still inform) their work decades later. Lasseter's Nitemare, about a little boy confronting the monsters in his bedroom at night, is a direct precursor to Monsters, Inc. and the upcoming Monsters University. Likewise, his film Lady and the Lamp (for which he won a Student Academy Award in 1979) would influence Toy Story and Cars in its ability to bring inanimate objects to life.

My favorite of the student films is Stanton's Somewhere in the Arctic, a simply animated (Stanton acknowledges he was one of the weaker animators in his group at CalArts) bit of silliness about a savvy polar bear who outwits a trio of high-strung hunters. Like Presto, it has a Warner Bros. sensibility to it with its use of random, non-sequitur jokes (where does a polar bear find a boombox anyway?). It's fun to watch and, as Stanton points out in his introduction, it's a reminder of how an audience will let a film maker get away with shortcuts in animation as long as there's a good story.

For all of Pixar's technological accomplishments in animation, the greatest strength of its creative people has always been their ability to tell a story. As the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 demonstrates, even before they ventured beyond the walls of CalArts, Lasseter, Stanton and Docter had that gift.

La Luna


  1. I think this needs to go in my stocking this year! In this collection, La Luna and Presto are two of my favorites. La Luna's visuals were so appealing to me and the energy and humor in Presto drew me in. The student work will be interesting to see. I always love special bonus features like that.

  2. Christi, I'm a total geek when it comes to interesting bonus features. It really is fun to see what Lasseter, Stanton and Docter were doing when they were just starting out. It's like seeing Walt Disney's early work in Kansas City. It's a marvel to see where their talents lied and how far they've come.