Pixar Animation Studios (1984-2007), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (November 6 2007), single disc, 54 mins plus supplements, multiple aspect ratios (1.33-2.39:1 original full-frame and anamorphic widescreen), Dolby Digital, Not Rated, Retail: $29.99
An unlucky number for some, but not for computer animation pioneers Pixar, who present 13 of their high tech toons in one sitting, though not, it seems, all from the best available versions…
The Sweatbox Review:
Firstly, I must make a small grudge at the “Volume 1” badge that this collection of Pixar’s animated CG shorts bears: is there anyone out there seriously that is expecting an imminent announcement of a second helping? And, while we could well be waiting ten years or so for enough material to have been generated for a follow-up, does anyone not expect that release to contain this disc’s contents anyway? It just seems awfully pompous to slap that tag on there, since the future of Pixar is secure under their new home at the Mouse Factory and any idea that we won’t be seeing any more from the Pixar Shorts unit is simply not on the cards.
Pixar, and their animated history and films, surely need little to no introduction, though it’s fair to say that the company came about as an offshoot to George Lucas’ computer animation division of his visual effects unit Industrial Light And Magic, who had blazed trails with a sequence for Star Trek II that depicted the regeneration of a planet, Genesis II, using computer graphics. Over at Disney, young animator John Lasseter had been wowed by the work that was being done on the Studio’s Tron, and attempted to develop the tools with traditional animator Glen Keane. The pair’s test sequence failed to impress the shortsighted top brass, and while Keane remained, Lasseter jumped ship to ILM, where his animator’s eye was able to inject life and character into the mainly technical work being developed there.
With Lucas having to pay out divorce costs and looking for some fast cash, he opted to sell off the “Computer Animation Project” as it was then known to Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs, where a name change to fuse use of image “pixels” and the intentions of “art” resulted in coining the term Pixar. The company was originally a software rendering solution, whose major income came from the revenue of the RenderMan tool, with Lasseter on board to create short films that were, in essence, nothing more than commercials to show off the tools. ILM continued to look at computer animation independently, eventually wowing moviegoers with indestructible Terminators and resurrected dinosaurs, while Disney continued a relationship with the company to develop the means for three-dimensional backgrounds as seen in such groundbreakers as Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.
Through all these projects and developments, Pixar continued to sit out the filmmaking game as an independent, producing well-crafted commercials and the occasional short film. Academy Award recognition for Luxo Jr and Tin Toy brought new attention to them from Disney, with whom they have always had a working relationship harking back to Lasseter’s days at the Studio, who suggested they were perhaps ready for the big leagues. The result was another groundbreaker, Toy Story, as big a deal and a gamble as Walt Disney’s own first forays into feature animation, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs nearly 60 years before. Since that film’s success in 1995, each new Pixar outing has seen an animated short film attached to each print (and each movie’s subsequent DVD) in a bid to create maximum value and recreate the old-fashioned entertainment experience.
A grouping of these films has often been requested by enthusiasts, though the Pixar Short Films Collection isn’t the first time we’ve seen such an assortment. The original deluxe LaserDisc boxed set edition of Toy Story, in late 1996, featured an entire side dedicated to mapping out the Pixar timeline right up until their feature debut by way of non-fussy presentations of the first five films, from the LucasFilm era’s The Adventures Of André And Wally B and the 1988 Oscar-winning Tin Toy, the eventual inspiration for Toy Story itself, and the original edition of Knickknack, which would later get a reissue makeover. The same, roughly half hour of shorts, were more widely released during publicity for 1999’s Toy Story 2 in a VHS compilation entitled Tiny Toy Stories, a name obviously trading on the company’s biggest hit but being slightly misleading in that most of the films didn’t feature toys and many of them are eventually fairly downbeat. Brightening things up somewhat were newly animated interstitials featuring the Toy Story cast, but the lack of original main or end credits precluded this from being a true collectors’ item.
The emergence of the internet saw Pixar riding the early wave of video streaming, where short form content such as trailers and contained clips could be easily downloaded even with narrow bandwidth. The Pixar shorts – including the more rarely seen Red’s Dream and the non-redux Knickknack – were each available for viewing on the web in their entirety alongside outtakes from the features and their original theatrical trailers. They weren’t officially able to be saved, and the site nowadays only allows for a selected number to be previewed in part, so with several new cartoons – not to mention two new home video formats – having made their debuts since then, fans have reasoned that it’s high time a new, definitive collection be made available for keeps. For those without any of the other Pixar feature film discs and those looking for a couple of rarities, this is what the Pixar Short Films Collection essentially serves up.
Starting, where else, at the beginning, 1984’s The Adventures Of André And Wally B (1:56, 1.33:1, 1984) finds Lasseter at LucasFilm, pushing the boundaries of computer animation at the time to create a fun – if short, at less than two minutes – outing for a character that might have gone on to further projects had the unit stayed with Lucas’ ILM. While the mantra “story is king” has become well worn at Pixar, it’s evident even back here, with the tools working to convey the antics of a mischievous bumble bee and his fast moving target (to comical effect to the strains of Rossini) and not the other way around. Not that the technology looks weak: though many years would pass between this film and Geri’s Game, those gorgeous, sun-kissed autumnal Pixar leaves are on full show in the backgrounds, and the character animation still beats the pants off the lesser studios trying such fare nowadays, with a clear understanding of squash and stretch technique combined with developing the realistic effects of motion blur. Though the staging and character designs are fairly basic, they pull away from the computer animation conventions of the time by going for an asymmetrical approach with André and a very rubbery cartoon look for Wally B, the buzzer. It’s actually impressive how much the models resemble the concept drawings (as glimpsed in the credits), even if they were created with the limitations of the tools in mind. While André And Wally B is little more than a proof of concept test, it certainly shows the early stages of something very promising, and with a succinct beginning, middle and end – however simple – engages and entertains with a slight Chuck Jones sensibility.
Next up is Pixar’s breakthrough, and Lasseter’s pet project, the charming Luxo Jr (2:08, 1.66:1, 1986), the Academy Award-nominated short that introduced Pixar – and largely the idea of computer animation – long before the term “CGI” became integral to visual effects discussions. A treat is that this is the original version of the short (from a clean film print) instead of the 15th Anniversary Toy Story 2 edition, which accompanied that film in theaters and on its initial DVD release, without the retrospective text introduction that reveals why Pixar has a hopping lamp in their logo. A masterpiece of observational behavior, here Lasseter creates a totally convincing pair of desk lamp personalities: one clearly the boisterous, enthusiastic innocent and the other a concerned and caring parent. These traits might be clear from their sizes at first, but the characteristics are actually more present in the way they act and move…groundbreaking work from the small crew of pioneers who created it. Simple (the “desktop” is the only location in the single-shot film), short and sweet, with another fully rounded “story” and a smile inducing punchline, it’s no wonder that Luxo Jr made the Oscar Academy sit up and take note: Pixar’s first film was nominated for Best Short Subject, starting a long flirtation between the two entities that continues to this day.
If Luxo Jr was big on personality, then Red’s Dream (4:10, 2.00:1, 1987) could arguably be called more of a push for developing the CG tools rather than breaking out any new characters. Even so, the unicycle that features at the center of the film’s flashback sequence is full of heart. A lonely little seat and wheel that’s seen much more fun days than as a discount item in a bike store, Red comes to life during a rain storm outside and recalls the circus act that he presumably used to be a part of. While Red’s Clown companion’s tricks are a little old hat, the audience goes wild when Red himself swoops in to save the Clown’s close to failed juggling act, before the rain outside replaces the applause and Red finds himself back in the store, perhaps left there by the Clown after a few more failed performances. If Red’s Dream sounds a little downbeat, that’s because it is, the clear attempt by the young Pixarians to create a deeper emotion from their characters rather than the broad smiles that they previously chased. Red’s Dream is actually the first Pixar short I ever saw, before I even knew what a Pixar was or how it was made, and it remains one of my favorites today. There’s so much in this short that isn’t even in the picture: is Red’s dream a wish or is it, as I like to think, a flashback to better times that suggests even more story when one wonders how he’s ended up as a clearance sale item in a luxury bike store. It’s also interesting as to why Red is the only cycle to come to life in the Eben’s Bikes store (named for Lasseter’s collaborator Eben Ostby). As I say, it’s one of my favorites, and the slow, moody saxophone solo score still echoes in my head whenever it pours outside. There are the usual Pixar touches: the heavy spotlight on the circus performers that blacks out their surroundings leaves the soundtrack to do the work of creating the “audience” around them, and fans of spotting appearances from other characters (most notably the “Pixar ball”) will delight in the circus ring’s groundsheet. It’s not quite true to say we never saw anything more of the characters from Red’s Dream, either: though I can’t find any further references for the Clown, I’ve seen him pop up here and there in shots that don’t come from this short, and am always intrigued as to where he ended up himself!
With mastery of inanimate objects at their hands, the next film, Tin Toy (5:10, 1.78:1, 1988) pushed boundaries even further, extending the filmmakers’ reach, again under director Lasseter, to longer form storytelling, grander locations, better sound design and bolder attempts at model designs: Tin Toy marks Pixar’s first non-caricatured human. The film is a giant leap ahead in terms of almost every level…the playroom feels real, aided by terrific audio of a television set being watched in another room that serves to fill in some plot all by itself, indicating that a parent is just a few feet away. Calling up the concept behind Toy Story, which this film eventually inspired, is the idea of a marching band toy, Tinny, that comes to life when the adults aren’t around. So, with Mom or Pop in the other room, Tinny thinks he’s got free range of the place…until the “giant” footsteps of tiny Billy come pounding along to strike terror into any small toy! The baby is as convincing as it needs to be – still certainly impressive even after all these years – and despite our first hand knowledge of how young children act that suggests all is not quite as real as it seems, there’s also a great level of observational acting in the kid’s personality (just check out that sneeze!). Indeed, the credits bear out that a lot of babies were stared at by Lasseter during production: Tin Toy is the first computer animated film that runs a list of babies’ names (later a Pixar tradition) in the credits, along with several other amusing entries! There are some nice cartoony touches: Tinny’s trip under the sofa raises perhaps the biggest laugh, while the window reflection on his head is a standard four-pane bright spot as opposed to the technically correct multi-paned windows in the room. A final revelation from Tinny that toys should be played with as opposed to not is a theme again echoed in the Toy Story movies, but it’s no wonder that the amusing storyline and terrific leap forward in CG terms won the short the Best Animated Short Oscar at the 1988 Academy Awards.
With a humming (and hummable) music score by Bobby McFerrin, Knick Knack (3:35, 1.85:1, 1989) is perhaps the last of the “original” Pixar shorts produced before the company went large and started branching into features. It’s certainly the final film to have been previously released in any Pixar compilation before this, and is very much of the kind that came before: centering on a group of inanimate objects come to life. Here the emphasis is on a snow globe Snowman, a reminder of a trip to Alaska, as he sits on the shelf yearning to break out of his cold watery home and make for the sunnier climes of Florida, Palm Springs (and Death Valley!) – or most likely the very obvious charms of Miss Miami! At least, he would be if this had been the original 1989 version of this short as seen in the Toy Story bonus LaserDisc and the Tiny Toy Stories release. For Knick Knack’s 2003 reissue with Finding Nemo, the film was re-rendered for direct digital quality and, along the way, Miss Miami and a pretty Atlantis Mermaid’s “Pamela Anderson assets” were shrunken down a few cup sizes to look more representational than physical. Yep, the Pixar boys who had created the obvious male fantasy chests had supposedly grown up, and the silly young men’s attempts at the female form were now apparently seen as non-family friendly. So the fascination factor these female figurines once attracted has been replaced with…well, nothing. While the changes don’t affect the pacing of the cartoon – and it’s correct to call this Jones/Avery-esque blackout styled short a cartoon – there clearly wasn’t any harm in the original visions of these enticing ladies, and their overtly physical attributes actually provide more of a motivation for the hapless Snowman to attempt to pick, hammer, drill, torch and blast his way to Sunny Miami! These girls are obviously made of plastic, after all, so it was all part of the joke, and probably the only reason the Snowman wants out. With this main joke now gone, the initial reaction of the Snowman is subdued. Newcomers will not perceive any differences, but for us older fans, it’s not quite the same. Knick Knack proved a watershed in Pixar’s history…it was the last of the original pre-feature run but is also the most “contemporary” of these shorts that could come out as a “new” film today and have the same effect. Perhaps that’s why it got the Nemo digital makeover? Whatever the context, and whatever version you’re seeing, Knick Knack remains one of Pixar’s most entertaining comedy shorts.
With the success of Toy Story in theaters (which was accompanied by a Roger Rabbit cartoon reissue), Pixar marked a return to shorts after almost ten years and began the practice of creating a new film to be attached to each new feature with A Bug’s Life and Geri’s Game (4:50, 1.66:1, 1997, released 1998). Before the introduction of the Best Animated Feature Film award at the Oscars, Pixar scored another win for this short, an ingenious display of quick cutting that literally creates the illusion of a secondary adversary for old Geri as he sits to compete in a game of chess against…himself! This is a terrific little film, a deserved Oscar winner, as much for the animation (those gorgeous golden Pixar leaves are back) as for the creation and personality of Geri himself. Under Jan Pinkava – the first director to helm a Pixar short other than Lasseter, and the original writer/director of Ratatouille – the crew create a perfectionist’s view of a dream park where an old man is able to spend the day and engage himself as he chooses. As mentioned, it’s a mixture of the story artists and Jim Kallett’s editing (rather than the animation of Geri himself) that really lifts the film, which was obviously intended as the first of a new batch as highlighted by the references to the fresh Pixar Shorts unit. For my money, Geri got ever better animation treatment in a cameo role as a toy specialist in Toy Story 2 a couple of years later. Previously available on both single disc and collectors’ editions of A Bug’s Life, the film will be familiar to most, as many of the following shorts will be.
Attached to the monster hit Monsters Inc, For The Birds (3:21, 1.85:1, 2000, released 2001) is another of Pixar’s more cartoon-orientated outings. This is the one with the stuck-up little feathered fiends who object to a more goofy, lanky blue bird with poor coordination joining them. It plays like classic silent comedy, a Pixar strong point, and it’s beautifully and comically all told in just expressions and super fluid character animation. The designs, too, are superlative, being grounded in classic animation but with a CG sensibility. The short caused something of a sensation when it debuted, and even sprouted some limited edition plush figure merchandise! Slightly – and healthily – demented, it’s no wonder that it won Pixar another Oscar for Best Animated Short.
Although it also has a Monsters Inc connection, I just can’t get excited about the inclusion of Mike’s New Car (3:47, 1.33:1, 2002) here, because it is little more than a DVD extra for that film. While I’ve nothing against the short itself – it’s fairly amusing – it was created, intended and presented in the 4×3 screen size directly for small screen viewing, and quite why it was submitted, or how it even qualified, for Academy Award consideration is a mystery to me, leading the way for other DVD shorts to get themselves noticed in the same way. At the end of the day, these are marketing gimmicks, designed to bring the audiences something “new” on their DVD purchases, and often the most heavily promoted bonus feature on cover stickers. And, while it’s true to say that they’re welcome on this disc, I wish they’d been set aside in their own sort of “bonus section” as these things don’t work as stand alone shorts in the way the classic Pixar shorts do (or should). Coming to this fresh, who is the Mike of the title? Who are these strange creatures (voiced again by John Goodman and Billy Crystal – the first speaking roles in this collection) and where do they live? There’s no set up because the filmmakers assume we all know the characters and situations from the preceding feature film, which is why Mike’s New Car is a spin-off, and not a short of its own. Values are top-notch, as they should be, and screen shape apart there’s nothing in the animation to suggest that any major corners were cut, but this just doesn’t really belong in the same line up as truly creative works as Luxo Jr, Red’s Dream or Tin Toy.
Boundin’ (4:40, 1.85:1, 2003, released 2004), on the other hand, really does belong in the classic Pixar canon. Many folks couldn’t get their heads around the whimsical nature of long-time storyman Bud Luckey’s written and directed short, but it’s exactly these fanciful quirks that lead me to count Boundin’ as one of my favourite of all the Pixar films. Despite the CGI sheen, it’s very reminiscent of the Disney featurettes of the 1950s and early 60s; outings such as Morris The Midget Moose, Lambert The Sheepish Lion, A Cowboy Needs A Horse, Goliath II or the stop-motion curio Noah’s Ark, with its offbeat characters and story – told through sung narration – and delivering a warm message in a highly entertaining fashion. Again, due to great exposure in connection with The Incredibles in theaters and on DVD, Boundin’ has become a well known computer animated short, and many “inspirations” and “homages” (including Pixar’s own Cars spoof) have since filled other shorts and, especially, TV commercials (as has the catchy McFerrin tune from Knick Knack). For those coming to it for the first time, you’re in for a treat like nothing you’ve ever experienced from Pixar before. Some fantastic animation which again recalls the old-school way of doing things, and a totally original take make this little film a winner, even if it didn’t take away the Best Animated Short Oscar (for which it was nominated) in its year.
There’s more DVD spin off material (and another Bud Luckey vocal) to be found in Jack-Jack Attack (4:43, 1.78:1, 2004, released 2005), which is in essence very little more than a deleted sequence from The Incredibles. Once again, there’s a strong need and reliance on viewers having seen the original movie or else the characters and situations mean absolutely nothing. Even in context of being an Incredibles DVD extra, this short isn’t the best of the Pixar films by any means, and on closer inspection it comes over as what it is: segments from a deleted sub-plot line that has had new linking material infused with it to create something “new” to have promoted on the DVD’s cover as added value material. Production values are high, of course, since a handful of shots were literal outtakes from the feature film, so they carry writer-director Brad Bird’s fingerprints on them, but this is a bonus feature, not a stand-alone short in the innovative Pixar tradition. Although undoubtedly amusing on a first viewing, Jack-Jack doesn’t really stand up to repeated performances – and certainly not as a standalone short – as it essentially fills in the background plot of what goes on at the Parr’s household while the family are out saving the day and Kari the babysitter is left alone holding their unpredictable baby son. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, they won’t know who Syndrome is when he turns up or why he’s wearing that costume. It makes various references to the film that, while clever, are fine as an expanded deleted scene or DVD extra, but nothing that will make any sense to those coming to the supers’ worlds for the first time – one simply has to have seen the movie to pick up all the jokes.
One Man Band (4:31, 2.39:1, 2005, released 2006) brings us back to what Pixar does best in their true, standalone animated shorts: tell a rewarding little story, usually without dialogue, in a handful of minutes. Played with Cars in theaters, One Man Band shows it’s the simple set up that pays off handsomely in a Pixar short, its short length proving that less is indeed more, and much more innovation and repeatable entertainment than the following Mater short in only half the length. Writer-directors Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews create a wonderfully almost-real setting where a young girl’s single coin is the center of attention from two competing musical artists. It is down to the tight storytelling that so much gets packed into the short length and one almost misses the point where the tables are turned and the little girl suddenly commands the situation, to appropriately comic effect and satisfying ending. As well as providing a fun time, One Man Band innovates by being Pixar’s first wide widescreen animated short, which lends it a scrumptious look and making it one of the visually absorbing of all the Pixar films.
Mater And The Ghostlight (7:10, 1.78:1, 2006) follows the extras trend again, being the added value for the original Cars DVD, from which this short uses some of its main characters. Running a longer than usual seven minutes, depending on how much you liked the Mater character will inform how much you find the short amusing, or indeed worthwhile. There’s a bonding sequence in the main Cars feature that feels like it could have incorporated material from what ended up in Ghostlight, which doesn’t help make the short feel anything new – indeed much of this film feels once again expanded from that moment in the feature. There’s also the question of timelines: does Ghostlight take place during, or after, Cars? Neither suggestion actually makes much sense. It’s a fairly amusing piece of animation for what it is, and for once the idea of talking automobiles has been done so much in cartoons that it might almost work as a standalone had it not felt so much like the somewhat lacklustre bonus promotional item that it really is. Although those coming to Radiator Springs will find themselves able to enjoy this on its own merits much more than Mike’s New Car or Jack-Jack Attack, there just isn’t a lot of life in this non-starter, and it’s fair to say that the overlong Ghostlight is Pixar’s weakest short film.
Finally, Lifted (5:00, 1.85:1, 2006, released 2007) brings us back up to the top level for this collection’s closing, coming to disc fresh from its theatrical debut with Ratatouille (also appearing on that film’s DVD). Long-time Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom makes his jump to directing and his animated debut with a cute story of an oddball alien who brings his ship down to Earth to extract a perfect human specimen. Unlucky for him, he bungles each abduction attempt to the lament of his increasingly weary supervisor, whose exasperation is only matched in his poor student’s growing nerves! While I liked Lifted since I saw a peek at it some time ago, seeing it again in crystal clear digital clarity reminded me that this very much belongs in the Pixar “cartoon box” of the more comical shorts as opposed to the technical innovations or emotionally charged efforts. This doesn’t detract from the overall importance of the film, but for all the toying with gravity, it does lack weight, no pun intended. It’s highly amusing, but feels more of an aside rather than a fully rounded short film in its own right, which could well have contributed to the lack of an Oscar win earlier this year. Textures and detail is likewise less a feature, and the intent seems to have been for a simple looking, fun picture as opposed to anything more. That’s all fine and dandy, but there’s something missing here that even the direct-to-video DVD extras have. While it’s a comical cartoon – with some lovely nods to Close Encounters’ lighting design and its John Williams music stabs – to end this first collection with, one can’t help but wonder what Pixar has up their sleeves next.
All in all, the Pixar Short Film Collection feels about as lightweight as Lifted. Quite why the collection has come about now is anyone’s guess, but the recent buyout from Disney and their need to start seeing a return on their Pixar assets can’t be a far guess, as is an attempt to get something out there for the company’s 20th Anniversary. If that is the case, however, why not wait and bundle these films in a much more lavish two-disc set alongside Leslie Iwerks’ new, definitive Pixar feature film documentary? Rights issues? Baloney…Iwerks’ film is an independent production; she’d be more than happy with the wider distribution and Disney, no doubt, would like to see the clips from their movies go out on home video under their supervision. It would prove to be something much more in keeping with Pixar’s usual commitment to quality at any rate, and not far of a stretch considering she is credited twice in the accompanying documentary (once for additional interview material obviously taken from her feature footage).
This collection just feels so lean. Hard-core fans will already own most of the films here, and real die-hards will own all of them in some form or another in both original and reissue versions and on their various disc editions. Then again there are questions as to “missing content”: why include the feature film spin-offs when they are nothing more than DVD extras, but then omit several other disc bonuses such as Mr Incredible And Pals, the Cars’ Boundin’ spoof or the brand new, traditionally animated Your Friend The Rat? There are also many in-house Pixar test animations that have never seen public release that could well have provided a few surprises and reasons for a few extra copies to be shifted, as well as known interview and documentary material (such as a 1990s Pixar TV special with Lasseter) that feels absent. The feature films are naturally untouched upon – save for the bonus shorts – but it might have been nice to see “exclusive” teaser animation for the Pixar films, especially as they don’t seem to pop up on Disney’s DVDs any more.
What is certainly very clear here is Pixar’s use of pantomime and their dedication to telling a story as economically visually as can be done. All the better shorts (basically, anything that didn’t come knocked off from a feature) are silent films, though they are able to convey their characters’ intentions and emotions every bit as well – if not better – than their yappering cousins in the more talkie film spin offs. This isn’t just more enjoyable and entertaining, but resorts to cinema in its purest form, boding extremely well for the rumored to be wordless feature film WALL-E coming up next year. While there’s not much “new” here to get fans too excited, this is a reminded of Pixar’s roots and why they’re so good at what they do.
Is This Thing Loaded?
I’ve made a bit of a beef as to what would have made this a truly special release above, and it’s fair to say that the handful of extras we’re offered don’t quite make up for those shortcomings. First things first, and the disc kicks off with the standard Disney Blu-Ray promo, the WALL-E teaser (2.35:1 letterboxed 4:3), the Return To Never-Land reissue, Santa Clause 3 and the concurrently released Ratatouille. The main menu is pretty neat, taking us to Pixar’s private screening theater, where we’re able to choose Play All options for a run through of all the shorts or individual selection, a menu theme that will feel familiar to visitors of Pixar’s original Shorts section on the web back when these films were viewable there. The menus are classy, pushing the film medium rather than any whizz-bang graphics, and do the job nicely (though why Lifted gets its nice blue glow around its title when the others are basic white renderings of their title logos is a mystery). As usual with Pixar titles, there is no Disney FastPlay function to run through the disc from the outset.
Available on all the films (save Jack-Jack Attack) are optional audio commentaries, which may sound fantastic at first – and in the case of a couple are – until one realises that these are carry overs again from the shorts’ original debuts on other DVD editions. There are a number of new tracks, of course, for the films that haven’t been yet included in previous releases and from before such things were featured on the short films on those original discs. A bit of a cheat are “new” commentaries for One Man Band, Ghostlight and Lifted, all of which should have been included on their respective DVDs but instead fell curse to the double dipping and withholding material from overlapping releases. As before on DVD, Mike’s New Car has its track handed over to co-directors Pete Docter and Roger Gould’s very enthusiastic children, while the debut tracks (for the likes of André & Wally B, Luxo, Red’s Dream, Tin Toy and Geri’s Game) are great, especially Wally B, which packs almost a feature’s worth of talk into its two minutes! As a director or executive producer, Lasseter is a force present on most of the tracks, and his comments take us through Pixar’s history as well as the many arduous initial steps into CG filmmaking that the small team had to overcome. The genesis for each short are usually elaborated upon, along with the technical developments, and Red’s Dream even reveals the name of the Clown, which I found pretty neat (though Knick Knack’s cosmetic changes are not acknowledged, sadly).
The lamp stars of Luxo Jr reappeared several times on screen and I was amazed to catch one such moment in a documentary on CG animation once and find that there was more Luxo out there. For ages it was hard to pin these extra Luxo shorts down to being actually produced by Pixar, and it’s only in the past couple of years that I found out that they indeed were and, it turns out, exclusively for the Sesame Street television program. A real treat here us the inclusion of four such Sesame Street Luxo spots: Surprise, Light And Heavy, Up And Down, and Front And Back. They only run an average of 30-40 seconds each, but it’s great to finally see them in their entirety and though there’s no combined “Play All” it’s apparent these were never meant to run as one unofficial “sequel” as the lamps very clearly exhibit different emotions in each. The only slight disappointment is the seeming VHS source for the first two clips, but this is as much fun as seeing those two running through their paces for the first time again.
The most substantial bonus is The Pixar Shorts: A Short History documentary, a 23-minute recap of Pixar’s first 20 years and their development of the short films unit, presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. The Pixar shorts unit really is the beginnings and roots of the entire Pixar Animation Studios, and this featurette delves deep into what it was like to be part of the young pioneering group who were lucky enough to be developing their own tools and stories. Pixar’s top talking heads from past, present and future all contribute, and the company’s start from showcasing at SIGGRAPH to preparing to mount their first feature is well documented. However, I noticed one little thing that could be a very big deal that no-one else seems to have spotted: both Luxo Jr and Tin Toy are excerpted quickly throughout, and both films certainly look to me to be in much better shape than in the editions we’re presented on the disc itself. Indeed, Tin Toy lacks the gate weave found on its film print in the shorts line up and even comes in at a 1.66 ratio – very, very odd, and a real let down to the consumer if these are not the best the films can look, especially if you’re shelling out for the high-definition Blu-Ray edition.
A few Easter Eggs round out the package, the first of which can be found in the Short Films menu under the entry for Boundin’. A small Luxo should light up and selecting it will present a full two minute version of Luxo Jr that’s labelled as a “pencil test” but is more in keeping with the first wire frame model passes we’re more used to seeing today. Taken from a rough old film print, this is an interesting way to see how Lasseter keyframed the animation using the many nodes seen on the models. In Set Up: Audio, you’ll find a small flag under the Spanish option; selecting it shows Flags And Waves, a 1986 test shot (rather than an actual short) by Bill Reeves and Alain Fournier that makes first attempts at realistic wind and water effects, running 13 seconds from a 1.66:1 print. Go for English For The Hearing Impaired option in Set Up: Subtitles and hit the up key on your remote to select what appears to be a sun lounger. This will take you to another 1986 film, Beach Chair by Eben Ostby, an almost 20 second test short (1.66:1 print) that was created to explore animation and effects tools.
Apart from the already mentioned extras that could have been added for more value, there was a great half-hour TV special that combined an on-camera interview with Lasseter with the first few shorts that might have been included (along with the original Knickknack), and howsabout seeing his animated film Lady And The Lamp from 1979? There’s also a ton of archive footage sprinkled throughout that would have made super-fascinating geek viewing. For more mainstream audiences, Boundin’ on DVD originally also came with a sweet featurette on creator Bud Luckey, whose writer, director, production designer, music, lyrics and vocal fingerprints are all over the picture. Who Is Bud Luckey? profiled the artist and his work for Pixar (including his vocals on The Incredibles), as well as featuring behind-the-scenes footage of how his short was produced, and would have been welcome here. There’s also Leslie Iwerks’ Pixar 20th Anniversary special that’s still unavailable on DVD. Also, as just mentioned, how come we don’t get the more stable, aspect ratio fixed versions of Luxo Jr and Tin Toy as glimpsed in the documentary? I had wondered, with all of the imaging power at Pixar’s computers’ disposal, why fresher, more solid versions of some of the films here were not remastered for this release, and it seems we’ll have to wait for another release for them!
The shiny, foil embossed red of The Incredibles and Cars strikes again on the DVD’s slipcase, which is a pretty colorful but classy affair, repeated fairly exactly on the regular sleeve underneath. The text outline on the back might dress these up a little too much, but so be it that they blow their own trumpet. Inside, there’s an offer for a collectible pin set (when Pixar Shorts is bought with Ratatouille) and the Disney Movie Rewards code, plus a quick listing of the shorts which is really one way of filling up the space on the back of a promo for Cars on Blu-Ray Disc.
Ink And Paint:
Despite absolutely no indication on the packaging (which, granted, could have caused much confusion), all of the shorts in the Pixar Collection have been preserved in their natively created aspect ratios, with practically all shorts coming from digital files. 1.33 titles are presented in 4×3 “fullscreen”, while anything wider has been anamorphically encoded for 16×9 displays. The earlier films are represented by good looking film prints, and though a few instances of evidence of the format could have been removed even further, these are certainly the cleanest as we’re ever likely to see the shorts looking, while the digital transfers of the later films are as good or better as their individual issues on various Pixar DVDs.
My only suspicion is with Mike’s New Car, which is shown full-frame as on the Monsters Inc DVD. As I said in my review of that title, apart from the opening titles, the rest of the short still feels slightly cramped in the frame as if it was also originally intended for showing in a wider ratio. However, since it turns up here as before, one must settle for the fact that this is how it’s meant to be seen: strange as it is to come across the old ratio in a predominantly widescreen stream of shorts.
Another gripe is that the older film mastered shorts, while they do look fine, look even better in clearly digitally restored versions glimpsed at in the documentary. If there are better, cleaner editions of Luxo Jr and Tin Toy out there and available without the grain and gate weave, why didn’t we get them here?
Again, age plays a part in how dynamic or modern the tracks sound for each short, but there are none here that sound particularly dated, except for maybe the Wendy Carlos-like synthesized music on the closing credits of André And Wally B. Most of the earlier shorts are presented with their original Dolby Stereo (2.0) tracks intact, while the later films come blasting out with full gangbusting 5.1 surround mixes. Reproduction is as before on previous releases, and such is the good work and relationship Pixar have enjoyed with LucasFilm’s sound department (known as Sprocket Systems and Skywalker Sound over the years) and their audio wizards, that one of them, Gary Rydstrom, is now a Pixar crew himself, the director of Lifted. English, French and Spanish subs and dubs are included, as are subtitles in all languages for the filmmakers’ commentaries.
Far from being a substantial celebration of Pixar’s 20 years, which I have a feeling this was sort of intended for, this collection of short films barely fills a standard DVD disc at just 54 minutes playing time (and considerably less given the many repeated front logo and end credit scrolls). The documentary pads things out and even plugs a few gaps with glimpses at the SIGGRAPH presentations made by the studio back in its earliest days, but $30 is still a lot to shell out for a one-hour program that doesn’t have a consistent storyline and even contains some shorts that might even be a complete turn off for the very young. Though it does run through the gamut of Pixar’s output, from LucasFilm to the DVD bonuses, the simple fact is that most of this will already be on most collectors’ shelves in other forms and it loses points by not being the definitive celebration of the shorts or the company’s 20th Anniversary. Perhaps a price point of under $20 (and $25 for Blu-Ray) may have made it more of a tempting luxury, but the advice is to only grab this if you need to, and even then only at good release date discounts or when it hit the sales. The very annoyingly frustrating knowledge that the better, newer masters of the older films haven’t been used here also hints at another release and, while it’s a nice idea, it’s one that is certain to be revisited again in a much better package.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?