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The Best of the Pixar Shorts

The Best of the Pixar Shorts

After this past weekend, no one can deny Pixar and the Toy Story franchise’s dominance. It’s no overstatement to name Pixar among the best studios working today in terms of both quality and consistency. They are pioneers in computer graphics, and the amount of love and heart that goes into each of their projects is something to which all production companies should aspire. But as much as I am head-over-heels in love with their feature films, you cannot talk about the legacy of Pixar without discussing their short films. After all, Pixar got its start making animated shorts, the lamp hopping on the ball being the most famous and serving as the inspiration for their indelible logo. There are so many remarkable short films to choose from that narrowing the list to five was no simple task. So I decided to highlight the short films made even after Pixar made the jump to features as they represent the company’s commitment to its own roots.

Geri’s Game

Released theatrically as an appetizer for A Bug’s Life, Geri’s Game is a marvel of simplicity. I adore this short, and I cannot help but think of my grandfather whenever I watch it; I’d wager that’s a feeling shared by many. The artistry employed to bring Geri to life is phenomenal and really illustrates the company’s growth. I’ve always felt animating human beings was a major weakness for Pixar early on (evident in the Tin Toy short as well as, to a lesser extent, the first Toy Story), but Geri’s Game is where Pixar really nailed it. The film is funny, well-directed and, like any Pixar film, ultimately very touching.

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For the Birds

I love watching this short with my wife, who, as an ornithologist and fellow Pixar maniac, giggles nonstop at the fine-feathered follies. What’s interesting about For the Birds is that it eloquently plays with the Pixar convention of a lack of dialogue while simultaneously keeping it intact. At the time this was released, in Pixar shorts, the characters’ stories were told with facial expressions and grunts without a single word being uttered. It’s a testament to the genius of Pixar that they can create such strong bonds between audience and animated characters without their even speaking — the attribute honed to perfection in Wall-E. The squeaks and squawks of the birds, though unintelligible, denote the most conversation heard in a Pixar film up to that point.

Jack-Jack Attack

Of course, Pixar followed For the Birds with a short featuring a character that can’t seem to stop talking. This short was not released theatrically with The Incredibles but instead featured on its DVD. This is probably my second favorite of all of the Pixar shorts. Jack-Jack Attack never fails to leave me in stitches as the hapless but overly enthusiastic babysitter struggles to make sense of the bizarre behaviors of the baby in her care. I love the exploration of the spectrum of super powers as they manifest in a child too young to recognize even normal human abilities and therefore unfazed by the contrast of being able to fly or spontaneously combust. I also love the animation on Jack-Jack himself. He not only looks fantastic but the animators perfectly captured the sounds and mannerisms of an infant.

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Lifted

This short played before the unsurprisingly amazing Ratatouille. I love Pixar’s ability to take familiar concepts and tweak them with enough heart and personality as to make them their own. For example, alien abduction is an extremely old concept that predates the sci-fi genre itself, but Pixar brings a compelling, vulnerable human element to alien life forms, and the abduction serves as strangely humorous job training for a young extraterrestrial. It also adds an interesting spin regarding the difficulty of executing the perfect abduction. Its irreverent lampooning of the grandeur and otherworldly mystery of something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind is at the heart of its comedic genius.

Presto

Presto is far and away my favorite Pixar short of all time. Its classic conceit of the fractured relationship between a magician and his rabbit is explored with a slightly edgier brand of Pixar comedy. I love that at no point do the various magic-hat gags become tired or dull. The writing is sharp, the characters gorgeously animated, and it is absolutely hilarious. I fully admit that part of my favoritism toward Presto has to do with its accompanying Wall-E — my favorite Pixar feature — in theaters. But the other reason is that it reminds me of a very specific Looney Tunes cartoon that always made me laugh as a child.

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