There should always be a core reason for remaking classic media. The Wizard of Oz (1925) was the first adaptation of that story with sound while Ocean’s 11 (2001) gave the story more action and a larger scale. Even Dumbo (2018), another of Disney’s Live-Action Remakes, expanded the original plot past its conclusion. Pinocchio (2022), on the other hand, seems to exist purely to absolve the main character of any flaws.
Disney’s original telling of this tale in 1940 has, admittedly, not aged well. The age-old racist stereotype of the chain-smoking Native American gets a look-in while the child selling aspect is a bit intense. Honest John even sings about how “gay” an actor’s life can be which has different connotations these days. There are sultry puppets, evil whales, and minors drinking but Disney has brought this story into the 21st century by ignoring all that. It’s as safe and squeaky clean as stories can be. It’s so clean that Disney appears to have forgotten to give the story any morals.
1940 Pinocchio is a mischievous little scamp. No sooner is he born than he’s directly disobeying his father in the pursuit of becoming an actor. When he escapes the abuse of that life choice, he becomes enticed by an island with no rules and plenty of alcohol. He only leaves that island out of fear, with his first act of true selflessness being the rescue of Gepetto. 2022 Pinocchio goes through the same plot beats, but in a way that fully absolves him of any blame. He only becomes an actor after he is kicked out of school and he only goes to the island because he’s been kidnapped. By the time he rescues Gepetto, there is no question that he is pure of heart because he’s never been anything else. The same character assassination happens to Jiminy Cricket who once became a conscience to gain a medal. Here, he’s imprisoned in a glass for half the plot so that Pinocchio’s actions can’t be pinned on him either.
The morals of “a lie will grow until it’s as obvious as the nose on your face” and “actions have consequences that are sometimes dire” have totally vanished. Pinocchio (2022) would like the audience to know that lying is bad and that bad things can happen to good people but it will probably work out in the end.
The best decision made for this story is to give it a more cohesive plot. It no longer feels like 3 separate stories that happen in quick succession but like a series of events that lead to each other. However, it also adds backstory for Gepetto which may have been present in the source material but comes across here as forced. 1940 Gepetto wasn’t the most fleshed-out character but he was clearly lonely and longing for a family. So many pieces of current media feel the need to spell everything out for the audience as if they’re too dumb to figure it out from the subtext themselves. There can’t be any ambiguity about a character’s past or how they feel, despite mystery sometimes being a key part of their personality. Just because the audience knows more about a character, doesn’t mean they’re more likely to care.
It would be nice to say that the CGI is impressive and worth sticking around for but that isn’t the case. It’s at its most creative when Pinocchio reaches the island and embarks on a theme park ride through all the attractions it has. It’s whimsical and colourful but it’s the only part of the film to which this sentiment applies. Pinocchio feels hollow, like a tree that’s had its center removed.
Sure, the tree is still there but it no longer benefits the world it exists in.
Disney profiting from IP they didn’t create is nothing new. In fact, it’s been baked into the company’s DNA since its conception in 1923. The earliest feature-length films produced by the company were all based on pre-existing stories like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty but only one would provide the iconic Disney Theme. 1940’s Pinocchio gave the world When You Wish Upon A Star which has become a staple of the company since then, although the film itself is just as memorable.
When Italian carpenter Gepetto wishes that his latest project, a wooden marionette, could be a real boy, he gets what he wants. The Blue Fairy provides the boy with life and bestows upon a homeless cricket named Jiminy the role of his conscience until he grows one of his own. Over the course of 90 minutes, Pinocchio gets swept up in an acting gig, a plot to turn young boys into donkeys, and a fight against a giant whale to save his father. Everyone he meets wants to use him for their own ends so, even if he never said a word, he’d still be a sympathetic character. Even his trusted Jiminy seems to only want the job initially because The Blue Fairy promised him a gold medal, although he goes above and beyond the call of duty as the story progresses. Even when he contemplates it, he never leaves “Pinoke” to his fate.
Everyone in this story is at least a little bit terrible, which makes them come across as more human than the perfect characters of modern Disney. The nicest individual seems to be Gepetto but he has a very one-track mind, only focusing on the son he wishes he could have. His poor kitten Figaro ends up pushed to the side most of the time but he still somehow ends up in the whale with him. The Blue Fairy, though not malicious, is still placing an absurd amount of undeserved faith in Jiminy Cricket who is in the role for only a few moments before Pinocchio manages to set his hand on fire. Even Pinoke himself is quite selfish, only abandoning that attitude in the final 15 minutes when he is required by the story to learn his lesson. Not that this justifies the trauma he goes through.
First comes the anthropomorphic fox “Honest” John and his mute, feline friend Gideon, who sell Pinocchio to the selfish puppeteer Stromboli. There is no explanation as to why they are the only anthropomorphic animals, but if one had to guess then it would seem that certain animators wanted it that way. After The Blue Fairy helps Pinocchio escape the cage Stromboli had locked him in, our protagonist is immediately found and sold by Honest John again. Although, this time, it’s to a Coachman who lures boys to an island without rules so he can turn them into donkeys and sell them. No explanation for these circumstances or the logistics of it but it’s still a horrific segment to sit through. Then Pinoke and Jiminy return home to discover that Gepetto is trapped in a whale and they embark on a mission to save him that nearly kills them. You’ll never find out how or why Gepetto got there either. This plot is a bombardment on the brain and because of that, it’s oddly gripping. It’s just one befuddling circumstance after another. It’s made more intense with the context of this occurring over a couple of days.
Pinocchio has not aged well,. There are numerous shots of people’s rear ends, Jiminy is relentlessly interested in those rear ends and there are some “of the time” depictions of minority groups. The song I’ve Got No Strings on Me is primarily sung to Pinocchio by female marionettes with pronounced busts and sultry intentions, which oddly isn’t as well remembered as the song itself. Then there’s Stromboli who can perhaps best be described as Jew-coded and The Island which features a solid 15 minutes of underage drinking, smoking, and an unflattering Native American statue. The phrase “you couldn’t make that these days” gets thrown around too much but this is the first one I’ve seen where most of it would have to be cut or altered drastically.
As with all fairy tales, Pinocchio has a moral…in this case several. The iconic scene of his nose growing as he lies (which only occurs once?!) is about how lies can grow until they’re as obvious as the nose on your face. The point of The Island is that partaking in “debaucherous” activities like smoking and drinking makes you look like a fool. Even the idea of Jiminy receiving a medal for his work reinforces the idea that good morals are rewarded. One might say it’s very on the nose (teehee) but fairy tales usually are. Arguably, having traumatic events transpire as part of the plot should further reinforce these morals but whether it worked or not is uncertain. Many people only seem to recall the donkey transformation scene and it’s not exactly one of Disney’s most re-watched classics as far as I can tell.
Pinocchio is the perfect film to watch with friends. It provides plenty of shared laughs and shocks as well as the opportunity for riffing jokes. It’s also a good reminder of how much (most) of society has come in terms of “othering” and how utterly gorgeous 2D animation is. Despite being drawings on a page, they are filled with so much life and can be classed as pieces of art in their own right. This can’t be said for the “live-action” remake but that’s a story for another day.
Science fiction is an amazing genre. You can be anyone, anywhere at any time doing anything, with the only actual limit being your imagination. The realm of animation is the same and perhaps nobody knows that better than PIXAR Animation Studios. Their first feature film – 1995s Toy Story – is a landmark of cinema and they continued to push the boundaries of possibility with films like 2002s Monsters Inc and 2003s Finding Nemo. Today, Toy Story remains one of their most profitable IPs with 3 sequels and numerous shorts but clearly, they’re not done yet. Their most recent release is the first one to hit cinema since 2020s Onward, thanks to the COVID Pandemic, and it’s a wonderful return.
Lightyear sees Space Range Buzz Lightyear marooned on a distant planet with entire spaceships worth of people, determined to get them home. To do so he must perfect the formula for a hyperspace crystal and battle an armada of robots led by the mysterious Zurg with the assistance of several not-quite-rookies. The trailers may imply that this is an action blockbuster akin to the later Star Wars films but it has more in common with the 1977 original. There’s action, but it’s more focused on the main character and his journey, both across the barren landscape and emotionally. Chris Evans slides seamlessly into the role made famous by Tim Allen without ever feeling like a stand-in or replacement. The other characters can be fun too, especially the Hawthornes and Sox but Mo and Darby can often feel a little one-note.
The film is filled to the brim with references and homage. It may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you dislike things feeling too meta, but others are sure to get a kick out of it. For sci-fi fans, there are plenty of recognisable callbacks to some of the finest films ever produced in the genre. There are elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Alien that aren’t difficult to find with Lost in space being especially prevalent. There are plenty of nods for Toy Story fans too. A large amount of the dialogue is lifted directly from Buzz’s lines in the first two Toy Story installments without ever feeling forced or out of place. Even a few of the camera shots are direct parallels from previous movies, particularly the iconic scene of Buzz landing on Andy’s bed.
Tying it all together is the majestic score from Michael Giacchino who is one of the finest composers currently working in the industry. This marks his 8th collaboration with PIXAR and he continues to bring something new to everything he writes. The Incredibles was perfectly heroic. Ratatouille was suitably quaint and Lightyear aptly provides the space-traveler feel. It helps this to feel like the kind of movie that would inspire a TV show like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
A TV show that actually happened, aired on the Disney Channel, and never got a proper release after the fact. It deserves to be released DISNEY.
As previously mentioned, it won’t be for everyone. Some may find it slightly derivative of other sci-fi stories or may find that it doesn’t hit as hard emotionally as other PIXAR productions but it never feels like it set out to do these things. It exists to tell an entertaining story with some amazing visuals and it does that. As “kids’ first sci-fi” it’s brilliant, introducing a wide variety of concepts and explaining them simply. It feels like a love letter to the genre and the realm of animation.
It doesn’t go to infinity or beyond but it’s still worth travelling to see.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a masterpiece. Its visual storytelling makes the world feel lived in while the blending of 2D animation and real actors set the gold standard for pulling off such integration. With a lead performance from the grizzled yet charming Bob Hoskins and a child-scarring turn from Christopher Lloyd, it’s also a masterclass in acting. It deserves an article of its own but the main point is that it continues to serve as a love letter to the medium of animation, even after 34 years. Disney’s latest attempt to recapture that magic is the IP-laden Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.
The plot sees the iconic chipmunks living their everyday lives after the cancellation of their hit TV series in 1990. Despite no longer being on speaking terms, they must cooperate to retrieve their old friend Montgomery Jack from the clutches of the bootlegging Sweet Pete. The story isn’t reliant on the original show, meaning that it’s easily accessible to everyone. Die-hard fans may pick up some extra references but it doesn’t make or break the viewing experience. The cast does a wonderful job of portraying these characters, especially John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as Chip and Dale respectively. They’re easy-going, down to Earth, and bounce off each other expertly. Their voices also do a brilliant job of distinguishing between “Chip N’ Dale: TV Characters” and “Chip N’ Dale: Actors”, although those original high-pitched voices still get their moment to shine. These classic tones are provided by returning voice actors Tress McNeille and Corey Burton, who are just some of the returning voice talent.
As an IP-packed project, there are plenty of voices required. Each frame is packed with Disney characters, old and new, many of whom are portrayed by their original voice actors. Considering the preference for hiring celebrities in years (a trend started by Disney’s Aladdin) it’s nice to hear so many of them again. Among them are the legendary Jim Cummings and Alan Oppenheimer (best known for Winnie the Pooh and Skeletor respectively). It would be easy to praise Disney for this move, but it was likely the cheapest option.
Rescue Rangers‘ biggest flaw is that it’s a modern-day Disney production. The relentless cameos, references, and occasionally cringe-inducing humour makes it feel like a corporate product. It doesn’t feel like a love letter, it feels like a victory lap for a monopolistic company. The most entertaining aspect of these cameos is how likely they are to catch the audience off guard, particularly the blue one, but they don’t feel like they belong in this world. A large part of this is the variance in animation styles that don’t gel with each other. The PIXAR-esque characters are especially jarring, although it is amusing that there isn’t a single official PIXAR character to be found here. By far the worst aspect is how the film, and the company, treat beloved childhood icon, Peter Pan.
Now an adult, Peter goes by the moniker of Sweet Pete and he is anything but sweet. As the film’s primary antagonist, he is responsible for major kidnapping toons and altering their appearance to star in bootleg movies. This Peter was hired to portray his signature role as a child but was cast aside by the industry the moment he aged out of it. There’s a solid message here about how poorly child actors were, and occasionally still are, treated but it loses all value when it’s being told by a company notorious for doing this. Bobby Driscoll, the real child voice actor of  Peter Pan was cast aside by Disney, then by the industry. He fell into substance abuse and passed away in an abandoned house at the age of 31. This iteration of Pete feels like an insult to his memory.
Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers has all the vibes of a fun kids’ film. The Voice Actors do a wonderful job of capturing the heart of the characters and JK Simmons is excellent as the chief of police. Fans may get a kick out of it but the film’s biggest flaw is that it feels like a product. It’s self-aware, but not enough to demand you actually hold Disney accountable for the monopoly of IP it’s flaunting here. It may have some sweet moments but it leaves a sour aftertaste.
It’s more Ready Player One than Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. With a story as long as A Christmas Carol, it makes sense that any visual adaptation would be lengthy. However, this isn’t always the case; the earliest films based on the festive favourite by author Charles Dickens were lacking in minutes. A 1901 British adaptation clocked in at just over 6 minutes, an American 1908 adaptation (which is now lost) at 15 minutes, and another American adaptation in 1910 at just 13 minutes. Even the first feature-length adaptation The Right to be Happy was only 55 minutes, just shy of the average 90-minute runtime of later feature-length films. Perhaps the most famous of these short tales was Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983.
Running at 26 minutes, and initially released along with a re-issue of 1977’s The Rescuers (in the US) and a re-issue of 1967’s The Jungle Book (in the UK), Mickey’s Christmas Carol features a variety of classic Disney Animated characters perfectly cast in the various roles. The titular mouse brings his childlike optimism to the role of Bob Cratchitt, employee of the notorious Ebeneezer Scrooge, whilst the miserable miser himself is aptly portrayed by Scrooge McDuck, who was named and partially based on the character. McDuck’s Scottish accent gives his iteration of Scrooge a unique quality without ever falling into the absurdity that such an accent can lend itself to. The trio of ghosts are comprised of early-era Disney characters like Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Big Bad Pete. Jiminy served as a companion and conscience to Pinnochio in the 1940 film of the same name and brings equal level-headedness to his role as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Willie was the antagonist of Mickey and the Beanstalk in 1947’s package-film Fun and Fancy-Free. He’s much kinder but equally dim in his portrayal as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pete has been an adversary of Mickey Mouse since the very first short film from Walt Disney Animation, 1928’s Steamboat Willie and his menacing aura is perfect for the role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The background characters are comprised of an array of background characters from various films like 1933’s The 3 Little Pigs, 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and 1973’s Robin Hood.
One of the film’s finer qualities is that it never focuses on the Disney characters, treating them merely as actors absorbed by their roles. Later Disney films like 2019’s The Lion King would bank their success almost purely on the name of the IP, so it’s refreshing to see the opposite happening here. It aims to tell a story and it’s almost a happenstance that the roles are taken by Walt Disney Animation characters. It understands that the most important aspect is bringing A Christmas Carol to children en masse, although there’s no knowing how successful this goal was. There are of course figures for the Rescuers re-release to which it was first attached ($21,000,000) but subsequent DVD releases and television airings make it difficult to pinpoint any specific number. It is safe to assume it did well given it airs every festive season on national television (stations may vary) and it remains within the pop cultural zeitgeist. It is also the first of (currently) 3 adaptations, being followed by 1992’s The Muppets Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the titular creations of Jim Henson, and 2009’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the voice of Jim Carrey.
The most unfortunate aspect is that, despite managing the bare bones of the story, it manages very little else. Each part of the tale is lighter in substance than the original novel and indeed almost every other adaptation. The Ghost of Christmas Past never visits Scrooge’s childhood, opting only to show the Fezziwig party, and the Ghost of Christmas Present spends only moments with the Cratchitts. Many moments that may seem iconic to some, like Scrooge’s fireside dinner and the revelry at Fred’s Christmas lunch, are omitted entirely. Arguably the closest section in terms of content is The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t include Scrooge’s belongings being scavenged but does include a couple of gravediggers (aptly played by a pair of weasels) making light of the miser’s death, noting that it’s unsurprising that nobody attended his funeral. It’s the most memorable scene of the entire story, dripping with a dark atmosphere and oozing the colour red. Using the smoke from Pete’s cigar is an excellent, and very 1980’s, use of props.
It’s the atmosphere that makes Mickey’s Christmas Carol so great. From the timeless look of 2D, hand-drawn animation, and the set design, to the song Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day which was written specifically for the special and plays over the opening. It sounds like a Christmas carol and is full of all the heart, soul, and warmth that those songs contain. Even if you don’t feel nostalgia for those classic Disney characters, this is still a worthwhile addition to the ever-expanding list of adaptations.
In 2003, the Star Wars franchise was between instalments. Attack of the Clones had been released the previous year and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that Revenge of the Sith hit theatres. To fill in the gap and explore the legendary Clone Wars first mentioned in 1977’s A New Hope, Lucasfilm hired animator Genddy Tartakovsky to create an animated miniseries. Tartakovsky was well known, and well respected, for his television show Samurai Jack, the gritty tone and stylised animation of which can be found in abundance with Clone Wars.
The show aired on The Cartoon Network (later just Cartoon Network) during advertisement breaks with each of the first 20 episodes (series 1 and 2) running at just three minutes in length. The final five episodes (series 3) would get their own allotted time slot as they were upped in length to twelve minutes each. This meant that, in total, the entire show ran at just over two hours long, effectively giving us a feature length film between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was created as part of the main canon, with some elements even getting a mention in the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith such as series villain Asajj Ventress. To me, this series is still one of the finest pieces of storytelling and animation that Lucasfilm have ever given us, but there is now a new canon Clone Wars where this show once stood.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a 2008 computer animated film that follows Anakin Skywalker and his newly assigned Padawan Ashoka Tano as they attempt to retrieve the kidnapped son of crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Along the way, they and Obi Wan Kenobi must survive attacks and treachery from the Sith Lord Count Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress. Asajj is one of the few elements carried over from the 2003 miniseries, along with the general character designs and several members of the voice cast. The most prominent returns in terms of voice acting are James Arnold Taylor as Obi Wan and Tom Kane as Yoda. They would return again for the television show, of which this film was the backdoor pilot. As far as pilots go, this one is pretty good, although it isn’t perfect.
I’ve now watched The Clone Wars several times and each time I soften to it a little bit more. Before viewing it for this piece, I remember not being fond of it and thinking that it may be the worst of all the films in the franchise, however I was definitely being overly critical of it. There are critiques to be made for sure, but there is also plenty to enjoy. The soundtrack by composer Kevin Kiner really sets this film apart from the others, with its use of less common instruments like Dudukes and Ouds, and mid-2000s vibe. The oft-used John Williams theme is sampled for the opening and end credits, but the rest of the score is purely Kevin. The voice cast all give great performances too, whether it’s newcomers like James Arnold Taylor and Tom Kane or returning voices like Samuel L Jackson and Sir Christopher Lee. Whilst the animation itself comes across like computer game graphics, the backgrounds are gorgeous and clearly inspired by the concept art of long-time Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie. Probably my favourite element of The Clone Wars is its addition to the ever-expanding Star Wars lore.
The lore of the Star Wars franchise is a marvellous but fickle thing. Between the small retcons here and there, like the 2003 miniseries, there are brand new additions which continue to be beloved by fans. There’s an abundance of those additions here, which will later be vastly expanded by the 7 series long run of the show that follows. Asajj Ventress is a phenomenal villain who is both vengeful and skilled whilst still living in perpetual fear of disappointing her master. Ashoka Tano is, as the film points out, a lot like Anakin with her cocky attitude and secretly caring nature, whilst also being intuitive. These two master/student pairings are fascinating to watch and compare. The film also introduces us to the immensely likable, and later fan-adored, Clone Captain Rex as well as the simple humour of the Separatist Battle Droids, and the previously unseen members of the Hutt clan. Whilst the show really takes its time to explore all of these elements, the film does a fantastic job of introducing the concepts.
However, my criticisms come with the story itself. We start off with a 20 minute long battle between the Droid and Clone Armies, which is great fun, before rescuing Jabba’s son, which is fine, before getting a B-Plot with Padmé in the final act which feels a little unnecessary. I feel like the plot should be building to something instead of starting on a high before sort of dwindling. The character interactions and action sequences are enough to keep the film intriguing, but I wish that the main plot was a little stronger. The B-Plot with Padmé feels like less of a “twist” and more of a “snap” despite the character being really likable. Ideally this B-Plot would have been present from the very beginning of the film ,or not present at all, which would have allowed us more time with characters or fights. This sidequest also introduces us to Jabba’s uncle Zirro the Hutt who is painfully queer-coded. It only becomes a major issue throughout the television show’s run, but I’m still not a fan of it here. He is literally the only Hutt, as far as we know, who speaks English, and they gave him a feminine voice with a lisp, which makes the queer-coding feel almost intentional. It kind of sucks to be honest.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for the time being, is the last of the canonical Star Wars films to be reviewed and the reasoning is that it doesn’t really fit. I could have done this entire franchise in order, but I made the conscious decision to do the mainline Skywalker Saga, before doing the off-shoots, before doing this one. Part of that is that I already had those first 6 films ready to go, but part of it is also because they are the “most important” to the Star Wars story I suppose. If you’re watching everything in this franchise in chronological order, then you’re following this with the television show, but if you’re sticking to the films then you’re following it with Revenge of the Sith– providing a severe disconnect. Firstly, this is the only animated feature in the (currently) 12 film line-up that consists of live-action films. Secondly, the story doesn’t pick up or end in a convenient place. There’s no clear indication of the presumable time jump that happens after Attack of the Clones, and the film ends open-ended so as to provide a launching point into the story of the television show. This isn’t to say that the film is bad, because I don’t think it is, it’s just that because of the way in which the film is constructed you are kind of required to watch the show before Revenge of the Sith. That show is excellent and leads perfectly into that film, but in terms of a “Movies Only” marathon, the Tartakovsky show, despite being non-canon, just fits better. As always, the choice of how you handle viewing this film and the franchise around it is entirely up to you.
Unlike the PIXAR Theatrical Shorts which were made to accompany the feature length films when they were released to cinemas, the DVD Shorts were made to be bonus features on the DVD releases of those film. These were not about pushing the boundaries of animation but were instead about pushing the boundaries of their worldbuilding. Each one occurs within the world of a PIXAR motion picture and, occasionally, within the plot itself. With the release of the streaming service Disney+ it is unknown if they will continue to make these Feature-Related Shorts for DVD releases or for Disney+ directly, though I sense it may be the latter. That’s a real shame because they were always a highlight of DVD releases.
Mike’s New Car(2002)
I love this short because you get exactly what the title tells you you’re going to get. Having got rid of his old red sports car that Sully wouldn’t let him drive to work in Monster’s Inc, Mike has bought himself a new 6-wheeled automobile equipped with all the gizmos. Attempting to demonstrate the capabilities, Mike is beaten, battered and bruised by the vehicle in a slapstick-fest. Violence does the talking and it’s wonderful.
Jack-Jack Attack (2005)
My absolute favourite DVD Short that PIXAR has ever made and another vehicle for slapstick. It tells the tale of Kari’s eventful night babysitting young Jack-Jack Parr who has decided to suddenly explore his many superpowers. This was the first time pre-Incredibles 2 that we saw anywhere close to the full range of his capabilities like teleportation and laser eyes. I’ve always felt bad for poor Kari because babysitting can be hard as it is but she got a super baby but it is nice to get some closure on her part of the story. Also possible that the Mozart-Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major sparked my interest in classical music.
Mr Incredible and Pals (2005)
This is the most absurd of these Shorts that you will ever lay your eyes upon. It’s an early 1960’s serial of the show Mr Incredible and Pals featuring Mr Incredible, Frozone and their bunny sidekick Mr Skipadoo as they fight the villainous Lady Lightbug. All the bad serial effects are here from still images of the landscape to the actors real mouths inserted over the characters’ to the blatant message of democracy. It is probably the dumbest thing that PIXAR has ever created and I love it with every ounce of my big, nerdy heart. I’d take a whole show.
Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)
I’ve made no secret about how I’m not the biggest fan of Mater so seeing him be the butt of the joke is kind of cathartic. After playing numerous pranks on the cars of Radiator Springs, they decide to get their own back by telling him the story of The Ghostlight and leaving him to traverse home in the dead of night by himself. When the Ghostlight finally appears, you know that this is also a prank but there’s a good message in here about receiving a taste of your own medicine.
Your Friend the Rat (2007)
Not content with Ratatouille being one of the finest PIXAR films there is, they decided that a fun history lesson was also necessary. Hosted by Remy and his brother Emille, we are taught the history of the rat from the Roman Empire, through the Black Death to today. This short is particularly interesting because of it’s combining of animation styles like 3D, 2D and even a musical number to close. At 11 minutes, it’s longer than usual byut not a second of that time is wasted.
Taking place during the events of Wall-E, a Basic Utility Repair Nano Engineer (BURN-E) attempts to repair a running light on The Axiom after it is hit by a meteorite (accidentally caused by Wall-E). Much like the movie it takes place during, there is no dialogue but it still manages to be compelling. You’ll really believe that this little robot is losing his mind and it’s really funny to re-watch Wall-E with this short in mind. I’m sure there’s a lesson about the Butterfly Effect in here somewhere.
Dug’s Special Mission (2009)
Taking place during the events near the beginning of Up, it shows how Dug came to be sat on the exact spot that would lead to him meeting Carl and Russell. Dug is probably the most likable character from Up and seeing him try his best at the behest of the other dogs just warms my heart, There is so much innocence to this character and this short adds even more sympathy to his backstory.
George and A.J. (2009)
The only one of these shorts to be animated in 2D and it prospers for it, giving it the look of a storybook. Shady Acres employees attempt to collect more people for the retirement home but must survive a pensioner uprising cause by Carl. It’s a really neat look at the ramifications of a story like Up, even if those ramifications are utterly bombastic and fantastical.
The Legend of Mor’du (2012)
Another one that does what is says on the tin. In case you wanted to hear the tragic tale of Mor’du the Bear from Brave it is told here through 2D animation and a glorious narration by Julie Walters. Is Julie Walters telling a fairytale enough motivation to watch this? I think so.
Party Central (2013)
A rare Short from PIXAR as it wasn’t attached to a PIXAR film and was only released on DVD as part of The PIXAR Shorts Collection: Volume 3. Instead, this short was attached to the Disney film Muppets: Most Wanted and features the frat of Oozma Kampa, after the events of Monsters Uni, as they attempt to throw the biggest party on campus. Just utterly ridiculous fun to be had here but is also notable as a posthumous role for the late, great Joe Ranft.
Riley’s First Date? (2015)
Following the events of Inside Out, this almost acts as a small sequel of sorts. Having closed out the film by speaking to a boy, we see how Riley’s parents react to him visiting the house to pick her up and it makes her parents look every bit as embarrassing as she already thinks they are. This is less about the emotions and more about the characters themselves, which is appreciated.
Marine Life Interviews (2016)
I grew up watching the Aaardman show Creature Comforts and it was all I could think about when watching this short, which is possibly the shortest of the shorts. It contains interviews with the animals who interacted with Dory during Finding Dory and paints her character in the most positive of lights. I particularly like that they made the footage look sepia-toned like an old-style documentary. I love attention to detail.
Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool (2017)
If you weren’t aware of how badly acted/choreographed local television advertisements can be then there is a whole level of subtext here you are missing out on. This short is literally an advertisement for Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool, clearly organised by Miss Fritter herself and includes a few of her demolition derby friends. Seeing the homemade angle to this really brings back warm memories of my own time in front of a camera for school projects.
Auntie Edna (2018)
This is just Jack-Jack Attacks but with set during the course of Incredibles 2 with Edna Mode as the babysitter and I am more than okay with that. It is clear from this short that Jack-Jacks powers have multiplied and become more terrifying over time and it’s a little amusing to watch Edna – a superhero aficionado – struggle just as much as Kari did. I already loved Edna as a character but her relationship with Jack-Jack is really the icing on the cake. Shout out to the continued use of the Third Movement of the Mozart-Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major.
Lamp Life (2020)
The first of these Shorts not to be released on DVD but instead to be uploaded to the streaming service Disney+. I’ve mentioned here because I think it’s worth noting as the service becomes bigger and contains more original content with each passing day. The story is that of Bo Peep, as she recounts her life between leaving Toy Story and Toy Story 4, which is a tale I think most of us were curios about and this short delivers. Special mention to Jim Hanks who continues to be the best Tom Hanks impersonator.
I have been a fan of PIXAR Animation Studios for as long as I can remember, and one of my favourite elements continues to be the theatrical short films released before their full length motion pictures. The tradition started before PIXAR Studios even existed, while the founding fathers were still working for Lucasfilm, and was a way for them to test the limits of 3D computer animation. The first 5 of these tests would be screened at the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) in Minnesota and would push the boundaries of their field, while the rest would accompany their theatrical features. While these full length films were important, they were primarily a way for PIXAR Studios to make money while they focused on innovation and advancing the art of 3D animation. Instead of ranking them in quality, I have opted to go through them in release order, because as far as I’m concerned, they are all as important as each other.
The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. (1984)
Created by the animators, led by John Lasseter, who would later found PIXAR Studios while still working for Lucasfilm, this short film is a mere 2 minutes and length but tells a complete story. The titular Andre has awoken from his nap to find the bumblebee Wally B inches from his face, and flees the scene before he is caught off screen as Wally floats back through the frame with a crooked stinger. At the time, it was revolutionary with its use of 3D tear drops, dotted tree leaves, motion blur and manipulatable shapes. The charm is completed by a classical music composition.
Luxo Jr. (1986)
Perhaps the most famous of all the PIXAR Shorts, and the first to be made at the studio, this short is also two minutes long. It features a large desk lamp watching a small desk lamp as they play with and eventually puncture a ball, which is then replaced by a larger ball. Without dialogue or faces, the short manages to provide both lamps with personality and emotion, which was groundbreaking at the time. John Lassester would later tell how he expected questions about the shadowing algorithm (which is superb) but was asked about the gender of the lamps. They have none. The film was rendered on the Pixar Image Computer which gave the company its name.
Red’s Dream (1987)
Clocking in at 4 minutes, this was the biggest project PIXAR Studios had developed so far. It tells the story of a discounted unicycle in a bike shop as he dreams of being in a circus act with a juggling clown. It was a character driven piece with a gloomy undertone and John Lasseter would later refer to it as PIXAR’s Blue Period. The impressive technical aspects are in the juggling, the rain and the price tag that hangs from Red. Of all the shorts, this one seems to be mostly forgotten but it is just as good, and as much of a testament to the company, as the rest of them.
Tin Toy (1988)
Created at a time when the Pixar Imaging Computer wasn’t selling so well, this needed to be monumental- and it was. It was this very short that would gain the attention of the Walt Disney Company, who would provide the funding for PIXAR Studios to create Toy Story. Clocking in at a staggering 5 minutes, this tells the story of a Tin Toy Soldier as he attempts to avoid being picked up by a baby named Billy. This one has possibly aged the most as it features the first 3D animated person, and the living room is noticeably scarce, but that gives it a certain charm. Of particular note are the PIXAR logo on the gift bag and the photo in the photo frame, which is clearly just a genuine photo that has been imported. Despite how it has aged, this is still a marvel of animation and one of my favourites.
Knick Knack (1989)
You most likely haven’t seen the original render of this short, because it was only ever sold to the public via the VHS and Laserdisc copies of Tiny Toy Stories. What you are familiar with is the 2003 re-render that was released to theatres. Either way, it’s a lot of fun. It follows a snowman in a snowglobe as he attempts to break out to be with an attractive woman who is part of the “Sunny Miami” ornament. The slapstick in this short and the simplistic designs really help this one to stand the test of time, and the score is one of the catchiest things I’ve ever heard. The original is available online, should you choose to go looking for it, but be aware it involves larger female appendages than the 2003 re-render.
Geri’s Game (1997)
I know this is the one I’ve seen the most, but it holds a very special place in my heart because of that. It tells of a pensioner in the park playing a dramatic game of chess with himself. It’s particularly noteworthy as the first short to be released in a theatre and the first with the current PIXAR Studios logo. It also marks the second short with a human character, although this one holds up considerably better than Billy. Lastly is the personality of Geri himself who might be one of the most likable characters ever created, despite never saying a word. If you’re a theatre student, or just a fan of acting in general, I feel like you could learn a lot from Geri’s performance.
For the Birds (2000)
We have reached the point where none of these shorts age because of the choice in animation style. Here we find a group of small birds sitting on a phone line before they are joined by a large bird that they dislike. What stands out the most are the details on the birds, like their individual feathers and the scratches on their beaks, and the annoyance in their eyes. Also, the sound effects in this one are just fantastic and the squeaks of the birds themselves may sound familiar to fans of Toy Story.
Another major achievement for PIXAR Animation Studios and another one of my favourites. A sheep who adores his coat enough to dance about in it, is is shorn leaving him to be mocked by all the other sheep. Through a great American Jackalope, he is taught the benefits that come with being lighter like being able to bound high. This is the first short with dialogue and it was chosen to be a musical number that teaches a great message about self acceptance.
One Man Band (2005)
The first short to feature multiple human characters, with two men competing musically for an old woman’s coin. The background in this one is especially beautiful and is only topped by the musical score. There’s joy, determination, rage and fear, which are all demonstrated in the sublime facial expressions and the beautiful music. It’s perhaps at its best in the quiet moment near the end, and in the comedy contained therein.
This is the only time that PIXAR Studios have done aliens, and that only amplifies the uniqueness of this short. A young alien in training attempts to abduct a human from their house using a control board with hundreds of switches and chaos ensues. I love how simple it is, using only what it needs to in order to tell its story. It also has some stellar use of motion blur, demonstrating just how far animation has come
As somebody who grew up with Tom & Jerry, The Looney Tunes, and Knick Knack, the tone of this short is super familiar to me. The often energetic animation, the comedic timing and the slapstick would be right at home with those classic cartoons. It tells of a magicians rabbit who makes the magician’s show difficult because he won’t give him a carrot. Unlike other shorts, there is no score throughout as many of the audio is sound effects. I love this one.
Partly Cloudy (2009)
Now that PIXAR Studios is well established and has an excellent grasp of animation, they’re really starting to experiment through their shorts. Here we focus on a cloud who creates ferocious baby animals for a living and the exhausted stork who has to deliver them. There is so much going on, like the fluffiness of the clouds, the feathers on the storks, the lightning effects and the fading sunlight. It also happens to accompany a wonderfully simple story.
Day & Night (2010)
This is another one of my favourites. It features the characters of Night and Day who each have a centre that acts as a window into their namesakes. It progresses as they demonstrate the advantages of each timezone from fireflies to sunbathing women. All the sounds are ones that you would organically find in nature like ducks, wolves, and frogs while the score is a mixture of classical music and an original jazz composition. Particularly interesting is how the short uses 2D for the characters of Night and Day while their centres are 3D.
La Luna (2011)
This is, by far, the most adorable of the PIXAR Theatrical Shorts. A small boy, his father, and his grandfather sweep shooting stars across the surface of the moon to change the shape of its glow. The father and grandfather are both different from each other, and the boy isn’t sure who he wants to be like, before deciding just to be himself. The entire story is told through facial expressions and vocal noises and the haunting score but its the stylistic animation that sets it apart.
The Blue Umbrella (2013)
A blue umbrella falls in love with a red umbrella and the foundations and buildings of the city work to bring them back together. It is the very first story centred on romance in this collection and that makes it special, which is helped by the lovely score. The biggest achievement is the animation, which is darn close to realistic and really set the course for PIXAR Studio’s animation going forward.
Another tale of romance but, this time, between two volcanoes modelled on Hawaiin singers Kuana Torres Kahele and Nāpua Greig who provided their voices. This is the second use of dialogue in one of these shorts, and once again it is used to provide a stellar song that tugs at the heart strings. This is also the most story based, choosing not to focus primarily on the animation, but it is still worth every second of its 7 minute runtime
Sanjay’s Super Team (2015)
The mostly true story of Sanjay is an important one the history of PIXAR’s diversity and follows the titular child as he daydreams about the Hindu Gods while bored during his father’s prayer. During his daydream, he perceives them as the superheroes in his favourite show and uses this as a way to bond with his father. The daydream itself also has a really nice, comic book style look to it but it’s how much this story means to the real life Sanjay, and the millions of other Hindus, that really make it important.
A reluctant baby bird traverses the dangers of the beach for the first time in search of food in a story that is just as adorable as it sounds. All of this would have been impossible for a computer to do 20 years prior but now the particles of sand and texture of the water seem like an absolute breeze. The score and sound design match perfectly while Piper herself is filled with infectious enthusiasm.
An amalgamation of Lost and Found items in a school playground known as Lou encounters and befriends a young bully who eventually helps return all the items in the box. The way that all these items interact with one and other is fascinating to watch and the story is as delightful as you would expect.
This would sadly be the last of the theatrical shorts, but it would also be one of their best. A Chinese-Canadian mother makes a steamed bun that comes to life and she decides to raise as her child. The eventual plot twist is an emotional gut punch that was worthy of the Academy Award it won, as is the animation and score. If it wasn’t already clear, diversity and representation is something that matters to the folks over at PIXAR Studios and we can only hope they are all as beautifully told as Bao
PIXAR Animation Studios would cease the creation of Theatrical Shorts with the release of Bao in 2018 but this does not mean that the PIXAR Shorts are no more. It was felt that instead of giving limiting the Studio to working on one short at a time, they would be better having multiple shorts on the go at once. These PIXAR Shorts have always been led by a sole creator who was relatively new to the company and that continues to be the case today with the Sparkshots Programme. These shorts would be released on the PIXAR Studios YouTube channel before migrating to the streaming service Disney+. They are continuing a long standing tradition and are definitely worth a look.