I just got back from Pixar’s latest film. It ‘s a coming-of-age story about a boy, his father, his grandfather, and their unique occupation. In less than seven minutes and without dialogue, this wondrous film conveys dramatic tension, elicits genuine laughs, and progressively reveals a series of mysteries, ending in its final shot with a witty punch line that reveals precisely what the three characters have been up to. I won’t reveal any more here, since you should see it for yourself. La Luna is a technological wonder and is beautiful to look at. Aesthetically it’s all about the magical things Pixar is able to do with light. It was followed by a longer and much more conventional—but still eminently enjoyable—coming-of-age story about a girl who resists being a traditional princess.
Pixar will of course continue to be known for its major theatrical releases—from Toy Story (1995) to Brave (2012) and beyond. But its heart has always been in the shorts that precede its feature films. These shorts do more than just pay homage to the classical days of cinema, where a short program would always begin the evening’s entertainment. They are the place where Pixar’s artists and engineers try out their latest advances in animation and give us a glimpse of what to expect in next year’s feature release. They are a place where—freed from having to fill out 100 minutes of running time—they can take a clever idea and let it develop at the ideal pace. The best moments in Pixar’s major films (think about the first 20 minutes of Wall-E or the montage sequence in Up) are essentially silent shorts that convey emotion and information through form. As much as I enjoy Pixar’s feature films, I would prefer to pay my admission fee to watch a dozen eight-minute shorts. I suspect that Pixar’s animators would prefer this too. And the youngest Pixar fans—who have not yet been trained to expect 100-120 minutes of narrative structured on classical Hollywood principles—would likely prefer it as well.
As we await next year’s short, about which I am much more excited than a Monsters Inc. prequel, let’s revisit some of Pixar’s best short films from the past three decades.
Luxo Jr. (1986)
The desk lamp that still serves as Pixar’s logo and that still opens and closes every Pixar film comes from this short. Take director John Lasseter’s desk lamp, a bouncing ball, and some imagination and you get this entertaining two-minute story that is also an experiment in rendering shadows and light. Just as in the days of early silent cinema.
Red’s Dream (1987)
A moving tale about a red unicycle. I always show this 4-minute story to my Intro to Film students to demonstrate how film form can tell stories and evoke emotions. Probably still my favorite Pixar short.
Geri’s Game (1997)
An elderly man plays a game of chess in a park. The end of La Luna reminded me of the witty reveal at the end of this short film.
Pixar’s most complete short film. A magician and his uncooperative rabbit bring more laughs, drama, and thrills than most feature films.
La Luna (2012)
The latest Pixar short always belongs on the list because the technology that will appear run-of-the-mill next year still seems like magic today. On second thought, though, Luxo Jr. still seems like magic to me.
A collection of Pixar's early short films is available for purchase at Amazon and for rental on Netflix. Volume 2 is scheduled for release in November 2012. They are definitely worth watching. Over and over again.