I’ve always loved the short films Pixar puts in front of their movies. They’re entertaining and different and always interesting. So I was disappointed when I saw their latest one, Lava, play in front of Inside Out. But before we dig in, let me clarify something. A lot has been said about the female volcano’s character design. If you’re interested in that, I suggest you read this column. I’m going to focus on other aspects of Lava and why I’m no fan of it. Let’s do this.
While there are things I enjoyed about Lava I actually had the same problem with it as with Pixar’s second-to-last short The Blue Umbrella. Both stories are basically the same. And while Lava is better than Umbrella I still feel the storytelling displayed was lazy. I’ve always thought Pixar are at their best when they’re using visual storytelling: The Up montage, the first half hour of Wall-E, the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3. This also applies to their short films, which rarely have any dialogue at all. My personal favorites are Presto, One Man Band and La Luna and not a single word of dialogue is uttered in all three combined. And I feel because of this, they’re engaging because they’re asking something of me.
La Luna could’ve had the Father and Grandfather characters talk and try to explain to the Boy why their way was the right one but it wasn’t necessary. Through simple visual storytelling we know who these people are and what they want. It’s a simply story told through images and it’s beautiful.
Lava, on the other hand, tells you story through the song. It has some visual storytelling (you can tell the volcano wants a partner because he’s longingly looking at all the animal couples) but it relies on the song for its story.
But my biggest problem is that the story is weak. There’s nothing wrong with a simple story, but I feel this one and Umbrella‘s are too simple. Think of Presto: Everything that happens comes from Alec’s desperate desire for that carrot and Presto’s reluctance to give it to him. Every action comes from the characters’ choices. Whereas is both Lava and Umbrella things just happen to our characters. Boy Volcano wants a girl Volcano but doesn’t get her until he suddenly does. There’s no character growth, no arc. There’s no story. It’s just things happening on screen.
This is very weird, since Pixar is all about story. Their best shorts are all great little stories: Two One Man Bands compete for a coin but they’re so fed up in their competition they lose the coin. Some mean birds make fun of the larger bird and get their comeuppance. A stork is annoyed by the dangerous animals his cloud provides and learns how to deal with it. These are all very simple stories told in effective ways through visual storytelling. And Lava and Umbrella are missing that.
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).