Short films are beautiful things. They allow a tiny snapshot of virtually anything: a director’s vision, an experimental technology, a story idea… the list could go on. A tiny snapshot. That’s what a short film is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have influence. Within that snapshot is the ability to elicit laughs, tears, joy, you name it, no different from a feature film. A new(ish) offering at Walt Disney World’s Epcot brings three acclaimed shorts to park guests in an experience that is undeniably exquisite, but perhaps poorly placed. Today let’s take a look at Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival.
The attraction opened in December 2015 inside the Magic Eye Theater. It replaced Captain EO, a production created in 1986 by George Lucas exclusively for Epcot starring Michael Jackson. (Captain EO initially closed in 1996, but returned in 2010.) The theater is housed in the Imagination! pavilion, and as guests approach the area they’re greeted by posters of the presented shorts.
Inside the main lobby, stills and concept art from the shorts adorn the walls.
In the final queue area just before entering the theater, monitors share the history of Pixar shorts interspersed with documentary-esque interviews with Pixar filmmakers. They discuss the art of the short film in general, not the specific shorts that guests are about to view. These provide appropriate context for why short films are developed in the first place and why they are important to Pixar’s legacy, which continues today. I couldn’t tell if these clips were borrowed from a pre-existing DVD bonus feature or if they were new interviews conducted specifically for this attraction, but regardless they’re engaging, and most of the crowd seemed to be paying attention (a miracle in a pre-show these days, I assure you). I didn’t arrive in time to see if similar backstage footage is shared about Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Once inside, it’s a treat of three short films in 3D, unedited and presented in their entirety (surprisingly including credits). They include:
- Get a Horse!
- Walt Disney Animation Studios
- Directed by Lauren MacMullan
- Originally screened with: Frozen (2013)
- La Luna
- Pixar Animation Studios
- Directed by Enrico Casarosa
- Originally screened with: Brave (2012)
- For the Birds
- Pixar Animation Studios
- Directed by Ralph Eggleston
- Originally screened with: Monsters, Inc. (2001)
With this trio, we have a fun variety that gives us a little taste of every flavor, from slapstick to sweet. It’s also nice that the selection doesn’t rely on franchise-driven shorts.
Special effects accentuate moments in each short, but are quite rudimentary by theme park standards, limited to water spraying and basic lighting. The emphasis is definitely on the shorts themselves rather than on in-theater effects, unlike, for example, the effects-heavy Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which formerly occupied this same theater.
The pleasure here comes from the same appeal as going to a movie theater to watch a re-release: even if you’ve seen something at home, it’s a completely different experience enjoying it on the big screen with a full audience. It’s absolutely delightful. You pick up on things you didn’t notice before based on the crowd’s reaction to it. An elderly man in the row in front of me was beside himself with laughter during For the Birds. Here I’ve been watching this short for 15 years and I felt like I got to see it for the first time by smiling at this man’s laughter.
The standout by far, at least from the perspective of a cinemaplex with a full audience, is Get a Horse!. Since its camera never moves and the characters interact with the audience when the story inevitably goes wrong, it inherently feels like a theme park attraction in the style of Muppet*Vision 3D or Mickey’s PhilharMagic even when viewed at home on a television screen. So to see it materialize as a theme park attraction is a huge payoff and truly the most ideal way one could ever experience the short.
The underlying issue facing Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival is surely not its quality, but its placement. On the surface level, one could argue that compiling three pre-existing shorts that many people have already seen is a cheap move. Why not create an entirely new experience? Why should guests waste precious vacation time (which they paid a lot of money for) to view something they could just as easily watch on YouTube? Those are valid points, and prove the case that for the average theme park guest who likely has one day to spend at Epcot on possibly a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Walt Disney World, Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival may not be the best use of time, but it’s certainly not a waste of it, either. To someone who has never seen these shorts before, what’s the difference between this and another 3D attraction that Disney has fashioned just for the parks, like It’s Tough to be a Bug? That might be dissecting the matter a little too thoroughly than necessary, but they’re all thoughts that come to mind when experiencing the attraction.
Furthermore, one could argue that, if this attraction is to be placed in a theme park, why Epcot? Why the Imagination! pavilion? The preshow sheds light on the creativity used by the filmmakers to create the shorts, and while that’s a stretch, it’s just about as close to any logical connection to the subject as we can make. However, if we’re shown a backstage look behind the scenes, wouldn’t that be more fitting for Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Just food for thought.
But those are concerns for the average guest. For the Orlando local or for an avid animation enthusiast (if you’re frequenting this website, that means you), Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival offers something quite special. If you live in the area, it makes perfect sense to take in smaller-scale attractions like this because proportionally it’s not taking your time away from anything more important. You don’t have to rush to fit in everything in one day, so you have the privilege of selecting your attractions at a leisurely pace. If you’re a film fan, the attraction going to be something you’ll want to seek out naturally purely based on interest. And what awaits you is something you’ll remember for a long time. Because the main draw here is ensuring you experience the attraction with as full of an audience as possible, I’d recommend something that I probably would not for any other theme park attraction: Go in the smack dab middle of the day, when crowds are at their peak. The theater will be full, but because of the nature of this attraction, it never really has a long line. The longest you’ll wait is the length it will take for the current showing to finish. While some might view this show as filler or time to kill on the way to the next big adventure of a day in the park, it’s actually something worth seeking out itself.
What’s your favorite Disney or Pixar short that you’d love to see in a theater?