One of the (many) enticing qualities of seeing a new Pixar feature on the big screen is the accompanying short film prior to the movie. Shorts are what put Pixar on the map in the ’80s, and what eventually catapulted the studio into full-length productions. Pixar shorts are known for being artistic, captivating, and provocative, proving that great storytelling can take an audience on an emotional journey no matter the length time.
So if just one Pixar short is a treat, a collection of 11 of them together should be the equivalent of a shopping spree at the candy store. And, with a few exceptions, that’s what Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 3 is. If we read between the lines, the set also traces a revealing history into the studio’s priorities, including where it stands at the present moment.
The Shorts ✮✮✮✮ (out of 5)
This batch of films stretches from 2012 to 2018, some connected to existing Pixar films and others telling unique, stand-alone stories. Here’s a complete list of what’s included.
* = Academy Award winner
** = Academy Award nominee
- Partysaurus Rex, 2012
- Director: Mark Walsh
- Franchise: Toy Story
- The Legend of Mor’du, 2012
- Director: Brian Larsen
- Franchise: Brave
- The Blue Umbrella, 2013
- Director: Saschka Unseld
- Original story
- Party Central, 2014
- Director: Kelsey Mann
- Franchise: Monsters, Inc.
- The Radiator Springs 500 1/2, 2014
- Directors: Rob Gibb and Scott Morse
- Franchise: Cars
- Lava, 2015
- Director: James Ford Murphy
- Original story
- Riley’s First Date?, 2015
- Director: Josh Cooley
- Franchise: Inside Out
- Sanjay’s Super Team**, 2015
- Director: Sanjay Patel
- Original story
- Piper*, 2015
- Director: Alan Barillaro
- Original story
- Lou**, 2017
- Director: Dave Mullins
- Original story
- Bao, 2018
- Director: Domee Shi
- Original story
As you can see, it’s split right down the middle in the ongoing debate of original stories (six) versus franchise-based projects (five). This accurately reflects Pixar’s last decade of animated features. Once known for cranking out groundbreaking, original tales one after the other, the studio shifted gears in 2010 and has since released six of its past 10 films as sequels, whose receptions have been a bit all over the place. It only has one announced sequel in sight at the moment, 2019’s Toy Story 4, and in this Blu-ray’s contents, we see a return to emphasizing more one-off subjects.
That’s not to say the franchise-based shorts are bad. They succeed at retaining the spirit of Pixar’s wonderful full-length films and characters. In comparison to the shorts with no franchise attachment, though, there is no question: the original stories are superior. The Blue Umbrella is ingeniously creative. Bao is absolutely riveting. While it’s fun to return to familiar worlds of past Pixar endeavors, there’s usually always a much bigger payoff (and a much deeper emotional connection) for trying something new. (For what it’s worth, the IP-based shorts also tend to match the quality and barrier-breaking of their respective franchises, with Partysaurus Rex, a Toy Story short, being the strongest of them included on this Blu-ray and The Radiator Springs 500 1/2, derivative of Cars, being the least intriguing.) In a set like this, watching the the kinds of shorts (original and franchise) back and forth brings to mind if the franchise ones would still have legs if their attached property didn’t exist. With this lens, Riley’s First Date? and The Legend of Mor’du are probably the only ones to make complete sense and can communicate what they need with no prior context… just a thought.
Elsewhere mirroring the progression of the studio, Domee Shi stands out as the only female director, hopefully a sign of more in the future after Pixar recently was put on blast for being male-dominated.
If looking for other trends as the shorts press on through the years, the more recent of them present a wide array of diversity. Lava, Sanjay’s Super Team, and Bao not only feature protagonists of diverse cultures, but make that culture the focus of the narrative, giving us glimpses into Hawaiian, Indian, and Chinese traditions, respectively.
One of the best qualities of short films produced by major studios is that the medium offers a company that may ordinarily operate by-the-book the chance to experiment. If it fails, there’s less at stake. If it succeeds, it stands as a proof-of-concept for its risks to be utilized in a production of a larger scale. The photo-realism of The Blue Umbrella is stunning and certainly unlike anything attempted in a full Pixar movie. Additionally, Josh Cooley in the director’s chair for Riley’s First Date? stands as a prime example of on-the-rise film directors flexing out their muscles on a short before being promoted to a feature, as Cooley directs the upcoming Toy Story 4.
Bonus Features ✮✮✮ (out of 5)
In addition to the 11 shorts, Pixar includes two “mini-movies,” a confusing term that the studio doesn’t seem to have a concrete definition of. Here, it essentially means “shorts that are shorter than a regular short,” but they’ve recently used the term “mini-movie” interchangeably with “short film” while promoting Auntie Edna‘s attachment to the Incredibles 2 home video release. Anyway, the two mini-movies here are Marine Life Interviews, stemming from Finding Dory, and Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool, an extension of Cars 3. Both do what they set out to do, I suppose, but that’s admittedly not much, with each being about two minutes and not really bringing anything noteworthy. If media of this nature was deemed fair game to include on this set, there’s also an assortment of similar existing content developed for Cars and Coco that’s not included, for whatever reason.
The meatiest of the bonus material are filmmaker introductions and audio commentaries for all 11 shorts, and even for both mini-movies. Ranging from serious and informative to wild and charismatic, they provide an excellent look into the variety of the directors’ personalities and filmmaking styles, showing us a wide range of talented Pixar creatives that we probably don’t get to see as much as we should. Wait ’til you hear who’s carrying those in-love umbrellas in The Blue Umbrella… cringe!
“Making Bao“ provides a wonderful look at Domee Shi’s inspirations for the project, strongly footed in family tradition. It’s the same item included on the Incredibles 2 Blu-ray, but it’s still of course appropriate here. In a perfect world, we’d get a full six-minute BTS for every short, but alas, this is the only one highlighted.
Rounding out the menu is “Caricature: A Horrible Way of Saying ‘I Love You,'” a quick look into Pixar staff culture, as is a staple of the studio’s home video releases. This time, we get a peek into the employees’ knack of making fun of each other through caricature, featuring an especially fascinating visit to an annual staff event called “Mean Caricature Night.”
If you’re a Pixar fan, a whole set of the studio’s short films would seem like a no-brainer purchase. However, being a Pixar fan probably means you already own most of these shorts. If the short initially debuted theatrically alongside a Pixar movie, then it was included as a bonus feature on that movie’s Blu-ray. That accounts for most of the shorts here, which means if an array of Pixar slipcovers lines your movie shelf, most of these shorts are not new to you.
However, there are still a few that are exclusive here. It’s very likely you’ve never seen The Radiator Springs 500 1/2, which initially debuted on the now-extinct Disney Movies Anywhere online platform for a limited time and wasn’t ever widely known about. Its introductory title card implies that it was intended to the first in a new wave of Cars Toons under the banner of Tales from Radiator Springs, placing an emphasis on the town itself (evolving from the previous monicker of Mater’s Tall Tales, which focused on Mater role-playing in various careers and scenarios). Other than several one-minute television interstitials also produced under the Tales from Radiator Springs banner (which aren’t included here), no further Cars Toons have been produced since this one, meaning it remains an interesting remnant of what might have been (for better or for worse).
Party Central might also be new to some, having premiered theatrically in 2014 with Muppets Most Wanted and having had no home video release until now.
So while you may have some combination fo most of the shorts already, the purchase comes down to convenience of being able to sit down and watch them all together, which does indeed prove to be a fascinating study into this era of the studio. That being said, there is alarmingly no “Play All” option on the Blu-ray disc. The shorts must be individually selected one by one. If convenience is the biggest factor pushing this set’s existence, why isn’t the set itself convenient in this regard? At the time this review goes public, the digital version of this collection is not yet available, but hopefully that has a “Play All.” If not, that’s a real head-scratcher.
Still, most of what’s here is a marvel of storytelling as an artform and of animation as a medium. There are few who do it as phenomenal as Pixar. This Blu-ray is a contemporary example of why this studio continues to be an important part of so many families’ lives, and could be an indication of where they’ll take us next.
Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 3 releases November 13, 2018.