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PIXAR SHORT FILMS COLLECTION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Directors:  John Lasseter et al
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0
Video:  Various
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  54 Minutes
Release Date:  November 6, 2007

Films ***1/2

The history of computer animation and the history of Pixar are practically inseparable.  It’s hard to believe, but the hardware company turned film studio has been making films for almost a quarter of a century.  To watch the Pixar Short Films Collection is to see an art form blossom before your eyes.

John Lasseter is in some ways a modern version of Walt Disney.  He was a man with ideas, and an artist who wasn’t afraid to push technology or to let technology push him right back.  The shorts he produced with Pixar show a creative vision ever expanding, with imagination the only limit.

In 1984, as a means of showcasing the company’s technological developments, Lasseter crafted “The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.”.  It was just a little over a minute, but drew cheers from convention audiences.  It showed not only what computers could do, but that computer animation could be funny and relevant as well.

The next film, “Luxo Jr.” from 1986, was a huge leap forward.  The little architect’s lamps were great characters, and showed how artificial light and shadow could be manipulated for maximum realism and three dimensional effect.  “Red’s Dream” showcased an early use of water and rain, something that would develop into extraordinary visual effects in the years to come.

“Tin Toy” had the novel idea of telling a story from the point of view of a toy, and a few years later, that idea would generate history’s first full length computer animated film in Toy Story.  It was also the first computer animated short to win an Oscar.

“Knick Knack” showed computers could share Chuck Jones’ eye for zaniness, while “Geri’s Game” was a brilliant take on an old man playing both sides of his chess board.  “For the Birds” is my personal favorite.  Those tykes get a real comeuppance that makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.

By that time, the features department was in full swing.  Pixar would pave the way for a new form of animated entertainment, but thankfully, Lasseter never neglected the shorts department.  It became a kind of proving ground for young ambitious artists, who would turn the characters of Monsters Inc. into “Mike’s New Car”, or the baby in The Incredibles into “Jack-Jack’s Attack”.

“Boundin’” had a bit of a Dr. Suess feel, as a little lamb who loses his precious wool learns to be happy in his skin.  And “One Man Band” has the funniest musical duel this side of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in “The Rabbit of Seville”.

“Mater and the Ghostlight” gave Cars’ most popular character his own adventure, and it’s the longest entry in the lot.  But “Lifted”, the final short featured here, is a hysterical hoot.  It showcases the most incompetent alien abduction in the history of the UFO.

These thirteen short films could be considered curiosity pieces in their own right, but thanks to Lasseter’s background as a genuine animator, he never settled for just letting technology ‘wow’ his audience.  He wanted real characters, real comedy, and real situations, and he delivered time and time again.  His collaboration with Walt Disney Pictures has to be the most fruitful in the history of the medium.

It’s fun to look back, but Pixar has always looked ahead.  Consider this collection a series of landmarks, but each one pointed the way to a bigger and brighter future, where art and technology go hand in hand and barriers only exist to be broken down.

Video ****

Computer animation and DVD were meant for each other.  Some shorts are full frame, some go all the way to scope ratio, but as expected, the colors, images and textures are sharp and crystal clear from start to finish.

Audio ***

Likewise, the audio ranges from stereo to full surround, but the sound is frequently a treat…bouncy, dynamic and fun.

Features ***

You can watch the shorts with commentary by John Lasseter and others.  There’s also a short documentary on the history of Pixar, and four short pieces produced for Sesame Street.

Summary:

Pixar Short Films Collection is a merry, mirthful, historical journey through almost 25 years of computer animation.  They did it first, and they still do it best.

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