Just wait until you see what Chief Justice Michael Stailey creates during his studies at CalArts.
Our review of Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1, published December 3rd, 2007, is also available.
Who ever said the animated short was a dead medium?
In mid-December, Melissa and I had the pleasure of attending a screening for The Pixar Story, a compelling documentary by Leslie Iwerks, granddaughter of Walt Disney's original animation partner and collaborator, Ub Iwerks. Two weeks later, in a completely unrelated event, my brother gave me a copy of To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios for Christmas. To say I'm an animation fan, would be an understatement, which is why I was so looking forward to reviewing the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1. Having seen all of these shorts years before in various forms and places, it wasn't so much subject matter that intrigued me, but the stories behind them. And what fascinating stories they are.
John Lasseter was enthralled by animation at very young age. Following his graduation from Cal Arts, a school and animation program created by Walt Disney himself, John not surprisingly went to work for the House of Mouse. But he was a man ahead of his time, and the limited vision of Disney brass at the time has no interest in an animator whose interests and 3D pursuits exceeded their own. As fate would have it (as fate often does), John crossed paths with computer whiz Ed Catmull and the spark of a new venture was born. While the road to where Pixar is today was long and fraught with peril, the creativity generated by this small band of like-minded individuals has given us some of the most engaging and beautifully conceived stories in cinematic history—Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille. And yet the path to these features was paved by equally compelling shorts who humor and emotion stands the test of time, as evidenced by this collection.
The Adventures of André and Wally B (1984)
Despite their initial success, the Computer Division was on the chopping block. Ed and Alvy, refusing to let this dream die, put together a business plan in an attempt to draw investors and spin Pixar off on its own. Enter Steve Jobs, oh he of Apple Computer fame and fortune, who on Feb 5, 1986 bought Pixar from LucasFilm for the small sum of $10 Million—$5 Million in cash and $5 Million in bankroll funding for the upstart dream team.
Luxo, Jr. (1986)
Red's Dream (1987)
Tin Toy (1988)
Knick Knack (1989)
While it may have been a hayday period for Pixar, these short films never made money. They were showpieces for a company that was supposed to be selling powerful hardware and software applications. It's hard to pay the bills with accolades and well wishes. To ease the pressure, Pixar began doing a lot of commercial work, as well as donating their time and energy in creating several Luxo Jr. shorts for Sesame Street. Disney has graciously included these pieces as bonus features, making this an even more valuable Pixar filmography collection. The increased work meant they needed more help, so John went back to Cal Arts and hired two promising young animators, neither of whom knew their way around a computer: Andrew Stanton (who would go on to direct Finding Nemo) and Pete Docter (who would later helm Monsters, Inc.).
But with success, also comes change. John was wooed several times by Disney to return to the fold as a director. For as enticing as the offer was, something was holding him back. All the nights spent sleeping under his desk while sharing computer time with his cohorts. All the energy and teamwork that had gone into not only creating an impressive array of work, but also establishing a brand new art form the surface of which had barely been scratched. That's not something you can easily walk away from. But John wanted more for Pixar, so they began moving towards the creation of a full-length cg-animated feature film, yet another first of its kind.
Their first attempt was to secure the rights to Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach." When Dahl turned them down, they shifted the company focus back to commericals. That is, until Disney came knocking once again. With the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the company had pulled out of its tailspin and was once again riding high as the reigning animation king of Hollywood. This afforded them the opportunity to push their own boundaries, offering Tim Burton the opportunity to create The Nightmare Before Christmas as a stop-motion animated film, and Pixar the chance to choose its own subject matter for what would become Disney's first foray into cg-feature animation. With a three-picture deal in hand, they went to work on Toy Story.
However, the collective wisdom of John and Ed's team never forsake their animated short roots. They took a break, but came back to it stronger than ever. After all, this was a test bed for new concepts, new technologies, and the perfect breeding ground for new talent. So while John continued to drive feature development, another part of the team kept the shorts flame burning brightly.
Gerri's Game (1997)
For the Birds (2000)
Mike's New Car (2002)
Jack-Jack Attack (2005)
One-Man Band (2005)
Mater and the Ghost Light (2006)
Presented in a mix of full frame (for the older, SIGGRAPH shorts) to 1.78:1 native widescreen, these images blaze new trails in 1080p Blu-ray. You will find detail here that was impossible to see in theatres or on your computer screen, which is where many folks first encountered those early shorts; unless you were a fan of Spike and Mike's Twisted Animation Festival which made the art house and college campus rounds in the '90s. The audio, as always with Blu-ray, is astounding and showcases the unsung sound design work that Pixar embeds in their features.
I mentioned the audio commentaries (save for Jack-Jack) and the Sesame Street clips, but the single most valuable bonus feature included on this release is "The Pixar Shorts: A Short Story." For those who have not seen Leslie's The Pixar Story, it's a Readers Digest version of their history, but a well crafted, fascinating tale of tragedy and triumph.
I've read other reviewers and consumers who claim that this collection is nothing more than Disney's attempt to milk Pixar fans for even more of their hard-earned dollars. I disagree. While you may be able to find these shorts online, on VHS, or included on other Pixar special edition releases, having them all in one collection, supported by a great documentary, showcases the amazing journey that this company and its people have undertaken. It's a story that needed to be told and one that everyone should hear, as it proves what you can accomplish when you whole-heartedly pursue your dreams…to infinity and beyond.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Pixar Shorts: A Short History"
• IMDb: The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.
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