Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Pixar Shorts: For Your Consideration

Last week, I posted my ranked list of Pixar films - and, no, I haven't watched Onward yet.

This week, I'm giving you my list of Pixar shorts... divided by loosely-defined categories/eras and without (in many cases) a lot of detail. I will note that many of these are available through Disney+, so I've noted the ones that are not available through that streaming service - and apologize, as the original version of this post listed a number of shorts as "not available" that actually are!

The Classics
  • The Adventures of Andre & Wally B.
  • Luxo Jr. 
  • Red’s Dream
  • Tin Toy
  • Knick Knack
These are the originals… the first CGI shorts that acted as proof of concept (computer animation can work) and proof that the folks at Pixar knew how to tell a story. Luxo Jr. would provide the Pixar logo (the bouncing desk lamp) and Tin Toy (even with the creepy/primitive baby animation) would be the jumping off point for the first full-length film we all know and love, Toy Story. (Tin Toy, by the way, was the first Oscar win for Pixar as Best Animated Short Film.)

My favorite of this group, though, is Knick Knack. The humor is sometimes sly, sometimes pure slapstick… and it works like a charm.

The Oscar Run
  • Geri’s Game 
  • For the Birds
  • Boundin’
  • One Man Band 
  • Lifted
  • Presto
  • Partly Cloudy
  • Day & Night
  • La Luna
With the exception of Partly Cloudy, all of these “independent” shorts were nominated for Oscars… and both Geri’s Game and For the Birds won. (The lead character in Geri’s Game became the Cleaner of Toy Story 2.)

My two favorites from this period are One Man Band and Presto… if you want to see comic timing in a cartoon at classic Warner Brothers perfection, Presto is amazing. (I would mention that both For the Birds and Day & Night are delightful and well worth your time.)

  • The Blue Umbrella
  • Lava
Lava is, frankly, one of my least favorite Pixar shorts… and I’m including some of the Mater Tall Tales and Forky Asks a Question in my calculations. The Blue Umbrella is sweet… but the “nature & the city conspire for love” theme was much better done in Disney’s Paperman.

The Second Oscar Run
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • Piper
  • Lou
  • Bao
This was the “second wind” of the Pixar team… with the wild creativity of Sanjay’s Super Team, the stunning visuals of Piper, the physical comedy of Lou, and the weird but compelling metaphor of Bao. I think my favorite is Piper… but Lou appeals to the elementary school kid in me that was picked on. (All four of these shorts were nominated for Oscars – and Piper & Bao both won.)

And Now, The Rest of the Story…
  • Mike’s New Car (Monsters, Inc.)
  • Jack-Jack Attack (The Incredibles)
  • Your Friend the Rat (Ratatouille) 
  • Dug’s Special Mission (Up)
  • George and A.J. (Up)
  • The Legend of Mor’du (Brave)
  • Party Central (Monsters University)
  • Riley’s First Date? (Inside Out)
  • Marine Life Interviews (Finding Dory) (not currently available on Disney+)
  • Auntie Edna (Incredibles 2)
This is a mixed bag of “extra” stories from beloved (and, in some cases, not so beloved) Pixar films. Jack-Jack Attack is my favorite of the group, with Your Friend the Rat a close second. None of them are essential viewing (with the possible exception of Jack-Jack)… and a couple (Riley’s First Date? and Auntie Edna) actually work against what is enjoyable about the movies they came from.

Too Much of a Good Thing
  • Mater and the Ghostlight
  • Mater’s Tall Tales
    • Rescue Squad Mater 
    • Mater the Greater
    • El Materdor 
    • Tokyo Mater
    • Unidentified Flying Mater 
    • Monster Truck Mater
    • Heavy Metal Mater
    • Moon Mater 
    • Mater Private Eye
    • Air Mater 
    • Time Travel Mater 
  • Tales from Radiator Springs
    • Hiccups
    • Bugged 
    • Spinning 
    • The Radiator Spring 500 ½
  • Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool (not currently available on Disney+)
As noted in my previous Pixar films post, I really love Cars… seriously, I teared up riding Radiator Springs Racers when the music swells and you come around the corner towards the waterfall. 

However, I cannot recommend the majority of the Cars shorts – at least for adults. The boys loved Mater’s Tall Tales when they were younger… but they are, much like Cars 2, too much Mater and not enough of anything else. 

Back to the Beginning
  • Hawaiian Vacation
  • Small Fry
  • Partysaurus Rex 
  • Toy Story of Terror! (not currently available on Disney+)
  • Toy Story That Time Forgot (not currently available on Disney+)
  • Lamp Life 
  • Forky Asks a Question
Toy Story was an amazing start for Pixar – and some of the best “derivative” shorts have come from the wonderful secret world of toys. Ignoring Forky Asks a Question (which I don’t enjoy), I think all of the listed Toy Story shorts are worth your time… with my favorite being Toy Story That Time Forgot.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Pixar: For Your Consideration

One of my (many) good friends from the world of board gaming, Eric Burgess, took it upon himself to rank all of the Pixar films. We agree in a number of places... but disagree in others... and so I found myself wanting to create my own rankings.

You'll notice a theme... I cry A LOT watching Pixar movies. Generally, it's not the old school Disney cry (the ending of Old Yeller or Bambi's mother, for example) - these are because the folks at Pixar know how to tap into real emotion. (In typing up these mini-reviews, I found myself tearing up just remembering the scenes from the films... good grief.)

  1. The Incredibles - Riffing on superhero tropes, James Bond films, comic books, and action movie conventions, the folks at Pixar managed to invest the characters at the center of the story with both superpowers and depth. Funny, moving, full of surprises and pitch-perfect voice acting. 
  2. Toy Story 2 - This gets to go ahead of the amazing Toy Story on the way it built on what came before without cheapening any of it... and being the first (of many) Pixar films to leave me in a puddle of tears during Jessie's flashback montage.
  3. Toy Story - I distinctly remember being in the theater watching Toy Story... and the fact that is was ground-breaking computer animation completely dropping away 10-15 minutes into the film as I fell completely in love with the story and the humor.
  4. Up - Another gaming friend (Jeff Myers) used to say that he couldn't love a movie that made him cry in the first 10 minutes... this is the movie he was talking about. However, without those brilliant and deeply bittersweet first ten minutes, Mr. Fredricksen is just a cranky old man. (And the movie ends with more tears from me when Russell gets the grape soda pin.)
  5. Inside Out - This wonderful film made me laugh out loud... and weep quietly. I don't know how those of you who are parents of pre-teen girls survived this in one piece. (I know that the trauma of our leaving ministry and uprooting the boys definitely played into my reaction to the film.)
  6. Ratatouille - That a movie about rats and gourmet food works at all is a miracle... let alone one that comments so eloquently on the nature of friendship, the role of a critic, and the process of creativity. Plus, it's funny in the right places and amounts.
  7. Wall-E - Both Wall-E and Cars run a little long and a little slow... but both of them use that time to develop a rhythm and build up the characters so that you care about what's happening. Wall-E gets extra points for the overwhelming opening section and the delightful use of numbers from my one of my favorite movie musicals, "Hello, Dolly".
  8. Toy Story 3 - The plot here is tremendous - The Great Escape as re-imagined by Pixar. And then the last 20 minutes tear me up every time - the incinerator followed by Andy & Bonnie. 
  9. Cars - I like this a lot better than some folks... I think a childhood filled with trips along Route 66 (or what's left of it) makes this film a nostalgic road trip for me. Plus, I think they nailed the ending. (Yes, it's a little too long - see my comments about Wall-E above.)
  10. Toy Story 4 - They went to the well one more time... and made it work - mostly. (There's one character transition/decision that bothers me.) Revitalized Bo Peep is wonderful... and who can't love Duke Kaboom and/or the Combat Carl team?
  11. Monsters, Inc. - The animation innovations were pretty impressive... but the characters and their relationships were even more so. Another excellent bit of voice casting with Billy Crystal and John Goodman.
  12. Coco - An almost perfect blend of the fantastical and the heartfelt... and the music works perfectly. I can find some things to nitpick, but they don't detract from how much I enjoyed this film... or cried near the end. 
  13. Finding Nemo - The boys were a little young for this one when it first came out... the opening scared them silly. It's a great film... but I don't connect with it as strongly as some of the other Pixar films. (Dory's parenting advice is golden, though.)
  14. Cars 3 - After the mess that was Cars 2, I had real questions about yet another sequel. But Cars 3 isn't a typical sequel - nor is the message at the heart of it a typical "cartoon" moral. This is a movie about aging, wisdom, mentoring, and lasting friendship. And demolition derby.
  15. A Bug’s Life - Pixar's riff on The Seven Samuari/The Magnificent Seven... so much better than Antz (which came out in the same year). Hopper is a particularly effective villain.
  16. Brave - this has some weak moments, but I love that Pixar attempted something this big and bold.
    Note: You have reached the "you no longer need to watch these movies" line. Everything above this point is worth your time. Movies below this point are, for the most part, better than the majority of major studio animated films released but are not up to the quality level of the films above the line.
  17. Finding Dory - Dory was one of the highlights of the original film... but she works better as seasoning rather than the main dish. The otters were funny, though.
  18. The Incredibles 2 - I love parts of this movie... the raccoon sequence is brilliant, as are a couple of the action sequences with Elasti-Girl - but the film overall doesn't quite hold together. I don't hate it - but I haven't gone out of my way to watch it again (except the raccoon).
  19. Monsters University - Some really nice action sequences late in the film aren't enough to carry the weight of what feels like a "direct to DVD" sequel. 
  20. Cars 2 - Sadly, the fantastic visuals are paired with a so-so story that requires the characters to act out of character and/or like idiots. This is not the first Hollywood film to do this... but it's sad to see Pixar go there. OTOH, it does have one of my favorite Cars visual jokes - the Pope car in a Popemobile. 

I have not (yet) seen Onward... I'm planning to do that this week since it is now available on Disney+.

I refuse, based on the overwhelming feedback of friends, reviewers, and my children, to watch The Good Dinosaur. I'm just going to pretend it doesn't exist.