If you are interested in watching the Pixar short films released since 2007 without having to put on about 10 different Blu-ray discs, then you are in luck. Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 is out for all you lazy aficionados.
In 2007, Pixar put together a collection of all of its short films to that point. The collection showed off the development of the computer animated art form and was stocked with good storytelling and the joy of the old Looney Toons and Disney shorts. It’s been five years and Pixar is still pumping out the shorts, so it’s time for Volume 2, which covers the 12 shorts released between 2007 and 2012. The animation is better and some of the stories are home runs, but the output is uneven.
It’s not hard to understand why the films are a mixed bag. They are united only by a studio, rather than a common director, subject matter, or even animation style. That means that if one short doesn’t float your boat, a new one with new characters, plot, style, and pace is just four to seven minutes away. But it also means that you might watch the amazing “Presto,” about a rabbit who outsmarts the magician trying to pull him out of a hat, and then have to sit through the pedestrian “Dug’s Special Mission,” about the dog from Up, or even the terrible “George & AJ,” which is based on minor characters from the same movie, with a flat drawing and barely animated style. Not that consistency is the end all and be all of animated short production, but at a brisk 75 minutes, you want all the parts to have the same high quality, and several don’t.
The shorts can be broken into the eight that are based on Pixar movies and the four that are original stories. The original stories “Presto,” “Partly Cloudy,” “Day & Night,” and “La Luna” are the cream of the crop by far. They seem to have the heart, humor, and eye-popping visuals that Pixar is famous for. “Partly Cloudy” is just a beautiful and engaging story and while the “Day & Night” story isn’t the best, it does have some really interesting animation. Those behind the project are trying hard and that goes a long way.
The remaining eight shorts include two Toy Story shorts, two Cars shorts, and two Up shorts, as well as one based on Wall-E and another on Ratatouille. The Mater-centric Cars shorts are a real let-down--not unlike the whole Cars 2 movie. I guess your expectations have to be high in order to be let down, but I just do not get the whole Cars and Mater love. The Up shorts are also lousy. The Toy Story stuff is, well, what you should expect--well done, funny, professional. But saying “professional” about a Pixar product is sort of a let down.
It’s when the Pixar animators get original that they really put together something fans should want to see, although I would like to point out that all of the retreads aren’t bad. “Your Friend The Rat,” using the Ratatouille characters to pay homage to the old Disney educational shorts, is fun. Overall, though, this set is not one that you have to run out and acquire, unless you are an OCD completist. Especially if you have most of the Pixar or Disney discs that these are already on.
As noted above, you may already have most of these shorts if you own the Pixar full length movie releases from the past five years, and lets face it, if you are reading a review of the release of their short films, you probably do. So, other than the laziness that is overcome by putting everything on one disc, why buy this set? It’s a good question and the Pixar people have a partial answer! There’s some extra stuff. Not a lot, but some.
The first major extra is commentary for each of the 12 shorts. The director (and sometimes at least one other technical or story person) gives the background and details of the making of the short. It, like the films themselves, varies in enjoyability. Some of the people involved provide a lot of specific technical details or point out things you might not notice. Director/writer Jim Capobianco and Nate Wragg are great in this way on “Your Friend The Rat.” The short contains a variety of animation styles and homages to educational films and the two men fill you in on all the details. In contrast, Peter Sohn, the director of “Party Cloudy” shares the inspiration for his short and how his relationship with his mother, who doesn’t speak much English, impacted the film. It’s a very personal commentary with almost no details on the actual making of the short. Again, it’s reflective of the mixed-bag approach you get when you have a collection with 12 visions, rather than one unified film.
Adding to the insight provided by the commentaries, you can see the creative background for Pixar by watching seven student films from three top Pixar directors. There are three by John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), two by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), and two by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up). They, much like the shorts in the set, run about four to seven minutes and are pretty rough, animation-wise. You do see a few of the ideas that made it into Pixar movies later, but since these were done way back when talent was still forming and money was not available, it’s not like you think “holy crap, this is a masterpiece in the making!” In fact, it might be interesting to show a bunch of student films from no names and see if there is any difference, or people can pick out the Pixar giants from the guys that never went anywhere. The directors themselves do a brief introduction for each student film.
I can’t say that if you already have Pixar movies on Blu-ray that the commentaries and student films are worth getting the whole extra disc. This isn’t a real impressive must-have thing, but if you want the short films in one easy package and like the idea of commentaries, then you might consider getting it.