For anyone who eagerly looks forward to a new Pixar feature-length movie, there’s an added attraction – like a glowing bonus – at the back of their minds. For years now, ever since The Bug’s Life (1998), a Pixar short film (ranging from 3 to 6 minutes) is attached to their big-ticket movies before the opening credits – mostly created to push their own talent, and to showcase the studio’s technological and cinematic advancements. And everyone knows that there is nothing quite like Pixar animation.
From self-created chess games to botched alien abductions, from uncooperative magic rabbits to an Indian kid annoying his religious father, from a lovelorn volcano to a frustrated cloud, from a frightened baby sandpiper to dancing sheep, Pixar has stretched the limits of our imagination right before dropping us into their feature-length universes. Their innovation has been consistent and outrageous, path-breaking and audacious – with most of their animators making debuts with these shorts.
Here are five of the finest Pixar shorts over the years:
5. GERI’S GAME
Main film: A Bug’s Life
One of Pixar’s earliest, Geri’s Game was made to take human and cloth animation to the next level. This is a wonderful little psychological short about an old man (a geriatric, presumably) engaged in an exciting chess duel against himself, where he assumes different personalities and clothes to make it seem like two different competitors are playing. He fakes heart attacks and glass changes to get the upper hand for the docile versus aggressive duel, with a ‘set of dentures’ as the prize. Eventually, the camera pulls out to reveal the victor – Geri himself – thrilled to win yet another day. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Main film: Ratatouille
Get this: A tiny alien is going through an abduction examination, where he must operate a complicated spaceship control panel to suck up a sleeping farmer from his house. Observing and marking him is a gelatinous blob, an expressionless supervisor who the alien must impress at any cost. This is easily Pixar’s funniest short, reflecting and parodying tense exams taken all over the world. The way the poor human is bumped around in his room because of alien’s complete incompetency is hilarious, unable to suck him out of the window in one swoop, until blob is forced to take over. Also, look out for the final shot, after getting comfortable with the student-teacher equation. Poor humans!
3. DAY & NIGHT
Main film: Toy Story 3
Innovative, and beautifully conceived, Teddy Newton’s short unusually combines 2D and 3D technology to produce something truly unique. It has two characters – Day and Night – whose outlines are hand-drawn in traditional 2D style. But inside them, we see images of what happens in the world at day and night, 3D imagery of the sun rising, rainbows forming and fireworks across the stars. Both of them are wary of each other, until they learn to appreciate how each of them harbors a necessary and different sort of beauty. The world needs both of them. The end is lovely – when the sun is at the same height, both the characters look identical, before the moon takes over and one becomes the other. Truly remarkable in its take on discrimination and identity, this didn’t win an Academy Award, but remains memorable for its simple yet layered take on a seemingly mundane phenomenon.
2. SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM
Main film: The Good Dinosaur
Animator Sanjay Patel borrows from his own conflicted childhood between modernity and Hindu traditions to create a definitive “Indian” short film for the ages. Creatively chronicling the predicament of perhaps every Indian child growing up in a religious family, the short is about how a kid named Sanjay extends his daydreaming by combining his favorite Super Team superhero cartoon with his father’s Hindu Gods. Vishnu, Hanuman and Durga form a spunky superhero team fending off an evil Ravana in the kid’s mind. Eventually, his father lets him watch his cartoon, and Sanjay sketches figures of his father’s beloved Gods – showing the rare peaceful union of two schools of thought and two generations, a mutual understanding that must enter every Indian household to encourage evolution.
Main film: Finding Dory
A frightened baby sandpiper on a beach struggles to get over its agrophobia. Unlike the others who feed on the sand between waves, it fails to retreat from incoming tides in time, and gets drenched, and prefers to stay hungry than go through that horror again. Soon, it notices how a bunch of hermit crabs deal with this, digging themselves into the sand – there by exposing us to one of the most beautiful and life-like animated scenes in recent history: An underwater sequence where the baby begins to appreciate the beauty of this world, opening its eyes and getting over its fear. Of course, it becomes a skilled food-hunter after that, excited to have seen a world none of its contemporaries have. Pixar outdid itself with this phenomenally authentic and mindful little story, which will have both parents and children alike smiling wistfully at this universal phase.