Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 2 Review
Five years after its earliest short films received a standalone release, Pixar now brings out a second volume which is thankfully not just more of the same. This collection of short form animation is another feather in the computer animation studio's cap. Aside from a bit of weariness caused by relying heavily on familiar characters from Pixar's features, these dozen shorts continue to build on an impressive legacy and, perhaps, even merit stronger admiration at times than the full-length films.
Your Friend the Rat (11:16)
Volume one came out on DVD and Blu-ray at the same time as the initial release of Ratatouille, which contained an exclusive short film featuring the rodent star Remy and his brother Emile. That short wasn't included on the first volume but can now been seen here. It's a real delight, letting Remy try to explain, using an instructional film sort of device, why rats aren't deserving of their unflattering reputation. The bulk of the animation is two-dimensional, and done in a variety of styles. It really is silliness at its finest, and bonus points for the François Truffaut cameo. Director Jim Capobianco and production designer Nate Whagg offer optional commentary.
Possibly my favorite of the lot is this wordless throwback to the classic animated cartoons of the past. The tale of a mischievous white rabbit getting revenge on his magician master during the latter's act is full of hilarious physical humor. The short was previously available on the release of Wall-E, which "Presto" also played before in cinemas. An audio commentary with director Doug Sweetland can be accessed from the menu.
While key events occur in the film Wall-E, a very peripheral character attempts to fix a light on the outside of a spaceship. The humor comes in welder robot Burn-E's repeated frustrations, often resulting (unintentionally) from the actions of Wall-E. It's a cute little aside to the feature that can also be found on the Wall-E release. Commentary is provided by director Angus MacLane.
Partly Cloudy (5:49)
A sweet cartoon that takes the idea of storks delivering babies as a jumping off point and expands it to include a vital role for clouds. One particularly put-upon bird is paired with a darker cloud as the two try to make the best of the situation. "Partly Cloudy" first appeared prior to theatrical showings of Up and is also included on that film's DVD and Blu-ray releases. Director Peter Sohn shares how his relationship with his mother informed the short in an optional commentary track.
Dug's Special Mission (4:42)
More of everyone's favorite talking canine from Up is in store with this short, previously exclusive to the movie's home media release. It's brief but still very funny, with a winning plot and great voice work. A commentary by director Ronnie Del Carmen and supervising technical director Brad Winemiller is accessible from the menu.
George & A.J. (4:01)
The two guys who try to take Carl away from his home and to a "retirement village" in Up are briefly given the spotlight. We get to see both their reactions to Carl's surprising stunt and how it inspired others to try similar tactics when George and A.J. come calling. It's not done in CG and the animation is actually quite primitive but the humor remains abundant. Director Josh Cooley's commentary track is a must-listen, as it turns into a crazy battle with a truth-bending narrator.
Day & Night (6:02)
Two blobby forms, one made up of daytime scenes and the other with nighttime playing out inside it, fight, dance and finally appreciate each's unique characteristics. I can't say that I'm really a fan of this one for some reason. It was originally shown before Toy Story 3 in cinemas, and is also on the Blu-ray and DVD editions of that movie. Director Teddy Newton and layout artist Sandra Karpman offer a dry, nearly robotic commentary track.
Hawaiian Vacation (5:53)
The Toy Story gang get their first short film. In it, Bonnie, the little girl given the toys in the third film, goes to Hawaii and leaves behind all of her plastic friends, including a devastated Ken and Barbie. The rest of the toys make the best of the situation. Lots of clever little jokes, and it's nice to hear the original voice cast. This was first shown before Cars 2 in cinemas and also included on that movie's home media releases. The commentary here is by director Gary Rydstrom, story supervisor Jason Katz and supervising animator Angus MacLane.
Air Mater (5:12)
Tow truck Mater from Cars tells the story of the time he learned to fly and joined air show troupe the Falcon Hawks. It has its moments but I still think this short is pretty glaringly inferior to the usual Pixar short film output. It's the tenth Cars toon but the first produced in Pixar Canada. The DVD and Blu-ray editions of Cars 2 also feature the short. Commentary featuring director Rob Gibbs, producer Kim Adams and production designer Bob Pauley can be accessed from the menu.
Small Fry (7:06)
A very enjoyable take on fast food toys starring the characters from Toy Story. When the Buzz Lightyear display toy at a fast food place gets frustrated with being stuck in a case, he gets out and switches places with the regular size Buzz, who's trapped in the restaurant. He quite humorously participates in a neglected toy support group. This preceded The Muppets at the cinema but wasn't included with that film's home media release. With optional commentary by director Angus MacLane, which touches on the backstories created for the support group toys.
Time Travel Mater (6:23)
The origins of Radiator Springs and its founder Stanley are relayed by Cars' Mater. I did like the brief attempt to recreate two-strip Technicolor, but it's still tough for me to feign interest in the Cars world. "Time Travel Mater" has appeared on television but this is its debut on either BD or DVD. You can hear commentary by director Rob Gibbs, editor Torbin Xan Bullock and production designer Anthony Christo.
La Luna (6:57)
A beautiful fable about a boy who shares a small boat, at night, with his father and grandfather. Their exact task is gradually made clear during the course of the film. It contains a very Italian feel that manages to be at once warm and mysterious. The look here is majestic. It's one of two shorts (along with "Burn-E") that is in the Scope aspect ratio. "La Luna" showed before Brave in theaters and is also on that film's Blu-ray release. Director Enrico Casarosa and producer Keven Reher add a commentary track.
Extras and Quality Control
All twelve of these shorts look amazing. They've been immaculately transferred to this region-free Blu-ray and inspire no quibbles on my end. Most of the dozen are in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio while two are shown in 2.40:1. ("George and A.J. is actually 1.85:1.) Colors, sharpness and detail are all of reference quality.
Meanwhile, audio is similarly impressive. Music, effects and, when necessary, dialogue all come through crystal clear and without a hitch. A number of these films offer 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks while others come through in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Dub tracks are available for all, in French and Spanish. These come in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD or 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DVD has English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and Spanish dubs. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.
Bonus features are comprised of a collection of student films made by three prominent Pixar directors. Each can be played with an introduction by the director. John Lasseter's "Nitemare" (5:20) and "Lady and the Lamp" (4:26) were done at CalArts. The former, especially, still holds up while the latter is a series of pencil test sketches that kind of feels a bit too quaint or unadventurous. Andrew Stanton contributes "Somewhere in the Arctic" (3:50) and "A Story" (4:37). His shorts vary dramatically in tone from most everything else on this disc. They really represent a necessary balance, I think, against the sometimes too sentimental and sweet tendencies shown elsewhere. In truth, I probably preferred Stanton's "A Story" over his wildly successful feature Finding Nemo. There are then three by Pete Docter. "Winter" (1:41), "Palm Springs" (1:56), and "Next Door" (3:23) are all quick bits done by Docter when he was a student at CalArts. The last of these shorts carries the most weight but all still struggle as being insubstantial.
Sneak Peeks are available for, among other things, the upcoming Blu-ray edition of Peter Pan and the Monsters, Inc. sequel Monsters University.
The included DVD contains the same collection of supplements.
As with Volume 1 of the Pixar Short Films, this set repeats many shorts (nine, I believe) sprinkled across previous individual releases. Fans of the studio's animation might therefore already have quite a few of these in their home library. Still, one can see the appeal of having them all together and being able to easily view them in one sitting. Many of the shorts are delightful while a few strike me as safe filler but the inclusion of the student films from Pixar's most prominent directors and the strong technical quality make this release worth recommending.