It’s been six years since the last Pixar Short Films collection on home video, and this third release assembles 13 of the studio’s latest shorts from the theatrical releases to the bonuses released with other home video features. As with the prior two volumes, this is a disc that is for the hardcore animation aficionados rather than the general public, since the shorts themselves have all been released on earlier home video releases and the bonuses probably aren’t enough of an enticement to the audience that doesn’t obsessively watch behind-the-scenes featurettes and listen to commentary tracks. I’m also intrigued at how the shorts collection may chronicle the change at Pixar more thoroughly than the features do. While the earliest shorts are anarchic and tend to slapstick comedy, many of these later shorts center on the relationship between parents and children, indicating the gradually rising age- and maturity-level of the people working at the studio these days.
Unlike the earlier releases, the Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 3 contains almost all the shorts from the most recent releases; “Auntie Edna” from the Incredibles 2 Blu-ray is the only one missing. The earlier discs arranged shorts chronologically, but if there is an order to these shorts, I’m unable to discern what it is. The shorts included are:
“Bao”: I have tremendous love for this short because of its deep sense of authenticity and for the way it resonates with my own personal experience growing up Chinese-American in North America. An older Chinese woman’s lunch inexplicably comes to life and becomes her child, with all the delights, frustrations, and heartbreaks that ensue. What appeals to me the most about this short is the way it balances the universal with the specific. Everyone can identify with children growing up and seeking independence from their parents, although (as stated in the commentary track) I find it’s interesting how your perspective on which side gets more sympathy once you become a parent. However, the specific lived-in details of life among the Chinese immigrant community and the challenges in seeking acceptance in the larger culture will resonate strongly with the people who have lived that life (even if the child happens to be a steamed bun come to life).
“Lou”: This delightful short manages to inject a tremendous amount of meaningful sentiment on bullying and redemption, as the contents of a lost-and-found box tries to counter the influence of a playground bully who seems intent on ruining all the other kids’ fun. I’m impressed at how expressive the animators could make a pile of playground junk, and the ultimate message of the short is both heartwarming and bittersweet.
“Piper”: A small sandpiper discovers the wonders and terrors of the world outside of her nest, learning to deal with the latter with a little help from a family of small crabs. I liked but did not love this short when I first saw it with Finding Dory, but as time goes on I find I appreciate it as a story and as a technical achievement more and more. Like “Bao,” “Piper” is about growing up and finding your way in the world, but this short filters it through the language of nature documentary rather than immigrant experience.
“Sanjay’s Super Team”: A young Indian-American boy is forced by his immigrant father to turn off his superhero cartoon so he can participate in a religious ritual, learning how to mix his ancestors’ traditions with the modern popular culture around him. I love this short for many of the same reasons why I love “Bao,” since both mix the specific with the universal to tell a story that’s accessible to everyone but has more resonance for those who recognize the subtleties. I think “Sanjay’s Super Team” manages to be much more visually impressive than “Bao,” since the center portion of the short depicts a cosmic battle of good vs. evil that’s rendered to dazzling effect.
“Riley’s First Date”: This follow-up to Inside Out expands on the gag at the very end of the movie where we zoom in to multiple characters’ headquarters to see how their emotions are driving them. While it doesn’t aspire to the degree of multi-layered meaning of the feature, it still manages to build on a few of the movie’s core concepts in an amusing and entertaining way.
“Lava”: A winning trifle of a short where a volcano longs to find someone to love. This short is inflected with the rhythms and landscapes of the Pacific Islands and is essentially an animated music video that tells its whole story through a charming, lovely song written by the film’s director James Ford Murphy and performed by Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig. Between this short and Disney’s Moana, it seems to be a good time for animation to explore the Pacific Islands.
“The Radiator Springs 500 1/2”: Cars may win the award for the most divisive of Pixar’s franchises, since kids adore it, adults tend to be indifferent about it, and animation fans almost universally revile it as a sub-par cash-in. I break with the common wisdom on this, since I’ve enjoyed all the Cars movies and the “Mater’s Tall Tale” shorts, but I also have to admit that this short is probably one of the weakest ones on this collection. It’s not a bad film, but while all the earlier movies (with the possible exception of “Riley’s First Date”) manage to work on multiple levels, “The Radiator Springs 500 1/2” is just a Cars story, pitting Lightning McQueen against a gang of interlopers in a road rally race. The kids will still love it, but for once I find I’m with the other adults in being a little indifferent about it.
“Party Central”: In contrast, I find I enjoyed this follow-up to Monsters University more than the actual film, at least partially because the running time of a short means it can just be a string of gags that build on the world created by the movie without trying to support a larger story. The monsters of Oozma Kappa throw a party, and when everybody on campus goes to the Roar Omega Roar frathouse, Mike and Sully craft a plan to steal the ROR’s thunder with the help of some appropriated doors. “Party Central” manages the same achievement as the movie of being a PG-rated college story that transfers the more adult components of the story to parallels that are still understandable to kids. I suspect that I’m reacting more positively to “Party Central” than “The Radiator Springs 500 1/2” because I like the Monsters Inc. world a whole lot more, and because the gags in this movie are just a lot funnier.
“The Blue Umbrella”: Pixar has a long history of telling stories through ordinarily inanimate objects, with this short being essentially Disney’s “Paperman” but with umbrellas. During a sudden shower in an unnamed city, a blue umbrella meets cute with a red umbrella, and spends the rest of the movie building up to a reunification. This is a classic “how are we getting there?” kind of short, just as “Paperman” was — we don’t really doubt that the pair will meet up by the end of the short and the pleasures to be extracted from it are from the journey itself rather than the destination. In this particular case, this short manages to push photorealistic CGI to much higher levels than most Pixar movies, which lends the city around the umbrellas a distinctive and winning personality.
“The Legend of Mor’du”: This short expands on backstory from Brave, filling in the blanks of the tale spoken mostly through ellipses in that movie in a hand-drawn style. It’s a story told on a more mythic scale, vs. the more personal one of Brave, and the cautionary tale has the same sense of import that a good fairy tale does. However, it must also be said that this short is almost entirely unnecessary, since the movie filled in all the details that we needed to know about the tale, and there was some value in not knowing all the details behind the monstrous bear that served as that movie’s most visible antagonist.
“Partysaurus Rex”: Considering the number of times I’m sure I’ve watched this “Toy Story Toons” short on home video, I was surprised to find it hadn’t been released on a Shorts Collection disc before. I love the “Toy Story Toons” shorts, and this one that centers on Rex is easily one of the best. Stung by his friends’ criticism that he’s a party pooper, Rex wanders over to the bathroom and finds himself an inadvertent hero because he’s the only toy in the vicinity who has arms and can thus turn the water back on. As always, its fun to hang out with the Toy Story gang some more, and this short shares a lot with “Party Central” in finding creative ways to craft PG-rated equivalents to more adult experiences.
“Marine Life Interviews”: This mini-movie follow-up to Finding Dory just throws a bunch of characters from that movie into a “found footage” setup where they all talk about Dory and their experiences with her. Unfortunately, it’s just an insubstantial excuse for a lot of mugging for the camera. It’s fine, but utterly forgettable.
“Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool”: This last short is an infomercial that gives the filmmakers a chance to spend more time with the demolition derby participants from Cars 3. This is another short that I find I appreciate more than I actually like, since it’s really just a bunch of crazy gags around how bad most home-grown community advertising can be, except with cars instead of people. Still, I’d probably say it’s more amusing in the end than “Marine Life Interviews.”
Like the two prior volumes, the Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 3 release includes filmmaker introductions and commentary tracks for each of the shorts. They are all wonderful to listen to, mixing in informative anecdotes about the making of the movies and the influences behind them. One of the best is probably the one for “Party Central,” where director Kelsey Mann outlines a list of lessons he learned while working on the movie; I’m also quite fond of the commentaries for my favorite shorts on the disc (“Bao,” “Sanjay’s Super Team,” “Lou,” and “Piper”). There are two additional bonus featurettes. One is dedicated to the making of “Bao,” which may include a little duplicated material from the introduction and the commentary but is also able to show the work that went into making the film in a bit more detail. The other is a “Life at Pixar”-type featurette titled “A Horrible Way of Saying ‘I Love You'”, dedicated to the art of caricature and its (mis-)uses at Pixar.
With the exception of “Party Central,” all these shorts have been available with other home video releases. Having them all together in one spot is convenient, although some of the follow-up films are probably placed in better context with the features they spin off from. The commentaries and featurettes are definitely worthwhile for animation fans, but the more casual Pixar audience can and will probably skip this collection. While re-reading my reviews of the earlier two volumes, I realized that we managed to be off by exactly one year in anticipating the next one, working on a five-year schedule when these discs seem to come out every six. I hope to see you all back here in 2024, if not sooner, for volume 4.