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Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Directors: John Lasseter, Jan Pinkava, Ralph Eggleston, Roger Gould, Pete Docter, Bud Luckey, Brad Bird, Gary Rydstrom, Mark Andrews, Andrew Jimenez, Dan Scanlon

Running Time: 55 Minutes (13 Shorts) / Rating: Not Rated, G

1.33:1 Fullscreen - 2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Original Aspect Ratios)
Dolby Digital Stereo - Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Originally Released between 1984 and 2007 / DVD Release Date: November 6, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Holographic, Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray + DVD • Blu-ray

Twelve autumns ago, Toy Story opened in American theaters. The initial reaction of moviegoers and critics was that this was one good movie and that it was different from other animation seen before. Unlike Walt Disney's pioneering Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, no national distinction was needed; Toy Story was absolutely the first feature-length film animated entirely on computers. Today, the 1995 flick -- one of the youngest recognized on the American Film Institute's recent recount of 100 greatest U.S. movies -- is readily identified as a turning point for animation. In the years since its release, three-dimensional CGI universes have become the norm for big screen cartoons. Many have looked at it and other works from creator Pixar Animation Studios as the benchmark for feature animation.

But while Toy Story may be the first chapter in the story of computer-animated features, the Special Achievement Oscar winner did not mark the beginning of Pixar. As suggested by the bouncing lamp in the company logo that was buried under distributor Walt Disney Pictures' trademark castle, Pixar had some experience in CG animation.
This was merely in a handful of minimally-seen short films that existed at the periphery of a company whose money came from high-end computer hardware sold to government agencies and the medical industry.

The pre-Toy Story shorts were premiered at SIGGRAPH, an annual gathering of the computer graphics industry. They were never really seen by the general public but that didn't prevent them from earning two Oscar nominations and one victory in the Academy's take-your-word-for-it Best Animated Short Film category.

The studio's five existing animated shorts (including one made prior to the Lucasfilm Computer Division's 1986 purchase by Steve Jobs) received new life in October of 1996 when they accompanied Toy Story on its deluxe laserdisc set and were released on their own as the VHS title Tiny Toy Stories. Living up to the format's name, these earliest cartoons are very brief; the longest runs just five minutes and change. They are also simple, the result of both creative decisions and technical limitations, and free of traditional dialogue.

Years before "Toy Story", Pixar explored the relationship between children and their playthings in 1988's Academy Award-winning short "Tin Toy." This old man seems stumped by his opponent (himself) in the 1990s Oscar winner "Geri's Game."

After an 8-year hiatus, in 1997, while in production on sophomore feature A Bug's Life, Pixar returned to making shorts with Geri's Game. Months after winning the Best Short Academy Award, Geri's accompanied A Bug's Life in theaters and later on DVD, starting a new tradition of granting pre-feature exposure to a past or present short 'toon from Pixar. In Geri's and three subsequent cartoons helmed by Pixar employees in their directorial debuts, the early format -- heavy on visual humor and void of dialogue -- is upheld. Nine years later, Pixar has also maintained the tradition of including a short with their newest feature in theaters and on the subsequent DVD.

In addition, five years ago, Pixar made Mike's New Car, an all-new short for the Monsters, Inc. DVD featuring characters from the film (and their original voice actors). This would begin a new trend that would carry over to competitors DreamWorks and Blue Sky. These productions were able to tout a valuable bonus feature on the package and also provided a viable, cost-effective showcase for the short format. The Incredibles and Cars received similar treatment with Jack-Jack Attack and Mater and the Ghostlight. Closer in style to the films that they were spawned from, these DVD-debuting cartoons have contained dialogue and a more complex narrative format.

In a move that was anticipated for a few years, the studio's animated shorts have been compiled into a set that's called Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 and arrives on DVD and Blu-ray early next month alongside the home video debut of the studio's latest feature Ratatouille and the high-definition debut of previous outing Cars. With the exception of the musical Boundin', the cartoons clearly fall into the two aforementioned classes, with the majority being the silent, visual type. Lessening the excitement of this release is the fact that all but two of the thirteen shorts are available on DVD (or will be, with Ratatouille's bowing) in pristine quality on the Pixar feature DVDs that any respectable collection, especially that of an animation enthusiast, already contains.

A look at each short follows. Note that the release years in parentheses are the ones assigned by Pixar, which from Geri's Game on refer to the wide releases tied to the theatrical or DVD debut of the studio's feature films.

Upon thinking he's outsmarted Wally B. the bee, Andrι slips the viewer a grin in the oldest short on this DVD. In "Red's Dream", a unicycle upstages the juggling clown riding it. This snowman, an Alaskan souvenir, wants out of the snowglobe he calls Nome Sweet Nome in "Knick Knack."

The Adventures of Andrι & Wally B. (1984) (1:49)
The shortest cartoon and the only one predating the Pixar name, this one tells of a fellow sleeping in the forest who tries to avoid a bee's sting. The short is set to recognizable excerpts from Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Luxo Jr. (1986) (2:08)
The Oscar-nominated cartoon that is paid tribute in the modern Pixar logo, this film tells of a child lamp who enthusiastically plays with a colorful rubber ball while his parent watches on.

Red's Dream (1987) (4:10)
The moodiest and least typical of Pixar's work,
this previously missing-on-DVD short takes us inside a bicycle shop, where a discounted unicycle dreams of his glory days as a juggling circus clown's partner (and upstager).

Tin Toy (1988) (5:09)
Pixar's first Oscar winner and a clear ancestor to Toy Story, this short depicts a destructive baby's playtime from a frightened tin toy's point of view. Despite a clunky foray into human characters, this is one of Pixar's best and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2003.

Knick Knack (1989) (3:34)
On a shelf filled with tourist souvenirs, a cranky snowman tries in various ways to escape his Alaskan snowglobe home to get close to a smiley, bikini-clad Miami girl. The short is set to soothing music by Bobby McFerrin, fresh off his chart-topping Grammy-winning "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Unsurprisingly, this is the 2003 cut that accompanied Finding Nemo and gives drastic bust reductions to the two female characters. The bustier original version is neither offered nor referenced here.

Blue birds of a feather mock together in Pixar's most recent Oscar-winning short, "For the Birds." Mike Wazowski's new automobile is nothing but trouble in the Monsters, Inc. spin-off short, "Mike's New Car." "You just get a leg up and you slap it on down / And you'll find you're up in what's called the bound / bound, bound, and rebound...," sings the great American jackalope in "Boundin'."

Geri's Game (1998) (4:50)
An elderly gentleman spends a nice autumn afternoon outdoors playing chess... against himself. Arresting in pacing and visuals, this is almost certainly the finest use of Pixar's dialogue-free format. As a time saver, the character here resurfaced in Toy Story 2 as the expert toy cleaner, complete with a nod to this Oscar-winning debut.

For the Birds (2001) (3:21)
Squeaky little blue birds are hostile to the much larger and different-looking one that joins them on a telephone wire. The gawky newcomer gets the last laugh, however.

Mike's New Car (2002) (3:46)
Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) excitedly introduces his best pal and Scare Floor co-worker Sulley (John Goodman) to his new, state-of-the-art yellow automobile. Figuring out the reason for a single alarm's sounding proves extremely frustrating for the little one-eyed green monster.

Boundin' (2004) (4:40)
A sheep who prides himself on step-dancing loses more than his wool when he is shorn. His spirits are lifted, though, by an encounter with a great American jackalope, who puts things into perspective and teaches him "The Bound."

Babysitter Kari wisely keeps a fire extinguisher on hand while watching the Parrs' combustible young'un in "Jack-Jack Attack." Dueling street performers try to sway the big-eyed girl with the coin in "One Man Band." Among the Radiator Springs crowd gathered outside Flo's including his best friend Lightning McQueen, tow truck Mater (right) is frightened by the Sheriff's talk of the mysterious ghostlight.

Jack-Jack Attack (2005) (4:42)
Filling in the blanks of an unseen chapter from The Incredibles, this short showcases just how much of a handful infant Jack-Jack is for his babysitter Kari (voiced by Bret Parker) upon discovering his assorted powers while his superhero family is off saving the world.

One Man Band (2005) (4:30)
In a European piazza, a young girl with a coin is audience to two musical street performers each ambitiously vying for her financial support.

Mater and the Ghostlight (2006) (7:07)
Catching up with the cast of Cars, this short finds rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) disrupting many of his neighbors with pranks.
The table is turned on him when Sheriff (Michael Wallis) tells him to fear the blue ghost light that's rumored to haunt Route 66.

Lifted (2007) (5:00)
While his clipboard-wielding proctor remains silent, a novice alien tries his hand at abducting a sleeping human, with quite a bit of difficulty.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even if you're one of the few people who can claim to be unmoved by Pixar's storytelling, you're still apt to marvel at the technical beauty of the shorts, especially those from Geri's Game on. As always, such beauty is not inhibited in any way in these direct digital-to-digital transfers to DVD. Although styles and formats vary (from two-channel stereo to full 5.1, from fullscreen to 2.39:1 widescreen), there's nary a flaw in picture or sound, which are uniformly outstanding and a feast for each applicable sense. All widescreen shorts are enhanced for 16x9 displays. In a frustratingly archaic move, neither the soundtracks nor subtitles that are offered in English, French, and Spanish can be toggled in playback. Since dialogue rarely enters the proceedings, that's not a big deal, but one can't fathom how the studio that's normally ahead of the field falls short (no pun intended) here.

A young John Lasseter demonstrates his work on "Red's Dream" in archival video found in "The Pixar Shorts: A Short History." "Up and Down" is one of four Sesame Street shorts included as bonus features. The Short Films menu niftily shows off the title logos for the DVD's thirteen shorts and houses an Easter Egg as well.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Bonus features begin with the audio commentaries offered on 12 of the 13 shorts. (Ironically, it is one of the best, Jack-Jack Attack, which goes without.) Strangely, these aren't listed on the Bonus Features menu, given a section of their own, or selectable during playback.

The first five tracks feature director John Lasseter alongside technical directors Eben Ostby and Bill Reeves. Geri's Game is remarked upon by writer-director Jan Pinkava. Director Ralph Eggleston flies solo on his For the Birds.
The lighthearted commentary on Mike's New Car, by the young sons of directors Pete Docter and Roger Gould, and Bud Luckey's track on Boundin' are both ported over from their earlier appearances on the DVDs of Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles, respectively. One Man Band features co-directors Mark Andrews and Andrew Jimenez along with composer Michael Giacchino. Lasseter and co-director Dan Scanlon team up to talk about Mater and the Ghostlight. Finally, veteran sound man Gary Rydstrom speaks on his directing debut Lifted.

Quite often, speakers on feature commentary tracks find it difficult to fill 2 hours of air with brilliant insight. With the much shorter runtimes here, the opposite is true, in that the commentators are limited by the lack of time. Still, they pack the most they can into each track, usually running into the disproportionate credits roll.

"The Pixar Shorts: A Short History" (23:30) is an excellent overview of the studio's pre-feature days, which includes comments from dozens of relevant people. It also provides excerpts from a variety of video clips like production footage, animation tests, and commercials. Frustratingly, there is no opportunity to see the media sampled in full; with loads of available disc space, this content's inclusion should have been a no-brainer.

The only other listed supplements are four "Sesame Street" shorts starring Luxo and Luxo Jr. Like other segments of the long-running PBS staple, they're designed to entertain while educating basic concepts. Ranging from 20 seconds to a minute each, these cartoons illustrate different weights and directions. The presentation is surprisingly clunky, with no separate menu or "Play All" option plus copyright notices after each short. The titles are "Surprise", "Light and Heavy", "Up and Down", and "Front and Back."

Three minor Easter Eggs are discovered with some ease. From the Short Films selection page, one finds a way to see a test animation version of Luxo Jr. (2:00). From the Subtitles menu, one can access Beach Chair, an unremarkable but technically innovative 19-second 1986 CGI short directed by Eben Ostby. From the Audio Options page, the least obvious and final Egg is found: it's Bill Reeves and Alan Foumier's 13-second Flags and Waves (1986), which like the previous find seems better classified as a CGI test than a "short."

Part of the growing DVD trend, all the commentaries and other bonus features are subtitled. The featurette even offers Japanese subtitles. Unfortunately, poor mastering prohibits activating subtitles in the middle of a feature.

The main menu coolly takes one into Pixar's screening room before settling on a montage of clips from the films set to an excerpt of One Man Band's end credits music. Arriving at submenus showcases some nifty transitions, clever designs, and more music from the shorts.

Inside the keepcase, which like any major DVD today is housed in a holographic and embossed cardboard slipcover, are two inserts. One is for the Disney Movie Rewards program, complete with a code and the promise of a free-plus-shipping collectible Pixar pin set with the purchase of this and Ratatouille. The other provides a shorts and supplements list while doubling as an ad for the concurrently-released Cars Blu-ray.

Upon inserting the disc, one is treated to a promo for Disney movies on Blu-ray and trailers for Wall-E, Return to Never Land, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, and Ratatouille.

The bouncy lamp long seen in Pixar's company logo and his father are the stars of the first short to bear the studio's name, 1986's "Luxo Jr.". This uncertain green guy goes through the alien equivalent of a road test in Pixar's latest short, "Lifted."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While the thirteen cartoons range from good to outstanding, it's preposterous to recommend Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 at its asking price. No DVD collection should be without any of Pixar's feature films and once you own them all through Ratatouille, you also own between 9 and 11 of these thirteen shorts. The commentaries, fine featurette, "Sesame Street" shorts, and convenience of having all in one place are worth something, but that something is about half of this list price. The shortage of content here, when anything Pixar-related would have been apt and a number of entities were legally cleared at least for the featurette, is quite disappointing.

In short, this is a sweet buy for about $10, but until you find it at that price, feel free to pass, knowing that you already own most of it and might own even more if the 2005 Toy Story movie rereleases hadn't dropped their accompaniment in anticipation of this.

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Reviewed October 25, 2007.