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Pixar on DVD: Toy StoryA Bug's LifeToy Story 2Monsters, Inc.Finding NemoThe IncrediblesCarsRatatouilleWALL•EUpToy Story 3Cars 2Brave

Pixar on Blu-ray: Toy StoryA Bug's LifeToy Story 2Monsters, Inc.Finding NemoThe IncrediblesCars • Ratatouille • WALL•EUpToy Story 3Cars 2Brave

Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 Blu-ray + DVD Review

Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2
Shorts, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Directors: Angus MacLane, Rob Gibbs, Jim Capobianco, Doug Sweetland, Peter Sohn, Ronnie del Carmen, Josh Cooley, Teddy Newton, Gary Rydstrom, Enrico Casarosa, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Running Time: 76 Minutes (12 Shorts) / Rating: Not Rated, G

1.78:1 - 2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1-7.1 DTS-HD HR or MA (English) or Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); some shorts: Dolby Surround (Descriptive Service), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, Spanish; Blu-ray only: French
Extras Subtitled, DVD Closed Captioned
Originally Released between 2007 and 2012 / Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: November 13, 2012
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 / Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Holographic, Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVDDVD / Volume 1: Blu-ray + DVDDVD

It's always interesting to see how Pixar identifies themselves in posters and trailers. Not the "From the creators/makers/humans/manufacturers of" part, but the movie titles that follow.
The selections tell us in very clear terms which of their films the studio thinks people will most respond to, typically their recent and most successful ones. As interesting as that is the notion that someone doesn't know the name "Pixar" by now. Seventeen years and thirteen releases into feature filmmaking, Pixar is unquestionably one of the most recognizable and well-regarded brands in cinema today. Pretending otherwise is like advertising Lincoln as "from the director of Schindler's List" or Django Unchained as "from the maker of Pulp Fiction." You reach a point where people know what you're talking about without spelling things out for them and it's tough to believe the name "Pixar" could breed uncertainty in much of the general public or any moviegoer since 2003 at the latest.

Though growing annually, Pixar's feature output has got to be one of the easiest canons for film fans to be able to rattle off. The studio's short films were once as easy to recite, too, with one new or classic short attached to their every theatrical release. In recent years, though, the list of Pixar shorts has grown with entries from the Cars Toons: Mater's Tall Tales and Toy Story Toons series complementing their more award-minded original theatrical efforts and the now-standard home video shorts. Needless to say, in the five years since the DVD and Blu-ray release of Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 and the two since Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales, enough new shorts have emerged to sort of fill a new disc. And so, twelve of them do in next week's Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2, released as a DVD and Blu-ray + DVD combo alongside the various editions of Brave.

Volume 2 includes two Toy Story shorts, two Mater shorts, three shorts created for films' home video releases, four of what you may consider Pixar's signature dialogue-free prestige shorts (three of them Academy Award nominees), and one atypical work making its disc debut after appearances on iTunes, Facebook, and YouTube.

The discs present them in order of wide release, though bizarrely the Blu-ray lacks a "Play All" option. Maybe it's because despite all hailing from the past few years, there is little consistency to the audio formats in which the shorts are offered (not a valid explanation, in my opinion). FastPlay-enhanced, the DVD bests the Blu-ray in that regard.

Without further ado, here is what you'll find here:

The Ratatouille short "Your Friend the Rat" considers the historical relationship between rats and humans. It takes a while, but Presto DiGiotagione eventually pulls rabbit Alec Azam out of his hat.

Your Friend the Rat (2007) (11:16)
Pixar's longest short to date, this Ratatouille bonus feature has Remy and his brother Emile giving us a history of rats. They cover the Black Rat, the Brown Rat, and the Black Death, from their perspective. Lest you think this is a purely didactic piece, it is not. It has a big sense of humor and visually is quite varied, emulating at different points a 1950s educational short and an 8-bit video game. There's a lot of simple 2D animation, a big musical finale, and a humorous long legal disclaimer to which the hosts object. Though I maintain that Ratatouille is one of Pixar's weakest films, this spin-off is one of the set's most substantial and entertaining works.

Presto (2008) (5:15)
Closely adhering to Pixar's one physical joke, no-dialogue mold, this Oscar-nominated 'toon finds rabbit Alec Azam refusing to cooperate with magician Presto DiGiotagione's teleportation act. Back and forth gags ensue between the connected hats on and off stage.

BURN•E (2008) (7:35)
A welding repair bot barely seen in WALL•E stars in this short that runs parallel to the film, whose hero's actions have unlucky consequences for BURN•E.

Partly Cloudy (2009) (5:49)
A stork is stuck working for a cloud who makes challenging babies for him to deliver. Though this is the only one of Pixar's dialogue-free theatrical shorts on this set not nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, I'd consider it the best of the bunch here.

"Dug's Special Mission" shows us what Dug, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma were up to right before Carl and Russell met Dug. Retirement village nurses George and A.J. are outwitted repeatedly in this "Up"-inspired short.

Dug's Special Mission (2009) (4:42)
Another parallel short like BURN•E, this one shows us what Dug was doing before Carl, Russell, and we first met him in Up. Turns out it is the speech collar-equipped dog's birthday, although Alpha, Beta, and Gamma ask him to stay out of their way as they hunt the bird we'll come to know as Kevin.

George and A.J. (2009) (4:01)
This is the aforementioned anomaly, neither made for theaters nor home video, but the Internet. A simple Flash-like animation of storyboards depicts what Carl left behind in his hometown, from the points of view of the titular two Shady Oaks Retirement Village male nurses.
Other elderly people are inspired by Carl's move and avoid George and A.J. in creative ways.

Day & Night (2010) (6:02)
Two guys on whom scenes of night and day are projected fight until learning to co-exist and be friends. The concept and use of computer animation inside two-dimensional cartoony figures are a bit of a trip, but this short is inventive and fairly fun.

Hawaiian Vacation (2011) (5:53)
The first entry to the Toy Story Toons line, this short finds Ken and Barbie bummed to learn that they are left behind while Bonnie and her family vacation. Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the gang give the couple a taste of Hawaii right at home. This is as light and grounded as Toy Story gets, but these characters are too endearing (especially with all the voice actors returning from the film) not to enjoy every moment spent with them.

Buzz Lightyear gets stuck in a support group for abandoned kids' meal toys in the Toy Story Toon "Small Fry." Lightning McQueen and Mater journey back to a time of sepia tones in "Time Travel Mater."

Air Mater (2011) (5:12)
Pixar has done a lot to make me question my love of Cars, by turning the lovable supporting character Mater into the star of his own shorts series, a mix of theatrical and television premieres, and in the so very underwhelming Cars 2. For me, though, it is easy to separate the charming original film from the mediocrity that has followed. This short, considered a Season 3 premiere on Wikipedia, debuted on Cars 2's DVD and Blu-ray releases. In it, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) tells Lightning McQueen (not Owen Wilson, but Keith Ferguson) about the time he flew with the Falcon Hawks in an air show stunt act.

Small Fry (2011) (7:06)
During Bonnie's fun in the Poultry Palace ball pit, a short kids' meal Buzz Lightyear toy switches places with our Buzz, prompting Buzz's friends to plot a rescue mission as he attends a support group for cast-off ill-conceived toys. This funny short played before The Muppets, but did not join it on home video, making this release its disc debut.

Time Travel Mater (2012) (6:23)
Sort of a stretch being included here, this Mater's Tall Tales premiered on TV in June. Mater tells Lightning (still not Owen Wilson) about his recent time travel experience, which saw him keep Stanley (John Michael Higgins) from leaving town so that he could meet his beloved Lizzie (Katherine Helmond). This short has visual imagination to complement its creative plot, as it adopts the look of old films from the periods that Mater visits.

La Luna (2012) (6:57)
Losing at last year's Oscars, this Italian-flavored short prefaced Brave in theaters. It features three generations of males in a small boat who climb a ladder to sweep some of the glowing rocks off the moon. Its brand of wonderment does seem a little awards baity.

All of these shorts add up to 76 minutes, shorter than every Pixar film to date. Furthermore, if you own all the Pixar films on DVD or Blu-ray and intend to get Brave, then you own all but three of these shorts (George and A.J., Small Fry, and Time Travel Mater). Aware of that but unwilling to budge from their standard list prices, Pixar loads up these discs with exclusive bonus features, adding another incentive to the convenience of having all these shorts in one place.

Though they become friends, initially these two guys are like night and day in Pixar's "Day & Night."

VIDEO and AUDIO

It practically goes without saying that all of these cartoons boast outstanding picture and sound. No other studio has reached the technical heights of Pixar and even these short films are full of opulent visuals and dynamite sound design. Most of the shorts appear in the widescreen TV-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio that utilizes the format's every available pixel. Two of them (BURN•E and La Luna) use the wider 2.39:1 ratio. All look positively magnificent in 1080p, displaying such sophistication, refinement, and detail.

There is great variance in the sound department in terms of format, but the audio is universally satisfying and of consistent volume and clarity. English mixes range from Dolby Digital 5.1 to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 to 7.1 DTS-HD HR. Maybe your ears can detect the differences in those formats, but all sounded splendid to me on my 5.1-channel system, doing many exciting things with atmosphere and directionality. Some shorts include descriptive tracks for the blind in Dolby Surround. Others offer Dolby 5.1 French and Spanish dubs, with onscreen text (even small print) updating almost seamlessly to reflect your foreign language choice. And, though five of these shorts feature little in the way of dialogue, subtitles are supplied in English, French, Spanish, and, perhaps most usefully, English SDH.

BONUS FEATURES

The extras on this set are somewhat more notable and commendable than the feature presentation, this being complementary material you haven't previously seen or heard.

Firstly, every one of the twelve shorts is accompanied by an audio commentary by at least its director and often other collaborators. These were quite good, which isn't surprising based on how little air there is to fill and how engaging Pixar tracks usually are.
Your Friend the Rat writer/director Jim Capobianco and production designer Nate Wragg acknowledge their varied visual influences and recall the excitement of the studio's animators getting to work in 2D. Presto writer/director Doug Sweetland points out how his short differs from classic cartoons by playing out in real time and not being altogether zany, also expressing surprise that no one ever calls him out on a trivial cheat. BURN•E writer/director Angus MacLane explains how his "just to the left of WALL•E" short was born out of ideas deleted from the film and points out an Aliens homage.

Partly Cloudy offers one of the disc's most memorable commentaries, as writer/director Peter Sohn explains how the short's miscommunication theme was inspired by the childhood language barrier between his Korean mother who spoke little English and himself, who spoke little Korean. Dug's Special Mission director Ronnie del Carmen and supervising technical director Brad Winemiller discuss using elements from Up to create unseen moments. The most amusing commentary finds George and A.J.'s creator Josh Cooley being joined by a familiar official-sounding (but uncredited) narrator, who makes up bombastic production claims, which Cooley then has to dispute. Day & Night's Teddy Newton explains the Wayne Dyer radio audio that appears in his film, while layout artist and stereographer Sandra Karpman touches on the mix of 3D and 2D.

Hawaiian Vacation's director Gary Rydstrom, story supervisor Jason Katz, and supervising animator Angus MacLane point out some of the subtle details and note the challenges of utilizing Toy Story 3's large cast in a short. Air Mater's director Rob Gibbs, producer Kim Adams, and production designer Bob Pauley discuss ways around the helpless world of Cars, incorporating plane design and vernacular, and John Lasseter's editing feedback. In another standout track, Small Fry's writer/director MacLane shares his influences (a day of fast food research in Portland, working in a ball pit) and the stories behind all of the short's characters, i.e. the fictitious movies and TV shows where Neptuna and others come from (more thought went into that than you might have guessed).

On Time Travel Mater, director Gibbs, editor Torbin Xan Bullock, and production designer Anthony Christove discuss emulating the looks of past eras' films and the story implications for the Cars universe. Finally, La Luna director Enrico Casarosa and producer Kevin Reher talk real-life influences (the short's two men are based on Casarosa's father and grandfather), the design, and writing in gibberish.

A young boy is frightened by monsters in John Lasseter's 1979 student short film "Nitemare." John Lasseter's 1976 CalArts student ID features in his introduction to "Lady and the Lamp."

More exciting yet and in some ways the set's biggest attraction is the other bonus feature: seven student short films (in highly presentable HD) that Pixar directors John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter made while attending CalArts. It is fascinating to see seeds of future Pixar film ideas and a reflection of their makers' young tastes. The presentation couldn't be any better; each short is preceded by a priceless introduction from the director that is full of good old pictures and videos.

From Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios CCO John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Cars, Cars 2) come the following two pencil tests:

Nitemare (1979) (1:54 intro + 5:20 short)
A young curly-haired boy goes to bed, but is awakened by sounds and monstrous fears.

Lady and the Lamp (1979) (1:35 intro + 4:27 short)
A lamp shop gets wrecked by a lamp that accidentally fills up on gin.

Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo, WALL•E, and John Carter) made the next two fully completed shorts, with his self-proclaimed limited animation skills:

Somewhere in the Arctic (1986) (1:47 intro + 3:50 short)
A polar bear repeatedly distracts the natives hunting him.

A Story (1987) (2:14 intro + 4:38 short)
In this dark work inspired by "H.R. Pufnstuf", an ostracized boy Melvin is dragged into his favorite TV show by Ted the monster. There, they are tormented by a gang of clowns.

A polar bear distracts hunters "Somewhere in the Arctic" with The Temptations' "My Girl." Ted the monster and Melvin the ostracized boy have a short-lived friendship in Andrew Stanton's "A Story." A comparably tiny caveman scolds a purple dinosaur for bouncing on his tree in Pete Docter's "Palm Springs."

The remaining three shorts, also fully colored, are the work of Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up):

Winter (1988) (1:49 intro + 1:41 short)
Inspired by Docter's youth in Minnesota, this short finds a mother dressing a young boy warmly
so that he can play outside in the snow.

Palm Springs (1989) (1:25 intro + 1:56 short)
A purple dinosaur bounces on a palm tree, to a caveman's reproach.

Next Door (1990) (3:03 intro + 3:23 short)
A girl's loud, imaginative outdoor play disturbs her neighbor, until they find common ground.

The discs open with trailers for Monsters University, Planes, and Peter Pan: Diamond Edition. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing adds promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, "Sofia the First", a Pinocchio anti-smoking PSA, and a Findng Nemo home video ad. Bizarrely, there's nothing to promote the concurrent Brave.

Each of the twelve featured shorts of Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 gets a square that turns from still to clip on the DVD's main menu.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Air Mater flies in the main menu's twelve pictures, which take turns playing clips from the short each represents. The Blu-ray's menus are fashioned like DVD ones, with brief transitions and imagery changes. The Blu-ray's lack of a "Play All" option both for the featured content and the extras is unfortunate. The DVD is spared that only by the unusually useful FastPlay. Both discs are equipped with Pixar's "Maximize Your Home Theater" calibration tests featuring the studio's characters and imagery. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback, giving another edge to the DVD.

The combo pack uses a side-snapped standard Blu-ray case, which is topped by an embossed and holographic cardboard slipcover. An insert supplies your Disney Movie Rewards code. Like Ghibli, Pixar seems to have a disc art clause in their Disney agreement, as both discs have colorful labels rather than the studio's typically frugal plain ones.

The working relationship of a stork and a cloud is the subject of "Partly Cloudy." A boy climbs up to the moon with his father and grandfather in Pixar's Oscar-nominated "La Luna."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like many, I consider the people at Pixar Animation Studios elite filmmakers, whose tremendously high quality of output isn't rivaled by any other individual or company. Not since John Cazale has any body of work lent itself so thoroughly to collecting, studying, and revisiting. And yet, like its predecessor, Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 feels kind of underwhelming. That is largely because you probably already own almost all of these shorts on the films' DVDs and Blu-rays. But also, compiling these recent efforts reveals that what is a fun novelty before a film or on its DVD doesn't necessarily add up to outstanding entertainment when watched in succession. While some of Volume 2's shorts are very good, many are just all right. All boast tremendous artistry, but not all of them have the most interesting stories to support it.

Nonetheless, nothing bearing Pixar's name can easily be overlooked. Aside from the obvious appeal of being able to watch all these shorts without switching discs and skipping through ads and disclaimers, the set delivers solid company in the twelve all-new audio commentaries and even better in the fittingly contextualized student shorts of Lasseter, Stanton, and Docter. It'd be easy to recommend at half the price or paired with Volume 1's more exciting older cartoons. As is, this joins Volume 1, Cars 2, and the Mater's Tall Tales collection as one of the rare Pixar releases you can probably do without.

Buy Pixar Shorts, Vol. 2 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVDDVD | Vol. 1: Blu-ray + DVDDVD

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Reviewed November 8, 2012.