Anyone who has collected all of Pixar's full-length features on disc will already own some of these Pixar short animations, but it's nice to have all of them collected together in one spot, too. Many of the shorts accompanied main Pixar films in theaters, so you might recognize them either from the big screen or from your home-viewing experience. In any case, they're worth having, if for no other reasons than because they chronicle the history of the studio so well and because the Pixar filmmakers execute some of them as brilliantly as they do any of their main attractions.
"The Adventures of Andre & Wally B." (1984): This Disney/Pixar DVD has arranged the movies chronologically, starting with this one, the fledgling company's first effort. Director and animator John Lasseter, animator Eben Ostby, and visual-effects designer Bill Reeves do the optional audio commentary tracks on the first five films. This one, they tell us, they made for Lucasfilm before they had their own company. It's about two minutes long and looks a bit primitive and crude compared to today's advanced CGI standards, but it's a quick and easy watch.
"Luxo Jr." (1986): This was Pixar's first official production after breaking off from Lucasfilm and founding their own company. It's some two minutes long about a Luxo lamp that moves around looking at a smaller Luxo lamp, presumably his son. Lasseter says they made it to show off Pixar's new company, and the lamp pretty much went on to become Pixar's trademark. There's not much to the film, actually, but you've seen the lamp often enough since.
"Red's Dream" (1987): All three of the commentators say they wanted to work on something different--clowns, bikes, rain, cityscapes--and so they combined their desires in this four-minute short about a unicycle's dream of being ridden by a circus clown. It's sweet and a little melancholy.
"Tin toy" (1988): This was Pixar's first attempt at creating a human form with the computer. At around three-and-a-half minutes, it's about a baby playing with a one-man-band tin toy, a child-and-toy premise that Pixar would further elaborate in "Toy Story."
"Knick Knack" (1989): The commentators tell us this was Pixar's first attempt at a purely "cartoony" cartoon, a sort of throwback to WB's old Looney Tunes cartoons. It's made up mostly of geometrically sized characters, and Pixar originally made it in 3-D. I found it kind of cute but nothing special.
"Geri's Game" (1998): For me, at least, "Geri's Game" is Pixar's first seriously important cartoon, beyond the purely technical skills the company developed in their first five releases. The film's writer and director, Jan Pinkava, does the audio commentary, and he tells us the film was Pixar's first attempt at animating an adult human character. The story, about five minutes long, involves a chess game between two elderly men in a park. It's clever and winning.
"For the Birds" (2001): Director Ralph Eggleston comments on this three-minute short, one of Pixar's funniest and most inventive. Think of birds on a wire exaggerated to the nth degree. On a trivia note, "For the Birds" was the last film Pixar did at their old facilities in Point Richmond. No more sirens going off at the nearby Cheveron refinery, notes Eggleston.
"Mike's New Car" (2002): Starring Mike and Sulley from Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," we find that everything that could go wrong with Mike's new car does go wrong, with Sulley a reluctant passenger. The co-directors' children comment on the audio track.
"Boundin'" (2004): This is my favorite Pixar short of all, probably because of the delightful music, the charming story, and the vocals by its writer and director, Bud Luckey, who also does the commentary track. The story is about a despondent sheep and a jackelope who uplifts the sheep's spirit and our own.
"Jack-Jack Attack" (2005): This five-minute short is the only one with no commentary. Don't know why. You remember Jack-Jack from "The Incredibles," and he's back with more superhuman mischief for his baby-sitter.
"One Man Band" (2006): Co-directors Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews and composer Michael Chiquino do the commentary on this brilliant four-and-a-half minute cartoon. It is the most ornate of Pixar's shorts, the most detailed, the most lush. It's a joy to watch and listen to.
"Mater and the Ghostlight" (2006): Co-directors John Lasseter and Dan Scanlon do the commentary for this longest of the short subjects, seven minutes. The film stars Mater from "Cars," and the filmmakers tell us they based the story idea on a real-life incident about a legendary ghostly light out on Route 66.
"Lifted" (2007): Things conclude with "Lifted," the film that preceded "Ratatouille" in theaters. The director of "Lifted," Gary Rydstrom, does the commentary for this five-minute piece about an alien spacecraft that attempts to abduct a sleeping farmer from his bed one night. The interesting thing is that there is no dialogue involved. Most imaginative.
The Buena Vista video engineers present all of the films in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using high bit rates and anamorphic transfers. The early films are a bit rougher and grainier than the later ones, but by the time we get to "Geri's Game," the animation, the color, the contrast, and the color depth improve dramatically. When we get to "One Man Band," it's spectacular, clean, and visually stunning.
We find the earliest shorts done up in Dolby Digital 2.0, but later we get 5.1 surround, so there is quite a range here of sound quality. Mostly, though, it's quite good, just getting better all the time. Again, it's "One Man Band" that demonstrates some of the most natural sonics, but the other later films are all fine in terms in dynamics, impact, clarity, and frequency range.
The first major extra is a twenty-three-minute documentary, "The Pixar Shorts: A Short History," in which the founders of Pixar Animation Studios recount the development of the company. If you listened to the commentary tracks on the films first, you will have already learned much of this information, but it's enlightening hearing it with faces and locations in place. The second major extra is having audio commentaries on most of the films, as described above.
In addition, the disc includes four, brief "Sesame Street" excerpts featuring Luxo the lamp; a selection screen for the various short subjects, with a play-all option and a keep-case insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. Disney/Pixar/Buena Vista enclose the keep case in a handsomely embossed cardboard slipcover.
There is no doubt the later Pixar shorts are among the finest cartoons ever made. The earlier ones are also interesting and certainly innovative, but they don't bear repeat viewing as much. If there is any drawback to the set, it's that it's so short at only fifty-four minutes. Still, it makes one wonder what Volume 2 will bring our way in a few more years.