BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Dec 1st, 2012 •

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Pixar re-instated the nostalgic idea of short films before the main feature, and included here are a dozen of those appetite whetters from the past several years. A few of these are:

YOUR FRIEND THE RAT (2007), which triumphs with a wonderful concept, not only a history of the ‘rat,’ but a simultaneous history of animation, from the deliberately primitive 2D format Disney TV employed in the 50’s in their educational films (I particularly remember a history of Mars, with better concepts for JOHN CARTER OF MARS than the recent feature) to the full-blown, jaw-dropping 3D format used today.

Sound placement is very effective, as lunatic in its design as the 2D animation chaos, probably displayed to fill in for the shortcomings of 2D for modern audiences. In general this 11-minute melange makes witty use of the media – from silent films, to video games, to Tex Avery, wood cuts, 3D, photo collage, even tinted footage of the hydrogen bomb (formerly used by Kubrick in his ending montage for DOCTOR STRANGELOVE without the tinting).

Impressively, they deal honestly with the bubonic plague. I didn’t think they’d go there, but they did, and I learned a thing or two.

While this short accompanied RATATOUILLE, one could as easily use it as a prelude to a screening of any number of the ‘50’s Lizard & Bugs flicks – a good example (though later than the 50s) would be FOOD OF THE GODS.

PRESTO (2008 – 5 mins 15 secs) deals with a contest of wills between a magician and his hat-rabbit. Why the prestidigitator denies the rabbit his beloved carrot is never satisfactorily explained, nor is the fact that his hat is magical but he isn’t, and those are script flaw (on the commentary track director Sweetland talks about logic problems), but aside from that the entire struggle between the two is done in marvelous pantomime. This could be shown with the recent animated feature THE ILLUSIONIST or its rival, THE PRESTIGE.

BURN-E (2008 – 8 mins) was director Angus MacLane’s attempt to flesh out the story of another robot from WALL-E, and it even incorporates footage from the feature into the short. BURN-E is a welding robot assigned to the mother ship who becomes frustrated with local interference concerning what should have been a simple replacement job. WALL-E and EVE are seen flitting flirtatiously around the ship. Some of what MacLane describes in his commentary went by too quickly on a narrative level (the director admits that a thing or two might have been difficult to catch), still I enjoyed the speed, as well as the camera angles, and the compositions.

This film could easily be shown before FORBIDDEN PLANET, or even GOG.

In PARTLY CLOUDY (2009 – 6 mins), a beleaguered stork has to keep coming back to her assigned cloud to pick up newly minted babies to deliver. Except that the cloud she’s been assigned to is a storm cloud, and the babies are dangerous – alligators, sharks, etc. It’s a cute idea, beautifully animated as always, but somehow incomplete. The 3rd act twist is hardly one, and it doesn’t really seem to resolve things. This short preceded the feature animated film UP, but could work its charms as a set-up for Powell/Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, or even Lang’s LILLIOM.

DUG’S SPECIAL MISSION (2009 – 5 mins) More fun with one of Pixar’s better recent characterizations, the eager, clueless dog from UP. This five-minute exercise has a kind of perverse Road Runner thing going on. Short but sweet. And Delroy Lindo provides one of the voices.

AIR MATER (2011 – 6 mins) One of the little cars from CARS gets to fly. I wasn’t a fan of the features, but this is swift and harmless. And Stacy Keach is one of the voices.

As supplementals there are early works by Pixar’s animators, such as NITEMARE, a charming student film by John Lasseter – a flurry of line drawings and transparent overlapping images reminiscent of John Hubley’s 1959 MOONBIRD, another brilliant evocation of childhood. Lasseter appears in an intro to this and also his THE LADY AND THE LAMP, explaining that they were his Junior and Senior films at The California Institute of the Arts. He also confesses to having been a hard-core procrastinator, something that, in light of his eventual success, should inspire young, blocked animators and filmmakers the world over.

Packaging these shorts together in one program is a smart idea. They represent such a diversity of talent, one can appreciate the visionary differences in Pixar’s feature output by studying them.

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