For this first week of our viewing, we looked at Pixar before their first feature film. The first five shorts that the company made were crucial to their success and showed investors such as Steve Jobs the potential of computer animation in the industry.
The first of these five shorts is titled The Adventures of Andre & Wally B. This film, made in 1984 and only about a minute long, was one of the first times that this technology was used to tell a story. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull made this while still working at Lucasfilm. Andre & Wally B was the short that sparked change in the company because not long after this was completed, Pixar was born. Looking back at this short in 2019, it is easy to see the potential that people saw in the simple story and entertaining characters.
Luxo, Jr, which would become Pixar’s Mickey-like mascot, was the first short made at Pixar and is a delightful one. It tells the story of a father Luxo lamp and his child. It is a lot of fun to see this inanimate object come to life and the ability to convey emotions through this lamp was something that one might have thought of as impossible to do with computer animation prior to this short. Despite being the second short made by this crew, this was the one that really put Pixar on the map.
Red’s Dream is thematically a very different short from the first two. Instead of being playful like Andre & Wally B or Luxo, Jr, this one takes on a more somber tone. A lonely tricycle dreams of being in the circus, though in reality he is alone in a bicycle shop, waiting for his dreams to be fulfilled. Though visually impressive, I don’t find this one quite as enjoyable as the others we watched this week.
Before Toy Story was made, the people at Pixar made this thematic prequel called Tin Toy. Of these shorts, this is the first one so far that features any human characters. John Lasseter was inspired to animate a baby after watching videos of his baby nephew. Though the animation of the baby was no doubt revolutionary at the time, it is quite crude and even terrifying today and in turn, ages the short more so than the others. Despite this, the short is still effective and a great watch.
The final short for this week is Knick Knack. This was intended to be akin to the Chuck Jones cartoons of days gone by, and is indeed in that spirit. In this short, follow a snowman trapped in a snow globe as he tried to escape to reach a mermaid. The juxtaposition of the winter and summer climates as well as the characters of the snowman and the mermaid make this short worthwhile. Interestingly, the mermaid was originally animated quite differently upon its release. It was edited to be more appropriate for its later re-release and this is the version that is more widely seen today. The original version can be found on the 1996 VHS release of these five shorts under the title Tiny Toy Stories.
After watching these shorts, it stuck me how determined the artists were at bringing character and life to inanimate objects. They do this across almost all of these shorts, from a lamp and a bicycle to a toy. This technique would continue to be useful for them throughout their many other feature films and shorts to come.
Next week, we are looking at Pixar’s first ever feature film Toy Story, along with the commercial shorts that played on television at the time of release called Toy Story Treats.