20 Pixar Short Films: Ranked
Pixar Animation Studios create some of the most beautiful and heartfelt feature films and have been at the forefront of ground-breaking technological advances in animation. From the Toy Story franchise that reignited the imagination of children and later young adults everywhere to the beautiful Inside Out that took a familiar format but used it to explore mental health and wellbeing, Pixar have been at the top of their game since beginning in the 80’s. It’s not just their feature films that deserve praise and love however, their theatrical short films have also left an impression and accompanied some of their most famous films.
With multiple wins and nominations for Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars it’s no surprise that audiences love these little preludes to our favourite Pixar films. These shorts are a big part of the excitement for the release of new Pixar films now and so far we have been treated to 20 of them. Here’s my ranking of the Pixar Short Films.
20. The Adventures of André & Wally B (1984)
Created when Pixar was still named The Graphics Group and was owned by Lucasfilm, now owned by Disney so it’s all swings and roundabouts really. The story is simple, Andre wakes up and is pursued by a bee and eventually stung. It’s definitely pretty for it’s time of creation, with a slight feel of old school computer screensavers, but that’s just from looking at it through a modern lens. As the first ‘Pixar’ short this was a groundbreaking feat in CG animations and the development of 3D technology, but just a little simple compared to the storytelling we get in later shorts.
19. Red’s Dream (1987)
Pixar’s third short definitely demonstrated their progression with computer animation technology and is definitely more technologically advanced than the previous two. However, it is still in the early phases and that is clear by the slightly creepy aesthetic of the clown character, I mean, I wouldn’t rush to let the kids watch this one just in case. It’s a much more melancholic story about a hopeful unicycle that just wants to be in the circus but is stuck on the sale rack, hinting at the emotional stakes that come from the later shorts.
18. Tin Toy (1988)
Here’s the short that won Pixar their first Academy Award for Animated Short Film and was actually the first CGI film to win an Oscar. There’s a lot to thank Tin Toy for, including the creation of Toy Story based on the design elements and technology used in this little story of Tinny, the one man band. So, little Timmy is still slightly terrifying due to his animation but this was a developing technology so it’s not as if that was their intention. With a more expanded story and some gags that would be seen a few years later in Pixar’s first feature film release, it’s fun to see the legacy at it’s beginning in this short.
17. One Man Band (2005)
In an empty Italian courtyard a one man band is hoping to earn some money from a young girl. Unfortunately he has some competition and so the battle of the one man bands commences. The animation of humans has clearly come a long way with this one and it features some beautifully composed music that really tells the story and keeps the competition interesting. The little girl is definitely the star of the piece, with her grumpy facial expressions working perfectly, but the short just lacks a bit of the usual storytelling we expect from Pixar.
16. Geri’s Game (1997)
The only short made in the 90’s it’s clear to see the giant leap Pixar had made with their human animation. I mean, compare Geri to Timmy in Tin Toy or the mildly terrifying clown in Red’s Dream and it’s an incredible difference and one hell of an upgrade. In what felt like a nod to my own childhood as an only child, Geri sets up a game of chess in the park which he proceeds to play against himself, removing his glasses to be ‘good’ Geri and ‘bad’ Geri, with each one given their own unique characteristics with brilliant skill. This was Pixar’s second Animated Short Oscar win and it’s clear to see why as far as the visuals being stunning, but there are definitely better stories that could, and would, be told by them.
15. Boundin’ (2003)
Bud Luckey put on many hats for this animated short. He directed, wrote, composed and narrated this Western themed story that was shown before The Incredibles. We open in the American West with a sing-song narrator telling us the tale of a dancing lamb and his shiny coat. It’s the only Pixar short to include a full musical number with lyrics being sung to tell us the story and one of only a few to feature any dialogue at all. After being sheared the poor lamb loses all his confidence and passion for dance, but a jackalope helps him to find himself again and bound over those who laughed at him.
14. The Blue Umbrella (2013)
A switch up in animation style is clearly apparent in The Blue Umbrella with the wide eyed CGI being replaced with photorealistic animation has beautifully precise detailing. A city street comes to life during a shower of rain and everything from the street grids, to the mailboxes to the umbrellas are given humanistic qualities. Not a single human face is shown but the emotion on these objects is clear enough to tell a story, albeit a slightly slow one. Everything feels like a choreographed musical piece and it’s definitely a spectacle.
13. Lava (2014)
Lava is a volcanic love story set to a brilliant and cheery ukulele song, the second short to have it’s own lyrical accompaniment. This may be one of the most sentimental shorts that the animators have put out and it’s definitely a cheese-fest dipped in sugar but that is sometimes exactly what these short films should be. It’s a very sweet moment when their solos turn into a duet and has the traditional heartwarming happy ending we expect from Pixar shorts.
12. Lifted (2006)
Bright lights and flying saucers kick off this sci-fi Pixar short that follows a young aliens training session in abduction. There’s some clear Monsters Inc. energy here with the design of the aliens and it’s a fun, gagged filled piece that continues to escalate to absurdity. There’s a sweet moment at the end followed by a few more gags, including a sound design finish over the credits. It’s a bit more slapstick than their other works, not quite having the heartfelt sentiment of their other pieces, but it gets a few laughs.
11. Knick Knack (1989)
The fourth of John Lasseter’s Pixar shorts series that really propelled the form of CGI and 3D animation forward, Knick Knack is about the little oddities that live on household shelves and their relationships with each other. Knick is a snowman in a novelty Alaska snow globe, set far on the other side of the shelf away from all the sunnier trinkets. The gags are non-stop and there’s something a little more ‘grown up’ about Knick’s desperate desire to join the beautiful blonde mermaid of his desires. The ending of this made it a perfect short to pair with the release of Finding Nemo.
10. Luxo Jr. (1986)
We have this short to thank for the creation of one of the cutest mascots ever, Luxo Jr.. Who knew that a personified desk lamp could become such a well known character and be given such personality through the magic of animation? Well, Pixar did of course. Set up with one simple static shot the short presents Luxo Sr. as the ball from Toy Story repeatedly rolls his way until his son is revealed in all his adorably childish glory. This was the first of their shorts to be nominated for an Oscar and set the groundwork for what was to come afterwards.
9. Lou (2017)
Hiding in a box is a ‘monster’ made up of all the things discarded or forgotten by the children at the nursery. His name is Lou and he’s here to teach you about bullying. It definitely follows the pattern of lessons learned and has a moral message at its core, but it also seems a little less sweet than some of the others, with a couple of slightly ‘dark’ moments considering who created it. The animation is lovely again and definitely puts life into a collection of assorted items.
8. La Luna (2011)
Screened before Brave, this short follows Bambino, a young Italian boy out in a boat with his father and grandfather. The young boy is set the task of anchoring the moon so the three of them can sweep off all of the fallen stars. There’s a beautiful magic to the work with light in this animation and it has some fun with generational differences. With a warm story at its centre La Luna is a breathtakingly stunning work of animation.
7. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015)
In this culture clash short film, based on writer and director Sanjay Patel’s own childhood, a young boy explores the religion and traditions of his family through the lens of his favourite thing, Superheroes. It’s an incredibly sweet story and something very personal and new for the animation studio that explores a difficult topic brilliantly without using any dialogue. The animation is absolutely beautiful and is a whirlwind of colours. As a sucker for Superheroes, just like Sanjay is, I was very impressed with this powerful short film. Stick for the credits as well to see some very great drawings and personal photos of the director and his own father.
6. Presto (2008)
In an homage to Tex Avery, a Golden Age American animator, Presto is another more slapstick short in a similar way to Lifted. Vaudeville magician Presto is set to perform his renowned hat magic, but unfortunately his trusty bunny rabbit assistant, Alex Azam, is too hungry to play ball tonight. All Alec wants is a carrot and he’s willing to ruin the show in order to get it. Screened before WALL-E this is a thoroughly amusing short that is beautifully animated with manic high energy and shows that ‘hanger’ is a real thing.
5. For the Birds (2000)
Pixar’s third Oscar winning short is For the Birds, is definitely more on par with what we now know of their formula, a sweet simple story with beautiful visuals and no dialogue. A group of small blue birds convene on a powerline, tweeting away at each other in a disgruntled manner. They are soon joined by an outsider, the honking heron who simply doesn’t fit in. After bullying him off of the powerline they are treated to instant karma for being bullies. It just goes to show, it never pays to be mean!
4. Bao (2018)
There’s something about Pixar’s animated food that always looks undeniably delicious! And the dumplings in Bao are no different, that is until one of them develops a tiny body, button nose and takes on the characteristics of a baby. At its core this is a story about children leaving the nest and how a parent copes with this, which in this case is not so great to begin with. The message is lovely and can definitely bring a tear to an audience’s eye when mother and son are reunited and find their new rituals together. It’s no wonder it won Pixar another oscar.
3. Partly Cloudy (2009)
Adding into the mythology of the early Disney film Dumbo, the director of Partly Cloudy wanted to expand on where the storks get the babies they deliver from. His conclusion, they come from the clouds. From the very beginning we are treated to some adorable animation of cute and cuddly animals and babies being created from clouds. However, Gus isn’t like the other clouds, he’s a storm cloud, and seems to only be able to make slightly less cuddly little ones, albeit still as cute in my opinion. It’s a sweet and heartwarming story of friendship with a very uplifting and sweet ending.
2. Day & Night (2010)
Combining the old with the new, Day & Night is a visually stunning mixture of hand drawn animation and CGI animation that showcased the incredible talents of the animation team. When Day meets Night they both want to showcase the best parts of themselves and what they have to offer, competing for which one is the best. Its style is ingenious and its humour is well thought out, including brilliant sound design that heightens the whole experience. It’s something very different with a nice message of accepting and celebrating differences.
1. Piper (2016)
It may have taken 16 years for Pixar to get another Oscar for Best Animated Short, but Piper definitely deserved it. Inspired by the California coast where the Pixar Studios are located, this short film is about a young sandpiper who must overcome her fear of the ocean. The detailing in this one is ridiculously life-like with every ruffled feather and bubble of sea foam looking beautifully realistic. It’s not just stunning animation however, it is also exactly the type of story we expect from these brilliant shorts. There’s parenting techniques, overcoming obstacles, resilience through invention and all in all a happy ending, just perfect.