Ranked: Top 10 Pixar Shorts

The most celebrated animated film studio in the world doesn’t really need any more recognition, but I’m gonna do it anyway.

10. Luxo Jr. (1986)

Director: John Lasseter

It is in the tradition of the medium to revel in the ability to make ordinary household objects do things people do.  Luxo Jr. is what it looks like – an early experiment in computer generated animation, one that hints at big things to come.  In case you were wondering, its also the source of Pixar’s over-zealous little lamp in their logo.

09. Red’s Dream (1989)

Director: John Lasseter

Red’s Dream is billed by Pixar as their first film to feature an “organic” character (the crudely rendered Lumpy the Clown).  But for me, what really stands out about this one is the idea of toys not simply being alive but also having consciousness, and that consciousness leading to a fear of obsolescence – an idea that would later come to inspire Tin Toy, and, of course, the Toy Story series.  Unlike those films, though, Red’s Dream leaves us with an uncharacteristically somber, even hopeless feeling.  This was a short that quietly made big leaps in terms of thematic exploration.

08. Lifted (2006)

Director: Gary Rydstrom

When we consider alien visitors, it is not uncommon to illustrate them as highly intelligent beings that seem to exclusively abduct incompetent Americans.  Lifted kind of turns the tables on that whole idea.  Interesting note:  Director and famed sound designer Gary Rydstrom apparently created the hapless alien’s control console with purposeful resemblance to a sound mixing board.  I suspect the likeness brought the idea of confused and aimless tinkering under the terrifying watchful eye of a supervisor closer to home.

07. Partly Cloudy (2009)

Director: Peter Sohn

Here we have a sweet tale about sticking with your friends, even if that betrays your better judgment.   The task of animating this was allegedly a difficult one – how does one bring life to big ball of moisture floating in the sky?  The final effect is, of course, stunning.  We’ve come to expect no less.

06. One Man Band (2005)

Director: Andrew Jimenez, Mark Andrews

I could give the standard Marxist reading for One Man Band (its a comment on the destructive nature of capitalism, whereby man is pitted against man simply for temporal monetary gain).  Yes, I could get into that, but I’ll spare you.  The movie is perhaps more notable for its painstaking detail in uniting sight and sound.  The music, in fact, is so integral to the narrative the two aspects were simultaneously developed.  The final product: a joy to the senses.

05. Tin Toy (1989)

Director: John Lasseter

Released a year after Red’s Dream, Tin Toy continued to build upon the idea of life as a toy.  This time around, its partnered with the indavertently cruel fickleness of a child owner.  As far as technical progress, Pixar continued to explore lifelike motion and expression in the short’s infant lead.  It is also said that Tinny the marching toy was originally intended to be a central character in Toy Story.  With a few alterations, that character became the forgettable Buzz Lightyear.

04. For the Birds (2000)

Director: Ralph Eggleston

One of the simplest of Pixar’s shorts, but beneficial from being so.  For the Birds is a satisfying and comical story about the odd-man-out getting his well deserved last laugh.

03. Presto (2008)

Director: Doug Sweetland

Presto, with its high energy and fluid execution, is a great example of the monumental leaps Pixar has made in the past 20+ years.  Here we have a return to a much more classic cartoon slapstick logic, where the gags are so amusing and fast paced we hardly get a moment to breath in its 5 minute duration.  Easily Pixar’s funniest.

02. Knick Knack (1989)

Director: John Lasseter

Pixar has a wonderful way of heightening our expectations just to throw us curve-balls.  They do it in terms of basic concepts and themes, but more importantly, they do it within the narrative.  Knick Knack is a good example of this in a short film.  After going through all the trouble of making his escape the Snowman finds he is once again trapped, albeit in a slightly different setting.  In under five minutes, we sympathize for the little guy, because his plight only occurs following the grandest attempts to better his situation.  Animation providing a metaphor for the everyday?  Pish posh!

01. Geri’s Game (1997)

Director: Jan Pinkava

Could it have been any other film, really?  Its groundbreaking in terms of realism and the perfect kind of simple concept for the medium of short film.  Pixar is exceptional in its refusal of the wide misconception that animation is only for the young.  In Geri we find an energetic old man who finds the world is at its richest when he retreats into his own imagination and battles the most worthy opponent of all.


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