From Tin Toy to Bao – Which is the best of the Pixar shorts?

Pixar is known for their groundbreaking animation and outstanding storylines that have influenced and entertained audiences since the late 80’s. They set a new precedence for animation, but within this new era the team also brought back the short film. Not that this shorter option has not existed the time prior to the studio’s existence, but this creative team reintroduced this abbreviated manner of storytelling to the next generations. Some of these shorts have gone on to win Academy Awards along with many of their feature-length counterparts

Besides the misstep of neglecting to include one of these gems prior to “Coco” by choosing a far less popular “Frozen” holiday featurette from Disney Animation Studios, the studio got back to what they do so well. They came back to their senses with a new short for the release of Incredibles 2 with the food/family inspired Bao.

Many of our readers wanted our team to rank these wonderful pre-feature cinematic experiences. We took on the challenge and look forward to hearing which ones you all remember and what you think of our ranking. Even though the quality of animation changed over the years, but nothing can replace good storytelling. (We did not include the shorts that included characters from the studio’s feature films, ie. Jack-Jack Attack, Hawaiian Vacation, etc)

We chose to rank these films from least favourite to most beloved of the Pixar Short Films

17. Sanjay’s Super Team (Released prior to The Good Dinosaur)Sanjay’s Super Team tells a story of a young boy and the division that separates him from his father’s faith. This short depicts the journey that helps the young boy as he connects with the religion of his father by showing a correlation between the Hindu gods and the young man’s superheroes.

16. Tin Toy (Released prior to Toy Story – 1988)This was the first CGI short film to win an Oscar, and its groundbreaking technology cannot be overstated. The animation is a bit dated, but this shows a glimmer of what Pixar would become in the industry.

15. The Blue Umbrella (Released prior to Monster’s University – 2013)One of the most understated of the shorts, but it does leave a warm feeling in the end.

14. Lifted (Released prior to Ratatouille -2006)This one is for all who have been through the L-plate process or tried to teach someone how to drive. Providing a comical take on the alien abduction without going into the creepier elements that come with this genre.

13. Bao (Released prior to Incredibles 2 -2018) Animator Domee Shi is the first ever woman to direct a short for the company, and it injects some cultural diversity into the often very white Pixar universe. There is quite a bit to celebrate with this addition, but it may turn out to scare some children. Shi created a surreal fable about a Chinese woman who makes a dumpling that comes to life, squealing, just as she’s about to bite into it. The bao becomes her surrogate child with all of the love and frustration that human children offer. Where it ends up, ultimately, is in the food-as-metaphor territory, morphing into a meditation on overly attached mothering. Bao‘s confronting change from metaphor to reality could lead to tears for some, but terror for others.

12. One Man Band (Released prior to Cars – 2005)This contains beautiful animation, but is less engaging than most of the other shorts.

11. Knick Knack (Released prior to Finding Nemo -1989)
A story of knick-knack envy, the only souvenir from a cold location. The snowman’s goal is to enjoy some time with those who come from sunny areas of the world after escaping from his snowglobe. The attitude of the snowman may put off some audiences members in the current Hollywood atmosphere.

10. Boundin’ (Released prior to The Incredibles -2003)One of the few shorts that includes dialogue and even a song. A mystical character who provides a lesson in looking at the ‘glass as half full’ when times are difficult.

9. For the Birds (Released prior to Monster’s, Inc. – 2000)In this era of confronting bullying head-on, For the Birds is considered a classic by many. Like the hair of Monsters, Inc the feathers in this short are an amazing step in animation.

8. Geri’s Game (Released prior to A Bug’s Life -1997)This is another Oscar winner for the studio and a favourite for the team. Geri’s Game still is one of the most memorable of all the shorts.

7. Lava (Released prior to Inside Out – 2014)The emotion of this short runs deep, especially being of two volcanos falling in love and being the set up for one of the most emotional Pixar films. Do you like the play on words? This one will cause an eruption of emotion.

6. Day and Night (Released prior to Toy Story 3 – 2010)A throwback animation that creatively breaks new ground in storytelling. It is a wonder why they chose to choose the ending with the philosophical wanderings of Dr Wayne Dyer.

5. Partly Cloudy (Released prior to Up – 2009)

Up was one of our team’s favourite Pixar films and Partly Cloudy is one of the most heartwarming of the options.

4. Lou (Released prior to Cars 3 – 2017)This is one of those cases where the short was better than the feature. Lou made us want more of this character and the extended storyline of the classroom. This was a magnificent look into the issues of bullying and addressing the importance of showing how people can change.

3. La Luna (Released prior to Brave – 2011)Beautiful and poignant. Simple and enrapturing.

2. Presto (Released prior to WALL-E – 2008)This is the best of the pack for creative story development. Presto is hilarious, brilliantly layered and manages to stand the test of time.

1. Piper (Released prior to Finding Dory – 2016)This story encapsulates layers of the value of parenting, helping children to overcome fear how to move beyond the challenges of life. Piper is mind-blowing when it comes to animation, but it is a beautiful story that draws audiences in with each step the chick makes toward the water. This is our team’s favourite Pixar Short Film, well done.

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.