Every Pixar Original Short Film Ranked
There's little doubt that Pixar has changed the face of animated cinema, through both its technical innovations and brilliant storytelling. But it's easy to forget that the company had been making films long before Toy Story hit screens in 1995. The studio's first feature was the culmination of more than a decade of developing 3D animation technology, which was demonstrated in a series of groundbreaking short films.
Thankfully, big screen box office success didn't change the studio's desire to make movies on a smaller scale, and it has continued to make clever, charming, funny, and emotional short films over the decades. Since 1998's A Bug’s Life, every new Pixar feature has been released alongside an original short film, and to date, the studio has produced 20 shorts. At their best, these are masterpieces of miniature storytelling.
So with the 20th short, the acclaimed Bao, recently winning the Oscar for the Best Animated Short, we’ve ranked every one of these of these wonderful short films.
20. The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984)
Pixar wasn't even called Pixar when it produced this very early short. Back then, the company was a division of LucasFilm known as The Graphics Group, and wouldn't be renamed for another two years. Nevertheless, the animation for this two minute film was groundbreaking, and played a big part in awakening the industry to the possibilities of computer animation. It's a simple but charming story of a character and his attempts to outwit a pesky bee.
19. Red's Dream (1987)
At four minutes, Red's Dream was twice as long as either of Pixar's previous two shorts. While it saw the company continue to pioneer computer animation, it is less well remembered than either The Adventures of André and Wally B or Luxo Jr, and was unlike most of Pixar's early shorts, as it was never attached to a movie in later years. The Red of the title is an abandoned unicycle who has a dream about being ridden by a clown called Lumpy in a circus, and the film shows John Lasseter's emerging skill at combining animated laughs with an evocative strain of melancholy.
18. Luxo Jr (1986)
Released with: Toy Story 2
As an animated short watched in 2018, Luxo Jr doesn't offer much narratively--it's basically two lamps playing with a ball. But like André and Wally B, this John Lasseter film was a hugely important release. It was the first short released under the name Pixar, and the technical achievement ensured that Luxo Jr was the first CGI film nominated for an Academy Award. Also, it provided Pixar with its distinctive mascot, and Luxo has appeared in front of every movie since 1998's A Bug's Life. The short was re-released alongside Toy Story 2 in 1999.
17. Lifted (2006)
Released with: Ratatouille
Directed by award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom, this sci-fi tale is played for laughs. A young alien is struggling to complete his human abduction exam, in which he must swipe a sleeping farmer from his house into his UFO. The Spielberg influence is heavy in this one, which is not surprising given Rydstrom's previous work on movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Jurassic Park. It's highly entertaining, although perhaps lacks a bit of the emotional edge of the best Pixar shorts.
16. The Blue Umbrella (2013)
Released with: Monsters University
This is a traditional romantic fable of a couple walking through the city during a downpour. One carries a red umbrella, the other a blue one, and the short cleverly uses anthropomorphized objects such as mailboxes and drainpipes to help the owners of the umbrellas meet. It's a slight film, but the stylish rain-soaked visuals and romantic warmth make it hard not to like.
15. Boundin' (2003)
Released with: The Incredibles
Boundin' was the first Pixar short to include actual words--up to that point, every short had contained just sound effects and music. It was was very much the project of actor and animator Bud Luckey, who wrote, directed, voiced, and wrote the music. It's the fun tale of a musical sheep who loses his confidence after his wool is sheared. Luckily, he learns the joys of boundin'--getting up when you fall down.
14. Lava (2014)
Released with: Inside Out
What The Blue Umbrella did for loved-up umbrellas, Lava does for volcanoes. Only Pixar could pull off a short film about romantic singing volcanos, but Lava really works. Directed by the studio's animation head James Ford Murphy, it's about taking your time to find love, and uses funny, sweet songs to tell a timeless story.
13. Tin Toy (1988)
While Luxo Jr snagged Pixar its first Oscar nomination, Tin Toy was its first win. A clear precursor to Toy Story, this short showed a massive leap forward from Red's Dream the year before. It features a one-man band attempting to escape from a destructive baby named Billy, and was a considerable financial risk for the struggling company. Luckily, boss Steve Jobs's faith in his animation division paid off when Tin Toy caught the attention of Disney, ultimately leading to the studio agreeing to bankroll the first Toy Story.
12. One Man Band (2005)
Released with: Cars
Returning to the one-man-band theme of Tin Toy, this short resumed the tradition of using only sound effects and music to tell its story. It's the hilarious story of two rival street entertainers who are vying for the attentions of a young woman. Famed movie and video game composer Michael Giacchino was heavily involved with development and was integral to its success, writing the music alongside the animators, rather than composing it after the short was finished.
11. La Luna (2011)
Released with: Brave
After the animated clouds of Partly Cloudy and abstract characters of Day & Night, La Luna returned Pixar's shorts to more traditional ground, with a sweet narrative story and 3D animated human characters. But it's still a beautifully made fairy tale, which uses some remarkable lighting and colors to depict three generations of a family who take a midnight boat trip and climb a ladder to the moon. Director Enrico Casarosa was heavily influenced by the work of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, and the film was nominated for an Oscar.
10. Knick Knack (1989)
Released with: Finding Nemo
The success of 1988's Tin Toy led John Lasseter's former employers at Disney to attempt to woo the animator back, but he refused their offer and decided to keep his creative independence at Pixar. Knick Knack was his next short. It was deliberately scaled down from his previous efforts and featured no human characters. Instead, it focuses on the comedy of a snow globe snowman and his attempts to escape his glass prison to reach "Sunny Miami," a mermaid ornament that sits next to him on a shelf. It might not be as technically impressive or emotionally involving as some, but it's one of the studio's funniest shorts. It was re-released alongside Finding Nemo in 2003.
9. Sanjay's Super Team (2015)
Released with: The Good Dinosaur
One of the great things about Pixar's shorts is how they allow their creators to channel their own personal experiences. Writer/director Sanjay Patel's gorgeously animated film is based on his own experiences as a young boy, and the conflicts he experienced between the Hindu traditions of his family and the exciting lure of the modern world. It features superheroes and Hindu gods, and although there are a few surprisingly scary moments, it carries some profound messages.
8. Partly Cloudy (2009)
Released with: Up
The inventive Partly Cloudy has all the classic Pixar elements, and according to writer/director Peter Sohn, the short took its inspiration from the Disney classic Dumbo. As a young boy, Sohn saw the baby Dumbo delivered by a stork and decided that it was clouds that made babies, before handing them to the birds for delivery. Partly Cloudy focuses on a stork who makes slightly less cuddly babies--crocodiles, porcupines, sharks, and electric eels. It's warm and funny, and one of the best.
7. Geri's Game (1997)
Released with: A Bug’s Life
After the release of 1989's Knick Knack, Pixar focused its efforts on developing its first movie, putting the time-consuming work of making shorts to one side. It would be eight years before Geri's Game was released, by which time Toy Story had changed animation forever. The leap in sophistication in that time period was astonishing, and this five-minute tale of an old man playing himself at chess was a clever, moving, and technically dazzling accomplishment. In other worlds, Geri's Game is all the things that makes Pixar the beloved studio it is today.
6. Lou (2017)
Released with: Cars 3
A recent Pixar classic, this is an inventive and funny tale of a school bully who is taught a lesson by a mysterious creature called Lou. Every evening, Lou gathers discarded items left by kids in the schoolyard for them to reclaim next day--except the bully wants to keep others possessions for himself. It has a thoughtful message as well as some great knockabout comedy and was nominated at the 2018 Academy Awards.
5. Presto (2008)
Released with: WALL-E
Presto was heavily influenced by the classic zany cartoons of Tex Avery, Looney Toons, and Tom and Jerry, and the short succeeds in capturing much of their insane energy. It shows magician Presto DiGiotagione attempting to perform a magic trick with an uncooperative rabbit called Alec, leading to an increasingly wild series of humiliations for poor Presto. It crams more laughs into its five minutes than many comedies at 20 times the length, making it one of Pixar's funniest shorts.
4. Bao (2018)
Released with: Incredibles 2
Bao is the latest Pixar short to date, and also the first written and directed by a woman. Domee Shi's film looks at motherhood, focusing on an aging Chinese woman whose kids have left home. She experiences a second chance to be a mom when a dumpling comes alive, but this experience is also filled with inevitable loss and sadness. It's one of the most emotional shorts that Pixar has ever made, and shows that, 34 years on, the studio is still producing stunning work.
3. For The Birds (2000)
Released with: Monsters, Inc
This charming avian tale remains one of the studio's best known shorts. It was directed by artist and producer Ralph Eggleston, who was hired by Pixar in 1992 and remains with the studio to this day. The story is simple enough: A large blue bird struggles to make friends with a small flock on a telephone wire, but has the last laugh. The humor, editing, animation, and hilarious sound design helped it secure an Oscar.
2. Piper (2016)
Released with: Finding Dory
Although Pixar has released a steady of stream of shorts films over the last two decades, Piper was the first to win an Oscar since For the Birds 15 years earlier. It was well deserved. Director Alan Barillo utilised cutting-edge technology to bring us this story of a small sandpiper who is terrified of the water, but learns to love it with the help of some nearby Hermit Crabs. Visually, it's astonishing, and the rendered birds have an incredible amount of detail. But more importantly, it's a simple and timeless story told with heart and warmth.
1. Day & Night (2010)
Released with: Toy Story 3
The highly acclaimed Day & Night was a departure from the previous two decades of Pixar shorts. It uses traditional 2D animation alongside 3D elements to feature two characters, one filled with an ever-changing daytime scene, the other with a night scene inside him. It's visually stunning, smart, and thought-provoking, using the different scenes to display a range of emotions as the characters learn to celebrate their differences and similarities. In some ways, it's a precursor to the studio's work on Inside Out, but stands apart as a remarkable achievement in its own right.