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    The Good, The Bad, And The Bao: Ranking Every Pixar Short

    Surely everyone remembers Lumpy the clown, right?

    There’s nothing quite like a Pixar short. It’s where cutting-edge animation meets the charming, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking stories that Pixar is known for.

    While I’m a big fan of the Sparkshorts on Disney+ (go watch Out right now), this list will stick to those that played in theaters before a Pixar movie. There are a few exceptions, but I’ll get to those later. Now, let’s sort through all the adorable meet-cutes, anthropomorphic objects, silent characters, and one of the most terrifying nightmare-babies I’ve ever seen to establish the best Pixar short!

    21. Red’s Dream

    Lumpy the clown.
    Pixar

    The premise: A red unicycle in a bicycle shop dreams of performing for a crowd.

    The short with the saddest ending on this entire list, Red’s Dream is a significant step forward for Pixar. It was preceded by Luxo Jr. (the lamp with the ball — you know the one), which was fluidly animated but pretty scarce when it came to actual characters. In Red’s Dream, we’ve got two characters: Red, the unicycle with a heart of gold, and Lumpy. 

    Ah, Lumpy. I don’t know if there’s any profession that would pair nicely with a name like Lumpy, but clown certainly isn’t it. Red dreams of being ridden out onto a stage by Lumpy, eventually upstaging him with his juggling. The short was not only more character-focused but also flexed what was becoming Pixar’s trademark attention to detail. 

    Played before: Red’s Dream was made before any Pixar theatrical releases (probably for the best; it wouldn’t exactly get me hyped for A Bug’s Life).


    20. The Adventures of André & Wally B.

    Andre and Wally B.
    Pixar

    The premise: André wakes up in a forest. He sees a bee named Wally B, who chases and stings André. As Wally B. is flying away, André throws his hat at him.

    Ah, 1984. As George Orwell once said, “What a year!” And what a year it was. There’s not a whole lot to say about The Adventures of André & Wally B., but it is interesting that some aspects of this short defined Pixar before it was even Pixar. This short goes so far back in Pixar’s past that its opening title card reads “Lucasfilm,” as that was the original parent company of “Graphics Group” (changed to Pixar in 1986). 

    We all know that what sells a lot of Pixar’s animation is their staggering attention to detail, and you can see that meticulous care even with this very (and we mean very) crude early animation. The Adventures of André & Wally B. is clearly inspired by Looney Tunes, using music from The Barber of Seville and featuring a plot so familiar you might just think it’s wabbit season.


    Played before: This was the OG Pixar short, so it was not played with one of their movies.

    19. Tin Toy

    Billy the baby.
    Pixar

    The premise: A metal toy named Tinny wants to be played with by baby Billy — until he sees how rough Billy is with his other toys.

    I have looked into the face of evil, and its name is Billy the baby. I will refer to him from here on out as the Nightmare Baby, because a name implies humanity. But make no mistake, this is no Earthly creature. It seems like Pixar learned its lesson early on with this 1988 short, and that lesson was to avoid animating realistic humans if the technology wasn’t there yet. We wouldn’t see another human face from Pixar until almost 10 years later with Toy Story (and even then, they played it safe by using the same face for multiple characters). 

    With Tin Toy, Pixar established a few things that would become staples of the shorts to come: an inanimate object with emotions and a face, magical realism, and a sympathetic villain. As much as I pray for Nightmare Baby’s destruction, Tinny comes to feel for him and faces his own fear. If you notice a lot of parallels to Toy Story, it’s because Tin Toy is the short that first got Pixar a lot of attention from Disney. In fact, many people think that Nightmare Baby is actually Andy from Toy Story. Glad things worked out for the little gremlin.

    Played before: While Tin Toy was created before Pixar ever put a movie in theaters, it was eventually made available on the Toy Story home release.

    18. Sanjay’s Super Team

    Sanjay and his father.
    Pixar

    The premise: Sanjay learns that the superheroes he watches on TV aren’t much different from the gods on his father’s shrine.

    If you haven’t seen Sanjay’s Super Team, that’s because it played before the Pixar movie nobody saw (The Good Dinosaur). I mean…it wasn’t bad. Pixar has too much money and too many brilliant artists employed to create an objectively bad piece of art, and Sanjay’s Super Team has plenty of good qualities. Its animation is sleek as ever, and the scenes of the gods fighting are as gripping as any MCU kerfuffle. 

    What keeps this short at #18 is that there’s no real logic to Sanjay’s change of heart. He starts appreciating his culture after imagining the gods are like superheroes, but he could do that at any time; nothing changed except his attitude. Later on in this list, with Burrow, we’ll see how an internal struggle can be a bit more dynamic. 

    Played before: The Good Dinosaur

    17. Geri’s Game

    Geri in the park.
    Pixar

    The premise: A man plays chess with himself in the park.

    Geri is an incredibly charming protagonist, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sad for him in the end. He’s beat himself in chess, and when the camera pulls out, it’s almost like it’s drawing attention to the fact that absolutely no one is around. To make it worse, Geri plays himself for his own teeth, and we cut to credits just after he pops them in laughs somewhat maniacally. 

    But all in all, this is a sweet short that sees Pixar start to utilize the three-dimensional part of its animation quite well. Like The Adventures of André & Wally B., their early work was clearly done by animators who had spent their entire lives used to 2D animation. While Tin Toy was the first to start truly experimenting with three-dimensional space, Geri’s Game pushes it even further. 

    Played before: A Bug’s Life

    16. Lifted

    Stu and Mr. B
    Pixar

    The premise: An alien named Stu has to prove to his supervisor that he can abduct a human. It doesn’t go well.

    I’ll be honest: I can’t quite place my finger on what it is about Lifted that just doesn’t grab me. It’s a funny, clear premise (the alien abductor can’t get the abductee out the window), and Stu is adorable. A part of me wants to say Lifted is too simple, but we know that Pixar is great at incredibly simple ideas with shorts like For the Birds. The lighting is beautiful, the design of the ship’s interior is perfect for the story (rows upon rows of unlabeled, identical switches), and the aliens remind me of Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons

    At the end of the day, what it comes to is whether all that pretty lighting and design amount to a story that makes you laugh, cry, go “aww,” or think about something in a way you’ve never thought about before. Lifted just doesn’t strike me like that, and bleeding-edge animation doesn’t elevate its simple story. But I have to admit, the scene where Stu finally gets the abductee to the window but can’t squeeze his butt out gets me every time.

    Played before: Ratatouille

    15. Luxo Jr.

    Luxo Sr. and Luxo Jr.
    Pixar

    The premise: A lamp watches its child play with a ball.

    We don’t know much about Luxo Sr., but their weary head nods and watchful eye make me think they are a good, if tired, parent. Luxo Jr. is the King of the Short. Not to say that it’s the best or the first, but you don’t put a sculpture of a giant lamp on your animation studio’s campus unless it really means something. The Adventures of André & Wally B. was the first Pixar short, and Red’s Dream was another early creation, but neither of those saw a widespread theatrical release.

    Luxo Jr. played before Toy Story 2, a movie that solidified Pixar as more than just the new movie studio on the block. Out of Pixar’s first three shorts, Luxo Jr. is of course the one we remember most, and the company took the “less is more” lesson into their later shorts. The next few Pixar shorts have a single location, simple premises, and the physical comedy inspired by a lamp jumping on a ball.

    Played before: Toy Story 2

    14. Partly Cloudy

    Gus and Peck
    Pixar

    The premise: As happy clouds make playful babies for storks to fly to their parents, Gus is stuck with making less-than-adorable babies.

    Up until Partly Cloudy, only one Pixar short was more wholesome than straight comedy (Boundin’). Partly Cloudy certainly has its laughs, but its overall message is one of friendship and patience. Any modern Pixar fan knows that the studio has made quite the name for itself regarding soul-nourishing themes. This short was also a departure in the types of characters Pixar animates. As if they were getting too good with humans, animals, and toys, Pixar’s animators switched to clouds. Amorphous characters like these are a foreshadowing of those in films like Inside Out and Soul

    Partly Cloudy was an important advancement in Pixar’s tone and animation abilities. Still, it’s not higher on this list because Gus, the protagonist, doesn’t technically do anything (no offense, Gus). He makes biting, head-butting, and electrocuting animals at the beginning of the film and does the same in the end. The only thing that changes is that Peck, his stork friend, gets some football equipment for protection. Still, the fact that a bummed-out cloud is entertaining to watch is just another argument for why every Pixar employee deserves a raise.


    Played before: Up

    13. Lava

    Uku and Lele
    Pixar

    The premise: A lonely volcano longs for a partner to share the ocean with.

    Did this short film make me and my high school girlfriend say that we lava each other? Was it a convenient way to avoid saying “I love you” because of our mutual commitment issues? Look, we’re not here to talk about me. Instead, let’s talk about this beautiful little love story inspired by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (you know the one). As I’ve said before on this list and will say again, Pixar shorts shine when they’re simple. Lava is also hot on the heels of another lesson Pixar learned with its previous short film, The Blue Umbrella, which made them realize: “Hey, we’re kinda awesome at telling love stories.” 

    There’s nothing easier to root for than love, especially when its two main characters are so stunningly animated. Uku, the lonely volcano, is a wide swathe of lush, rocky terrain. He has a jolly face and ridges stretching out to form a cove that looks like outstretched arms just waiting for a hug. Lele, the volcano that hears his song, is a towering obelisk with dark slopes resembling thick hair. There may not be much that’s complicated about this short, but hey, it’s love.

    Played before: Inside Out

    12. La Luna

    Bambino and stars
    Pixar

    The premise: A young boy, Bambino, ventures out to sea with his dad and grandfather. When the moon rises, they sweep falling stars from its face.

    La Luna is the bedtime story every child deserves. “These are the men that sweep falling stars across the face of the moon.” We’ve touched on wholesome (Partly Cloudy), funny (Lifted), and even sad (Red’s Dream) Pixar shorts. While La Luna is certainly wholesome, it falls into another category shared by shorts like Piper and The Blue Umbrella: experiential. 

    When Bambino watches his Papà take the ladder out of the boat, and it keeps rising and rising into the sky, we’re just as ready as he is to climb it. These experiential shorts might not have much of a struggle or arc for the main character, but they’re gorgeous to look at and lovely to get swept up in. When Bambino climbs on top of the big star and taps it with this hammer, the explosion of countless smaller stars makes me feel as giddy and inspired as any good bedtime story should.


    Played before: Brave

    11. Piper

    Piper discovering clams.
    Pixar

    The premise: After initially being afraid of the oncoming waves, a sandpiper discovers an inventive way to hunt for food.

    Honestly, I was not a fan of Piper when it first came out. The grumpy film major I am, I thought it relied too much on Piper being (admittedly) freaking adorable to make up for a short where nothing happens. But after watching it several more times, I realized how much I was judging Piper as an actual short film with characters, plot, yadda yadda yadda. Pixar’s shorts have always evolved, refusing to fit into a single category. 

    With La Luna, I talked about the “experiential” Pixar film, and Piper was the first of this type I’d ever seen. Now, when I see that final scene of Piper burrowing itself in the sand and the clams erupting from the ocean floor, I finally get it. Piper is the part of the nature documentary you rewind and call your friend over to see. Even better, it’s a nature doc through the animal’s eyes. I talked about Pixar’s animation elevating a story rather than simply being pretty, and Piper is an excellent example. One thing that has never changed, though, is that Piper’s freaking adorable.

    Played before: Finding Dory

    10. Knick Knack

    Knick Knack and mermaid.
    Pixar

    The premise: A snowman, Knick, is trapped inside his globe and wishes he could hang out with the other knickknacks on his shelf.

    Being one of the oldest shorts on this list, it’s impressive that Knick Knack is also one of the funniest. Once again, we see Pixar's effectiveness when working with a main character that has a clear, simple goal. In the premise, I said Knick wants to be with the other knickknacks on his shelf, but if you’ve seen the short, you know that’s only half true. There’s really just one knickknack he wants to be with: a bikini-clad girl from “Sunny Miami.” Wanting to get laid, Knick uses a hammer, jackhammer, and blowtorch to escape his snowglobe, but none work. After the horror that was Nightmare-Baby in Tin Toy, it was smart of John Lasseter (who directed both) to lean into animation technology's limits at the time. Using round, shiny, and plastic knickknacks as his main cast, Lasseter side steps any awkwardness that might pull a viewer out of the action. Combined with some quick comedy bits that would make Tom and Jerry proud, Knick Knack is the first short that really feels like a Pixar short.


    Played before: Finding Nemo (originally made in 1989 but theatrically released in 2003).

    9. The Blue Umbrella

    Blue and Red umbrellas.
    Pixar

    The premise: A blue umbrella falls for a red umbrella, and the city nudges them together.

    The Blue Umbrella is the first Pixar short that focuses on a love story. Sure, you could call it a friendship or something boring like that, but for my money, these umbrellas are getting hitched. It took Pixar a while to dedicate a whole short to a love story, but it highlights how much of a shift the studio has gone through. They started with Looney Tunes imitations, moved into wholesome morality tales and musical toe-tappers, then tried their hand at a little romance. Of course, nothing’s ever so simple with Pixar. The Blue Umbrella isn’t just about two lovers. No, it has to be inanimate objects come to life. 

    But it’s not just two umbrellas. The city itself is alive, with faces in every gutter, street sign, and traffic light. As the blue umbrella tries to find its crush, the city lends a hand. This is what makes The Blue Umbrella an experiential film as well as a love story. The atmosphere is doing so much work, and it pays off with tension you can feel and relief that puts a smile on your face. As we’ll see with Presto, Pixar has reached a point where its animation can do a lot of heavy lifting. This allows them to get more complex if they want (as with Presto), but it also lets them keep things ultra-simple, like with The Blue Umbrella


    Played before: Monsters University

    8. Burrow

    Rabbit and Mole.
    Pixar

    The premise: A rabbit wants to create an isolated home but keeps getting interrupted by neighbors.

    One film on this list is not like the others. If you’ve never seen Burrow, I highly recommend it (along with all the other Sparkshorts). Still, it’s hard not to notice how much of a departure the animation style is from every other title on this list. It’s 2D, for starters, with characters drawn more like they’re in a picture book than the typical Pixar style. By this point, we of course know that Pixar isn’t afraid to change its style, and Burrow feels emblematic of the current era Pixar is in. 

    It follows a rabbit as it travels deeper and deeper into the Earth, avoiding other animals to build its own home. When it can’t go any deeper, it strikes water that floods the tunnel. The rabbit finally reaches out to another animal instead of avoiding others and works with everyone to divert the flood and build her home. Burrow does what Sanjay’s Super Team was trying to do, but much more effectively. It revolves around a character’s internal struggle while still incorporating outside elements (literal water) that raise the stakes. Burrow is a great story for humans that doesn’t feature a single one — sounds like peak Pixar to me. 

    Played before: Soul (intended to be released theatrically with Soul, but instead turned into a Sparkshort due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

    7. One Man Band

    Treble and Tippy.
    Pixar

    The premise: Two street performers — Bass and Treble — get into a musical war over a girl’s coin.   

    If you haven’t heard the name Michael Giacchino, you should probably get used to it. He’s made music for many of the pieces on the list. Also Up, and the TV show Lost, and the upcoming The Batman movie. Plus 150 other movies and TV shows. But one of my favorite works by Michael Giacchino is the music he does for One Man Band. Musicality is deeply rooted in Pixar’s DNA. After all, its first project, The Adventures of André & Wally B., was inspired by Looney Tunes, which used plenty of classical music. 

    So it’s no surprise that One Man Band feels like an ideal Pixar short: two men playing music for the single coin of an onlooking girl. One wields brass and percussion, while the other plays strings and woodwinds. Some of the shorts on this list have been experiential, but those often lack conflict. Here we have a classic Pixar struggle between characters. It’s one we’ll see again in Lou, Presto, and Day & Night. And the whole thing is carried smoothly by Michael Giacchino’s chaotic but never disorderly score. 


    Played before: Cars

    6. Lou

    J.J. and Lou
    Pixar

    The premise: Lou, a creature made of lost items, collects misplaced toys on the playground to ensure they are returned to the kids.

    Sparkshorts show that Pixar is comfortable experimenting, but their most recent theatrical shorts show that the company has mastered the various areas they’ve dabbled in. Many of the films from here on out combine the different strengths of other shorts. Lou (the creature) has no definite shape but is instead made up of all the items left in the lost and found box. Similarly, Lou (the short) has humor, sentimentality, and a clever premise that you can’t help wanting to know more about. It’s like Pixar reached into their own lost and found bin and took everything that worked. 

    There is plenty of humor as Lou and the bully battle and a touch of the “aww” as Lou returns something J.J. once lost. Besides my lost and found metaphor, it’s all working together wonderfully.


     Played before: Cars 3

    5. For the Birds

    The Heron and Birds.
    Pixar

    The premise: A group of tiny birds mocks a large, frizzy-feathered heron. They try forcing it off their wire, only to realize the bird’s weight was pulling them to the ground. When the heron falls off, they shoot into the air.

    There’s usually no dialogue in a Pixar short. All the responsibility for storytelling, character, humor, and immersion falls on picture and sound design. In For the Birds, the success is all in the way the situation is revealed. From a single small bird to many, and finally, to a heron, we see a different aspect of the situation. And by the time the birds are pecking at the heron’s feet, the camera gleefully pulls back to reveal the heron is only an inch off the ground. 

    For the Birds is so fun, but not because of all that character arc or experiential extravagance. It works in the way a cartoon strip works, showing you one set of circumstances at a time, but it does it in a way that only animation can do. Perhaps Day & Night is the only short that can give For the Birds a run for its money when it comes to Pixar doing the most with the least amount of material. 


    Played before: Monsters, Inc.

    4. Boundin’

    Jackalope and Lamb
    Pixar

    The premise: A lamb gets all its wool sheared and feels self-conscious. But when a jackalope reminds the lamb of all the things to be grateful for in life, the lamb remembers to pick itself up when it's feeling down.

    Boundin’ is the first Pixar short to do a few things. It’s the first to have talking characters (well, singing, but still), the first to revolve around a message rather than just a comical situation, and the first to look like a completely modern Pixar short. It’s true that Knick Knack felt like the first real Pixar short, and For the Birds was the first that really got the animation down, but Boundin’ feels like it could’ve come out just a few years ago, not 20. 

    The characters are wonderfully expressive, Geri’s Game opened the doors for the “camera” to start moving around within the space, and I dare you not to tap a single toe at that song. Boundin’ is the founder of the wholesome Pixar short. It was Pixar letting everyone know that they didn’t just make funny Looney Tunes style shorts that came before their features. They could pack a full song, dance, and message about self-acceptance into five minutes. TRY not to tap a toe.


    Played before: The Incredibles

    3. Presto

    Presto and Alec
    Pixar

    The premise: A magician, Presto DiGiotagione, has a real magical hat. However, he has trouble with his hungry rabbit, Alec Azam.

    If we can match Boundin’ With One Man Band together in their musicality, we can pair Lifted with Presto in how willing they are to let the animation do the hard work. I’ve praised Pixar on this list for shorts with clear, simple premises because that’s the best place to start building. But Presto makes things slightly more complicated. I mean, sure, on paper, the premise is simple: A magician has two hats that are magically connected, and the rabbit he’s supposed to pull out of it won’t cooperate until it’s fed. So how does Presto make things a bit more tricky?

    In Geri’s Game, Geri first stands up, walks all the way around the table, and sits down before playing his second chess move against himself. We see him do this a few more times, with faster and faster cuts, until we fully get it. In Presto, the idea presented is the hat. This is then pushed, with faster and faster cuts, until we fully get it. Then we push that to a ridiculous conclusion — electrocution, ladder to the crotch, the entire stage collapsing. The edit and the animation are working overtime in Presto, which is what makes it such a joy to watch.


     Played before: WALL-E

    2. Day & Night

    Day and Night.
    Pixar

    The premise: Day and Night don’t like each other at first, but they soon realize what makes the other unique.

    Burrow was Pixar’s foray into 2D animation, but technically Day & Night did it first. Inside each embodiment of day and night is a 3D-animated world, but the embodiments themselves are 2D. The idea is ridiculously simple, but the amount director Teddy Newton and the animators are able to do with that idea is astounding. Whatever Day and Night do to each other as two-dimensional figures, their 3D worlds reflect what is happening. 

    When Day has to pee in the morning, he runs over to a rushing stream and sighs in relief. When Night sees a group of beautiful girls by the pool, a wolf howls on a clifftop within his outline. Some films are romantic, experiential, or hilarious, but a Pixar short can be pure fun. Day & Night is as fun as it is simple, and it’s the perfect appetizer to the emotional ass-kicking that is Toy Story 3.


    Played before: Toy Story 3

    1. Bao

    Bao and Mom.
    Pixar

    The premise: A mom raises a bao child.

    The audible gasp in my theater when the mother eats her bao child was one I’ll never forget. Let’s back up a bit. At first, you’re settling in for the ride. A mom almost bites into the bao she just made, and it cries out. She jumps, and the bao sprouts a body. You start to get into the short and realize it’s dealing with motherhood, getting older, and feeling protective over loved ones. And just when you accept that this woman really is raising a bao, it’s ready to leave. Stopping here, this is already an incredible idea on the part of writer/director Domee Shi. She front-loads the absurdity like a parent with a surprise newborn and doesn’t wait for you to catch up to the premise. Just as you sprint to catch up to her, the child is already starting to resent the mother. 

    By the time it’s pulling away from his mom, ready to start its own life, we can’t help but feel that the bao is a fool that needs to be more grateful for his mom, and maybe we should call our mom and... One sec — let me go call my mom. 

    Then what? SHE EATS HIM! Any chin-stroking, “ah yes, it’s one of those metaphors” people in the audience who love a good allegory were just as taken aback as anyone else in the theater. That’s why that gasp stuck with me. Because I thought Domee Shi was done throwing me curveballs. And while everyone’s still reeling from the mother’s choice to eat her baby, the son returns home. The real son. Any one-to-one metaphor suddenly comes unraveling, not because Domee Shi doesn’t construct a good allegory, but the story goes from absurd to universally relatable in a split second. It doesn’t matter how off-board you were up until that final bedroom scene. They’re eating and crying because of both the good and the bad, and who can’t relate to that?


    Played before: Incredibles 2

    What is your favorite Pixar short? Let us know in the comments below!