Sunday 25 November 2012

Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 Blu-ray Review

Pixar have a long and storied tradition with short films. As with their parent company, Disney, before them, the studio got their start with short films - films like The Adventures of AndrĂ© and Wally B., Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy. But while Disney has largely moved away from shorts (although seem to have returned to the format in recent years, with great short films like The Ballad of Nessie and Paperman), Pixar have remained loyal to short production - having one precede each of their feature films.

So, five years after its original Short Films Collection, Pixar have now released the second collection of its acclaimed short films on Blu-ray and DVD; and it's been worth the wait!

Don't get me wrong, I love Pixar's classic shorts (Tin Toy, Knick Knack and Red's Dream being particular favourites), and some of their modern-but-slightly-older shorts like Boundin', Lifted and One Man Band are brilliant too, but I absolutely adore their more recent short films. 2008, 2009 and 2011 brought my three favourites: Presto (director Doug Sweetland), Partly Cloudy (director Peter Sohn) and La Luna (director Enrico Casarosa), so it's fantastic to be able to own them all on one disc.

Those are my three favourite Pixar shorts, but - with the exception of La Luna (because Brave isn't out on home video here in the UK until Monday) - I already own them all on Blu-ray, and have seen them several times. So, one of the best things about the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 is that it afforded me the opportunity to sit down and watch some of Pixar's more overlooked shorts - ones I've never appreciated in their entirety before. For instance, Your Friend the Rat was one I'd never really paid much attention too, yet I fell absolutely in love with it when watching it on this collection; the music by Alex Mandel (Brave) is great, and the daringly educational (yet funny) story and varied animation is wholly original.

Another highlight is that you can finally watch George and A.J. on your TV! The limited-animation, Up-based, short previously only appeared as an extra on the iTunes version of Up, and online, and - while it doesn't benefit all that much by being on Blu-ray - it's fun to watch it on a bigger screen. This release is also the first time you can check out Small Fry at home. The second Toy Story Toon appeared in cinemas before The Muppets, but hasn't had a home video release until now.

The collection is available on DVD, but - not to get too film-pretentious - Blu-ray really is the format that you want to watch your films and shows on now; you do notice the difference, and I'm of the belief that you notice it most with animated films, as evident here. The quality of the high-definition is as perfect as we've come to expect from Pixar; the colours just pop off the screen, particularly in the Toy Story shorts and Partly Cloudy. And the deep, watercolour look of La Luna is all the more beautiful in HD. Because all these shorts are modern, there's little of the inherent rudimentary look that was present in some Volume 1 shorts.

While there's not a world of bonus features (although still probably more than Cars 2 had...), the collection boasts some great commentary tracks from the filmmakers who created the great shorts on the disc. Being a huge fan of Presto and its director Doug Sweetland (now working on The Familiars for Sony Pictures Animation), I loved his insightful commentary for that film. The tracks for Small Fry (director Angus MacLane) and La Luna were very interesting as well, giving you an even greater appreciation of the shorts. Partly Cloudy's commentary track by director Peter Sohn (currently co-directing Bob Peterson's The Good Dinosaur) was the most heartfelt and illuminating though, telling of his inspirations for the short: the language barrier between him and his Korean mother, their bonding over drawing, and their shared love of Dumbo - all present in the final brilliant short.

The most entertaining commentary track, though, was Josh Cooley's one for his short, Geroge and A.J.. Starting off a little slow, I'll admit I did groan, thinking this was going to a plodding commentary - and that'll show me for doubting Pixar even slightly. Because then Cooley brings in a 'voice-over guy', who over dramatises the film's production to hilarious levels, coming out with such gems as "A-list celebrities from around the globe flew to Pixar by jetpack to perform the voices in the film!" and "The film was placed into a rocket and launched into space, in the hopes that it would reach distant alien planets and enrich their existence as well. Which it did!" Kudos to all involved, as it was just an extra little gem on a great Blu-ray.

John Lasseter's 1980 student film, Nitemare.

Speaking of extra little gems, the icing on the cake was the seven student films from John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. Anything any of these guys produce is great (yes, cynics, that does include John Carter and Cars), and these bonus features just show that that's always been the case. I really liked John's Nitemare, Andrew's Somewhere in the Arctic, and Pete's short (really short. Like literally a 90 seconds) but sweet, Winter. Showing the diverse meshes of styles that you can see each artist brought to their own later feature films: the unruly Eskimos in Somewhere in the Arctic bring to mind the "MINE!" seagulls in Finding Nemo; the grumpy, block-shaped man in Pete Docter's Next Door is almost a carbon copy of Carl from Up; and the animating the inanimate in John Lasseter's Lady and the Lamp is indicative of pretty much his entire career. It's a great look at how these great directors got started, and - to bookend our review nicely - to show how much short films really mean to Pixar.

A couple more bonus features wouldn't go amiss, and when buying it, you have to remember that this is a short film collection, there's only shorts. But, frankly, for the price, for the fantastic shorts on the disc, for the great Blu-ray quality, and the enthralling bonus features that are there, Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 is well worth the price!


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