Pixar 41: Bao

Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.

Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.

Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.

As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.

Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!

I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.

Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Team with its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.

What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?

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Pixar 38: Lou

I am going to see Cars 3 at least one more time before I write my review but I thought I would go ahead and write my thoughts about the short before it entitled Lou. This was a charming short that teaches a nice message for kids. I really enjoyed it.

I mean how can you not like that face?

The premise for Lou is very clever. Set in a playground at a school, Lou focuses on the lost and found box full of various misplaced items. These items include hoodies, rackets, mitts, baseballs and more. Through some kind of magic all of the items have combined together to make a creature called Lou.

I really liked the look of Lou and the way he flopped around as one cohesive unit while still keeping the individual items separate. It was very creative.  He kind of reminded me of a mixture of Telly and Elmo from Sesame Street. His eyes and mouth had the expressions of a Muppet and his body reminded me of how Hank from Finding Dory moved around the room.

Lou kind of takes ownership of the playground and picks up all the lost items after the kids leave. One day a boy named J.J. starts bullying the other kids and taking away their stuff (toys, backpacks etc).

I won’t give away the ending but Lou finds a way to get to the heart of the bully and help him realize what he is doing.

There is also some nice physical comedy between J.J and Lou that I enjoyed. I liked how the balls of Lou’s eyes bulged out when he was thrown about. It was a lot of fun.

Obviously the message of Lou is something many kids will be able to relate with. I certainly would have related to it very strongly. I liked also that they were able to teach J.J. a lesson without overly shaming him. He just sees what is the right thing to do and makes the correct choices.

Lou was directed by Dave Mullins and features the music by Christophe Beck of Frozen fame, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked how bubbly it was as we see Lou explore the playground and what is happening. You can see a little clip here:

It would have been very easy to make Lou a PSA and not a short but I think they straddled that line quite well. It’s funny, balanced and nuanced enough to work as a story, not just a message. Just Lou’s design and expressions are inventive enough to entertain me.

I don’t really have much to criticize about Lou. It’s not my favorite Pixar short but that’s a high bar to cross. This is sweet and a lot of fun with a nice message kids will love.

Overall Grade- B+

Now I will go off to see Cars 3 again!

Pixar Review 36: Piper

piper disney pixar finalIn some ways something like Pixar’s latest short Piper is hard to talk about because it is deceptively simple. On the surface it is a cute little short about a baby bird at the beach but the more I thought about the more there was to it. Piper is a real Pixar gem and one of their best shorts in years.

Let’s start off with the animation. I think you can tell from the above photo that Piper is incredibly realistic. Most of the short if you hadn’t told me it was animated I would not have known. Everything from Piper’s feathers to her little legs looks so real.  There is a little hermit crab that looks animated but the ocean and the water looks amazing. Little details like the way the water reflects Piper and the look of the sand are perfect. You can really see what they learned from the Good Dinosaur and took it into Piper and it makes me excited for future Pixar properties.

piper+2Like I said, Piper is a simple story.  It’s about a baby bird who must learn to conquer its fears of the ocean. The thing that is great is it’s a valid fear.  She (or he?) gets hit pretty hard with a wave and so naturally shrinks from it, not wanting to go near the tide. Unfortunately, she is hungry and finally her stomach rules the day, so she ventures back. With each new wave she is more scared until she looks under the water and see’s the world underneath. This new vision of the world excites her and helps Piper to overcome her fears.

piper4Composer Adrian Belew does a great job with the music in Piper and the whole thing is just completely adorable. I liked it so much I could see an entire Piper movie! Look at the detail in the above shot- the coarseness of the sand, the fluffiness of her feathers.  Amazing! And it is winning without being too saccharine or sweet.

What did you think of Piper? Where does it rank for you in the Pixar shorts? It will be pretty high for me although I love all of the Pixar shorts so it is tough.

Overall Grade- A+

I posted my spoiler free review of Finding Dory on my youtube channel last night. I will post a detailed review here after I’ve seen it again, but just know it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking out Finding Dory and Piper! If you guys could give this a thumbs up if you like that would be awesome. Thanks!

Pixar Review 34: Sanjay’s Super Team

sanjay2Hi from California guys!  I am going to try and write my reviews of Creed and Good Dinosaur in the next few days but I have to fit it in with spending time with my nieces, which of course takes first priority (and taking them to see Good Dinosaur tomorrow!).

In meantime, let’s talk about the newest Pixar Short, Sanjay’s Super Team.  It is a delightful short and unlike anything Pixar has really done with their shorts.  It’s brighter, it explores culture and is one that isn’t based around a gag or joke.

sanjay6Sanjay’s Super Team is directed by Sanjay Patel and it is based on his childhood growing up with traditional Indian immigrant parents.  As a young American kid Sanjay loved superheroes, Looney Tunes and other shows and was often bored with the Hindu rituals and traditions of his parents. He said “”Our worlds were diametrically apart. I just wanted my name to be Travis, not Sanjay.”

sanjay7You really get this sense of conflict in the short. Young Sanjay wants to watch his superhero show but he has to be quiet while his father prays and performs the Hindu rituals to the Gods (sorry I don’t know the specific names).

sanjay5His father gets more annoyed with the TV and turns it off forcing Sanjay to come and pray with him. It’s then that Sanjay starts to daydream about the Gods becoming the superheroes from his show.

sanjay4This combination of modern pop culture and traditional beliefs was really great to see, and I really liked how Sanjay learns to appreciate his father’s point of view while also developing his own ideas.  I think this is great for kids to see.

It’s also refreshing to see an animated Indian, darker skinned little boy and honestly I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this father and son.  They were very sweet and relatable.

sanjay3As someone who was raised and still practices a rather traditional faith I really thought they got the tone right on the struggle kids like Sanjay experience as they try to figure out what they believe.  It’s easy to want to throw off the old as archaic when really there is a merging of both new and old that can happen.

I think you can probably tell from the images in this post the animation is stunning in Sanjay’s Super Team.  It is bright and colorful and I really enjoyed the character design of Sanjay and his father.  I liked how the backdrops sparkled and looked like embossing more than paint.

I like they didn’t feel a need to explain the Gods or culture because those details don’t matter.  It’s a story about generational conflict and so the source of that conflict is largely incidental although certainly beautiful here.

I loved Lava but I think Sanjay’s Super Team is even better.  Let me know what you think when you see it before Good Dinosaur.

Overall Grade- A

Ranking the Pixar Shorts

pixar shorts collage2

So I finished reviewing all the Pixar shorts and had a blast.  Honestly there isn’t any that I dislike and I think the lowest score I gave is a B.

That said, them all being so great in a way made the task of ranking them a little bit tricky.  What is especially tough is how to do you gauge something that is a huge technical achievement like Luxo Jr against a visual storytelling delight like La Luna?  They are special in different ways.

I normally hate rubrics for scoring movies because I feel they can force you to give you grades or scores to things that don’t jive with your actual views and feelings.  Other people like them but  I couldn’t feel right about giving something a grade I don’t think it deserves.  Plus, I also don’t like that with a rubric there is no way to give a perfect score. I feel like the focus can become what are the problems instead of the overall great experience I had at a top-tier film. For other people it works but not for me.

However, in this case where I like them all but for different reasons,  it seemed like the best way to go.  So, here’s what I came up with.  Each short had the potential of 20 points- 5 for Technical Achievement, 5 for Story, 5 for Artistry and 5 for Overall Enjoyment.  You can see how each film worked out below points-wise.

pixar shorts

These are also only the original shorts.  I only reviewed 2 of the spin-off shorts based on or including characters from their feature films but I did not include either of them in my ranking.

All that said, here’s how I rank the shorts.  (You can find reviews of all these shorts here)

16. Adventures of Andre and Wally Badventures of wally315. Blue UmbrellaTHE BLUE UMBRELLA14. One Man Bandone man band213. Luxo

luxo12. Knick Knack

knick knack211. For the Birds

for the birds210. Lava

lava9. Day and Night

day and night38. Lifted

LIFTED7. Partly Cloudy

partly cloudy76. Tin Toy

tin toy5. Boundin’

boundin74. Red’s Dream

reds dream3. Presto

presto32. Geri’s Game

geris-game1. La Luna

la luna6But like I said they are all great so thanks to Pixar for such lovely works of art!

Pixar Review 32: The Blue Umbrella

blue umbrella3Well guys I did it!  With this review of The Blue Umbrella I will have seen and reviewed all the original Pixar shorts (that is until Sanjay’s Super Team comes out in November).  I hope you have enjoyed these reviews as shorts are too often ignored or forgotten by the average filmgoers.   I will post a ranking later this week of all the Pixar shorts but start thinking about what your favorites are and share in the comments below.

Anyway, back to the Blue Umbrella.  This is one of the Pixar shorts I would put in the ‘technology advancing’ category.   Like Luxo Jr or some of the early shorts the story is pretty simple but it is the animation which makes it stand out.  I think it is pretty safe to say it is the most realistic looking animation I’ve ever seen.blue umbrella4This photorealism  was a result of a new rendering system called Global Illumination and I think it could be very exciting for the future of CG animation.  I particularly wonder if they’ve used the technology in the new Jungle Book movie which I’ve heard from more than one source the trailer had the most realistic CG animals they’ve ever seen.

THE BLUE UMBRELLAThe Blue Umbrella is a simple story of a red and blue umbrella who fall in love and get separated on a rainy day in a big city.    That’s all there is to it.

The music by Jon Brion with Sarah Jaffe vocals adds a lot to the story because like most Pixar shorts there is no dialogue.

In many ways it is a lot like the hat short in Make Mine Music.  In my review of that I said “The whole thing is strange.  I can feel for ducks, mice, parrots but hats…”.  The same thing goes for umbrellas.  I guess I just don’t have that great of an imagination to get into umbrellas falling in love (or hats).

blue umbrella2But I do think the music in The Blue Umbrella is much better than the Andrews Sisters (they are fun but kind of corny).

That said, the animation is what is really special in this short.  It’s really quite stunning.  Here is a little clip of it to give you a feel:

What do you think of The Blue Umbrella?  What is your favorite Pixar short?

Overall Grade- B

Pixar Review 28: La Luna

la lunaIf you can believe it we are in the home stretch of my Pixar reviews.  Only 5 left till Good Dinosaur and Sanjay’s Super Team. I’ve been reviewing the Pixar films since April and it has been a real treat and challenging because it’s hard to write about movies you really love and have it not just be hyperbole.  At least it is for me.

Well, today we have a very special animated short to talk about.  One of my favorites- La Luna.  It is directed and written by Enrico Casarosa and was based on the Italian fairytales his Grandpa would tell him. He also used Italian cartoonist Osvaldo Cavandoli who was famous for his line sketch style animation as inspiration.

la luna6La Luna is about a little boy or Bambino who sails with his Grandpa and Father to a spot where they climb a latter to the moon and set about their work of scraping the stars from off the moon.  (Doesn’t that description just sound lovely?).

la luna3In the audio commentary Enrico says he picked a Grandpa and Father for the boy because he grew up in a house with his maternal grandfather and his Dad and I guess the two didn’t get along very well.  You can see that dynamic in the short with the 2 men snipping at each other in a sweet kind of way.

But really the greatness of this short is in the animation.  The stars and the light is so beautiful. In many ways it feels like a bedtime story, like Goodnight Moon or something like that.  It’s lovely to think about someone sweeping stars off of the moon.

la luna7Michael Giacchino gets back to his Italian roots with a lovely score that reminds me of the great Ennio Morricone.

There are moments where it looks like watercolor and where the characters look more 2D than CG.  There are no other words to describe it but BEAUTIFUL!

EXR 1920x803, 4 channel image (A B G R)

I love the way the stars look like little light bulbs and clank together.  In many ways they reminded me of the memories in Inside Out in sound and appearance.  You can feel the sense of wonder from Bambino as he looks at each glowing star.

la luna15

This is just a stunning image.

la luna13It’s not the most complex as far as story.  It’s basically a Grandpa and Father showing a little boy how to do a job but that job is so magical and special that it doesn’t need anything more.  It’s like if someone’s job was to bathe an angel.  Yes it’s ordinary but it’s an angel!  I mean wow!

la luna2As I’ve rewatched the Pixar shorts I can put them into several groups.  There are the jokes (Presto, For the Birds, Knick Knack), technology advancing (Adventures of Wally, Tin Toy, Geri’s Game, Day & Night), and great artistry (Boundin, Partly Cloudy, Red’s Dream).  To me La Luna is the greatest of that latter group.  It is an artistic joy to watch and I love it.  Definitely in my top 5 of the Pixar shorts.

2011 was also a very good year for animated shorts.  All 4 nominees were completely lovely and the winner The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore is wonderful.  In fact, I wish it was a feature film.  It’s 15 minutes as a short and there’s enough there for more. So the fact La Luna didn’t win that year I am ok with.  It certainly was a much better year in shorts than feature films with Rango winning which I did not care for.

la luna12What do you think of La Luna?  If you haven’t seen it there are versions of it online but none that I could download.  I believe it is on the Brave DVD so you can see it there.  I wanted to do another short before the Brave review called The Legend of Mor’du to go with Brave so that’s why I reviewed this one here.  Next up is the much maligned Cars 2.  I just watched it and honestly guys it’s not that bad.  In fact, I enjoyed it! So you will hopefully enjoy that review as I am sure it will be a perspective you don’t get every day.

But nearly everyone I know agrees, La Luna is one of the best.

Pixar Review 24: Partly Cloudy

partly cloudy7Next up in our Pixar short reviews is called Partly Cloudy. It’s kind of like the beginning of Dumbo but with a funny twist.

If you don’t remember the beginning of Dumbo we see the storks getting their bundles and delivering them to the anxious mothers of the circus.  This is all accompanied by the song “Look out for Mr Stork” .  I think it might have been fun to use that song in this Pixar feature as kind of an homage but the music they have is fine.

partly cloudy4What we don’t see in Dumbo is where the storks get the bundles.  In Partly Cloudy we learn the clouds make the babies and give them to the storks.

This is a clever concept but then they take it a step further.  What about those less than pleasant animals like porcupines and crocodiles?  What poor stork has to deliver those? And what kind of cloud makes such creatures?

partly cloudy6Well one lonely dark storm cloud is given that job and a stork is assigned the rather painful task of delivering his bundles.  We see him kicked by a bighorn sheep, pricked by a porcupine and finally when he is given a shark he puts on protective headgear and body armor!

partly cloudyDirected by Peter Sohn who is the voice of Emile in Ratatouille it is a charming Pixar short.   He is directing the upcoming Good Dinosaur which watching this short kind of makes me excited for that film.  (So many of these Pixar greats including John Lasseter got their feet wet in these shorts).  There is a gentleness to Partly Cloudy which I have a hunch will work well with Good Dinosaur.

partly cloudyI also really like the music by Michael Giacchino and the fluffy feel of the clouds looks like piles of pillows.  In a lot of ways it reminds of Lava which is also very textured and gentle.

I wouldn’t say it is one of my favorite of the shorts but that’s only because the other’s are so great it makes for tough competition.  It’s lovely and a joy to watch.

Overall Grade- A-

Next up in the Pixar reviews is Up! Although I am slightly intimidated.  How do you adequately write about your favorite movie? I will give it a go!

Pixar Review 20: Lifted

liftedWe’ve made it to Pixar review 20! Can you believe it?  I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am enjoying watching/writing about them.  I have particularly enjoyed the animated shorts as they can be unjustly ignored when people look at the Pixar legacy.  Today we are talking about a very special comedic short called Lifted.  It is one of the longer shorts and it gets some of the biggest laughs (and looks great too).

Lifted is a simple story about aliens- one alien to be exact.  His name is Stu and he is in training to man the control board.  He is being watched over by ‘Mr B’ who has a clipboard and seems to be giving him some kind of test.  It reminds me of someone getting a test from the DMV.

Pixar's short film LIFTED, directed by Gary Rydstrom, shows what happens when an over confident teen alien gets behind the controls of a spaceship.  He must attempt to abduct a slumbering farmer under the watchful eye of a critical instructor.  But abducting humans requires precision and a gentle touch, and within a few missteps it's painfully clear whey more humans don't go missing every year.

I love the expression on Stu’s face as he knows he is failing in his test.  Poor thing!  The test is to get a human into the ship using the light beam.  This was a clever twist on the classic sci-fi scenario because not only does he struggle to get zapped up but we actually want him to be abducted.  Normally an alien taking a human would be scary but in this case we want Stu to succeed and get the guy from his bed!

lifted7It’s also funny how the human never wakes up despite all the abuse going on to him and his house.  He’s certainly no light sleeper that’s for sure!

lifted8

I love how incredibly massive the control board is.  How many features does this beam have?

lifted10The final joke as Stu is allowed to commandeer the ship back home is a great laugh.

lifted5Here’s the full short if you haven’t seen it.

All the shorts are very simple but Lifted is one of my favorites.  It’s bright, colorful and very funny.  Plus, I like Stu and his efforts to pass his test.  When he cries it’s a very sweet moment. Let’s be honest- we’ve all been there trying desperately to pass a test or make an audition.  We’ve all wanted to something so bad and yet all we do is screw it up.

I also really like the way Mr B and Stu move and look.  It is bright but also translucent and very fluid.  I read they came up with a new program called jiggle to create this look.  “The animator can control how far out to resonate body movement, such as only within a limb, or stay away from specific parts of the body such as the face”.  In the strong tradition of Pixar shorts creating new technology Lifted is no exception!

lifted4

Lifted was first film directed by Gary Rydstrom who did the sound mixing and editing for most of the Pixar movies going all the way back to Luxo Jr.  Naturally the sound design in Lifted is great with little details like the alarm and human reactions at the ending.

Have you seen Lifted? What do you think of it?

Overall Grade- A+