Pixar Short Films Collection uses a variety of aspect ratios through its 13 shorts, though most go with approximately 1.85:1. Luxo Jr. appeared to be 1.66:1, while One Man Band was 2.35:1. All featured 16X9 enhancement. Most looked excellent, though enough minor concerns occurred to shave a few points off of what could’ve been perfection.
The earliest shorts showed the most noticeable problems. While virtually all the Pixar features moved the computer files straight to DVD without any interference, I got the impression some of the older cartoons came from film stock. Or maybe there’s just something about the ancient computer files that meant the shorts would lack the same crispness of the more recent efforts. Whatever the case, the earlier efforts tended to look a bit soft at times. These instances weren’t tremendous, but since the rest offered excellent clarity and delineation, they stood out as slightly distracting.
Colors were also a little weak in the older pieces, as they could be a little muddy. Most of the shorts displayed very nice hues, though, as the majority showed lively, dynamic tones. Blacks were usually deep and dense, while shadows generally appeared smooth and clear. Most of the Collection featured virtually flawless visuals, but the minor flaws with the first few shorts left my overall grade as an “A-“.
As for the audio, all of the shorts but Andre boasted Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. (Andre went with Dolby Surround 2.0.) Given the span of years covered by these clips, they provided a range of auditory experiences. Nonetheless, most used their soundfields well. Even the older shorts opened things up to a decent degree and showed nice panning and involvement. None of them stunned, but they brought us a good sense of place, with some decent surround material.
Of course, the newer shorts broadened things better, though the subject matter restricted them to a degree. Low-key cartoons like Geri’s Game and Boundin’ didn’t exactly require intense soundfields. Jack-Jack Attack was probably the most involving of the bunch – which we’d expect from an action-oriented clip – and Ghostlight also broadened things nicely with all its vehicles. The soundfields did what they needed to do for their subject matter.
Audio quality always satisfied. Even the older shorts sounded quite good. We didn’t get much speech – as noted in the body of the review, Mike’s New Car was the first one to feature dialogue – but when lines occurred, they seemed natural and concise. Music was always lively and dynamic, while effects showed good clarity and accuracy. Because the soundfields usually stayed limited, I thought a “B” was most appropriate for this set. I felt the soundtracks also worked well.
As we move to the set’s extras, we launch with a collection of audio commentaries. These accompany all of the shorts except for “Jack-Jack Attack”. Here’s the roster of participants:
The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.: Animators John Lasseter, Eben Ostby and Bill Reeves. We learn a little about the origins of the Lucasfilm project, how that resulted in this short, and some character design specifics. There’s not much time for info here, but the participants – mainly Lasseter – throw out some good insights.
Luxo Jr.: Lasseter, Ostby and Reeves. Here we get details about the formal creation of Pixar, elements related to this short’s development, and its particular animation challenges. Another quick one, the participants include a mix of fine details.
Red’s Dream: Lasseter, Ostby and Reeves. More of the same comes from this discussion. Lasseter continues to dominate as we get info about how the various elements combined. He also addresses the sad ending in this nice chat.
Tin Toy: Lasseter, Ostby and Reeves. Lasseter tells us how video of his nephew inspired this short. He also reflects on how it inspired Toy Story and some technical issues. It’s another brisk and informative discussion.
Knick Knack: Lasseter, Ostby and Reeves. We hear about the decision to make a cartoony short, some story issues, the move to 3D rendering, and more technical concerns. Expect solid info in this quick little chat.
Geri’s Game: Writer/director Jan Pinkava. Hey – someone other than Lasseter and company! Pinkava discusses characters and inspirations, story issues, music, and animation choices. This isn’t as tight a commentary as the Lasseter-run ones, but it still includes lots of good notes.
For the Birds: Director Ralph Eggleston. He offers a fairly technical track that quickly runs through the project’s genesis and some fine points about the animation. He also provides a few more general remarks during this short but engaging commentary.
Mike’s New Car: Director’s kids Nicholas Docter and Leo Gould. They try to explain how their dads made the film, and they offer lots of silliness during this hilariously irreverent commentary.
Boundin’: Writer/director/narrator Bud Luckey. He discusses visual influences, his own background, story and character inspirations, music and technical elements. It’s fun to hear all the cannibalized parts of the cartoon, as Luckey mentions that he used a vehicle from Cars and a character from Nemo. Luckey presents a quick but informative chat.
One Man Band: Directors Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews and composer Michael Giacchino. They cover the way the short integrates its music and fits into its concept. They go over the basics well.
Mater and the Ghostlight: Directors Lasseter and Dan Scanlon. We find out the origins of the tale and some character notes about Mater. The track gets into different elements in a satisfying manner and tells us plenty about the short.
Lifted: Director Gary Rydstrom. He talks about lighting, design, characters, story and some technical concepts. The discussion can get a little dry, but Rydstrom still manages to provide good insights.
For a look at the background of these cartoons, we go to The Pixar Shorts: A Short History. This 23-minute and 32-second program mixes film clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Lasseter, Ostby, Reeves, NASA/Jet Propulsion Labs Member of Technical Staff Jim Blinn, Toy Story producer Ralph Guggenheim, Pixar president Ed Catmull, former Pixar executive VP Alvy Ray Smith, and Pixar’s Craig Good, Loren Carpenter, Tom Porter, and Deirdre Warin. We look at the state of computer technology when Pixar formed in the 1980s and how this impacted computer animation. We also watch the development of Pixar’s work, the computer techniques/technology and how the studio evolved through these shorts.
Four Sesame Street Segments appear next. Very early Pixar creations, we get “Surprise” (0:22), “Light and Heavy” (0:59), “Up and Down” (0:34) and “Front and Back” (0:42). These are brief clips that use Luxo and Luxo Jr. to illustrate their concepts. They’re good to see for their historical value.
The disc starts with some promos. We get ads for Blu-Ray discs, Wall-E, Return to Neverland, Santa Clause 3 and Ratatouille.
Pixar may be best known for their hugely successful feature films, but they also have created some fine shorts as well. The Pixar Short Films Collection provides a nice glimpse of those cartoons, as it packages most of then in one place. The DVD presents very strong picture quality along with pretty good audio and some informative extras. It’s a fine little set.
In a vacuum, I would highly recommend this set, but the fact that so many of its shorts appear elsewhere causes some qualms. Pixar fans will probably already own most of these on other releases, but they’ll also want to have the ones exclusive to this set as well as the extras. They might not be so happy to shell out for so little new material, but they’ll still like the package. More casual fans will probably dig it as well, since it’s got so much good stuff in one set. Again, the redundancy of so much footage makes my recommendation less glowing than I’d like, but I still think this is a very nice release.