Disney’s animation studio Pixar is well known for creating the unforgettable movies that shaped our childhood such as Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003), and Up (2009), with some of their more recent features including Onward and Soul, released in 2020. Yet many people are unaware of the cinematic masterpieces that are Pixar Short Films. Usually under ten minutes, these short films have the ability to evoke strong emotions while telling an intriguing story with diverse characters and oftentimes a thought-provoking message. Pixar has been making animated short films since 1984 and as of now have over 40 distinct mini-movies, so it can be intimidating to sort through all the content to find the best ones— all of which are available on Disney+. This is where I come in with three short films that changed my life and will hopefully change yours, too.
Bao (2018) follows a Chinese-Canadian mother making steamed buns, called baozi, when suddenly one of the buns comes to life and she soon begins to nurture the animated piece of food and raise it like a child. Eventually the bun reaches adulthood and begins to express wishes of beginning its own life and leaving home. The mother, overprotective and anxious for her son, attempts to stop the bun from leaving, yet she is unsuccessful and is therefore left alone in her newly empty home. At this point we learn that this was all a grand metaphorical dream she has manifested in order to cope with the empty nest syndrome she experiences following the departure of her real life adult son. Seeming a bit disconnected, her son enters and together they share a snack and soon resume their tender mother-and-son relationship. This film is too sweet as it explores the inevitable feelings parents face of loss and helplessness as they watch their child grow up and become more independent, yet it also reminds us young adults, who look forward to their newfound sense of freedom (such as myself), to be sympathetic towards our parent’s feelings and always remember to appreciate the people who raised us. On that note, I’m going to go call my mom.
Out (2020) is one of the latest installments in the SparkShorts series, a collection of independent short films which are created in the short span of six months by some of Pixar’s most creative animators. This short film follows a man named Greg who struggles to come out as gay to his parents. When his parents unexpectedly show up to help him move, Greg makes a silly wish to switch places with his dog, and to his shock, this strange wish comes true. Now in his dog’s body (and with his dog in his body), he frantically tries to hide all the evidence of his sexuality from his mother, such as a photo of him and his boyfriend Manuel. Yet while speaking to the dog (who we know is Greg), his mother not only implies that she knows about his secret but also that she accepts her son for who he is, claiming she just wants him to be happy. After he switches back into his own body, with the knowledge that his parents will accept him, he introduces his parents to Manuel, and they welcome him with open arms. The body swapping with a dog may seem a bit confusing, but it’s seamlessly done, which results in an imaginative way to express Greg’s complex emotions with a heartwarming ending. Out is also a great representation of the LGBTQ+ community and presents the struggles they experience while coming out to a younger audience in an easy to follow manner.
Kitbull (2019) is another addition to the SparkShorts series and my personal favourite. It’s about a stray black kitten living in a dumpster behind a home with a recently adopted pitbull. At first the small kitten is afraid of the friendly dog, yet as time passes, it is revealed that the pitbull was adopted by a dog-fighting ring and is extremely abused. When the dog is thrown out of the house bruised and bleeding, the little cat approaches the injured dog to lick his wounds. The large dog flinches at first, yet is soon soothed by the presence of the other animal. After this they become unlikely friends and engage in a daring escape from the abusive household. The film ends with both animals being adopted by a loving young couple, and with their physical scars remaining they slowly learn to trust humans and move forward towards a happy life. Not a single word is spoken throughout the short film but so many tender emotions are communicated through simple gestures of kindness and fond expressions. This short warmed my heart, broke it into pieces, and then glued it back together. While the above two films are only available to watch on Disney+, fortunately Kitbull was released to watch on YouTube. You can watch it here, but I strongly suggest you stock up on tissues before you do so.
There really is no such thing as a bad Pixar short film and if you enjoy any of the shorts I mentioned above, I highly suggest you check out the rest of their filmography. Some other amazing films that I didn’t have time to mention include Float (2019), Purl (2018), and Lava (2014), and since Pixar never stops creating, be on the lookout for a brand new short film called Luca coming out this June.