These may not be the most exciting days for Net-based animation—last year’s flood of Flash-made short films on the Web has become a trickle—but there is hope. Earlier this month, while distracting us with the release of Monsters, Inc., Pixar Animation Studios, the graphics titan behind that blockbuster film’s gee-whiz computer ‘toons, quietly slipped its best work onto the Web. With neither fanfare nor advance notice, Pixar posted a revamped site (www.pixar.com) and, more significantly, six animated short films. These wee flicks aren’t exactly new—one is from 1986 and two have already won Academy Awards—but they were, till now, hard to find and faintly shrouded in legend. ”These shorts have built quite a following, mostly through local animation festivals and the Web,” says Tim Montgomery, who runs the Disney Animation Archive (animationhistory.com/disneyanimation). ”There’s a lot of demand, a lot of people wanting to see them again.”
Best known now as a Disney partner on Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), and Toy Story 2 (1999), Pixar first defined its cuddly-mainframe image by showing its bighearted and boundary-busting cartoons at festivals and trade shows (its latest, For the Birds, now runs before Monsters, Inc.). So news that the classic ‘toons had hit the Net spread quickly—through weblogs and mailing lists—into the maw of a waiting subculture. (The studio is so publicity-shy on the subject that it refused EW’s request for comment.)
For those who think of Pixar as a glitzy, high-tech Toontown, these more modest shorts are well worth the download. The 1989 Knickknack is pure whimsy (a snowman, smitten with a bikini-clad plastic trinket, tries to escape his snow globe), and the plaything-munching baby in Tin Toy, which snagged the 1988 Oscar for animated short, is downright creepy as Pixar’s first human character. The Oscar-winning Geri’s Game, which pits a chess-playing codger against himself, may be the most well-known of these, but more obscure shorts have found themselves comfortable niche audiences. Red’s Dream, the story of a unicycle fantasizing about being a juggler, is a classic among, yes, jugglers. Evidence? It’s both praised and elaborately spoofed on the Juggling Information Service (juggling.org).
The bouncing father-and-son desk lamps from the studio’s 1986 first film, Luxo Jr.—now part of Pixar’s logo—are a prime example of how the animators can give even household objects heart and soul. ”You’ll always be able to relate to them,” says Montgomery, comparing Luxo Jr. to wacky Disney shorts about Goofy from the 1930s. ”The characters and story make them so appealing.”
Net-bound ‘toonists take note: The Pixar site now boasts interviews with its artists and an extensive section called, remarkably, ”How We Do It.” We suggest you study up.