Walt Disney Animation has always been at the forefront of the animation curve, and nothing says that more than a casual glance at their vast catalog of beloved and award-winning pictures. But while people will forever remember the accomplishments of the Mouse House, and the subsequent laurels and praise, there are many times where the feature is the end product of a lot of trial and error. To make things more clear, many films are the direct result of techniques and methods tested in a variety of the studio’s short films.
Furthermore, some now famous directors and luminaries got their start with a trial run – once they showed competency and talent within a 6 minute window, they were given a feature length film. What Disney has assembled in this most recent Blu-Ray is an extraordinary collection of short films including some which have never before been released.
Of the bunch, the most recent shorts seem to encapsulate the magic and dynamism of the studio. Oscar winners Paperman and Feast truly are the most advanced in that they reflect, in small scale, what the studio has been doing with features since their purported second renaissance. Mostly, this collection is front loaded to showcase the studio’s more current work including titles from Frozen Fever to Tangled Ever After. But there are a series of old school 2D shorts that, whether created in 2011 (The Ballad of Nessie) or 2000 (John Henry), are call backs to a golden age for the studio. But they also show that the throwback animation can be just as alluring and interesting in the 21st century as it was in the middle of the 20th.
However, as animation styles change, evolve and adapt to cultural climates and demands, there will also be the auditory component to each of these condensed narratives. While the animators use these shorts to test new ideas, so too do the composers. Some shorts are entirely void of the spoken word which allows the music to become the main character. Of note in this release, Oscar-winning film composer (and self-proclaimed movie geek) Michael Giacchino, who has quite a number of Disney and Pixar shorts to his credit, continually exhibits an affinity for creating and conveying emotion for characters who don’t have a pulse yet still seem to live and breathe thanks to his score (and the animation).
This collection would be so much more satisfying if there could be more than 42 seconds devoted to the people tasked with bringing these mostly two-dimensional stories to life. Even though each are around 7 minutes long, there is an army of animators and tradespeople who deserve credit for each short. We get so little time with every introduction that many out there would likely want to hear more of the backstory behind such a varied collection of animated short films.
Of the charming and note-worthy titles, two are not just bold choices, but also products of their time. Lorenzo (a quasi folk tale with a zany jazzy underbelly) is Mike Gabriel’s Oscar-nominated short, but while intended to be comical, it’s actually horrifying. The finale is a bit too violent and dark and same goes for The Little Matchgirl.
Conversely though, the most Disneyesque tale has to be John Henry by Mark Henn. The nine-minute film was the directing debut of the veteran Disney animator. One of the industry’s top talents, he supervised such memorable Disney characters as Ariel, Princess Jasmine, Young Simba, Mulan, Tiana, even Winnie the Pooh. All that said, some of these title are fun, others are heart-warming, and, in the case of How to Hook Up Your Home Theater are really delightful throwbacks. From start to finish, they show the power, the prestige and promise that has and continues to thrive behind the walls of the famed animation studio.
It’s hard to critique short films, but, as stated in the header of this post, these are less about narratives and more about experiments. Whether it is focused on new animation technology (Paperman), or just a different way of spinning a yarn, these shorts are testaments to not just the director and head of story, but also the animation team taking a chance on something they, at the time, weren’t sure was going to work in the first place. Here’s to what’s passed, because, as evidenced in these stunning shorts, they hold the key to the doors which will be unlocked in the near future.