There is no point at which you can ever say “I have had enough Pixar, thank you.”
The now Disney-owned and run animation powerhouse has a proven track record for delivering animated features that is visually lush and evocative, stories that don’t simply tug at the heartstrings but rip them out and put them back in place with sensitivity and empathy, and most importantly importantly in the context of the all-new 10-episode Pixar Popcorn, characters so alive and vividly realised that you want to spend as much time with them as possible.
Although, to be fair, the time spent with the characters in this context, is brief indeed.
The longest shorts in a selection that takes in Toy Story, Coco, Soul, The Incredibles, Finding Dory and Cars run to just 3 to 4 minutes with some of the animated nuggets coming in at a scant but perfectly judged minute.
But here’s the thing – the producers behind these shorts used the time they have exquisitely well, delivering stories that rely less on dialogue than character evocation and deft use of the places in the Pixar universe that we have come to know and love.
Take the first short off the animated rank, “To Fitness and Beyond” which stars Buzz Lightyear in a post Toy Story 4-toyroom – Woody is noticeably absent though you do gain heart from the fact that he’s off with Bo Peep living his best new childfree life – doing his best to get all the other toys, including Mr. Potato Head, Forky, Rex, Jessie, Dolly and Hamm (With Mr Pricklepants too though he seems more interested in fake reading that toning up), fit and ready for what you can only guess is lots more playing.
There is no dialogue to be had but a delightfully short and sharp story, we witness, in what is essentially a perfect character study of one of Pixar’s most beloved creations, Buzz Lightyear’s boundless enthusiasm for the task at hand, his crushing disappointment when it seems everyone is not as vested as he is in the activity and his reassurance that he is loved and respected, and most important of all, cared for when everyone finally joins in.
It’s not a complex story but it is emotionally powerful and comes with the bonus joy of spending more time in a toyroom that feels as much like home as our lounge rooms.
Similarly, “Dory Finding”, which features the most forgetful fish on the Australian Great Barrier Reef, is a master study in zeroing in on what makes a character memorable, special and beloved and have some affectionate fun with it over three finely-executed minutes.
In a short that hints that the ocean environment is not as pristine clean as we’d like to imagine it is, Dory finds a number of man-made objects including glasses, a whistle, glass bottles and a mirror and in a bid to work out what these strange things do, ends up having a great deal of characteristically goofy fun along the way.
Chief among the things we love about Dory is her playful innocence and lack of guile and of course, her endless curiosity, all of which is on display in a short which seems her roaming across the reef, attracting strange glances from other ocean dwellers and happily doing her own quirky thing.
Again, not an overly complex story but a ton of heartwarming emotion and a chance to spend time with a character whose love of life and warmth and compassion are incredibly attractive for those of us tired of an all-too-clever and often cruel world.
Other shorts, such as the two starring Ducky & Bunny from Toy Story 4 (“Fluffy Stuff with Ducky & Bunny: Love” and “Fluffy Stuff with Ducky & Bunny: Three Heads”), which takes hilarious riffing to a whole new highly-amusing level, and the ones starring The Incredibles family, “Chore Day the Incredibles Way” and “Cookie Num Num”, which is all slapstick perfection, go for the comedic jugular.
They don’t eschew a focus on character since that would essentially mean de-Pixaring the shorts, but their focus is on having some riotously silly fun, verbally and physically respectively with characters who naturally lean towards that kind of expression.
Granted, Pixar Popcorn is all over and done with in just 21 all-too-short minutes – you can either watch them as discrete cartoons or do a mega all-ten-at-once watch-a-thon – and they might leave you yearning for some more long-form storytelling but each of the cartoons are a bite-sized piece of animation perfection, topped by short intros that make liberal fun of Luxo Jr. and the presence of popcorn in the title in ways that will delight almost as much as the cartoons themselves, an oasis of reassurance that everything you know and love about your favourite characters is still very much in place and that they are living their best lives just as you would want them to.
Pixar Popcorn is currently available on Disney Plus.