There isn’t any denying that Pixar’s animated short films are arguably some of the greatest ever done in the animation medium. With a fairly substantial collection of them now going back 20 years, they hold up just as well as Pixar’s features have, even if not all are remembered. But it’s laudable of Pixar to bring back the short film to precede a feature film again as it was once done many decades ago at Disney. It’s also only appropriate that with an ambitious feature project like “Inside Out” attempting to go inside a teenage girl’s mind for the first time, the short film beforehand should be just as ambitious.
If you’ve watched enough Pixar movies and shorts, you’ll know how much the animators there respect animation past and put sly nods into each one from prior influences. When the short film “Lava” was announced recently to precede “Inside Out” in theaters, the plot and sample images already gave a considerable amount away in where the influences came from. It also gave an indication on where the animation short may be going, which may actually be looking backward while still employing the latest in CGI animation advancements.
While “Lava” is about a lonely volcano (playing up more anthropomorphism in nature), the shots of the lava seem to be influenced from Disney’s “Fantasia.” Those who’ve appreciated 1940’s “Fantasia” for a long time know the “Rite of Spring” number is still one of the most stunning animated sequences ever created while astoundingly being drawn by hand. The lava sequences alone have likely been studied in minute detail by animators, including the team of animators working at Pixar today.
Considering “Fantasia” played up nature considerably, “Lava” appears to be doing the same thing. And with whales in the mix, you can also see the influence of “Fantasia’s” sequel, “Fantasia 2000” that’s almost at its 15th anniversary. If you remember the “Pines of Rome” sequence, then you remember one of the true highlights of the film where whales go from the ocean to flying in the air. The end sequence is arguably one of the most rousing and inspiring sequences ever done in Disney animation.
Many of the current animators at Pixar likely started their careers watching “Fantasia 2000”, a project that had older and newer animation artists working in tandem to create something almost as great as the first “Fantasia.” With constant rumors since 2000 the “Fantasia” franchise would eventually continue, is Pixar dipping into the retro pool to possibly do similar sequences for future animated shorts in the future?
The True Disney Influence on Pixar Animators
Since Pixar and Disney are more or less integrated now, you may be seeing plenty of nods to Disney animation past through Pixar’s future animation shorts. Last year, Disney put out “Paperman” that was filmed in an old-school way and done in black and white. It accompanied “Wreck-It Ralph” in theaters, though the short is considered separate from the Pixar team. While it’s true Pixar and Disney are still considered different departments, the fact that Disney owns Pixar seems to give indication they’re integrated into their animation projects. All of Pixar’s shorts usually play up more technical innovations, which is already a nod to Disney anyway considering almost every Disney short in the Walt Disney years had something innovative in them.
Last year, Pixar’s “Monsters University” had the short “The Blue Umbrella” that brought new photorealism to animation for the first time. Its story of a city and giving personality to anthropomorphic characters (this time umbrellas) was classic Disney short influence all the way. The overall feel, design, and emotion also harkens back to the true golden age of Disney shorts preceding feature Disney feature films.
If “Paperman” was more of a deliberate throwback to a more basic style of animation, “Lava” seems to indicate there’s a definite fusion of influence from the great Disney animators of the past. With most animators today still flabbergasted at what the original Disney animators could create with paper, pen, and paint 70 years ago, it’s clear future Pixar shorts will be pieces of what those legendary animators would have done now with the same materials.