While they’ve given us some of the finest in computer animated features, Pixar has also produced some of the finest animated shorts cinema has to offer. Pixar shorts are known for being heartwarming as much as the studio’s features and for telling their stories with little to no dialogue. With so many great films in their canon, it was difficult to rank these titles by greatness, but I believe I’ve created what is the definitive ranking of Pixar shorts.
Some Criteria You Should Know…
For this list, I’m considering short theatrical titles produced by Pixar Animation Studios. I am not including any feature-related spinoff shorts such as Mike’s New Car and Your Friend the Rat. Likewise, I’m also not including any of the Toy Story or Cars “Toons.” I am also not considering the new Sparkshorts, featured on Disney+ and elsewhere.
On with the list!
#20: The Adventures of André & Wally B.
Alvy Ray Smith, 1984
This was Pixar’s first short, and the film makes that certainly obvious, from the “Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project” opening title to the gloriously synth-filled end credits song. While not as influential as their first feature Toy Story, André & Wally B’s importance as one of the first CG character animation pieces makes up for its lack of substance (running only one minute). The character animation (produced singlehandedly by John Lasseter) holds up pretty well for such an early short, and the folks at SIGGRAPH in 1984 had certainly seen nothing like it before. The story, according to Lasseter, goes that the convention screened an unfinished version of the film (wherein the characters were reduced to wire frames about halfway through), but viewers apparently didn’t even notice because they were so invested in the story. This made Lasseter realize that good story mattered more than anything else, thus birthing the studio’s “story first” philosophy right from the beginning.
#19: La Luna
Enrico Casarosa, 2012
La Luna is one of Pixar’s most starkly creative shorts, with a stylistic and elemental resemblance to The Little Prince. The characters are charming, and the visuals are stunning, but in true Pixar fashion, what stands out the most is the lovely story, which feels satisfyingly complete, even after the film’s brief runtime.
#18: Tin Toy
John Lasseter, 1988
If the short’s content weren’t enough, its whimsical opening song and titles cement Pixar’s place as a creator of cartoons among the ranks of classic Disney and the Fleischers. Its irresolute ending and (let’s face it) creepy, choppily animated baby leave much to be desired, but the glory of Tin Toy lies in how it escalated Pixar’s status: they were no longer a computer graphics company—they were an animation studio. The first short to be produced under Steve Jobs reflects the beginning of Pixar’s maturation into the greatest animation studio since Disney themselves.
#17: The Blue Umbrella
Saschka Unseld, 2013
The Blue Umbrella is one of the most stunningly realistic Pixar pieces ever created, showcased by its strong recreation of photorealistic detail, shallow focused camera, and photographic slow-mo moments. It’s a charming little romance, but it’s also a story about community, support, and caring. Plus, the characters created out of the illusionary images of the everyday world reflect the kind of creativity you only find at Pixar.
Gary Rydstrom, 2006
The concept of aliens abducting humans via scientifically inexplicable tractor beams on farms is as old as the hills. Yet, in Pixar’s Lifted, this conventional idea is given new life thanks to funny gags and impressive animation. This kind of revitalization is pure Pixar, and Lifted showcases it remarkably well.
Alan Barillaro, 2016
Ever wanted an animated Planet Earth with more character and even better visuals? Well then, Piper is for you because it has just that. Stunning photorealistic visuals, cute characters, and a simple yet inspiring story make it a lovely little short.
#14: Sanjay’s Super Team
Sanjay Patel, 2015
Stories about the marriage of tradition and progress are some of the most societally important, in my opinion. But artistic blabbering aside, the main sequence of Sanjay’s Super Team is like the greatest video game never made. This film showcases how Pixar’s features and shorts both became much more auteristic and grounded in nationality during the latter half of the 2010 decade—by spotlighting elements from a specific culture without sacrificing universal story appeal.
Dave Mullins, 2017
Good deeds! We love ‘em. Simple in content but precise in execution, Lou—the story of some sentient lost and found items who help a little boy become a good person—is uplifting, energetic, and visually vibrant.
#12: For the Birds
Ralph Eggleston, 2000
There isn’t much to say about For the Birds—it’s a charmingly funny little short about acceptance and comeuppance. This could be the essence of most Pixar shorts, but it’s the essence of many cartoons on a grand scale. Regardless, For the Birds is simple, fun, and leaves nothing to be desired. What more could you want?
#11: Knick Knack
John Lasseter, 1989
A protagonist trying again and again to achieve his crass goal via increasingly outlandish, funny, and inexplicable means is the essence of a Chuck Jones Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon, and it’s exactly what John Lasseter wanted to (and ultimately did) deliver with Knick Knack. The snowman’s ridiculous yet not quite endearing plight to join the bikini-clad Miami girl is delightful to watch, and the short’s ironic ending is the icing on the cake. Unfortunately (and oddly, considering its predecessors), Knick Knack’s appeal is hindered by its obvious computer-generated appearance. But still, it’s screenings before theatrical presentations of Finding Nemo were anything but out of place.
#10: Red’s Dream
John Lasseter, 1987
Photorealism has always been Pixar’s go-to visual style, with few exceptions. Red’s Dream is one such exception, featuring an undeniable surrealist aesthetic (appropriate for a story about a dream). It trades the minimalism of its predecessor Luxo Jr. for sheer ambition, reflected in its multiple settings, complex juggling and cycling animations, and creative editing (take the audio-visual match cut when Red awakes from his dream). While definitely the most melancholy (if not truly disappointing) Pixar short, Red’s Dream is certainly still entertaining thanks to its engaging story and perfectly animated protagonist.
#9: Luxo Jr.
John Lasseter, 1986
The second of Pixar’s many shorts, Luxo Jr. not only introduced the studio’s iconic mascot, but also a beautiful simplicity that falls in line with their “story first” philosophy. The short is a masterwork of minimalism: the characters are barely anthropomorphic lamps, the setting is nothing more than a spotlit wooden surface with a power outlet, the soundtrack is unassuming jazz, the editing is . . . nonexistent (there’s not a single cut anywhere in the film), and the cinematography consists of a single static long shot (by lamp standards). As an effect, the short was another massive success at SIGGRAPH (according to sole animator John Lasseter, viewers cheered at every beat of the story), but it also holds up remarkably well in terms of appearance and entertainment factor—it’s still one of the most enjoyable Pixar shorts to watch.
#8: One Man Band
Mark Andrews, Andrew Jimenez; 2006
One Man Band features the usual Pixar short simplicity (with its straightforward man vs. man competitive conflict) and pairs it with creative grandiose (with its bombastic Michael Giacchino score and lavish character/machine designs). Easy to follow yet almost overwhelming to watch, One Man Band earns its rank for being one of the funniest and most entertaining Pixar shorts.
#7: Partly Cloudy
Peter Sohn, 2009
While it is remarkably creative and beautifully animated, Partly Cloudy’s strongest suit is just how endearing and touching it is. The story of a friend who’s there till the end is exceptionally heartwarming in this short, even by Pixar standards. Also, notice what happens at the end: even after obtaining means that will make it easier for the Stork to stick by the Cloud (a football helmet and pads, specifically), these means don’t even protect him from the next animal he receives (an electric eel). And yet, he still stands by his friend because that’s what he’s made the effort to do. Absolutely beautiful.
Domee Shi, 2018
Bao is essentially Pinocchio with a dumpling in place of a marionette, but it’s just as touching. There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love (from both the perspective of the child and the mother), and as all little dumplings grow, we must learn to adapt. There’s that point where every parent wishes they could just gobble up their child to keep in their stomach—away from all harm and locked away for them to love—but in the end, that’s not the way life is. But the good news is that learning to accept reality is a good thing.
#5: Geri’s Game
Jan Pinkava, 1997
After an eight-year hiatus from theatrical shorts, along came Geri’s Game, which was shown before theatrical exhibitions of A Bug’s Life. By this point, with two features under their belt, it was no longer Pixar’s goal with shorts to showcase the lengths of computer animation, but to simply tell a good story. The story of Geri’s Game is remarkably simple itself—it’s nothing more than an old man playing chess with himself (in an albeit funny way). The concept doesn’t even warrant animation—it could be told just as effectively as a live-action short! Therefore, Pixar exercises once again with Geri’s Game their brand of simplicity, but on a completely new level—one where the viewer can ignore the brilliance in animation completely.
Doug Sweetland, 2008
Pixar achieves Tom & Jerry-like brilliance with the slapstick gags of Presto. The concept here is, once again, conventional, but the creative treatment only produceable by Pixar, makes for a charmingly original and exciting short. Not to mention, with its old vaudeville stylings, Presto features some of the greatest production design ever seen in a Pixar short.
James Ford Murphy, 2015
In a world where Pixar was losing its touch, along came Inside Out, another glimmer of hope from the studio. With it came one of Pixar’s most touching and heartwarming shorts—Lava. Perhaps it’s the automatic romanticism demanded by the medium or perhaps its limitless potential for action and creativity, but there’s something about animation that makes love stories work so well. Lava, even with its brevity and simplicity, is undoubtedly one of the greatest.
Bud Luckey, 2004
Bud Luckey was a bit of an unsung hero at Pixar. The veteran animator served as a master character designer for the studio (whose work includes Toy Story’s Woody) and even voiced characters in The Incredibles and Toy Story 3. But probably his greatest legacy is Boundin’, his auteristic short about learning to accept yourself. With its heartwarming theme, splendid animation, ironic simplicity, and charming rhymes, Boundin’ is like a cross between a Dr. Seuss book and a Silly Symphony cartoon. And with that, it stands out as one of the greatest Pixar shorts ever made—one whose integrity matches that seen in the studio’s features.
#1: Day & Night
Teddy Newton, 2010
Day & Night is not only one of Pixar’s most staggeringly creative shorts, but it is also the most poignant. Try new things. Appreciate what others’ have to offer. Learn to live together. Don’t listen to me—just let Day & Night speak for itself.
So, what do you think of my list? Do you agree? Let me know in a comment or email! Thanks for reading. Be sure to check back often for more fun articles like this one.