clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
The birds of "For the Birds" hope they have a strong finish in this countdown.
The birds of "For the Birds" hope they have a strong finish in this countdown.

Filed under:

All 16 Pixar short films, ranked

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Ever since the release of its second full-length feature, A Bug's Life, Pixar has been packaging its movies with short films that it produces in-house. The company, probably America's foremost animation studio of the moment, got its start in the world of shorts, and won its first Oscar for its 1988 offering "Tin Toy."

Pixar has, of course, gone on to bigger things, but it continues to produce original shorts at the pace of about one per year, in addition to shorts featuring established characters from its feature films. The studio's original shorts have won it three Oscars and eight additional nominations in the animated short category, and they continue to feature some of the studio's freshest, funniest work.

But which one is the best? That's what we're here to determine. We've ranked all 16 of Pixar's original shorts, from its earliest days all the way through the recent "Lava," which is currently airing in theaters before Inside OutHowever, we didn't include films featuring characters from the studio's feature films, both because they have the inherent advantage of being instantly familiar to viewers and because we would be here all day.

On with the rankings.


"Red's Dream" (1987)

Red's Dream

Pixar's third short is one of its most obscure, and for good reason. This tale of a discounted unicycle that wants nothing more than to perform in the circus with a clown is premium-grade nightmare fuel, before it abruptly shifts to perhaps the most depressing thing Pixar has ever produced. Just look at that clown! Look at him! The studio wouldn't figure out how to render vaguely convincing human beings for at least another decade, and the clown in "Red's Dream" is the chief evidence of that fact. Plus, the ending — in which the unicycle retreats to a corner, head hung, dreams shattered — is strange, sad, and utterly unlike the rest of the film.

Image credit: Pixar


"The Adventures of André & Wally B" (1984)

The Adventures of Andre & Wally B

Pixar's very first short film is less a cartoon than a tech demo. In fact, it was produced at a time when the studio was still known as the "Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project," to give you a sense of its early priorities. At a length that doesn't even crest two minutes, the story it tells is necessarily simple and mostly involves a man running away from a bee. It's not very good, and yes, it's hard to see the studio's eventual triumphs even if you squint. But there would be no Buzz and Woody, no Marlin and Dory, no Joy and Sadness without André and Wally B. From small acorns grow mighty oaks.

Image credit: Pixar


"Lava" (2014)


Pixar's most recent short film (shown in theaters with Inside Out) is an oddity in the studio's short filmography. It's one of just two shorts with dialogue (albeit sung dialogue), and it's one of just two shorts that is composed entirely of a song performed by a narrator (who occasionally dips in to sing for the characters on screen). What isn't unusual is that "Lava" is about two inanimate objects falling in love. In this case, it's two volcanoes, and though the short's Hawaiian setting is lovely, everything else about it feels lifted from earlier, better Pixar shorts. It's also disastrously wrong about how volcanoes work, so don't rely on it if you're trying to survive an eruption, kids.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"The Blue Umbrella" (2013)

The Blue Umbrella

More inanimate objects in love, though at least this tale of a blue umbrella searching for his red lady umbrella features a charming musical score that uses the sounds of the rain falling on a crowded cityscape for percussion. Other than that, though, "The Blue Umbrella," which showed in theaters with Monsters University, is a bit of a snore, going on too long and not really finding a second gear, simply because umbrellas lack the expressiveness that Pixar was able to coax from unicycles and desk lamps in its earliest days. Still, the animation is gorgeous and almost photorealistic, so it's worth a watch for that alone.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"Geri's Game" (1997)

Geri's Game

Winner of an Academy Award for best animated short and the only short film Pixar produced in the '90s, "Geri's Game" was the studio's first short to be released with one of its feature films, in this case A Bug's Life. At the time, "Geri's Game" was praised for how well it rendered a human being, something computer animation had struggled with up to that point, and while old man Geri isn't bad by today's standards, Pixar has passed him by thoroughly enough to reveal just how thin this short's story really is. Geri plays chess with himself. His "good guy" side cheats to beat his "bad guy" side. That's about it. The character would later turn up in Toy Story 2.

Image credit: Pixar


"Boundin'" (2003)


Before "Lava's" arrival, "Boundin'" was the only Pixar short with dialogue and, not coincidentally, the only Pixar short that was sung through by a narrator (in this case, director and writer Bud Luckey). "Boundin'" features some nice moments, and it nails the central message of just about every Pixar short that's not about inanimate objects falling in love: Don't be mean to the less fortunate. Originally screened with The Incredibles, it has a story that's charming but very slight, and it hinges on the late arrival of a character who essentially comes out of nowhere. But it's a fun addition to Pixar's lineup of shorts, and it's worth a revisit.

Image credit: Pixar


"Lifted" (2006)


In the mid-2000s, Pixar's shorts took a turn into Looney Tunes land, with three consecutive films that dabble in slapstick and use cartoon logic to slyly undercut the company's well-known humongous heart. "Lifted," the first of the three, is the least wacky, but its tale of what amounts to an alien student driver horribly screwing up his attempts to abduct a sleeping human features some terrific gags. Even better, its ending beautifully undercuts Pixar's "don't be mean" ethos, because the neophyte UFO driver really is just that bad at what he's doing. "Lifted" screened with Ratatouille.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"One Man Band" (2005)

One Man Band

Most Pixar shorts feature a single, central setpiece that escalates and escalates, paying off in a final, climactic gag. "One Man Band" (which screened with Cars) doesn't quite save its best joke for last, but it perfectly builds to that point. As two one-man bands face off against each other for a little girl's shiny gold coin, the competition grows so fierce that the two eventually terrify her, leading her to reveal her own hidden musical talents. Fittingly, "One Man Band" features one of the best musical scores of any of Pixar's shorts, with some enjoyable "oom-pah" sounds from one of the two "bands."

Image credit: Pixar


"Knick Knack" (1989)

Knick Knack

Pixar followed up its first Oscar-winning short (which we'll get to in a second) with this ode to the weird little decorations that line the shelves of so many homes in this great nation. Having realized that computer animation's true strength was in bringing the artificial sheen of plastic to life, Pixar turns "Knick Knack" into an amusingly gag-filled take on a snow globe-dwelling snowman's desire to join the attractive female knickknack across the way. Just compare the similarly despairing ending of this one to the misfire ending of "Red's Dream" to see how far the studio had come in understanding how to manage tone. Plus, the Bobby McFerrin score is a keeper. Pixar eventually resurrected this short to pair it with Finding Nemo in 2003.

Image credit: Pixar


"Tin Toy" (1988)

Tin Toy

Director John Lasseter, long the man behind Pixar's artistic successes, would win his only competitive Oscar for directing this short. "Tin Toy" has the same "creepy human" problem as "Red's Dream," because of its horrifyingly plasticine baby, but the tin toy itself is a fun little character, and the studio's success in animating his shiny surfaces on a computer surely pointed the way toward its first feature, Toy Story, which would be released seven years later. What's best about "Tin Toy" is how many reversals it packs into its short running time, as the toy's relationship to the (again, meant to be human) baby twists and turns over and over again. Plus, some of the short's best gags would appear in Toy Story almost beat for beat.

Image credit: Pixar


"Day & Night" (2010)

Day & Night

These top six are all classic animated shorts, inventive and ambitious in equal measure. Of them, "Day & Night" — which screened before Toy Story 3 is by far the most visually audacious. It blends traditional, hand-drawn animation with computer animation to create two personifications of day and night that feature within their silhouettes images of the world as it looks when either the sun or the moon is in the sky. The ending is a bit preachy, and I could do without Night's cartoon wolf eyes when he sees a bikini-clad lady. But the overall effect is like nothing else in the Pixar canon.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"Luxo Jr." (1986)

Luxo Jr.

Viewers who went to see Toy Story 2 in 1999 were greeted by a rather curious sight in this 13-year-old short, only the second one Pixar ever made and still one of its best. Lasseter's first directing credit for the studio, "Luxo Jr." actually makes you care about the relationship between a big desk lamp and a smaller one, which is presumably its offspring. The short would score the company's first Oscar nomination, and it would land everyone involved some work on Sesame Street, for which Pixar produced additional segments featuring the lamps. Luxo Jr. lives on today as part of Pixar's logo.

Image credit: Pixar


"La Luna" (2011)

La Luna

"La Luna" screened with 2012's Scottish fairy tale Brave, and the pairing might boast the greatest overall beauty of any short/feature combination in the Pixar canon. "La Luna's" story is more impressionistic than straightforward, capturing a young boy's night out with his father and grandfather as the two men take the boy out to clean up the shooting stars cluttering the surface of the moon. But it's so heart-stoppingly gorgeous (and features such a terrific score by longtime Pixar composer Michael Giacchino) that it's hard to notice anything other than the beautiful star showers stars and the warm family relationships at the story's center.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"Partly Cloudy" (2009)

Partly Cloudy

The third and final entry in Pixar's loose Looney Tunes trilogy, "Partly Cloudy" features one inspired idea after another. The first is to depict the behind-the-scenes workings of Big Stork, the baby delivery service that has been featured in folklore (and cartoons!) for ages. The second is to suggest that those storks are working with clouds, who create cute, fluffy little babies to send down to Earth. And the third is to center the story on the relationship between the cloud who has to make the less cuddly babies and the stork who has to carry them. The short mixes terrific gags with Pixar heart, and it results in a wonderful, inventive time. It screened with the similarly sky-bound Up.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


"For the Birds" (2000)

For the Birds

"For the Birds" has but one joke (a bunch of little birds don't like a big one), but the short explores every single permutation of that joke before it exhausts its running time. What's more, it's perhaps the purest distillation of Pixar short karma: If you're mean to the less fortunate, "For the Birds" argues, you can expect that to come back on you tenfold. It's also the perfect argument for why most Pixar shorts don't feature dialogue. The sound effects created for the birds are so much funnier than any dialogue-driven performance might be. This short was the last Pixar short to win an Oscar, and it screened before Monsters Inc. If you keep an eye out while viewing the studio's recent feature film Inside Out, you can spot the birds sitting on a power line while Riley and her family drive to San Francisco.

Image credit: Pixar


"Presto" (2008)


"Presto," which screened with Wall-E, has everything. It's got the best jokes of any Pixar short. It has the most immediately entertaining characters. It has the best (and funniest) summation of the "don't be mean" idea. And it has an almost perfectly executed version of the "one set piece that builds and builds and builds" structure. As the middle installment in the Pixar Looney Tunes trilogy, "Presto" best captures the manic, anything-for-a-laugh energy of those Warner Bros. cartoons, and its magician's rabbit looks more than a little like Bugs Bunny. But its greatest asset is that pair of magic hats, which function as a portal. That's a vintage Pixar idea, and "Presto" finds every single joke it holds. This is as good as Pixar shorts get.

Image credit: Disney/Pixar


How millennials learned to dread motherhood


Netflix’s Squid Game reality show is kinda great. Oh no.


The truth about Napoleon and Josephine’s marriage, divorce, and lasting legacy

View all stories in Culture