D23 2011: ‘La Luna’ Early Review

In all the hustle and bustle of the D23 Expo, Pixar quietly screened La Luna during a panel celebrating 25 years of shorts. For me personally, this was a highlight of the entire expo. The short, directed by Enrico Casarosa, has been playing in animation festivals around the world. It premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June of this year and will make its theatrical debut in front of Pixar’s Brave next summer. Expo goers were lucky to catch this special screening of the film amid some of the studio’s most popular short subjects.

(Note: For the first time, enjoy the beautiful image above in wondrous hi-res)

Pixar’s history with short subjects has traditionally been about the comedy – great characters, slapstick action and visual gags with limited dialogue. There are, of course, the movie spin-off shorts that feature characters from the existing films like Toy Story (“Hawaiian Vacation”), Monsters, Inc (“Mike’s New Car”), The Incredibles (“Jack Jack Attack”) and Wall-E (“Burn-E”). While these extensions of beloved characters and story lines are wonderfully entertaining, it’s the completely original shorts that I get the most excited about. From the Looney Tunes styled antics of “Presto” to the Silly Symphony-esque “Boundin’”, I am always amazed at how much personality, story, and heart the studio manages to concentrate into a roughly 4 minute masterpiece.

La Luna is something a little different. While there is some gentle humor and great characters, this short feels like something new for Pixar. I won’t give away any details of the short because, honestly, there isn’t much to give away (other than the job the characters have set out to do). La Luna isn’t about sight gags or plot twists. It’s a very personal story that’s been beautifully conceptualized and crafted. Casarosa, who previously worked as a story artist on Ratatouille and Up,  said the film was based on his experience growing up under the same roof with his father and grandfather. More than any other Pixar short, La Luna feels like a personal vision. It feels familiar but not derivative. It’s funny but not comedic. It’s heartfelt but not schmaltzy. This type of poetic storytelling is something we don’t get to see much of in American mainstream animation. It’s a visually stunning piece that takes its time and isn’t burdened with a busy story line and visual gags.

Pixar has said they use the shorts program as a way to train up-and-coming talent – grooming artists and directors for the next big step in their career. Whatever the reason, I hope they keep it up. A new Pixar short is almost as much of an event as a new feature from the studio. The shorts program has been a constant reminder that, through all the changes the little studio in Emeryville has seen over the years, their heart is still in the right place when it comes to the art of animation. La Luna is a very quiet, very reserved, very beautiful step forward for the shorts program. I hope we see more of this kind of storytelling from the studio in future shorts and features.

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