In the 1980s and 1990s, before Pixar released Toy Story, the studio was known for producing animated shorts and commercials that led to the popularity of computer animation. The reason why shorts and ads were the preferred space for Pixar was that the animation was cutting edge at the time and many of the short projects were produced as experiments to push the technology forward. Animated shorts put Pixar on the map.
When Toy Story was released in 1995, it stood on its own, with no short playing before it. That is something that may go overlooked now, though, as audiences have come to expect a creative new Pixar short before each of the studio’s films. When A Bug’s Life made its way into theaters, it was preceded by the short Geri’s Game, a short that featured a senior citizen playing chess. That short started a tradition that has mostly continued to this day.
Since Geri’s Game, there has only been one Pixar film not preceded by a short from the studio – that was Coco, which played with Disney’s holiday special Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Even the Finding Nemo 3D re-release played with Partysaurus Rex, a Toy Story short. Actually, some of Pixar’s shorts have played in front of other Disney films – Small Fry accompanied The Muppets and Party Central was attached to Muppets: Most Wanted. Pixar inspired Disney Animation to produce its own animated shorts to play before its films. The last Pixar short released in theaters was Bao, which went on to win the Best Animated Short award at the Oscars last year, becoming the fourth Oscar-winging Pixar short. Pixar shorts have a reputation.
It is legitimately surprising, then, that there will be no Pixar short (or any short/special for that matter) playing with Toy Story 4, when it debuts in theaters next week. Slate confirmed with Disney that “Toy Story 4 will break with tradition by going without an animated short…”. Usually, at least a few weeks before the release of a Pixar film, we have some information, an image, or a tease of the short that will play ahead of it. When that didn’t happen this year, it seemed something was different. I wonder if a short was in production but just couldn’t meet the deadlines – that’s pure speculation, as I don’t know anything.
It is important to point out that Pixar has actually released several shorts already this year, through its SparkShorts program. Three shorts made their public debut on YouTube – they were hailed as experimental and shined a spotlight on diversity within its stories and class of filmmakers. I would doubt that SparkShorts is becoming the only avenue for Pixar to produce shorts.
So what does the case of the missing short mean? It is difficult to know whether there are any implications or signs of change from this decision. Could this be the end of Pixar shorts in theaters? Again, I would hesitate to make that assumption. We won’t know for sure until a few years from now, when we step back and look at Pixar’s 2020 and 2021 releases.
Although the SparkShorts program has been wonderful thusfar and I believe is an incredibly important initiative from the studio, its home will be Disney+, the upcoming streaming service – those shorts will play on your TVs, smartphones, and tablets. Seeing Pixar work its magic on the big screen is an entirely different experience and we would be missing out on some of that magic if Pixar shorts no longer play in theaters. Let’s be mindful, though, that we have no idea what Pixar has in store for us these next few years. For now, simply sit back and enjoy the brilliance that will be Toy Story 4.