Pixar Studios first burst onto the scene back in 1995 with Toy Story, and since that time, has been the gold-standard in animation. One of the studio’s defining characteristics, alongside stunning animation and imaginative storytelling, is the inclusion of animated shorts before each of their feature films. If you’ve seen any Pixar film in theaters, you know it is essential to get there early, or else risk missing something spectacular. If it can be said Marvel owns the post-credit sequence, Pixar Studios surely own the space before the opening credits.
As we go through this list, there will surely be shorts you remember well and some that have slipped from memory over the years, but each are more than worth your time. Here is every Pixar short ranked from worst to best.
18. The Adventures of Andre & Wally B. (1984)
Listen, some of the shorts listed toward the top of this list will suffer simply because of their age. As we know, father time is undefeated and so this, the first Pixar short ever released, looks pretty rudimentary by comparison. Even the story is pretty basic in construct, taking a kind of Tom & Jerry approach to the relationship between Wally B., a bee and Andre, a, well, a something. It might seem redundant to say, but this is truly short and is over before you know it, which might be for the better.
17. Lou (2017)
On the other side of the coin from something like The Adventures Of Andre and Wally B. is Lou, a beautifully designed animation with little to offer narratively. Lou is the story of a sentient lost and found collection at an elementary school who helps the schoolyard by taking the recess bully down a peg and teaching him kindness. It lands well enough, but this kind of facile moral victory pales in comparison to some of Pixar’s more accomplished shorts.
16. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015)
As we all know by now, the power of superheroes is undeniable. Sanjay’s Super Team takes a nostalgic approach to this idea, telling the story of a superhero-obsessed boy named Sanjay who imagines the Hindu Gods him and his father worship as heroic crusaders for justice. This leads us to an extended action sequence — something quite rare for a Pixar short — culminating in a moment of understanding among Sanjay and his father.
15. For The Birds (2000)
For The Birds is a prime example of the animation running far ahead of the story. This mostly humorous story of birds fighting for a spot on a telephone wire with an eye toward excluding the ugly duckling of the group is wonderful to look at, but there’s really not much going on below the surface. Acceptance of others is a theme Pixar has tackled before and since, mostly to better results, leaving For The Birds a lesser short overall.
14. Knick Knack (1989)
There are a few reasons Knick Knack works well but its strongest feature is without a doubt the music, an a capella score bringing to mind a specific form of Tommy Bahama island relaxation. It’s got a charming sheen, to be sure, which almost overshadows some of the more aged narrative points. The hero of this short, a snowman trapped in a souvenir snow globe, wants one thing; to escape and get to the blonde, scantily clad, impossibly skinny woman from the Bahamas souvenir. He’ll do anything to get there, which is where the physical comedy gags begin. The question of whether this dynamic is one that works in today’s social climate is a pertinent one. It’s an especially thorny prospect when you consider this short’s director, and Pixar founder, John Lasseter has since been accused of sexual harassment within the workplace while running Pixar.
13. One Man Band (2005)
This precursor to the first Cars movie finds two street performers locked in a musical battle in hopes of winning the admiration, and money, of a little girl. As you can imagine, things escalate quickly, ultimately ending with neither performer happy. Directed by Mark Andrews, who would go on to direct 2012’s Brave, this short is impressive for its ability to tackle subjects as weighty as artistic competition and how the battle for profit may overcome the desire to truly entertain.
12. Lifted (2006)
Lifted, which premiered before fan favorite Ratatouille, is an example of Pixar playing to both their youngest fans and their chaperoning parents. Lifted starts with a familiar conceit — a man in a farmhouse getting abducted by a strange light shooting into his bedroom as he sleeps — but soon evolves into a left-of-center look at an alien abduction performance evaluation. While there are a fair amount of physical comedy gags here it’s clear much of the more subtle comedy likely went right over the youngest fans’ heads. It’s a tightrope Pixar walks effectively throughout their filmography as well as their shorts, and Lifted is no exception.
11. Boundin’ (2003)
Boundin’ is a true outlier, one of two shorts with original songs and lyrics, significantly shifting the way the story of a dancing sheep and bounding American jackalope is told. With a voice over from the short’s creator and director Bud Luckey — a voice you might recognize as that of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh — Boundin’ is an undeniably catchy tale of self-confidence within a familiar western prairie setting.
10. Presto (2008)
Pixar can do heartfelt emotion as well as anybody but Presto shows they can handle physical comedy just as well. Presto is the story of the titular magician and his sidekick Alec, the rabbit he pulls from his hat every night. When Presto withholds the carrot from his assistant, Alec shows just how much he relies on him to make his tricks work. What ensues is a Tom & Jerry episode’s worth of pain and torment with Presto coming out worse for wear.
9. Lava (2014)
Lava follows the blueprint set out by Boundin’, in that its story is told via an original song, this time written by James Ford Murphy and sung by Kuana Torres Kahele and Nāpua Greig. In what is the longest Pixar short, running 9 minutes, Lava tells the story of a lonely volcano who longs for the companionship he sees other animals around his island experience. It’s only as he descends into the ocean after millions of years that a companion appears, almost too late, to make his dream of love come true. Maybe it’s the lovely Hawaiian inspired song but this short really tugs at the heartstrings, something Pixar has become quite good at over the years.
8. The Blue Umbrella (2013)
Speaking of love stories, add The Blue Umbrella, a delightful little tale of a blue and red umbrella’s courtship, to the list. This one features another original song, though this time there are no lyrics but a whimsical bit of humming from songwriter Sarah Jaffe serving as the adorable, twee backdrop. The Blue Umbrella is notable for its use of photorealistic animation, making for a truly remarkable rendering of a rainy city street.
7. Day & Night (2010)
Day & Night marks one of the biggest swings in Pixar’s history. This short is experimental both in animation, with the blending of 2D and 3D, and narratively, giving us a nuanced and subtle look at two polar opposite characters. Used as a way to explore conflict, prejudice, and racism, Day & Night does not sugarcoat anything. We even get a voice over, playing as a radio broadcast, in which motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer discusses just these heady topics, admonishing the desire to hate based simply on differences. It’s an admirable effort to be sure, even if it can be a little on the nose at times.
6. La Luna (2011)
La Luna is another in a string of examples of future Pixar feature-film directors getting their start in the short sphere. Directed by Enrico Casarosa, who would go on to make 2021’s delightful Luca, La Luna is a simple, elegant, and often beautiful little tale that brings to mind classic stories like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
5. Partly Cloudy (2009)
Storytelling efficiency is essential when making a short film, and Partly Cloudy is an excellent example of Pixar’s skill in this regard. Partly Cloudy tells the story of storks and the clouds that make the babies they deliver to the world. Specifically, we follow a cloud tasked with making some of the more dangerous animals (alligators, sharks, porcupine) and the trials this presents to his stork partner. The animation and character design here are fantastic, allowing the concept to come off without a hitch. Though the same can’t be said for our heroes.
4. Luxo Jr. (1986)
Luxo Jr. is when Pixar shorts truly became Pixar shorts. Even in the early stages of the studio, much of what would come to define Pixar is here: jazzy background music, parent/child relationships, and, of course, that inexplicably adorable desk lamp that would become the Pixar mascot. Notable also is the jump in animation from the studios first short only a few years prior. If Toy Story didn’t prove it, this short announced Pixar was here to stay.
3. Bao (2018)
As we enter the upper echelon of our list, we are met with a particularly timely short. 2018’s Bao is directed by Domee Shi, not only the first woman to direct a Pixar short but the first to direct a feature, the 2022 hit Turning Red. You can see much of the blueprint for Turning Red within Bao; the mother/child relationship, the Toronto setting, and the immigrant experience. Bao would go on to win the Academy Award that year for Best Animated Short and it’s no surprise as to why. This spell-binding story of magical realism is a huge accomplishment even for a storied studio like Pixar.
2. Piper (2016)
2016’s Piper takes the photorealistic animation of The Blue Umbrella and takes it even a step further, making for one of the most astonishingly beautiful creations Pixar ever managed. While Piper’s story of a baby bird leaving the nest is simple enough, you can’t help but be charmed, proving the fact that there is no need to complicate, especially when you can create something as endearing Piper.
1. Geri’s Game (1997)
We arrive at our G.O.A.T., the story of one old man playing two sides of a chess game in an empty park on a beautiful autumn day. If that sounds like it shouldn’t work it’s because it shouldn’t, which is exactly why it perfectly encapsulates Pixar’s overall mission. They have never been a studio to dumb it down, no matter how young their target audience. From the same token, they have similarly been able to find a way to reach the child hidden within even the most cynical of adults. This old man is having a blast with nothing but his imagination, a pair of reading glasses, and a set of false teeth, something we can all aspire to achieve.