New 3D Pixar Short: Exclusive Image and Preview!

What's the word on the animated short being attached to Bolt?

by | December 9, 2008 | Comments

Do you need a reason to go see
Bolt
? How about this:
starting Friday, 3D Bolt showings will be preceded by a 3D animated short
called Tokyo Mater, based on Pixar’s 2006 hit
Cars
. This may not sound
like much if you were already hesitant about watching a talking dog movie, but
for some, this is very intriguing; it’s the latest step towards revitalizing my
favorite mutation of cinema: the animated short.


But first, let’s tinker with Tokyo Mater. As part of the vocal minority
that didn’t think much of Cars (fans of it, hold the flames), the idea of
watching a short based on my least favorite Pixar movie starring the movie’s
most grating character, Tow Mater, was less than exhilarating. Fortunately, the
short focuses on crisp, frenzied action — arguably the best strength of the
original feature.

Directed by Pixar founder and Chief Creative Officer of Disney animation John
Lasseter, Tokyo Mater is the fourth in a series of Cars shorts
(the previous three premiered on Toon Disney late October). It’s a fanciful tale
of how Tow Mater, voiced again by Larry the Cable Guy, after towing a stranded
car to Japan gets challenged to a race and becomes the drifting king of Tokyo.

Owen Wilson and the late Paul Newman (who voiced Lightning McQueen and Doc
Hudson) have been replaced with
sound-alike actors, though the vocal differences are rather miniscule. We’ve
seen Pixar’s writing evolve and become thematically heavy in recent years, and I
feel like they’ve been using their shorts to explore more accessible, pop
culture-centric humor. Most of the jokes in Tokyo Mater are gentle
ribbings of Japanese culture: getting modified, mingling with uber-cheerful auto
girls, some martial arts, and the appearance of ninja cars. With the 3D glasses
on, Tokyo Mater is a visually sumptuous trip, kind of a mix between the
Axiom marketplace in WALL-E
and any given scene from
Speed Racer
. The
city’s electronic billboards and the hot, hazy glow of Tokyo Tower (climatic
centerpiece of the short) stand out especially.

So is it possible for Pixar to make a bad animated short? Probably not. Not as
long as Lasseter is around. When I

talked to Lasseter about his favorite movies
, he had a unique request: that
he include an animated short for each selection. And not because he wanted to
show off, or because he saw an opportunity to promote Disney animation’s new
promise of adding shorts to the front of their features. More because Lasseter
sees movies specifically. They need heart, for example. They need humor. Movies
need to be seen in theaters. And, to sweeten the deal, they all need an opening
act.

Lasseter chose five Chuck Jones shorts. They star Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer
Fudd, Roadrunner, and Wile E. Coyote, characters you wouldn’t see roaming around
the Disney lot. This didn’t surprise me. His vote for Warner Bros. toons felt
reasonable. Watching those five cartoons, I realized why: Disney’s shorts may
have been saturated with bright color, cute animals, and fluid motion, but the
Warner Bros’ directors knew how to tell a joke. Most of the Looney Tunes had
backgrounds like Krazy Katscapes, with characters whose movements were
sharp, economic; WB boiled their animation down to essentials, all the less to
distract from the visual kapow of Elmer Fudd shooting Daffy Duck in the head
with a shotgun.

I think Lasseter thinks about cartooning the same way Chuck Jones did: it’s not
looking cute and bright, it’s more like convincing an audience of the
impossible: that ducks can survive buckshots, elephants can fly and toys can
talk, or that four stupid boys from South Park, Colorado can beat back the
devil. That’s probably why I’m particularly fond of the animated short — I like
the challenge of watching a cartoonist do all of that in under 12 minutes. And
if such a trend is revived, it’ll be fun to see them on a very big screen, and
not just in front of Pixar movies.

Have you heard of Disney’s The Little Matchgirl? It was a cel-animated
short originally intended as part of Fantasia 2006 and, after that
project got shelved, has since found a home as a Little Mermaid DVD extra and
online in the swampy
lo-res land of YouTube. Check it out — The Little Matchgirl is solid
evidence that interesting 2D animation can still be produced by major American
studios. And how great would it have been to see it in theatres as intended,
matched up perhaps with a Miyazaki movie? I’m hoping this reserved spot for
animated shorts will become a platform for new talents to emerge and veterans to
work their experimental muscles (Matchgirl, for example, was from
Lion King
director
Roger Allers). So, Mr. Lasseter, if you’re reading this: your new cartoon,
Tokyo Mater
, I liked. I didn’t love it. But I do love what it all could
spell for animation.

Check out the 3D Tokyo Mater short along with the Certified Fresh
Bolt
, starting this
Friday.

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