As with any Pixar film, before its premiere a brand new animated short is shown from the animation studio; this one called “Lava”. As I stated in my “Frozen Fever” review I would be trying to do reviews on animated short movies. Animated shorts are a great art that I think sadly gets overlooked by the general community. Nearly all of those Looney Tunes cartoons people grew up with first appeared in a theater somewhere. So, now that we have the introduction out of the way let’s keep plugging away at this review.
Pixar always has a great short up their sleeve before their movies. I have been meaning to pick up their collection of Animated Shorts on Blu-Ray because there are so many excellent ones that I would love to go and watch through again. “Geri’s Game” “For The Birds” and so many others are just classics onto themselves. That is perhaps why I was so disappointed with “Lava”. This is by far one of their weakest animated shorts and shockingly breaks a huge cardinal rule of storytelling….too much telling not enough showing.
The best thing about this short is by far the gorgeous animation. There are lots of animated shorts out there but this is among the most beautiful. This almost had the look and budget of some of Pixar’s full length animated films. I do also adore the idea behind the short. Pixar has become famous for telling stories about inanimate objects like toys or cars, or even office lamps. A story about a volcano is in their wheel house and presents some interesting narrative options.
The trouble is this is rather the writing of this short. In the short, we have an off screen storyteller singing about the tale of this volcano and how he wants someone to love. Yet he explains every single detail of his feelings instead of leaving anything up to the viewer. Then the same singer starts singing the part of the volcano (whose light and nimble voice doesn’t sync well with this massive looking volcano). So is the storyteller the volcano? Or are they two separate characters? It becomes overbearing to have every single detail of how he is feeling to be explained to us. Animation is a visual media; you don’t have to explain everything little thing. It’s starts to come off as you don’t trust the intelligence of the audience.
Think back one of Pixar’s earliest shorts, “Luxo Jr.” It’s about two lamps and the youngest and smallest one getting into trouble with playing with a ball. No dialogue, there isn’t even any faces on the lamps, but we understand everything that’s going on with the two lamps and how they are feeling. It becomes fun and enjoyable. “Lava” doesn’t need to be exactly like that but it should have cut back on the dialogue and singing. “Luxo Jr.” demonstrates how story you can have without any dialogue.
The singing is fine but even for this short it’s starts to drag on. “Lava” isn’t all that entertaining nor is it interesting. I feel bad critiquing this so much because it’s clear that director James Ford Murphy had a good idea behind the short and there is effort behind it (plus I love all things Pixar). Yet still from the studio that puts out so many great works (both full length and short ones) this really doesn’t make the cut and falls short.