Pixar’s new shorts are a quarantine experiment that redefined how the studio works


Pixar Popcorn, a new batch of 10 shorts landing on Disney Plus on January 22, brings back some favorite Pixar characters in bite-sized stories. From the cars of Radiator Springs challenging each other to a parallel-parking contest to the superheroes of the Parr family zipping around the house doing chores, the shorts encompass a wide range of quirky, slice-of-life vignettes set in the worlds of the Toy Story films, the Finding Nemo films, the new Pixar feature Soul, and more. This isn’t Pixar’s first short-film series on the streaming platform, but it is the first created 100% from the animators’ homes.

The idea for the Pixar Popcorn anthology ignited in April 2020, during the first few weeks of quarantine. Executive producer Andy Bell decided to ask all the animators who were between feature films to try their hand at creating shorts from a few Pixar franchises.

Producer Maureen Giblin, who previously worked on Pixar’s short-form Disney Plus series Forky Asks a Question, tells Polygon that the traditional production pipeline had to be rejiggered for the shorts series. Because the animators were all transitioning between projects, they were only available for around two months, give or take, which meant that the entire project had to be expedited — no scripts, storyboards, or other preliminary steps.

“We started directly with animation,” Giblin says.

A hundred animators divided into 10 teams, each led by a different director, and pitched ideas, then immediately started the animation process once a pitch was approved. Because of the time and production constraints, the animators also had to follow specific guidelines.

the cars of cars outside the cozy cone motel Image: Pixar

“They had to use existing characters and sets from our feature films,” explains Giblin. “The characters had to act authentic to how they would in the feature. We couldn’t record new dialogue. They had to think of ideas that can be done within this window of time.”

As a result, most of the 10 shorts are close to dialogue-free, with a few exceptions, and they run from one to three minutes long. The anthology is reminiscent of Disney Animation’s “At Home With Olaf” series, where the popular Frozen snowman engages in wordless micro-adventures.

The biggest hurdle working from home presented wasn’t getting everyone set up with home workstations, or the hastened production, but the transition to meetings over Zoom. There’s a certain brainstorming spark, Giblin says, that is a bit muddled when people have to mute themselves. Zoom can’t quite capture the energy of a good brainstorming session full of riffing, laughing, and group reactions.

“The other thing, too,” she adds, “is that oftentimes, our artists are drawing. While they’re brainstorming, they’re doing little sketches. It’s just hard to share over Zoom.”

Shorts have always been a rich part of Pixar tradition, from the desk-lamp adventure “Luxo Jr.,” which debuted with Toy Story 2, to the experimental SparkShorts films available on Disney Plus. Giblin says short projects often offer animators a chance to try their hand at bigger leadership opportunities. For instance, the directors on Pixar Popcorn’s two Incredibles shorts, Alan Barillaro and Jae Hyung Kim, both worked on the Incredibles films as animators: Barillaro on both, Kim on the sequel. Through the shorts program, they got the opportunity to try their hands at directing. In recent years, some directors of the studio’s popular shorts have transitioned to larger roles, like “Bao”’s Domee Shi, who will make her feature directorial debut with Turning Red in 2022.

buzz lightyear leads a fitness class Image: Pixar

Pixar is set to create more short-form content for Disney Plus, with Cars and Up TV shows, as well as a completely original series, on the way over the next few years. That’s a departure from Pixar’s traditional route of releasing shorts coupled with their features or their home-video releases, but Giblin says these short-form projects fit naturally into the studio’s culture.

“People have a lot of fun on the shorts because it gives them an opportunity to play a bigger role than they may have on a feature,” she says. “This is a chance for them to come up with their own story that they want to tell with these characters.”

Here’s the full list of Pixar Popcorn shorts:

  • “To Fitness and Beyond”: Buzz Lightyear leads an aerobics class for Bonnie’s toys.
  • “Unparalleled Parking”: The Cars crew have a friendly parallel parking competition.
  • “Dory Finding”: Dory is delighted to find some trinkets at the bottom of the ocean.
  • “Soul of the City”: New York City comes to life in the eyes of a minor character from Soul.
  • “Fluffy Stuff with Ducky and Bunny: Love”: Ducky and Bunny from Toy Story 4 compete for kids’ love.
  • “Chore Day – The Incredibles Way”: The Parrs do chores, super-style.
  • “A Day in the Life of the Dead”: Just your average day in the afterlife of Coco.
  • “Fluffy Stuff with Ducky and Bunny: Three Heads”: Bo’s sheep has three heads. What’s up with that?
  • “Dancing with the Cars”: The cars show off their dancing skills.
  • “Cookie Num Num”: It’s midnight-snack time at the Parr residence. So who gets the last cookie?

Pixar Popcorn is now available to stream on Disney Plus.