Everyone knows Pixar. With the probable exception of the Mouse House’s own animation branch, Pixar is near enough the biggest animation studio in the world. From Toy Story all the way back in 1995 to the imminent arrival of this year’s Luca, it’s safe to say Pixar have given the world a great wealth of incredible movies. Sure, not every single one is a winner and we’re all going to disagree on which is the best of the bunch, but we all know the level of quality to expect when we sit down in the cinema and see that Lamp come bouncing onto the screen.
Outside of the main movies though, a lot of Pixar’s work doesn’t seem to get as much recognition as it probably deserves. There’ve been some ongoing series like the Cars Toons and Toy Story Toons (which I’m ashamed to say I’ve seen none of considering I consider the Toy Story quadrilogy to be basically perfect). There’ve also been shorts directly related to the movies themselves which are often released on home media as bonus features, such as Jack-Jack Attack and Your Friend the Rat from The Incredibles and Ratatouille, respectively.
The Pixar shorts we’re all probably most familiar with, though, are the ones that often appear on the big screen just before the films themselves. Famous examples include Geri’s Game, in which an elderly toy cleaner plays Chess with himself and fakes a heart attack, and For the Birds in which a group of small blue birds attempt to bully and shun a larger bird just because he is different from them (both of which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film!). Some of these shorts really do leave a lasting impression, others prove to be a fine way to spend a few minutes which are then quickly forgotten once the movie itself starts. While many of these have been nominated for the aforementioned Academy Award, only a handful have won.
In fact, a cursory look suggests that it’s far more out of the norm when one of these shorts doesn’t even receive a nomination in the Best Animated Short Film category. Only two of these shorts that have been produced since the studio first hit big with Toy Story haven’t been nominated, and I would say they are actually two of the best ones – 2013’s The Blue Umbrella, which was ostensibly a love story between 2 umbrellas, and the short I want to talk about today, 2014’s Lava.
Lava was the short that played before Inside Out (which itself is one of the best Pixar movies in this writer’s eyes), and tells the tale of a volcano named Uku who spends millenia watching the wildlife around him frolic in their couples and longs to someday have a partner of his own. He sings a song detailing this wish each day before slowly over the many years becoming almost extinct. In his final days, a female volcano named Lele emerges from the ocean, having heard his song every day for thousands of years and fallen in love with him. Unfortunately, Uku’s mouth is now below sea level, and Lele has emerged facing away from him and so she has no idea he was ever truly there. Uku sinks fully into the ocean with his heart broken, until one day he hears Lele singing his song. Uku’s fire becomes reignited prompting him to erupt back to the surface right next to Lele, and they spend the rest of their lives together.
If you’ve not seen Lava, you really ought to. It’s less than 6 minutes long and is available on Disney+ or on Youtube (probably even included in this article somewhere). It’s an incredibly simple premise – a lonely volcano is looking for love – and yet within its brief runtime it does an incredible job of not just selling these two characters, but truly making you feel for them. In fact, you can become more attached to these characters within its miniscule runtime than you do in a great number of full length movies!
Each volcano has a face that shows genuine emotion, aided spectacularly by the beautiful animation on display that could be the best Pixar have managed to show on screen thus far. The vocals for both volcanoes, as well as the narrator, all do a stellar job of conveying the emotions and hope that the song beams with. While the story may be simple, it’s amazing how quickly you feel for Uku as he hopes and wishes for love, and how heartbroken you feel alongside him as he believes he’s missed his chance. In less than 6 minutes, you’ve felt hope, heartbreak and then pure unadulterated bliss alongside him in a short that effectively takes place over many millennia. To this day, I still tear up whenever I watch it.
It’s incredible that, of all the many Pixar shorts made since 1995, this is one of 2 that wasn’t even nominated in the Best Animated Short Film category – it’s madness, even! There’s no question that this is potentially the best short that Pixar’s name is attached to. For this writer, there’s not even a question that Lava is one of the best things that Pixar have EVER produced, including their many full length feature films. And yet, it’s rarely ever mentioned.
Is it because people don’t remember it existed? Surely not, the official youtube clip has racked up over 200 million views since it was uploaded 6 years ago. No, it seems more likely that purely by virtue of being a short instead of a full-length movie, it is often overlooked when discussing the best of Pixar’s work. Perhaps being attached to a movie as good as Inside Out detracted from it’s staying power a little upon its release? There’s no real way of knowing. The only thing that’s certain is that Lava is brilliant, one of the best animated shorts that’s ever been made, and it deserves to be spoken of and far more renowned than it seems to be a mere 7 years after it’s release. Watch it today, and why not tell a friend to do the same?