By this point it’s well known that all new Pixar films are accompanied in the theater by a Pixar short. Over the years, these shorts, ten of which have been nominated for Oscars, have become as much a part of the Pixar experience as the feature films. This year, Pixar attached a short entitled The Blue Umbrella to its release of Monsters University.
In some ways it’s difficult to review a film that only lasts six minutes. There’s not always a lot to sink your teeth into, and the story is often just a basic idea. The Blue Umbrella opens on a busy city street as people hurry about their business. But the people aren’t the focus so much as the street itself. Rain begins to fall and street comes to life with joy at the feeling of the rain. Everything we see seems to smile, from the mailbox to the storm drains to the gutters, with hints of faces to be found everywhere we look.
Of course, with rain comes umbrellas, and a sea of black domes erupt over the pedestrians, looking very formal and professional, except for one shiny blue umbrella who is overjoyed with the weather. It revels in the rain, the gutters and awnings go to extra lengths to splash it with water, and the windows look down on it in pleasure. While waiting for the crosswalk, it finds itself next to a pretty red umbrella, and the story becomes a romance. A gust of wind turns the blue umbrella inside out, much to its embarrassment, but they smile at each other. As their owners turn apart, the blue umbrella fights to stay together, eventually riding a gust of wind out of the hands of its human. It soars, watching for the red umbrella, free for the first time, yet at the mercy of the environment.
The Blue Umbrella is a pretty and sweet little film, showing off some impressive new rendering technologies from Pixar that make the wet surfaces shine in a way that looks entirely real. They’ve come a long way to replicating the filming techniques used in live action, and it’s a great showcase for what’s possible. However, The Blue Umbrella doesn’t feel as important or memorable as some of Pixar’s other shorts. It lacks the gorgeous aesthetic of La Luna, it’s not as flat-out funny as Presto or Lifted, it’s not as profound as Day & Night and it’s not as clever as Geri’s Game, Boundin’, or For the Birds.
But it its pretty and sweet, and I mean both of those as compliments. As the blue umbrella floats along trying to find the red umbrella, it ends up dodging traffic, and the objects in the street attempt to help it along. A subway grate sends it a gust of air, a traffic sign falls over to knock it out of harm’s way, and the sequence brought a quote from Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” to my mind. “And when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you realize your desire.” (In Portuguese: “E quando você quer alguma coisa, todo o Universo conspira para que você realize seu desejo.”) If The Blue Umbrella is about anything, it’s about the joy we can take in seeing someone else’s joy. We live in a cynical world where people enjoy seeing others fail, so the thought that we could take joy in their successes is refreshing.
And The Blue Umbrella really is pretty. As with most Pixar shorts, it has no dialogue, but instead features a breathy, jazzy song that has been stuck in my head for a week and a half, in the best way possible. It may not be the most clever, profound or funny short that Pixar has ever produced, but it’s not trying to be either. It’s six minutes that will make you smile, and it’s free with admission. You can’t ask for more than that.