Before Pixar fans went to go see A Bug's Life, they got a brief meditation on aging and loneliness. Before they saw Toy Story 3, they got an almost abstract hybrid of 2-D and 3-D animation as two blobs representing "day" and "night" tussled. This is the beauty of the Pixar shorts.
The company has been showcasing the smaller work of its animators alongside its feature films for almost as long as it's been making the latter. In them, the studio has snuck in bits of its company history, wove in threads from its bigger works, and let emerging artists shine. Along the way, it has won some Oscars for these endeavors -- most recently picking up one for the splendid seaside romp Piper in 2017.
While the shorts are often sweetly charming, they shouldn't be written off as fluff. Pixar began more as an experimental animation incubator, testing the medium's limits through short films, and these are still where its creators flex, testing out new technology and strange storylines. Take, for instance, the company's latest: Bao, which screens with Incredibles 2, manages to go to some unsettling places while also generating deep sentiment for an animated dumpling. In honor of Bao's arrival, we've ranked these little masterpieces.
(Note: This list only includes the short films that ran before Pixar's feature films in theaters.)