A Year in Shorts Day 258: "Lou"
Pixar is famous for assigning rich emotional lives to things typically not known for having them. Toys. Fish. A lamp. Emotions themselves. Old people. It’s sort of their thing. And today’s short might be one of the more bizarre instances of this. So let’s look at Dave Mullins' 2017 short Lou, in which Pixar asks a very important question- What if a lost and found box had feelings? The answer may surprise you!
We've covered a few Pixar shorts which were better than the feature films they accompanied. But I have no idea if that's the case with Lou, as I haven't seen Cars 3, which it played before. I have not, in fact, seen either of the Cars sequels, nor do I feel any need to. Neither of them received an Oscar nomination, and as such seeing them does nothing to further this blog's futile quest. I very rarely feel any great regrets about this, although occasionally I do feel left out when people share their Pixar rankings. Which reminds me, I need to see Luca... but that's neither here nor there. Lou tells the story of Lou (surprise surprise), a sentient Lost and Found box made up of all the lost and found items contained within him, and J.J., a bully who likes to steal things from his fellow children. Their paths collide one day as Lou decides to take action by stealing J.J.'s backpack and trying to teach him a lesson. Which honestly sounds like something that might severely traumatize a child, but as this is a Pixar short instead of a feature, J.J. just learns an important lesson about friendship instead of being driven insane like Sid was.
As far as Pixar shorts go, Lou is a pretty damn good one, which means it's better than most animated shorts you'll find. It has a lot of the usual staples you've come to expect from Pixar by now- Photorealistic backgrounds mixed with cartoony character animation, wacky physical comedy, mismatched buddies learning to appreciate one another and a finale that tugs at the old heart strings. The thing which sets Lou apart the most is the titular character, who serves as a testament to the animators' skill. Not only does he once again perfectly demonstrate Pixar's ability to bring inanimate objects to life (even if the baseballs for eyes might be cheating somewhat), he also serves as a great showcase for their technical skill. Much like the deadly Portuguese Man-o-War, Lou is not a single organism, but a collection of individuals working together. And much like the Man-o-War, it is really a mildly terrifying wonder to behold. The middle section of the short is a particularly brilliant bit of physical comedy, as the animators get to flex their skill and creativity with the various configurations they manage to come up with for Lou and J.J.'s battle. That, combined with a lovely score by Christophe Beck (currently no doubt enjoying his Emmy nomination for WandaVision), sets this short a bit above the rest of the pack in terms of craft.
But as always with Pixar, it's the storytelling that really gets you. And while Lou might contain their BEST story, it's a good one, and it does some fairly complex stuff for a kid's film. For one thing, it's all done with no real dialogue, which you all know I'm a fan of. But more than that, I do have to give credit for creating a surprisingly rich arc for J.J. Sure, the bully who bullies others because he was once bullied is not exactly an original character, but the short pulls it off very well. In addition to that, Lou manages to get in a pretty satisfactory redemption arc, which (as anyone who sat through The Rise of Skywalker can attest to) is not the easiest thing to get right. And of course, it has the trademark Pixar bittersweet ending to tie it all together. It might not be a tearjerker, but it's nevertheless affecting. And that pretty much sums up the film to a T; it might not rank amongst Pixar's best, but it's clever and it's got plenty of heart. Sure, that might not be all there is to making a great short. But it's certainly more than enough to make a good one. And it absolutely should have been enough to beat Dear Basketball!
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"Lou" is available to watch on Disney +
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