It’s a Wednesday so it must be time for another short film review. The beauty of a Pixar short is usually its simplicity and believe me, it doesn’t get simpler than Ralph Eggleston’s For the Birds.
The film with a Toy Story-esque sky (that never changes) and telephone wires passing by, as if the camera is in a car. Eventually we stop just as one tiny bird lands on a wire. It’s soon joined by another little fluff and they have a little tiff about space. Then another one arrives, more arguing, then another, and another, until there is a squabbling mess of little birds on the telephone wire. The another bird arrives standing on the wooden pole – a big, dumb, but really friendly bird. The little birds move to the centre of the wire away from him and then start making fun. He doesn’t notice and joins his new friends. Unfortunately, he’s so big that he causes a major dip in the wire and the little birds end up bundled up close to him. One hits him and the big bird ends up upside down, clinging on by his toes. The closest little birds set about trying to make him fall and the others chant along. Oblivious, the big bird chants too (because he just wants to be friends). The big bird loses grip, toe by toe, and then one of the little birds finally spots a problem. If a pulled down wire suddenly has the tension released…. But it’s too late. Big bird falls and the wire flings the little birds into the air like tiny feathered rockets. They drop to the ground next to the big bird, completely devoid of feathered, and he finally gets to laugh at them.
Everything about this film is simple. Like, when I say it’s a Toy Story-esqu background, what I mean is that I’m pretty sure that they just re-used a background from Andy’s bedroom. As with all the best short films, there’s no dialogue. The little birds squeak like dog toys while the big bird sounds like a kazoo, but it’s really the cartoon-level expression of the birds that tells the audience how to feel. It doesn’t have the same level of detail of some of the other shorts but that works well with For the Birds.
As always, I’ve paid attention to act structure. I can’t help it, it’s my obsession. The three minute film is neatly divided – tiny bird’s arrival is the set-up, them moving away from the big bird is the inciting incident, and the climax is quite clearly the little birds being flung into the stratosphere. Simple but effective, like any good short. It also amuses me greatly that the rising action segment of the plot revolves around the descent of the wire from the big bird’s weight (and then a very sudden ascent for the climax). You know what they say, what goes down must go flying into the air, right?
For the Birds was the short that accompanied Monsters Inc (2001) but, unlike Piper (2016), I don’t feel like it shares much in animation style with the feature length film. The birds are very cartoon-y, with over-large eyes and dog-toy chirps, compared to the detailed animation and witty dialogue of Monsters Inc. Theme-wise though, there are some similarities when you look at the treatment of the other. The little birds see the big bird as different from them and thus use him as a source of fun. The relationship between the monsters and the children could also be seen as exploitative. The children, feared by monsters, are used for their screams as a source of power. In both scenarios, the situation is flipped by the end of the film – the big bird gets to laugh at the little birds and the monsters start making children laugh.
I don’t know if For the Birds can be counted as one of my favourite Pixar shorts but that is simply because they have so many good ones. It is a quick and funny short that takes the negative treatment of the other and offers an amusing punishment to the perpetrators. Short, cute, and simple.