It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Pixar short (literally months, I think) so here’s a new one: Gary Rydstrom’s Lifted.
Lifted follows a young alien trying to complete his abduction exam and failing miserably. He flicks combinations of switches on the spacecraft control panel but, rather than the smooth ascension of his human target, he causes the sleeping man to crash into walls. And ceilings. And trees… His examiner is unimpressed, especially when the young alien nearly kills his human abductee by dropping him. The examiner steps in, showing impressive skill and multiple arms, setting everything back in order and putting the human back to bed. Our young alien protagonist is sad about his failure but his nice examiner gives him a chance to feel better by handing over the reigns to the space ship. He manages to drop this on the human’s house, leaving a huge crater around the abductee’s bed, before flying off. As the credits roll, there’s an alarm clock and then a scream as the human falls into the crater.
This film is definitely one of those Pixar shorts that weirdly fits with its associated film. The animation of the human and terrestrial surroundings are strongly reminiscent of Ratatouille (though admittedly the alien sequences are probably a bit more Monsters Inc-ish) and certain moments could easily have been taken from the larger film… if, you know, the film had aliens instead of rats… When the unconscious human is being beamed up, he is limp and malleable, very reminiscent of Remy’s control over a sleeping Linguine. Add to that the themes of overcoming failure and Lifted just becomes one of those Pixar shorts that you can tell which film it belongs with.
Lifted has some funny moments where I will admit to snorting with laughter. It’s quite slapstick humour though, mostly created through the human crashing into things or, worse, disappearing into a tree. Pixar has done this before, with the likes of Presto, but unfortunately Lifted just doesn’t have the same pay off. The laughs just don’t blend in well with the wider plot – I didn’t have any sort of connection with the human and so didn’t find his bashing into things overly emotive and the tone was further confused by the sympathy I was presumably supposed to feel for the young alien. It felt like they weren’t sure if they were trying to be funny or heartfelt, instead producing something that didn’t hit any of the big Pixar strengths.
The best thing about a Pixar short is usually the way it handles characters. These are the people who made us fall in love with a desk lamp! And yet, Lifted, with its humanesque characters was a let down in this respect. I should have been able to empathise with the protagonist easily – I too struggle to function when I know I’m being evaluated – but I was left cold. I didn’t care. His face allowed for more expressiveness than many of the other Pixar shorts (Finding Dory‘s Piper being my favourite example) and it used a cartoonish style that we’ve seen work before but… It just didn’t work with Lifted. I was bored for most of it’s short length because there was no emotional connection to the characters.
Overall, Lifted is definitely the most disappointing Pixar short that I’ve reviewed so far. Its conflicted tone and lack of connection to its characters just didn’t work for me at all. This is made even more frustrating by my love of Ratatouille – I love that film but its associated short is such a let down.