My Thoughts on ‘Pixar Popcorn’

Pixar Popcorn premiered on Disney+ today, and… oh boy. I’m just gonna be honest here, folks…

First off, I’m not going to touch on any of the non-Toy Story episodes, because that’s not my blog’s focus. I did watch them all, and thought some of them were better than others (most notably, the Incredibles ones), but I’m going to stick with what I’m most familiar with.

Let’s start with the length. I knew these shorts were going to be “bite-sized” – that’s how they were described when they were first announced, which implied they’d be brief. However, when I turned on Disney+ this morning and saw they were only a minute long, I was floored. What can you do in a minute? I was expecting at least two minutes each, like the Forky Asks A Question episodes. Some were listed as longer, but they all felt equally quick.

To be fair, I know Pixar was working with a lot of constraints for this series. From what I understand, Pixar Popcorn was made entirely during quarantine, with the filmmakers working from home. The animation was gorgeous as usual, in spite of this. And it’s clear that no new dialogue was recorded, so they had to work with what they had from previous recordings. The silence wasn’t an issue to me, though; there is still so much that could have be done without anyone talking.

So let’s dig into what we got…

To Fitness and Beyond

I love Buzz. I love the gang in Bonnie’s room. I wanted so much to love this one, because it’s been a long time since something Toy Story came out that was pure joy for me. But, here we are again, where I’m not quite sure how to process what I just watched, or how to express my feelings about it.

Buzz was adorable in this short, I’ll give it that. When he was sad that nobody was participating in his fitness class, I just wanted to give him a hug – he always has such a good heart. And yeah, it was nice that so many of Bonnie’s toys ended up being visible, when most of them were excluded from the Forky shorts. But that’s where my positive critique ends.

I’m gonna jump right in with my main issue – Jessie. Oh, my poor neglected cowgirl. As my friend said, it was like Pixar realized at the last minute that they forgot her in this short, and just threw her in off to the side at the end. It’s so crazy how someone who used to be such a prominent character – between Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, the Toy Story Toons, and the television specials – has been almost completely cast aside over the past two years. Ever since Toy Story 4, Pixar has seemed to have something against Jessie. Why? Do they want fans to forget she existed, because Bo is the new female face of the franchise? Woody gave her his badge, implying that she’s the new leader – something that even the screenwriter asserted. Jessie was to be the “next generation… leading all the toys forward.” But all we get is tyrannical Dolly, whenever we revisit Bonnie’s room. Jessie isn’t even wearing the badge.

Who did get the spotlight in “To Fitness and Beyond” – besides Buzz, who was the star of the short? Let’s see. Bossy pants Dolly – she already had her moment in a Forky short. Rex – Forky short. Hamm – Forky short. Pricklepants – yep, Forky short. And Forky – well, he got ALL the Forky shorts. The only character to be featured that hadn’t been in a while was Mr. Potato Head, so him, I don’t have a problem with. All of the toys’ solo appearances were completely silent, though, so why couldn’t Pixar have mixed it up a little?

I understand that the prominent toys were clumsy with the athletic activities, where Jessie would be able to keep up with Buzz no problem. But the absolute biggest missed opportunity was that they didn’t have Jessie be the one to turn Buzz’s music back on and get all the toys participating in his workout, after he walked away looking dejected. I have had several friends make this same observation as well. Something as simple as her trying to cheer him up – as his girlfriend (hi, Pixar, remember that? you gave them a whole love story in Toy Story 3, and continued it in Toy Story of Terror) – would have been so sweet, and totally in character. Had they done this – included this one fleeting moment of her showing she cares about him by simply pressing a button, and the two sharing a quick smile – this review would be a complete and total 180. I’m not kidding.

Fluffy Stuff with Ducky & Bunny

My bubble was burst as soon as I realized that there were going to be two Ducky and Bunny shorts compared to one in Bonnie’s room, because I don’t quite understand why these characters have become so much the face of the franchise since Toy Story 4. I have nothing against Key and Peele – I think they’re really funny as comedians – but their characters came off as bullies in the movie. And why give a pair of new characters two shorts just to themselves, when there is a whole room full of old friends that fans would like to spend more time with?

It was mentioned back at the time of Toy Story 4 that Key and Peele had recorded a ton of improv that didn’t make it into the film, so my best guess is that they wanted to find a way to utilize some of this scrapped dialogue, and they made these shorts for that purpose. At first, when I saw the trailer, I thought that Ducky and Bunny talking about Bo’s sheep having three heads might be funny, because I’ve always thought that feature was kind of weird (yet cute). Instead, it just felt like more bullying. And the episode of them fighting over who a kid would love more was just plain annoying.

Ok, so I know some will say, “she’s not really a fan, she’s complaining again” or “that’s just the crazy Jessie fanatic.” But I AM a fan – call me what you will – a huge fan of what Pixar has done with the toys in the past, and what I know they’re capable of doing. So it’s very disappointing when something new comes out that doesn’t live up to that legacy. And it’s not just me. I’ve heard from a LOT of people on social media today who share my opinions, who don’t understand why Jessie is being ignored, who want to see her have the attention she deserves, and who feel like the classic characters deserve so much more, so much better. Every time something new comes out, I try to go into it with optimism, and want to believe that it’ll be great. I don’t want to be disappointed, and fault-finding is never my intention.

I hope that this is just season one of Pixar Popcorn, and that more episodes will come in the future that will bring more balance, or maybe that Forky Asks A Question will see another season. Or do I? Would more shorts only bring more disappointment? Maybe we need some standalone shorts, like the Toons were – something longer than a minute or two would certainly be appreciated. And could we just have the people who animated the Japanese backpack commercial make a short? Because they gave us the best quality Jessie and Buzz content we’ve had in the past two years. I’ll include that here, since I don’t remember if I ever did before (besides social media), since it shows just how simple a moment could make fans happy. Believe me, Buzz having his arm around Jessie in this random little commercial was enough to leave us all elated:

Unless something else unexpected pops up on Disney+ in the next 17 months, we can now look forward to Lightyear as the next new thing for the franchise. I sincerely want to go into that film with an attitude of positivity, believing that it’ll be fantastic – even with the knowledge that it’ll be entirely different than anything we’ve seen before, and won’t reunite us with the toys. I know Pixar can still do amazing things, I have confidence in that. I just hope that they’ll start listening to the fans – far more than just me – who miss seeing the old Toy Story gang interacting, and who want to see Jessie (and Buzz) get some love again. It would bring so much joy, which is something we could all use right now!

Images © Disney/Pixar and Disney+.