It’s been nearly 20 years since Pixar released “Toy Story.” Every feature from the studio has had three things in common. The first is quality. All have been good (yes, even “Cars”), and many have been phenomenally good. The second is the most charming closing-credit category in screen history: production babies. Finally, every Pixar feature has arrived accompanied by a Pixar short.
The one problem with Pixar features being so consistently good is that people overlook the consistent goodness of Pixar shorts. The latest is “The Blue Umbrella,” which arrived Friday with its big animated brother “Monsters University.”
It’s a rainy evening rush hour in the big city. So every pedestrian carries an umbrella. More to the point, everything in the city is alive. The eyes have it, you might say. Storm drains, gutters, mailboxes, and, of course, umbrellas all have them. It’s people whose faces we can’t see (under all those umbrellas). The humans may be ambulatory, but they’re the ones who don’t seem animate.
This is a neat reversal of the standard order of things. There’s a sequence involving the title item crossing a dangerously busy street that’s hectic and a bit overwrought compared to what precedes and follows it. Otherwise, everything is carried off with the elegance and simplicity one has come to expect of Pixar.
There are certain obvious influences — “The Red Balloon,” “Stomp” — but their presence serves to underscore the overall originality of conception and execution. The small but not insignificant history of bumbershoots onscreen — the assassination attempt in “Foreign Correspondent,” the title number in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Mary Poppins’s means of aerial transport, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” come to mind — has added a lovable little chapter.