Pixar has long been considered not only one of the greatest studios producing animated films today, but I'd argue one of the greatest studios producing films in general, period. In recent years that reputation has however started to wane due to films such as Cars 2 and Monsters University - films that while I'd argue are not bad are definitely not up to Pixar's usual standards. Last year however Pixar seemed to hit another homerun with Inside Out which was released to much praise and acclaim. Then again yours truly thought the film was merely good, not great, but that's neither here nor there. There was one aspect of my viewing of Inside Out that did floor me however, and that was something that played before the feature film even started.

Alongside their feature films Pixar are also known for producing short films. These shorts are usually tagged onto their feature films and are shown in theaters before the feature presentations, and that was the case once more with Inside Out. Over the years, some of the shorts Pixar has produced have been better than others, but to my tastes Pixar hit a homerun with Lava - the short shown before Inside Out.

Lava is the story of a lonely volcano in the middle of the ocean who wishes he had someone to love. Or well... I don't think I need to spell out for you what the recurring pun in the short is regarding the word "love". The short is narrated entirely through song, which works wonderfully not only in terms of style but also in terms of emotional impact. The soundtrack of the short is very simple - vocals above a ukulele - and with such a simple melody and stripped-down arrangement the short feels a whole lot more intimate. Through his singing the main protagonist aka the volcano also comes across as far more sympathetic and fragile than if the soundtrack were epic and grandiose instead.

This is one thing Pixar has always excelled at, which is creating a deep emotional connection between their characters and their audience, whether the characters be toys, bugs, fish, or even monsters. Despite being in the business of making family films that are aimed at children first and foremost, Pixar's stories and characters are still ones adults can relate to the point of breaking down in tears when something emotional happens. A perfect example of this is the opening of Up which in a matter of minutes manages to convey a love story so touching and heartbreaking that people still talk about it seven years after the film came out. And that's just the film's prologue we're talking about here - the main plot of the movie hasn't even started at that point yet! And love - be it romantic or platonic - is a theme that can be found not only in Up and Lava, but I would argue in most of Pixar's work.

One thing also has to be remembered, and that is the fact that a movie's impact on a specific viewer can be heightened by how well the film taps into the viewer's personal real-life experiences and manages to relate them to the story of the film, and over the years Pixar has been good at utilizing that fact. When adults weep at the end of Toy Story 3, it's not only because we feel for the characters that we've been with for so many years, but because the film's ending also evokes feelings that most of us grown-ups have in some way or another felt. The feeling of letting go, of moving on, of growing up and having the strength to let something that was important to us at one time but that we no longer need go and become a treasured memory. It is in that moment that Pixar can make you feel for a group of toys in an animated film. Much in the same way Lava touched yours truly on a fairly profound level because I could project myself into it. Allow me to elaborate.

I saw Inside Out last summer with my girlfriend. I live in Finland, she lives in France, and we have been in a long-distance relationship for a year now. Before that we were friends for a year, so all in all we've known each other for two. Last summer was the first time we saw each other, and needless to say we spent a lot of time together, and plan to again this summer. Anyway, both of us we're interested in seeing Inside Out, so we did. And as we sat there in the cinema watching Lava before the evening's feature presentation, I didn't just see an animated volcano on the screen. In a way I saw myself. Some years ago I was in a bad place emotionally, feeling very isolated and lonely, and wishing for someone to be there to show me I was worth loving. Much like the volcano, alone in the middle of a vast ocean, looking out into the horizon and dreaming of a day when maybe someone might be there for me.

So when our protagonist and his love are finally united at the end of the short, and the two volcanos in love look out towards the horizon with a future together ahead of them, it was at that moment that I felt my girlfriend rest her head on my shoulder. And suddenly I found myself holding back tears. Because Pixar had just made me relate to and feel for a love story between two animated volcanos. Well played, Pixar. Well played.