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From lovable lamp to Lightening McQueen

Animation makes its mark at the 11th annual WFF

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In 1986 a baby desk lamp called Luxo Jr. played on the big screen with a small ball for about two minutes.

While that may not sound like a blockbuster film idea the antics were a huge hit for fledging animation studio Pixar, scoring an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.

That was 25 years ago.

Pixar's shorts have come a long way since. Still, there is something charming, lovable and timeless about Luxo Jr. ­— so much so that it can hold its own beside Air Mater, the newest Pixar short featuring two of the biggest characters in animation history — Lightening McQueen and his best buddy Tow Mater.

The evolution of the shorts will be on display at the Whistler Film Festival this weekend for Pixar in the Plaza — a retrospective of award winning, endearing, and hilarious stories, bookended by a precocious desk lamp and a lovable tow-truck with a southern drawl.

"Luxo Jr. is a brilliant example of storytelling without having a whole lot of assets — characters or sets," said Pixar publicist Chris Wiggum, speaking from company head offices near San Francisco.

"(It's) two characters and a ball really and they tell a great story through it. And I think you'll see as the shorts progress that we've been able to include a much greater deal of complexity in the shorts.

"What really remains core to all of them is the focus on the story."

Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the gang will also make an appearance in short Hawaiian Vacation featuring the Toy Story characters.

This is the first time Pixar has partnered with the Whistler Film Festival in part to celebrate its 25 years, but also to showcase the work from its two-year-old Vancouver studio, Pixar Canada, which made Air Mater.

Another animation giant, Dreamworks, is also a part of this year's celebration of film.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is the highest-grossing female director with Kung Fu Panda 2, will be presented with the festival's first ever "Trailblazer in Animation Award" on Saturday, Dec. 3.

When asked what it says about the five-day festival that it's attracting big names like Pixar and Dreamworks to its program line-up, Shauna Hardy Mishaw WFF co-founder and director said:

"This is saying that Whistler is getting on the map with bigger studios."

Pixar in the Plaza will take place on Friday and Saturday at Whistler Olympic Plaza at 4 p.m. on both days. It's free. Covered seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Dress for the weather. Hot chocolate, coffee and goodies will be available at the concession.

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