“Send me someone to lav-a”
Sometimes cute is enough for an enjoyable little yarn, but I can’t help being disappointed when that’s all a new Pixar short has to offer. I do get that the studio can’t hit a homerun every single time out, however, and I don’t begrudge a catchy escapist ditty like the one director James Ford Murphy has written at the core of Lava. I guess I was simply waiting for some higher-level moment of resonance generally expected from Luxo Jr.’s team that never came. It really is just a sweet love song between a solitary volcano and the dream of one day finding a soul mate. That’s enough for a smile and probably an Oscar nomination, but I can’t say I’m clamoring to visit the magma-filled crooner any time soon.
Regardless, you do have to love its construction. The way its disembodied voice singing the ballad as narration suddenly exits the mouth of genial volcano Uku (Kuana Torres Kahele) at the chorus is a delightful turn of events. Infinite optimism permanently etched to his face, he basks in the glorious love shared by pairs of birds above and dolphins below. Having hearts form out of water waves or molten rock teeters on schmaltzy, but that is sort of the goal. The lyrics point towards that direction and the ultimate revelation of a new character able to make Uku’s one wish come true (Napua Greig‘s Lele) screams saccharine sentimentality too. If you accept it, though, you’re guaranteed to feel warm and gooey inside.
I hate to say that an almost bittersweet ending had me ready to label Lava a masterpiece before happily ever after sensibility wins out, but there you go. Maybe it’s merely a result of my personal pessimism or quick designation of truth equaling missed opportunity, but something about bringing this overly cheery musical to a sobering conclusion seemed right. Because it wouldn’t have been sad—the wish would still come true, just not quite the way obvious plot progression manufactures. While the crowd’s reaction is still a much-deserved “aww”, I think a contemplative one of fulfillment tinged with sorrow would have been more honest than the knee-jerk cheek-pinching variety.