On a bookshelf filled with vacation-themed souvenirs, a snowman named Knick (who is the cousin of Frosty the Snowman, according to the audio commentary), who resides in a Nome, Alaska snow globe, wants to reach a "Sunny Miami" knick knack that shows a pretty blonde girl in a blue bikini. Knick tries several unsuccessful methods to break out of the globe, culminating in detonating TNT explosives. None of these work, but the TNT causes the globe to fall over the shelf's edge. Knick notices an emergency exit in the base and frees himself just before he and the globe fall into a fishbowl. Here Knick sees a pretty mermaid souvenir from "Sunny Atlantis" and runs toward her, but before he can reach her, the globe settles to the bottom and traps him again.
Knick Knack's production is one of the most noted from Pixar's early days. The team all agreed to do something simpler that would not "drive us all crazy," according to producer Ralph Guggeinheim. When watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit during the production of Tin Toy, Lasseter became inspired to create a Chuck Jones-type of cartoon. Rather than to challenge the limitations of the computer as they had done in the previous shorts, the animators wanted to make a short based on geometric shapes instead, which was a strength of the computer. In a discussion with the group, Lasseter brought up famed Warner Bros. and MGM director Tex Avery, noting that his cartoons were wild and exuberant, yet not necessarily very complex.
Knick Knack provides examples of:
- All-CGI Cartoon: Duh. And an early example, too.
- Bowdlerization: In the version on the Toy Story CAV LaserDisc boxset, Sunny Miami and Sunny Atlantis have larger spherical breasts and revealing bras. Starting with the 2003 reissue, they are flat-chested and covered more. This also counts as an Orwellian Retcon.
- Chekhov's Gun: You can spot the doorknob to the snowglobe's exit fairly early on in the short.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: The snowman hates being stuck in his snowglobe and wants to join all the other knick-knacks having fun.
- Road Runner vs. Coyote: The snowman's first attempt at breaking out? Smashing his (thin and plastic) igloo into the glass.
- The Dead Can Dance: One of the aforementioned knick knacks is a skeleton with sunglasses.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The snowman was apparently purchased from "Nome Sweet Nome, Alaska".
- Orwellian Retcon: In the original version, Sunny Miami and Sunny Atlantis have very large spherical breasts and revealing bras. In the 2003 release and after, they are flat-chested and covered more. This also counts as Bowdlerization.
- Our Mermaids Are Different: And then, you get the punchline: the snowman lands in a fish bowl, and spots a mermaid knick knack... only to get trapped back in the snowglobe when it falls on top of him as he attempts running over to it.
- Silence Is Golden: no words are spoken in the whole film.
- The Exit Is That Way: It's only as the snowglobe is falling off the the shelf that the snowman realizes the bottom of the snowglobe has a door.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: At the end of the short, the snowman finally gets out of his snowglobe after landing in a fishbowl and is running toward the mermaid knick knack, when his snowglobe falls on top of him again.
- Visual Pun: The "Sunny Palm Springs" trinket is a plastic palm tree mounted on a metal spring.