Iconic for many reasons, Toy Story (1995) sticks in most people’s minds as the real birth of computer animation on the big screen. Not only that, it really kicked off a second golden era of American mainstream animation, with Pixar going on a decade or so stretch where they could do no wrong and matching any run of Disney’s in terms of sheer brilliance.
On paper, there is nothing to suggest that Toy Story had the potential to be a hit with such a broad audience. It is basically just an adventure tale involving two jealous toys, namely a cowboy and an astronaut. Maybe if it was done well the kids would dig it, but surely there is nothing there for adults. Even after re-watching the film recently, it is hard to logically tease out what makes it so appealing for an adult audience. The short answer is that it is just an exceptionally well written and made film. So are plenty of flicks that adults don’t want a bar of too. There is a certain nostalgia about the plot, everyone has dreamt about their toys coming alive when they are not around. It was a clever ploy by Pixar to combine such a classical plot with the groundbreaking new technology and it makes the film so much easier to jump right into.
Not only is the plot very traditional but the film is structured like an old school comedy. There is an odd couple and the jokes come a whole lot faster than I recall. The joke rate is quite incredible actually. Plus the film was a real innovator in putting jokes in for adults, without kids feeling like they were missing out – “Hey look, I’m Picasso” etc. You could argue that Pixar have not made another film with characters as good as this one. Indeed there are three layers of great characters, the leads Buzz & Woody, the beloved supporting cast such as Slinky Dog & Rex, and finally the peripheral characters such as the toy soldiers and the etch a sketch which add so much colour. What I don’t think is arguable is that the menacing Sid is Pixar’s best villain. Wow he is still such a foreboding and flat-out evil presence even today. I would have thought the studio would have dialled that character back a bit, but the film is better for their decision not to do so.
Everything about Toy Story is borderline perfect. The dialogue (Buzz’s deluded early patter a particular highlight), the huge cast of characters and Randy Newman’s tunes that complement the action so well. There is something more though aside from the sheen. Some form of filmmaking magic that characterises all the greatest classics of cinema and which help to make this film one of the true classics of my generation.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
2014 Progress: 19/101
Yesterday Pixar tweeted out the above poster with an announcement that Lava would be the short that precedes their upcoming feature Inside Out (2015). With just this poster, I am all of a sudden excited about Pixar again.
Let’s be honest, Pixar have been in a bit of a funk recently. The last three films from what used to be the most consistently brilliant and creative studio out there have been Monsters University (2013), Brave (2012) and Cars 2 (2011). Even huge fans of the studio like me, would probably only be able to find one of those films that they are fond of (for me it is actually Cars 2, which I think cops a bit of a bad wrap). The decline in quality is starker when you ponder the three films that preceded those ones – Toy Story 3 (2010), Up (2009) and WALL-E (2008). Those are three stone cold classics and I believe are three of the best animation films ever made.
Something in the poster for the short film Lava excited me and suggests to me that hopefully the creative tide is turning. Sure its stylings are a little derivative of a Mondo poster. But there is also a sense that they are doing something a little new and at least for them original. Not to mention the visual splendour, I mean a crystal blue ocean teeming with whales and dolphins as a volcano towers above. Add into that the really original premises of two out of the three next Pixar films and there is definitely reason to hope. Inside Out takes a look inside the mind of an 11 year old kid with a voice cast including people like Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling (Cinema Blend had a first look at some footage yesterday and were definitely psyched by it, check out the details here). Whilst The Good Dinosaur (2015) was meant to be this year’s Pixar release, but a problematic production has meant that it has been pushed back, giving us the bonus of two Pixar flicks in one year. I am hoping that the production troubles don’t spell trouble for the film, but let’s face it, it has dinosaurs in it so will almost certainly be phenomenal. Following that will be a sequel, a concept with which Pixar have a mixed track run. But Finding Dory (2016) is a sequel to one of the company’s classics so here is hoping it continues an upwards trend for the studio’s output.
So, how do you feel about Pixar’s recent work, any of there recent films you need to defend? Which of their upcoming films are you most excited for?
If you are after another review utterly panning Pixar’s Cars 2 (2011) then it is perhaps best to keep looking, because I really like the film. As a lifelong James Bond fan, I think this film is a really well judged Bond spoof, as well as just being a lot of fun to watch.
The action of the film is a good balance of car race sequences (which I actually found really exciting) and the spy narrative. Mater’s prominence in the latter sees that character feature much more prominently in this film than he did in the first. No doubt some people hate the character, but to be honest I actually find him, even if he is utterly idiotic, really quite hilarious. The narrative is a really fun globetrotting romp, which serves the purpose of setting up some lovely action set pieces and giving these at times absurd characters the chance to riff of Bond archetypes. There are a few too many coincidences in the third act of the plot but aside from that, the story is fun and serviceable. It is worth noting that just like pretty much all Pixar films, there is a definite note of darkness in Cars 2. A number of cars die in the film in pretty full on ways. Furthermore, it is not just the baddies that are killed in the film, at least one of the goodies is also killed. This is actually a refreshing approach from films that, despite their love from adult audiences, are geared toward kids.
Like any Pixar film, Cars 2 looks absolutely incredible, even if the company’s talents are being put toward a much more ‘kiddy’ aesthetic than in some of their other outings. The film is just so incredibly designed and it is the little things that make all of the difference – the logo in the bottom corner of the screen during the broadcast of the races for example. One thing that I was not so fond of is some of the cultural clichés that the film trades in. The Japan-set portion of the film in particular made me cringe a bunch of times. As for Michael Caine’s work, I love the character that he voices in the film. He plays the expertly named superspy Finn McMissile and the look of his character, a silver Bentley with a pencil thin ‘moustache’ is fantastic. It is amazing how great Caine and this design work as a Bondesque master agent. Makes you wonder how Caine would have done in the iconic role himself.
Cars 2 is not one of Pixar’s best films, but that’s ok because they have an almost uniformly incredible output. I just find this film to be totally satisfying. It is a really clever flick and manages to satisfy both my inner James Bond fan and my inner Pixar fan.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Don’t forget there is a competition all this week on the blog and all the details are here.
- Not Suitable for Children (2012), Peter Templeman – A cracker of a script brings this inner-west Sydney comedy to life. Not afraid to confound expectations, the film also delivers a healthy quota of genuine laughs. Refreshingly frank about booze, drugs and sex this excellently performed piece is the kind of Aussie film you really hope finds an audience. Also features the most fantastically awkward sex scene ever.
- East West 101: Season 1 (2007), Steve Knapman & Kris Wyld – This is an intriguing Aussie cop drama. There are definitely annoyances – shaky, hyperkinetic camerawork and individual storylines that are not always satisfying – but the storyline of Malik and his father is really well drawn out. The exploration of race, despite some initial clumsiness, also comes to satisfy by the season’s excellent (and genuinely shocking) conclusion.
- This Means War (2012), McG – I’m a big fan of all three leads in this – Pine, Witherspoon and Hardy. This is nice and light, there is no real sense of tension but the action scenes are good. The script is not great, especially the early establishment of Pine’s character and the motivation of all the characters is often warped. But in the end, this is genuinely funny and well performed, with Chelsea Handler as Witherspoon’s best friend almost stealing the show.
- The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Marc Webb – This is a fun film that looks great. But there is no denying that much of what is covered was done better by the first Raimi film. Andrew Garfield is a little hit and miss in the title role but Emma Stone is her usual delightful self. Unfortunately very little of the welcome humour that characterised the trailer is transferred to the final film. But despite all of this, the film is still more than enjoyable enough popcorn fluff.
- Batman Begins (2005), Christopher Nolan – This incredible film has come to sit somewhat unfairly in the shadow of its phenomenal sequel. Nolan’s first Batman flick is a really dense, multifaceted origin story which remains extremely accessible to non-comic book readers. The script expertly establishes the characters’ values and psychology above all. Katie Holmes’ performance in this is really underrated; I think she does better than Maggie Gyllenhaal who replaced her in the sequel. The film finishes on one of my all time favourite sequel setups as well.
- The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Christopher Nolan – As a standalone film, this is imperfect. However as the closing film of the trilogy, it is pretty darn close to perfection. The quibbles for me include the late twist, OWS references which veer into the overwrought and resolution of the main action that is not 100% successful. But I loved much of this. There is a couple of cracking action set pieces, the setup for the sidequel/spinoff is masterful and personally I was a huge fan of the ending. Michael Caine is amazing in a small role whilst Joseph Gordon-Levitt in detective mode is very good.
- Magic Mike (2012), Steven Soderbergh – I really liked this. On the surface this is a tale of male strippers. But there’s some (not too much) added depth here. Channing Tatum has a real charm and presence about him onscreen, as does female lead Cody Horne who is delightful despite occasional stilted line delivery. Biggest accolades must go to director Soderbergh though who is in good form, keeping proceedings zipping along rapidly, even as the action threatens to become predictable.
Not Worth Watching:
- Brave (2012), Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman – As far as animated films go, this is decidedly average. For a Pixar film it is utter pants. Technically, they continue to improve but it seems too much effort has gone into making Merida’s hair look amazing, and not enough into making the narrative amazing. This is a tepid tale, totally lacking in any Pixar distinctiveness or subversiveness.
- Safe House (2012), Daniel Espinosa – Cool idea. A CIA traitor just saunters into the American embassy in South Africa. Especially when you add in the fact that the traitor is played by none other than Denzel Washington. But this film never gets off the ground, making you wonder why anyone bothered. The action scenes are surprisingly sparse, and when they arrive they are annoyingly, shakily shot. Denzel is surely the most watchable actor of his generation, but even he can’t make this worth your while.
If you only have time to watch one The Dark Knight Rises
Avoid at all costs Brave
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Here is a trailer that has me really excited. Monsters University is a prequel to my absolute favourite Pixar film Monsters Inc. The film is not due out til next year, so it really is just a teaser. But this has whetted my appetite for the film even more. You guys looking forward to Monsters University?