Tagged: Pixar

Box Office Democracy: Finding Dory

I am too big a fan of Pixar to be reasonably objective at this point. On this very website I wrote a rave review of The Good Dinosaur, a movie I seem to be almost completely alone on the island of people who think that was an unqualified masterpiece. I’ve given more than one passionate defense of Cars as a well-intentioned movie with a nice message about the virtue of small town America. I’m even polite enough to pretend that Cars 2 never existed. I’m a Pixar team player all the way. But I’m just not sure I’m a big fan of Finding Dory.

It’s not a bad movie, that’s not what’s wrong here, not by a long shot. It’s funny, it’s momentarily very moving, and the design work is exciting and dynamic. What it doesn’t feel is particularly original. They hit a lot of characters again, not for deeper dives (sorry) into the characters or even for fresh jokes, but to do basically the same joke over again. There’s also a couple sea lions introduced that feel an awful lot like the pelican from the first movie crossed with the seagulls, to say nothing of another luminescent predator in a dark environment coming around. I might be expecting too much from one-note characters in a children’s movie but I expect more from this studio, and I expect more from a successor to such a resounding triumph of filmmaking as Finding Nemo.

The problem I have with Finding Dory would likely be fixed with some higher stakes. Finding Nemo is a movie filled with life and death peril at every turn. Marlin and Dory are crossing the ocean and interacting with sharks and jellyfish and everything else dangerous out there. Nemo is in a fish tank waiting to be taken home by a little girl who murders every fish she gets her hands on. Those are some real life-or-death stakes. Everything feels less important this time around. Dory wants to find her family but she looks for them exclusively in a relatively safe environment. Marlin and Nemo are in pursuit but the biggest peril they ever seem to be in is when they’re trapped in a tank with a particularly boring oyster. It all just feels too breezy and light to ever feel like anyone is in any real danger and at that point, so why are we bothering to hear this story? Writer/director Andrew Stanton has two Oscars for Best Animated Feature and four nominations for screenplays so it’s hard to believe he doesn’t understand all of this much better than I do it’s just strange to see Stanton in particular and Pixar in general put out such a relatively empty film.

It might seem hollow after all those complaints, but I quite enjoyed getting to spend a little more time with Dory and Marlin. The original film was a favorite of mine and is singlehandedly responsible for my general appreciation of Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks. Both are really good in this movie, DeGeneres is obviously fantastic, her performance both resembles her real world comedic style and is so in tune with the character she can really nail the quieter moments. Brooks gives a more subtle performance, Marlin says something early in the film and having him try and minimize what he said while clearly being filled with regret and needing to make amends is so subtle and so relatable. I got a little crabby with the plot but the performances and the direction are second to none.

Finding Dory is a B+/A- movie from a company I have grown accustomed to giving an easy A every time. There’s nothing wrong with it, I walked out of the theater completely delighted with the movie— but it doesn’t feel like it’s entirely living up to the standard that Disney and Pixar have set over the last few years. It would be hard to make the case that Finding Dory is a better movie than Frozen, or Inside Out, or Zootopia. Finding Dory is a far sight better than The Angry Birds movie, but that’s like saying that the worst team in the NBA would probably wreck your local college team: true, but not really the point.

Box Office Democracy: The Good Dinosaur

There’s a quote from The Tale of Genji that has stuck with me since I read it more than a decade ago (and I swear this is going to be a review of The Good Dinosaur so stick with me a moment here) in which they describe a painting Genji made for a painting contest thusly: “this, done at undisturbed leisure by a genius at the art, was beyond anything.” It’s become a kind of shorthand used by me and a couple of my friends who took the class with me when we describe something particularly good we’ll describe the creator as “a master at leisure” but there might be a second way to interpret the quote. It might not just be that a phenomenal talent with unlimited time will make the greatest art, it could also be that an exceptional artist freed from the turmoil of their normal routine could make something not just good but quieter, more subtle. That’s what I think The Good Dinosaur is, a work freed from the turmoil of modern filmmaking that focuses on these sublime emotional moments and nails every last one of them.

It was a long road to the theaters for The Good Dinosaur and it missed its original release date by over a year to go through what was, reportedly, a major rewrite and an almost complete recasting. After all that, the story we get here isn’t terribly complex or original. The first act feels like an agrarian rewrite of The Lion King and the film ends terribly abruptly like a student film that ran out of stock. In between the movie is good but not terribly ambitious; it seems like a terrible waste to give us a world where dinosaurs never died and developed agriculture and society and then only show us the tiniest slices of that society. We see a single farm of brontosaurs (or whatever long necked herbivores they are), a family of tyrannosaur cattle ranchers, their raptor rustler antagonists, and a strange pterodactyl death cult. That’s all fascinating and frequently well executed but it left me wanting much more.

The plot of The Good Dinosaur is quite basic and there probably aren’t many sequences that will stick with me the same way Buzz Lightyear flying or Marlin and Dory going through the jellyfish did but the character work is rock solid and the movie packs a real emotional punch. I might be a little oversensitive to father/son stuff but the relationship between Arlo and his father, Henry, just killed me. Jeffery Wright does such nuanced work as a father struggling with feelings of frustration and disappointment but also profound overpowering love for his son. When the movie decides to linger on emotional moments with Arlo and Spot it’s also very effective, surprising because Spot doesn’t talk and is less like a human and more like a dog but something in his animation or voice acting or some other aspect of his “performance” makes it work. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve cried in Pixar movies before (or even to admit that I was tearing up at the end of The Croods) but I was surprised at how frequently devastating The Good Dinosaur could be. Somewhat less surprising is what a treasure Sam Elliott is as a voice actor and how his thick drawling voice lends such a satisfying quality to a very important monologue.

I’m a little concerned my affection for The Good Dinosaur is some kind of Pixar elitism, and if this were the latest effort from Sony or Dreamworks I would be going on and on about how boring this movie was. I hope that’s not true, I hope I’m not that biased, but that’s also the cachet you get for making good movies for decades and never once making me sit through a Madagascar film. This feels not like a boring failure but as the work of a master at leisure, content to make something simple but haunting and beautiful. I love the spectacle and the completeness of a Wall-E, or an Up, or a Toy Story and that’s ok, they don’t all need to be that but they should all feel this real.

John Ostrander is Late To The Party

inside out disney

I’m not the most punctual person. Sometimes I am late to the party. Well, okay – I’m usually late to the party. Maybe showing up just as the party is ending. These columns, for example, usually get in just under the wire thus making my revered editor tear out what little hair he has left. I think of it as part of a game we play. I don’t think he likes the game that much.

I sometimes lose this game of temporal brinkmanship. Recently I missed a scheduled flight (for the first time in decades). I think I arrived at my brother-in-law Fred’s 75th birthday in time for his 76th birthday. I also have missed seeing at the theater some of the movies I really do want to see. Or getting in to see them just under the wire.

I recently had a chance to see Pixar’s latest offering, Inside Out, just before it left the theater. And I barely made it to that. So anything I may have to say about it may be moot. If you intended to see it, you probably already have and, if you don’t intend to see it, you won’t care. Maybe, however, you’re one of these people who wait until movies come out on disc or to Netflix or whatever so you can see it on your Apple Watch or whatever.

I do not approve of this practice; yes, I also buy discs but it is usually for movies I have experienced in the theater first which I regard as the proper way to see the film. Seeing a photograph of a famous painting is all right but it is not the same as seeing the painting itself. It’s better than not seeing it at all but it’s not the same experience. Hmmm… I’ve drifted a bit off-topic.

I’ve been a fan of Pixar for a long time and have seen almost all their films in the theater first. I initially passed on Cars because I’m not a fan of stock car racing. My mistake. I now have the disc which I watch frequently. I did, however, pass on Cars 2 and that, from what I’ve read, may have been the right choice.

Inside Out focuses on an eleven year old girl, Riley, who moves with her Mom and Dad from Minnesota to San Francisco. The gimmick is that we see Riley’s life and her responses from inside her head which are controlled by five essential emotions – Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Riley’s interior life is brilliantly imagined and realized visually. There are surprises at every turn and a deeply involving story. The movie is wonderfully cast (whoever thought to cast Lewis Black as Anger deserves a raise) and terrifically acted, full of genuine emotion. It also feels psychologically true to this layman. Inside Out has better characters, dialogue, and deeper insights into the human psyche than many so-called  “straight” live dramas.

This is what Pixar so often does. You think you’re going to see an animated film – a cartoon – and they give you so much more than you anticipated. Pixar’s films should have a shot at the Best Picture Oscar and not just for Animated Feature. I think they’re that good.

So, if you’re one of those who wait to watch movies at home, add Inside Out to your playlist and kick it towards the top. If it is still playing in a theater near you, run out and see it while you have the chance.

Don’t be late to the party.

 

Tweeks: More D23 2015 Adventures

As promised, here is Part 2 of our adventures at D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.  In this video we take a look at some of our favorite things (Harrison Ford, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Teen Beach Movie, etc) and ask some expo-goers what their favorite things have been over the weekend. There’s also plenty of cosplay, some Broadway stars, new Disney things to acquire, and a special “hi” from Markiplier!

Box Office Democracy: “Inside Out”

I can’t make heads or tails of Inside Out. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film to pieces, it’s the best Pixar film this decade and one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. It’s a gift of a movie and I feel privileged to get to enjoy it. What I don’t understand is how this is a kids movie.

I frequently say that a good children’s movie should have plenty for parents to enjoy and frequently take weaker studios to task for aiming too low with franchises like Madagascar and Ice Age but perhaps we’ve gone too far in the other direction. Inside Out is a stunningly mature film and I don’t know what a younger audience could possibly be getting out of this except for the thrill of seeing their parents openly weep for 90 minutes.

This is, of course, a bit of an exaggeration— there are plenty of accessible parts of Inside Out. The characters are bright and broad and the voice talent is excellent. I expected fantastic things from Amy Pohler, Mindy Kaling, and Lewis Black but Phyllis Smith steals the show. I didn’t expect much from her because she never terribly impressed me on The Office but she’s hilarious as Sadness. The movie is consistently funny and the humor is nice and broad and seemed to be hitting with everyone in my theater. At the root the story is the very familiar fish out of water journey that is a hallmark of storytelling in general and particularly stories for children. There’s plenty for kids to like here.

What I’m having trouble reconciling is how amazingly sad Inside Out can be. The film deals heavily with the sense of loss that comes with growing up and the people and things we leave behind. Inside Out follows an eleven year-old girl, Riley, as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and the personified emotional turmoil this traumatic event creates. We see aspects of her personality physically destroyed, a thorough examination of what happens to forgotten memories, and a treatment of a beloved childhood imaginary friend that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over completely. Children probably won’t find these moments sad in the same way an adult would because the sadness comes from a place of nostalgia for childhood that comes with age, but absent that feeling I’m just not sure what these moments have to offer and worry that it’s a movie full of dead space.

I’m probably overthinking this. I saw this film in a packed house with many families and there were none of the telltale signs of restless kids bored out of their skulls. I’m not giving the target audience enough credit nor am I respecting the filmmakers with a tremendous track record of making beloved films. I’m a little uncomfortable with how devastating Pixar is willing to be with these movies but if you made me choose between getting output like this and WALL-E, and Up or the comparably sedate stuff like Monsters University and Cars 2 I would rather cry my way through the more ambitious films.

Tweeks: Review Inside Out and Lava and More!

On Father’s Day we took our dad to see Disney Pixar’s Inside Out because it’s a Pixar movie and everyone loves a Pixar movie!  Plus, we really wanted to see it.  So here is our review of that, but we really wanted to also talk about Parks & Rec too since we both have been binge watching it for the past month.  We also wanted to talk about Toy Story 4, which is related.  Want to know how it is related, and also hear about which emotion Anya identifies with, learn about Maddy’s Thinking Panda, and see us fangirl over volcanos? Watch our video.

Box Office Democracy: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”

I came late to the first How To Train Your Dragon film.  I caught it on HBO well over a year after release and while I thought the “better than Toy Story 3” hype was a touch overblown it was a revelation for DreamWorks Animation, which had previously churned out franchises like Shrek and Madagascar that I flat out detested.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not quite as good as the first one but it’s a fine film that should hold up a little better to being driven in to the ground like every other shiny thing DreamWorks gets its hands on.

Where How to Train Your Dragon 2 shines is in the amazing action sequences.  The wide variety of dragons keeps it visually interesting and when it wants to the movi keeps the screen in constant fervent motion.  It’s definitely the kind of movie that can hypnotize a theater full of small children.  This is better action than Pixar produces, this is better action than Disney or Blue Sky put out, this is the standard bearer for animated action.  I don’t know what that’s worth as the rest of the field seems to be focusing on pulling on heartstrings and wow-ing academy voters but as a stalwart defender of the live-action popcorn action movie I must stand and recognize the efforts of the animated equivalent.

It might not be completely fair but I think the thing most holding me back on this movie is the performance of Jay Baruchel as the lead.  I hate the voice he’s doing here and you have to hear it an awful lot.  It’s grating and annoying and while I understand how that serves the character of an outcast intellectual Viking I can’t let my ears hang out in the platonic ideal the voice seems to be serving.  I don’t like hearing him talk and so I hated having the main character on screen.  That’s a pretty big problem for a movie to have.

I’ve also saluted the politics of Frozen and Maleficent so I feel obliged to ding How to Train Your Dragon 2 for feeling awfully regressive in places.  The movie does not pass the Bechdel Test and, more importantly, the second most prominent returning female character is given a storyline where she’s obsessed with this bad boy dragon trapper even after he’s terrible to her and even goes as far as to basically molest him at times.  None of the female characters here are ones I’d be comfortable with my non-existent daughter’s modeling themselves after and I don’t know that there’s space for characters like that in this genre any more.

But really, no one is considering or not considering this movie for its politics.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is fun when it wants to be fun, stunningly sad when it wants to be sad and ultimately the best kids movie I’ve seen this year.  The shortcomings are far exceeded by the sheer joyousness of the picture and that’s a near impossible thing to nitpick away.

Jen Krueger: The Little Things

DW & GPK 014A few weeks ago, I was idly browsing a store that carried everything from as-seen-on-TV products to Halloween costumes on deep discount. I didn’t really expect to find anything worth purchasing, but just as a bored salesperson mumbled in my general direction that everything in the store was 30% off, I came upon an aisle with Doctor Who merchandise and figured a quick perusal couldn’t hurt. It was all stuff I’d seen before, mostly TARDIS hats, scarves, lunchboxes, and keychains, but then a rack of random packs of micro figures caught my eye. I already had two such micro figures on my desk at home, a Centurion Rory and a Tenth Doctor that had both been gifts, and I liked the idea of getting an Eleventh Doctor or an Amy Pond to join them. But as I thought about making my first micro figure purchase, I realized that despite my vast love of Doctor Who, I hadn’t actually bought much merchandise related to the show. Wondering how that could possibly be true, I grudgingly admitted to myself that my merch buying experiences haven’t been very good.

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John Ostrander: Late To The Party

OStrander Art 130714I’m not often the firstest with the mostest. Ask Mike Gold. I was resistant to getting a computer despite his urging until, of course, I got a computer. Then I was gung-ho (and remain so). Friends back in the day told me that I had to read Lord of the Rings. My reaction was – no, I don’t. Until, of course, I did read The Lord of the Rings and became a huge fan.

There’s a couple of movies that were like that for me. For whatever reason, I resisted looking at them while they were in the movies theaters. Later, I caught them (or part of them) on TV and then discovered I really liked them. I now own DVDs of these films (yes, I’m resistant also to Blu-Ray so far; we all know how that will end but I remain stubborn at the moment).

The first of these is Disney/Pixar’s Cars. You’d think I’d be first in line because I was (and largely still am) a big Pixar fan. Part of me still prefers 2D animation but Pixar absolutely won me over with its stories and characters and the wit of their scripts. But Cars just struck me as pandering to NASCAR (another cultural phenomenon to which I remain resistant) and I passed . . .until I saw it on TV.

D’oh! (Did I mention I was also resistant to The Simpsons for a long time?)

Cars is every bit as good as any other Pixar film and has a great cast. It has Paul Newman in his last performance, for crying out loud! Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shaloub, Cheech Marin, and George Freakin’ Carlin all contribute. It even has Tom and Ray Magliozzi from NPR’s Car Talk (highly appropriate but such a nice touch). The animation is first rate with some absolutely stunning backgrounds and a story that involves and tugs at the heart. Love the film and would have loved seeing it on the big screen )if I hadn’t been so danged snobbish and stubborn. That’ll teach me.

No, it won’t.

There’s also The Adjustment Bureau, adapted from the short story “Adjustment Team” by Phillip K. Dick, who has had a stellar record providing grist for Hollywood’s mill – Bladerunner, Minority Report, and Total Recall (twice) among others. It stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt and features Terrence Stamp (a favorite of mine). It’s odd that I missed it – I really like Matt Damon and would usually watch anything with him in it but this got mediocre to tepid reviews for the most part.

I can see why. There’s a cosmic plan involved and guys in dark suits and fedoras who may or may not be working for someone who may or may not be God. Possessing a fedora allows you to travel through certain doors and wind up in a different part of the city. Damon and Bloom play very star-crossed lovers whom the cosmic forces are trying to keep at bay. It all gets a little arcane and hard to swallon.

But…

Damon and Blunt are terrific together. They have such a natural chemistry that, for me, it sells the film. I want these two people to be together no matter what cosmic forces decree they should not. So I bought the DVD.

Which leads me to another Matt Damon film, We Bought A Zoo, directed and co-written by Cameron Crowe. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and a lovely supporting cast. It’s the story of a widower with two kids who ups and buys a struggling zoo and tries to renovate and re-open it. It sounded a little Hallmark Channel to me, especially the title.

My bad. I’ve gone through the grieving process for a spouse (albeit without children) and the film feels true to me, as does Damon’s performance. Again, great chemistry with his co-star, Scarlett Johansson. I’m leery of films that focus on kids and animals –they can come off cloying and/or annoying – but the children and the beasties come off very well. Again, I think the reviews were tepid and the title probably kept some viewers away (it kept me away). That’s unfortunate; I think many folks – like me – have discovered it since its initial release and enjoyed it.

There are other films that I ignored in their first release – Amelie comes to mind – that I discovered later. Thanks the powers hat be for DVD.

Or Blu-Ray. Which I’ll get around to owning.

Someday.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

A Walt Disney Roundup

©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.The news from Walt Disney has been a mixed bag this week. We saw them shutter LucasArts and today the next wave of reductions and layoffs are coming in the name of efficiency. If Chairman Bob Iger is right, and this repositions the company for the world of tomorrow, then it was a wise move, better done now to remain competitive.

Creatively, this week we were given three other pieces of news. First, there was the announcement of the anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory¸ which will arrive in 2015.

Here’s the official announcement:

BURBANK, Calif. (April 2, 2013) – When Dory said “just keep swimming” in 2003’s Oscar-winning film Finding Nemo, she could not have imagined what was in store for her (not that she could remember). Ellen DeGeneres, voice of the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish, revealed details today about Disney•Pixar’s Finding Dory—an all-new big-screen adventure diving into theaters on Nov. 25, 2015.

“I have waited for this day for a long, long, long, long, long, long time,” said DeGeneres. “I’m not mad it took this long. I know the people at Pixar were busy creating ‘Toy Story 16.’ But the time they took was worth it. The script is fantastic. And it has everything I loved about the first one: It’s got a lot of heart, it’s really funny, and the best part is—it’s got a lot more Dory.”

Dory (2)Director and Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton takes audiences back to the extraordinary underwater world created in the original film. “There is no Dory without Ellen,” said Stanton. “She won the hearts of moviegoers all over the world—not to mention our team here at Pixar. One thing we couldn’t stop thinking about was why she was all alone in the ocean on the day she met Marlin. In ‘Finding Dory,’ she will be reunited with her loved ones, learning a few things about the meaning of family along the way.”

According to Stanton, Finding Dory takes place about a year after the first film, and features returning favorites Marlin, Nemo and the Tank Gang, among others. Set in part along the California coastline, the story also welcomes a host of new characters, including a few who will prove to be a very important part of Dory’s life.

Finding Nemo won the 2003 Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature; the film was nominated for three additional Oscars® (Best Writing, Original Screenplay; Best Music, Original Score; Best Sound Editing). It was also nominated for a Golden Globe® Award for Best Motion Picture–Comedy or Musical. In 2008, the American Film Institute named Finding Nemo among the top 10 greatest animated films ever made. At the time of its release, Finding Nemo was the highest grossing G-rated movie of all time. It’s currently the fourth highest grossing animated film worldwide. The film has more than 16 million Likes on Facebook, and Dory—with more than 24 million—is the most Liked individual character from a Disney or Disney•Pixar film.

DeGeneres’ distinctive comic voice has resonated with audiences from her first stand-up comedy appearances through her work today on television, in film and in the literary world. Her syndicated talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is in its 10th season and has earned 38 Daytime Emmy Awards. DeGeneres has won 12 People’s Choice Awards and the Teen Choice Award for Choice Comedian for three consecutive years. Additionally, her show won two Genesis Awards and a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Talk Show Episode. For her unforgettable turn as Dory, DeGeneres was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.

Coming far sooner is Disney’s Planes and they sent us a Sneak Peek clip as seen below.

From above the world of Cars comes Disney’s Planes, an action-packed 3D animated comedy adventure featuring Dusty (voice of Dane Cook), a plane with dreams of competing as a high-flying air racer. But Dusty’s not exactly built for racing—and he happens to be afraid of heights. So he turns to a seasoned naval aviator who helps Dusty qualify to take on the defending champ of the race circuit. Dusty’s courage is put to the ultimate test as he aims to reach heights he never dreamed possible, giving a spellbound world the inspiration to soar. Disney’s Planes takes off in theaters on Aug. 9, 2013.

We also received a featurette from Disneynature’s Bears which we share with you.

In an epic story of breathtaking scale, Disneynature’s new True Life Adventure Bears showcases a year in the life of two mother bears as they impart life lessons to their impressionable young cubs. Set against a majestic Alaskan backdrop teeming with life, their journey begins as winter comes to an end and the bears emerge from hibernation to face the bitter cold. The world outside is exciting—but risky—as the cubs’ playful descent down the mountain carries with it a looming threat of avalanches. As the season changes from spring to summer, the brown bear families must work together to find food—ultimately feasting at a plentiful salmon run—while staying safe from predators, including an ever-present wolf pack. “Bears” captures the fast-moving action and suspense of life in one of the planet’s last great wildernesses—where mothers definitely know best and their cubs’ survival hinges on family togetherness.

Directed by Alastair Fothergill (Earth, African Cats and Chimpanzee) and Keith Scholey (African Cats), “Bears” is in theaters April 18, 2014, to celebrate Earth Day.