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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Plans and a rewrite.

Hey guys.

First off, I've been crazy busy lately, so sorry for not posting in a month. Anyway, I wanted to bring up some things.

1) I rewrote my Home on the Range review from Disneyear to make it less angry. To be honest, it may be kinda bad, but it's honestly not as terrible as I originally wrote it out to be. So I felt like I could make it a bit more honest. If you'd like to see the reedit, check it out here. I think it turned out a lot better than before.

2) I started work on a website for my artwork and I need some opinions about it. Visit it here and feel free to tell me what you think. Keep in mind the domain only lasts three weeks, so visit it when you can!

3) I'm still planning on doing more movie reviews. The big plan is to do a Studio-Ghibli theme beginning in January and buying a podcast microphone to provide some commentary on short films on the side.

Hope to see you guys soon. Oh, and enjoy a drawing of Benny the squirrel in the 1930's.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Disneyear: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Well folks, here it is. The final film of Disneyear, Wreck-It Ralph. I'll be honest here, I was a little iffy when I first heard of this movie. I read the basic plot of it somewhere (I bet it was Wikipedia) and thought "Okay, it's like Megamind but in a video game... it might work." But then the trailer came out and my anticipation grew. I saw the main character jumping around different video games and thought this was a really neat idea. On top of that I noticed other video game characters were there too. If you look on the poster the trailer showcased a lot of video game characters like Bowser from Mario Bros., Major Bison from Street Fighter, Clyde the ghost from Pac-Man, Dr. Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog, even Q-Bert made it in the movie! God was it nostalgic! Then I thought it over and said "it's more like Roger Rabbit then... this looks cool!". So as it was advertised more and more, the more I got sucked into it and the more I wanted to see it. It just seemed like the coolest damn thing ever! Then Nov. 2 came along and I got to catch it this weekend. And you know what? It really surprised me. Not by how bad it is but by how damn brilliant this is. I went from thinking this was a maybe to thinking that it's a serious contender for Best Animated Film of the Year! Yeah people, it's that good! So you're probably wondering what I think makes it so good? Well guys, I have to warn you again that this is going to have MAJOR SPOILERS in here so if you don't like those, just wait till you see it then come back. Otherwise, get your quarters ready to play Wreck-It Ralph. 

Ralph (John C. Reilly) is actually the villain of an 8-bit arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr, which is kind of like the original Donkey Kong. Feeling unappreciated, he decides he simply wants more out of life even though the other characters typecast him as a villain in real life. So he gets the idea that if he somehow gets a medal for being a hero, then maybe the others will respect him more. So he sets off to win a medal after bumping into a character from the first-person shooter Hero's Duty (similar to Halo) who mentions that heros get medals in his game. Ralph enters the game via The Central Game Station (which is a power outlet that connects many consoles together) and meets it's no-nonsense leader, General Calhoun (Jane Lynch). Ralph tries to fight and survive the game's enemies, alien parasites known as Cy-bugs, but he causes a game over by interfering with the game's user interface. Between game sessions, Ralph climbs the game's central beacon and collects the medal, accidentally hatching a Cy-Bug in the process. The Cy-bug clings to Ralph as he stumbles into an escape pod that launches him out of the game. Meanwhile, Ralph's absence has not gone unnoticed, as a girl tells Litwak that Fix-It Felix, Jr. is malfunctioning. Since broken games are unplugged, leaving their characters homeless, Felix (Jack McBrayer) sets off to find Ralph. The escape pod lands in literally a candy-coated racing game called Sugar Rush and meets with a glitch character called Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). The two dislike each other at first since Vanellope steals Ralph's medal and uses it to enter the next race to which the King Candy (Alan Tudyk) objects simply because she's a glitch in the program. She and Ralph start to form a bond once they figure out they can fix each other's problems: Ralph can make a cart for Vanellope while she can use it to win back Ralph's medal. They also discover that they're not so different  Meanwhile in Hero's Duty, Felix meets up with Calhoun to find Ralph and restore order because the Cy-bug that departed with Ralph in the escape pod acts as a virus and can potentially spread to all the consoles and have the games unplugged. So it's up to Ralph to fix what he accidentally started and save the arcade from certain destruction. End spoilers.

Remember when I said in my Roger Rabbit review that the film was a love letter to our childhoods? Well this film is a love letter to video games. There's no better phrase to describe it. As a gamer, I waxed nostalgic for this movie. The whole film is scattered with references to video games from glitches and viruses to secret easter eggs hidden inside. There's also a ton of third party characters that make it in like Bowser, Pac-Man, Dr. Eggman, Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Q-Bert, even Sonic the HedgeHog. Oh and Mario gets mentioned briefly. Sucks... would have loved to see him in this movie. The environments are jaw-droppingly beautiful and offer a variety of moods from cheerful and colorful to dark and unsettling. The video game setting offers an amazing amount of creative possibilities for the Disney animators, from the way the characters are drawn and animated (note the Nicelanders' limited movements and Vanellope's occasional glitching), to the way their lives are portrayed outside of their own game. What Ralph does is apparently called "going Turbo" where if you leave your own game, you have a chance of unplugging both your game and the one you enter. It's considered taboo and highly frowned upon in the arcade. Again, what a brilliant and brilliant concept.

As far as complaints go, I kind of wish the cameos were utilized better. In Roger Rabbit, other cartoon characters conversed and interacted with each other throughout the film. Here, we only get a bad-guy seminar (which was a funny scene, btw) and Q-Bert does play sort of a major role. Other than that, they're just there. But it was fun to try and spot them all, I'll admit. And it would have been cooler if the movie explored more than three games. It sticks with one a little too long, but at least it's a visually pleasing world.

As far as the story goes, it's your basic "I gotta be me" tale, but it's still a strong story. What sets it apart however are all the environments, creativity, and of course the characters. John C. Reilly does a fantastic job as Wreck-It Ralph and the character himself is really likeable. He's really a nice guy at heart that just wants a little respect, which is something we all can identify with. Jane Lynch plays another tough-ass character but again, is kind of likeable. They give her what the film calls "programmed with the most depressing back-story ever" (which I honestly thought was kind of funny as it should.) and she does show through the bond she develops with Felix that she's not so tough. Kind of nice. Speaking of Fix-It Felix, oh my God! He was single-handedly the funniest character here. I haven't laughed at a character this hard since Maximus in Tangled and part of it comes from the dorky charm of Jack McBrayer playing the role. Vanellope, played by Sarah Silverman, was kind of annoying. But to be fair, I think she was kind of supposed to be like that. The character actually grew on me later and I dare say it was perfect casting on Silverman's part. The villain is definitely one of the femmiest and funniest I've seen in awhile. He's sort of like if The Mad Hatter became evil somehow. How he's the villain and his backstory I dare not ruin for you, so go and see it for yourself. When the scene reveals it near the end, I'll admit I didn't see this odd twist coming!

While Wreck-It Ralph isn't the all-out Super Smash Brothers movie I was expecting, the movie comes with loads of surprises that are sure to delight and entertain a wide audience, gamers and non-gamers and kids and adults. There's a little something for everyone in Wreck-It Ralph. With a clever concept, good jokes (though some were a little juvenile to my tastes), great characters and voice-acting, fantastic animation and art direction, and nostalgia for gamers, this movie's a sure fire winner. I think it may of found a way in my top 10 Disney films overnight. I really enjoyed it and chances are you will too. Go see it when you can and come to your own conclusions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New ideas for the blog and some more characters!

Hey hey, readers. I know I haven't posted reviews in a while, but I will when I get a chance. But in the meantime, I'd like to share what I plan on doing here from now on. I'm actually considering a new series of written reviews on here called "Animated Animosity" where I review the animated films that are... less than good. I wanted to try this for a while after Disneyyear and Pixargust was over. I'll also try out other animated movies too because there's a bunch that deserve to have a look. Those will usually be in some sort of theme to it and I'll likely do what I did in Pixargust and keep posting in the span of a month or more. Whatever I review will normally be up to me but if I get enough requests to review a certain movie, I'll do it. Oh, and expect a surprise Disneyear review in a month or so!

 I'm also planning on buying a microphone soon for video posts that will have me talking over a random theatrical short and even some TV cartoons from past and present while I talk about what I think of them. It'll be basically like a live commentary. I'll also post the original short or episode without my voice over it in case you haven't seen it yet. I'll also keep posting my artwork as well. There's lots more coming soon, so keep tuned here.

In the meantime, here's my star character, Ralph. Ralph is like any mouse: quiet, timid, and curious. But since Ralph is very small, he has to use his brain instead of his brawn to get himself out of trouble in a calm, collected manner. Ralph has Ralph also is a cultured person, preferring the arts, classical music, and some jazz over today's standards. He's pretty talented at creating art, has a nice singing voice, level-headed, a MENSA member, and modest. Ralph also has a very friendly persona, helping anyone out so long as they don't hurt him. He comes from a long line of laboratory mice, which is why he's white with blue eyes and likely explains how he's so smart. Ralph is a mix of myself with a little bit of Dean Martin's wit. The tail design just came to me.

Then there's Benny, a devious little squirrel that's full of fun and energy. Benny has a usually happy, up-beat persona. He may be a wee bit nuts and may come across as annoying to his neighbor Gordon, but he does use his head occasionally when there's trouble. It's just easier for him to be energetic and popping up at random moments. He has the ability to pull cartoon weaponry out of thin air. He also has a speech impediment where whenever he hits an "s" sound, it comes out as a whistle. He also has a dark side to him, showing extreme animosity towards someone that does him any kind of harm making him want to get even by any means necessary. Benny's one of my favorite characters that I made and he'll be loads of fun to make cartoons for in the future.

Finally, we have Bear and Eli, a pink toy panda and 
elephant brother and sister duo. Bear is a toy panda that acts acts as Eli's big sister. She is a sweet, caring individual but isn't afraid to take on responsibilities. She doesn't mind baths and respects rules. She is authoritative and has a more realistic approach to things than her brother. It's her seriousness that can make her frustrated with Eli sometimes, but she still loves her brother all the same and will do anything to keep him happy and safe. Eli is a toy elephant and is Bear's little brother. He is all heart and extremely playful and child-like in temperament and it's because of this that he can get frustrated easily and doesn't always know how to handle his emotions. He loves to play and makes friends but hates veggies and baths. Overall, he's a big bundle of love. Their origin story is an interesting one. Back in high school, I had a friend, Vicki, who had these two pink stuffed animals named Bear and Eli. Respectively, they were a bear and an elephant. So after she made a short play script for our Children's Theater class based off of the two toys, I thought about what they would look like as cartoons. These designs were my end results and I continue to draw and write stories for them to this day.

Like I said, stay tooned for more (sorry for the pun!) in the future! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More characters!

I've been playing around on Photoshop for a while and made some more portraits of my characters. I figured I'd at least introduce these character for new comers this time, so I'll give some details here. 

First up is Bhim and Ambika, the cobra and mongoose duo. Bhim (the mongoose) is sort of a jerk. He's extremely pugnacious and hard-headed, but easily wimps out if he winds up fighting something bigger, like a tiger or a python. Ambika (the cobra) is the opposite. She's friendly and shy. She's sort of a wildflower and has figured out that the Bhim is actually hypnotized by her beautiful dancing and singing, which she uses to her advantage in tight spots. They have a kind of frienemy-ish relationship.

I got inspiration for these two after watching Animal Planet and saw a mongoose and a cobra fight in real life. Most of the time, the mongoose is the winner of these fights but I always wondered if the cobra would ever win and how. The musical numbers are also inspired by Eartha Kitt when she was younger with the visual style of Bollywood films. The point of this series is to hopefully have people change their thoughts on snakes. In reality, most snakes are like Ambika: they don't want to fight or bite. They just want to be left in peace.

 Then we have Chilé, a chinchilla with a very fiery personality. A tad brash, Chilé will always act before thinking about it making him believe he can do anything. Even if he comes off as cocky, he's far from it. Chilé is actually very chivalrous and always willing to help even if the odds are against him. Especially for a woman. Chilé is also an amorous creature who's up to sacrificing himself for any pretty face. He happens to have one certain weakness: he also is a habitual cleaner. He'll clean anything that looks dirty with his long, bushy tail since he dislikes filth. Chilé needs to keep his fur away from water which is why he prefers to bathe in volcanic dust.
Chilé was inspired by my pet chinchilla, Kirby, and several viewings of Disney's The Three Caballeros. His outfit is based on a huacho, the Chilean equivalent of a cowboy.

More characters will come later. Keep tuned!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gordon portrait

Hey hey, readers! I recently decided to join my art blog with this one, so I can share my reviews and ideas for characters and stories. So here's a portrait I made of one of my characters: Gordon the Scottish Capuchin monkey. If you want to learn about his character, just search Gordon in the search bar and you'll find him.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pixargust: Brave (2012)

We now come to the final film of Pixargust: Brave. I think we all remember the trailer and we were looking forward to an epic adventure from Pixar, especially after the disappointment from Cars 2. I mean wow! It only showed our lead out in the wilderness and then this huge bear pops out of nowhere and she only has a bow and arrow to protect her. It looked awesome! So I was hyped to see this in theaters. Me and a few friends of mine went to the midnight premier and we eagerly awaited for it to start. When it ended, we were all happy we saw it but one of my friends commented "Something was off about it, but I liked it." So I saw it again with another friend and after the second viewing, I think I know why my first friend said that. It still was as good as I remember it, but there is a small problem with it. Now before I go on, I want to address that there are major spoilers in this review so if you have not seen this yet and don't want my review to ruin it for you, you may want to just reread another review of mine. And I know it's not on DVD as I'm typing this, so I'm going to have to use what clips I can find on YouTube. So if you're still here, then here we go: let's see if this will change Pixar's fate with the last film of Pixargust, Brave.

Set in medieval Scotland, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) presents his daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) with a bow and arrow and ever since, she's become something of a tomboy, riding off into the woods to practice archery and be a free spirit. That is until her mother, Queen Elanor (Emma Thompson) announces that Merida will be betrothed by one of three allied clans. She's not really ready or willing to go through this despite her mother's pleas for keeping tradition. The clans arrive to compete in the Highland Games to compete for Merida's hand. She announces that she will compete for her right to remain single, but this causes a dispute between her and Elanor. She cuts her family tapestry in anger and flees to the woods where a group of will-o-wisps lead her to a witch's hut in guise of a wood carver's shop. She agrees to give Merida a spell to change her fate if she buys all of her carvings with a family medallion. She gives it to her in the form of a cake, which she gives Elanor. It causes her mother to transform into a bear, catching Merida off guard. Turns out Elanor is now in danger because of her husband's hatred of bears from a big demon one named Mor'du got his leg and has since seeked vengeance. They escape thanks to her brothers and overtime in the woods, mother and daughter have to work together to break the spell. The witch isn't there, but leaves behind a riddle, "mend the bond torn by pride". Merida theorizes that she can reverse the spell by repairing her family tapestry. They set off back home until the wisps lead her to an ancient ruins, where they find out that Mor'du was the emperor from a legend Elanor told Merida. They escape the demon bear but now have to sneak Elanor as a bear, but losing control of her human personality, back in her room. Fergus finds the bear thinking it's Mor'du and chases her to a Stonehenge like clearing. Merida rushes to defend her while sewing back the tapestry, but the real Mor'du shows up. Elanor kills Mor'du by luring him to one of the stones and crushes him, releasing his spirit. Merida covers bear Elanor with the tapestry and when it doesn't seem like it's working, she returns to normal. The two now have a better relationship with each other, the clans depart, and we end with the two riding horses in the wilderness. 

Let's start with what my friend considered "off": the story. It's not a bad story by any means, but it's one that we've seen before in other animated movies. It's a princess that wants her freedom. If you read my Disneyear reviews, then you know now what I'm talking about. This story and main character have been used a dozen times before. Not only that but there's a few elements from Brother Bear in the mix too. It lacks the creativity and magic Pixar is so famous for. There is depth and some interesting twists in the movie, but it's not as groundbreaking as the other Pixar movies, so it comes off a little bit of a disappointment. Again, it's not a bad story, but it is the weakest aspect of the film. 

But are the story flaws overly distracting? Honestly, no. The rest of the movie is really good. The animation for starters is some of the finest you'll see in the movie. I mean wow. This environment looks so photo-realistic. The designs of some of the characters are a little cartoony, but it does work since it's a fairy-tale movie. I also love the attention to detail not just in the animation, but in the voice acting. Every actor in this movie actually does have Scottish heritage. That's really cool and something pretty rare to find in animated movies. There's also the aspect of this culture. Just like in Brother Bear, you get hooked to these people and culture from minute one and whether or not the culture is correct, it still make for interesting fables and myth. But unlike Brother Bear, it does stick with this aspect all the way through. In fact, legends are what drive the story from start to finish. It's almost as if Pixar looked at Brother Bear, saw it's potential, and fixed all it's errors from the middle of that movie. 

I like the designs of these wisps, by the way.
Some of the characters may have been done before, but they're still enjoyable. Merida, for starters, may be someone we've seen in other Disney films before: she's the fiery free spirit that wants to make her own choices and fights her own battles and so on. But I think what makes her stand out though is that she has quite a bit of bratty teenager in her, as evidenced by the lack of morality she displays in trying to change her mother's mind about her upcoming betrothal and yet heaps of bravery, as she shows when confronted with what she's done to her Mother. She does realize her choices have consequences and does what she can to fix them. I also love Kelly MacDonnald's performance too. There's such a genuine sweetness in her voice that transfers well to Merida.

King Fergus is a great comedic character, as expected when Billy Connolly plays him. He's a lot of fun and the scenes with him and the other clan leaders does make for fun comedy. Merida also has these three brothers that are mischievous and do get some good scenes. The best character, by far though, is Elanor. As a queen in a fairy tale, her role could have been type-casted for the villain or just unlikable. But the movie shows that she does indeed love her daughter and only wants to keep tradition in her kingdom. She does know her relationship with her daughter is on the rocks, but what's interesting is that both characters are kind of stubborn at first. It's after Elanor turns into a bear is when it gets even better. The scenes where she tries to act proper as a bear just kill me! The two begin to learn about and from each other as they bond while trying to fix the spell and their relationship turns out for the better They also added this interesting aspect where she would constantly revert personality from human to ursine as the spell progresses. Like I said, this is Brother Bear done right. It's far, far more engaging and timeless. This is really where the heart is.

Brave doesn't quite hold up to the other Pixar films because of a rather weak story, but it comes close. These are memorable characters with a compelling world and culture they live in. The animation is some of the best from the studio, but I wish that the film had more creative energy and magic to back it up. This could have been a masterpiece if it didn't have such a been-done story, but it's still enjoyable as is. It's not a great movie, but it is good. If you're still interested in seeing a Pixar fairy tale or just want an entertaining film to see this summer, I'd say go check it out while you still can.

And this is where Pixargust ends. Again, thank all of you so much for sticking with me this month and sharing your thoughts and ideas about these movies with me. I'm sure you have your own opinions out there so get out there and share them so I can see them. And remember: even the worst from Pixar is still better than the best from Michael Bay. I guess when Monsters University comes out next year, I'll be sure to share my thoughts here. Thank you so much and take care.

Pixargust: Cars 2 (2011)

*sigh*... Okay guys, we've come to one of the big ones. By big ones, I mean it has a big reputation. And by reputation I mean that this has been voted unanimously as Pixar's weakest link: the worst one the studio has made thus far. So it's no surprise that out of all the Pixar films I said I'd do for Pixargust, Cars 2 was the one film I wanted to watch the least. I remember being uninvested by the trailers, I was uninvested by what the story was when I saw the synopsis, I had no interest at all in seeing this last year. And all the negative reviews from not just critics but even fans from the first Cars movie didn't help me change my mind. But my curiosity got the best of me and I got to catch this in a dollar theater last year. Well, I was mostly right. It wasn't that bad but it was still very disappointing to know the kings of story and the animation studio that had the greatest track record for quality films, Pixar, had made this film. So here I am talking about it now that I had to see it a second time. Is it any better and improve the franchise by making it a true Pixar film or is it as painful and hard to watch as a car wreck? Time to check under the hood to see if it's any better, this is Cars 2.

Years pass by as Lightning McQueen has won four Piston Cups and is the pride of Radiator Springs. When he returns, Mater is there to try and have fun until McQueen goes on a date with Sally. Mater impersonates a waiter just to hang out with McQueen some more until a television talk show announces that a former gas guzzler named Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) converted to electricity and has developed a new fuel called Allinol that is supposed to be healthier for the environment (I'll get to that later...) and holds a world cup Prix in honor of the fuel. McQueen is invited after Mater calls the show to confront an Italian rival Francesco Bernoulli (John Tuturro). The first race is in Japan, then Italy, and ends in the UK. During a party, Mater makes a fool of himself and meets up with a spy car (Bruce Campbell) who puts on a tracking device on him without him knowing. He is mistaken for a spy by British Intelligence and is assigned to work with agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) in solving an oil rig crime caused by a group of lemons (small cars that constantly break down) that plan on destroying the cars that use Allinol to make the alternitave fuel look bad and so more cars use regular gasoline instead. It's up to Mater to save the day and he does manage to do a surprisingly competent job working undercover. Meanwhile, McQueen had an argument with Mater before about costing him the race in Japan and feels bad for his friend throughout the movie. The two are reunited in England but the lemons put a bomb on Mater. He surprisingly manages to find out it was actually Axelrod that was behind the Allinol scheme and is arrested while Mater is knighted. He is made the second pride of Radiator Springs and the Prix finishes off in Radiator Springs.

I'm going to be completely honest here: this is a really mediocre film all around. It completely feels alienated from the first Cars film. And I may have criticized it for a weak story, it does have it's heartwarming moments here and there, the side characters were fun, and it does have a nice moral to it. Cars 2 feels like Pixar took all the negative aspects of the first film and somehow made it worse instead of improving it. The side characters are non-existent, the morals are gone and if there is one it's phoned-in, and the story somehow became even more generic than the first one. This is the same plot you'd see in any spy comedy but it's not well-written, the jokes fall flat, and its aims strictly for kids. What the flying spy-car happened here? The whole environmental message really confuses me too. At least with WALL•E, it made sense. But this is Cars! Everything in the world is a car! Wouldn't the o-zone have burnt up by now?

But I'll give the film some credit, it does have a better pace than the first movie and the animation is really, really good. The animators seem to be the only people trying here and the backgrounds are great. You really do feel like you're in these places. We go to Tokyo, then Rome, the London. And I'll admit, the action scenes are cool but some of the designs on the cars could use some work. It's not Pixar's best animation, but it's far better than anything else in the movie.

The locale is really good from this pic.
Like I said most of the side characters are almost pushed aside to the point where they barely appear in this movie and are somehow less developed than before. Even McQueen, the character we should be focusing on, is pushed down to side character status. So who's the main character now? Mater. Yes, I kid you not. I liked him in the first film because while he was annoying at times, he had a kindness and charm to him and the movie knew just how much screen time he had. Now he's the main focus and that charm has sadly faded away. He's really annoying here. It's just an hour and a half of Larry the Cable Guy making unfunny jokes and somehow makes out a world-class spy. And is it me, or is the fact that he's made a spy and given weapons a bad idea from the start?

Dat there bomb probably killed the other racers on accident?
That's funny right there!
The new characters are honestly okay but I wish we got to know them more. Holly seems like she's there just to have a female spy and a love interest for Mater (again, I'm not kidding...), but I like Emily Mortimer's voice acting and I'll admit, she's pretty smart. The villain, though, falls flat by the end. How Mater even figured out it was Axelrod the whole time is really confusing and just thrown at us at the last minute. Francessco has a funny line here and there because of his overall cockiness. At least he's a little better than Chick Hicks. Finn honestly was kind of suave and charming but I wish he was made the focus if we were going a spy route. There's also a car voiced by Bruce Campbell and his scenes are awesome just because it's Bruce Campbell. But they kill him off. Yeah, they destroy his engine. We never actually see it but it's shown as a reflection on a screen. It's pretty graphic for kids. In fact, a lot of cars died and this was a G-rated film? The ratings system screwed up #1 and #2, you never ever want to kill off Bruce Campbell in a movie early on. Nothing good ever comes of that!

*sniff!* Nothing at all!
As a film on it's own, Cars 2 is average kiddie fodder. The story and jokes are rusty, but it has nice animation. As a Pixar film? It is very disappointing! I guess it's because we've all been spoiled by Pixar releasing the best of the best movies produced by the man that saved Disney animation, but I've come to expect a lot more than this. By the end of it, I felt like I only wasted time watching this. It's all flash but no drive or passion and leaves less of an impact behind than the first Cars movie. It's not godawful. Just pointless and it really is the worst Pixar movie. Even if you're a fan of the first Cars movie, chances are you won't like this movie at all. It's not as bad as I'd thought it'd be, but I don't think I'll be watching it again anytime soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pixargust: Toy Story 3 (2010)

Back in 1995, a relatively new animation studio named Pixar released a movie that rocked the whole world: Toy Story. It was not only hugely popular, but also revolutionized animation by being the very first computer-animated film. It mostly was concerned about a toy's role in a child's life as always being there for them and the possibility of there being a new favorite and being replaced. The movie spawned a sequel some 3 years later: Toy Story 2. That movie turned out more successful than its predecessor and is to this day arguably better than the first. It further explored the life of a toy with the possibility of abandonment altogether and the inevitability of your kid growing up. Things have come full circle with a third and currently final sequel around 11 years afterward and was even more successful than the first two combined: Toy Story 3. This film now holds the record for the highest-grossing animated film in history, making back over $1 billion at the box office as well as the third animated film in history to be nominated for Best Picture from the Academy Awards and the second film in a row from Pixar to accomplish this. Even two years after I first saw it, I hold it in high regards as one of Pixar's finest accomplishments. But is it perfect? It's time to gather up the old gang for one final adventure to find out in Toy Story 3.

As you'd expect, all our favorite toys are back! Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bulleye, Slinky, Hamm, Rex, the Potato Heads, and the LGM's. But the film takes place 11 years after the second film and most of the old toys are gone, like Wheezy, RC, and even Bo Peep. Andy is now preparing to leave for college and there's panic over if the toys will be thrown out or placed in the attic. As Andy packs, he's given some trash bags for either garbage or stuff he wants to leave in the attic. All of the toys but Woody are put in the bag and Mom accidentally throws them out. They make it out of the bag as Woody tries to save them, but the gang sees a box headed for a daycare and suggest they all go. Woody is reluctant, still loyal to Andy and reassuring the others that they were meant to be put in the attic. The toys are welcomed to Sunnyside Daycare by a pink teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) and a Ken doll (Michael Keaton), who instantly falls for Molly's Barbie doll from the second film, and make it seem like paradise. While Woody is still unsure about all of this, the others are excited about being played with again. After Woody once again tries to talk them into going back home, Buzz decides that maybe day care is the best way to go. Woody leaves but is found by a little girl named Bonnie while the other toys are played with rather roughly by the kids in their room. Buzz tries to relocate them to an older kids room, he is caught by some of Lotso's assistants and is made one of them. It's when Lotso realizes that Buzz needs to stick with the others like a familt, he resets him to demo mode and shows his true colors as a malicious, bitter old toy that runs the daycare as if it's a prison. After a day with some of Bonnie's toys, Woody hears of the horrors of Sunnyside and Lotso and realizes he has to go back to save them. He returns to Sunnyside in Bonnie's backpack, gets tips from an old talk phone toy, meets with the others, and devices an escape plan. They partake in a suspenseful prison escape scene mixed with the toys kind of restoring Buzz (they accidentally activate his Spanish mode), but Lotso catches up to them and Woody exposes him for the monster he really is. Lotso is tossed in the garbage by his assistant, Big Baby, but catches and pulls Woody in. The others go after him but wind up in the garbage too. After a really intense scene in the dump's trash burner and Lotso ditching them to die after they saved his stuffed ass, they are mercifully spared from death by a giant claw from the LGM's. They make it back to Andy's thinking the attic isn't so bad after all. Before leaving, Andy finds a note to instead donate the toys to Bonnie with Woody inside. After one last day of play with his old toys and Bonnie, Andy says his goodbyes as if they were old friends and the toys live a happy life with Bonnie.

Somehow or another, the Toy Story films constantly top each other. I'm not kidding here. This one really is the best one. Even after eleven years after its predecessor, this is a rare second sequel that feels fresh. It doesn't feel alienated from the other two but instead adds to the continuing saga of Andy's toys without ever running out of steam. I find it interesting that this movie is in relation to the time that it was first released since most of us were around four or five when the first movie came out and I was in my first year of college when this came out. Toy Story 3 does exactly what the first two did, delivered on all cylinders, all aspects of film-making and entertainment. The humor is back, the heart is back, the delightful cast of characters is back. This time, thanks to an incredible script, there's more suspense, more drama, and many more surprises. Like any spectacular trilogy, it wraps up all loose ends. The predictability factor in this movie is low, and the payoff to all the suspense is extremely high and well worth it. It's excellently directed and written with a great soundtrack, animation, and voice-acting to boot. I especially love the beginning scene where we see what play time is like to a toy. This was one of the most creative scenes in the movie.

Even most of the original cast is back! Well, except for Jim Varney who sadly passed away after the second film was released. They instead hired Blake Clark to voice Slinky and he actually does sound a lot like the late Varney. He did a fine job voicing the character. Aside from all the toys being more or less themselves, Andy has matured a lot too. As a college bound student he's also rather nostalgic for his old toys and after all they've been through together, he does want those memories for the future which is why he wanted his old toys in the attic. In itself, this was a clever idea to make us identify with Andy a little bit.

Don't worry. We're all nostalgic in one way or another.
The new characters are also really enjoyable. You have Bonnie's toys, which are fun. There's a lot to keep track of, but the film gives the right amount of screen time to them, they never distract from the main characters and story, and the film interestingly portrays them as improv actors. There's a thespian hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants, a sarcastic unicorn named Buttercup, a triceratops that's handy with computers named Trixie, a triplet of peas in a pod, and a doll named... well, Dolly. Oh and before someone kills me over this, she does indeed have a Totoro doll! Squee! And yes, I'll review that movie when the time is right.

Totoro! :D
Lotso as a villain is easily the best one in a Pixar film since Syndrome. As a sweet teddy bear that apparently smells of strawberries on the outside, he's a twisted, bitter, heartless monster that acts more like the prison warden from Sawshank Redemption on the inside. His story is a pretty sad one too. He was lost by his original kid and never exactly lets it go once he found out he was replaced. He later bumped into Sunnyside with Big Baby and a clown doll named Chuckles and turned it into Alcatraz. He's a really dark character for a movie about toys.

It's a little hard to connect my character description with this image .
Speaking of dark, this film gets pretty damn depressing around the last third. Toy Story 3 repeats the abandonment and moving on angle from Toy Story 2, but adds pathos to it that was unseen before in the other two films or any Pixar film for that matter. I specifically want to talk about this pivotal juncture in the final act, there was a moment in the movie that only last a minute or two, but felt very, very, very real. I can't stress this enough, I have never felt anything like this from a movie. The first time I cried in a move was with Up's "Ellie" sequence but for some reason I didn't do it here. My emotions went beyond crying, I don't know if it was the swirling bright ember colors contrasting with the stark images or the expressiveness of the toys in that very moment, but I sat there in disbelief and was affected in a way that has not existed before. As engaging as the film is, I do kind of wish it pushed the drama all throughout the film. It has it's serious moments here and there, but it's not until the last third that the powerful stuff happens. What I mean is an emotional equilibrium would have made this a little bit stronger.

As is, Toy Story 3 is honestly the most poignant, mature, and suspenseful of all the Toy Story films. Even if it's emotionally unbalanced, that last third was probably hook, line, and sinker for the Academy. Again, it's a rare second sequel that feels fresh and doesn't quite distance itself from the other two. It's still as charming, magical, and timeless as the last two films and will likely stay that way to infinity and beyond. Lee Unrick's direction is fantastic as well as the animation quality and music by Randy Newman. It's the perfect end to a prefect trilogy of movies. And I honestly hate to jinx it, but it seems like nothing could stop Pixar from climbing to the top. Maybe the next film will break box-office records and be as recognized by the Academy for the third time in a row! Maybe the next film will push the limits of how mature animated films can be! Maybe...


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pixargust: Up (2009)

It's amazing. After 24 years of revolutionizing the art of animation with charming short films and hit after hit after hit films, Pixar at last received an honor that very few animation studios can boast about: one of their films had been nominated the Academy Award for Best Picture. It took so long but they made it at last with the studio's tenth film, Up. It's an honor that by this point was only shared with one other animated film: Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast. After all, WALL•E was a tough act to follow but I think I've ranted about that enough. But I think that everyone, including myself, was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Aside from it's famous accolade, it's also Pixar's third highest grossing film, ginormous amounts of critical acclaim, and managed to walk out with two other Academy Awards: Best Animated Film and Best Score. So just what is it that makes Pixar's tenth wonder (well, ninth if you didn't like Cars...) so great that it almost won Best Picture? Is it the story, the characters, some of the themes, or all of the above? Time to test if the sky really is the limit with today's film, Up.

Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner) is a man who has lived life. As a young child, he meets a girl named Ellie who shares his passion for adventure and idol, the famous explorer/scientist Charles Muntz. The two marry when they're older and restore the old house they used as a clubhouse and live a very happy life together. It's until Ellie passes away that Carl's life takes a turn for the worst. Now 78, he has to deal with construction going on around his old house and a young scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) that constantly asks for his assistance even though he means well. After an accident with a construction worker and being forced into a retirement home, Carl is fed up. He remembers his wife's dream: to venture to South America and plant their house on Paradise Falls. And overnight, he gathers enough helium balloons to lift his house from the ground and modifies it for air travel to Paradise Falls. One problem: Russell is on his porch after trying to help him catch a snipe. So Carl is now stuck with him and sees Russell as more of a nuisance than an asset. The two do make it to the falls, but the balloons have lost a lot of air and they land on the wrong side. They figure since they weigh the house down, they can simply walk to the falls. Along the way, they meet a giant prehistoric bird, a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson) that can talk thanks to a special collar, and even Carl's old idol Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) who appears to have snapped trying to look for this bird so he can take it back to the States and redeem his reputation. Carl and Russell now see the danger they're in and try to keep the bird (who Russell names Kevin) away from Muntz and his canine bodyguards with the help of Dug. However, Muntz catches up to them, steals Kevin, and sets Carl's house on fire. Disappointed that Carl just let Kevin go, Russell goes out on his own to save the bird. Carl becomes motivated to help after looking at Ellie's old scrapbook and sees the passage "Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one." After a pretty thrilling climax, Carl and Dug save Kevin and Russell, defeat Muntz, but lose the house. Using Muntz's blimp they return Kevin to her family. Yes, Kevin was female this whole time. After getting back home, Carl gives Russell his old badge that his wife once gave him and the two have their own adventures through an unlikely friendship.

If I didn't have such a personal attachment to Ratatouille, then Up would be my second favorite film. The film is hilarious, heartfelt, moving and dramatic all at once. This may sound like it is an issue, and that the film has a problem holding its ground with its tonal structure. But it handles it quite well; splitting the film into quadrants and allowing the themes and plot line to coincide with whatever emotional response the filmmakers are going for. And while there is plenty for young children to enjoy and take from the film, it's really the older audience that will get the biggest reaction from it. There is a lot going on in the film, but it never loses its speed and never loses control of what it wants to say and do. It knows exactly where it wants to be and when to have its fun and serious moments. And where other recent Pixar films have failed (specifically in their lengthy runtimes and frequent need to drag themselves out), Up doesn't. It practically blasts its way through its beginning, all the way up to its ending, with time left to spare. Some may say the film is trying to tell multiple stories, but as the film progresses, it is clear it is telling one story: the tale of a man who never experienced what he wanted the most. The film's best scene is within the first ten minutes as a montage of Carl's life. It's all the film's emotions in only four or five minutes and the relationship he had with Ellie is one of the finest and most heartfelt in film history. I'd make a joke about Twilight here, but the Internet beat me to it.

What's fascinating is, much like WALL•E and Ratatouille before it, is the focus on very few characters. The film builds up Carl's backstory heavily in startlingly moving moments that surprisingly were surprisingly kept rather secretive in the marketing for the film. We know from the very first trailer that Carl is a fairly mean old man, but the film spends a great deal of time to develop him into an emotional wreck of a man because of the death of his wife. Russell is another fun character. He may be a bit chatty, but he does mean well and the film allows for some development and his friendship with Carl is genuine. Dug is probably the funniest Pixar character since Dory. He's a talking dog, but not in a traditional sense. He has this collar that transmits his thoughts as speech through the collar's speakers. So when he speaks, it feels a lot like what your dog may be thinking. And it is funny.

Oh, and there's a giant bird. She's funny too.
The one character that I'm not so much a fan of is actually Muntz. I mean yeah, he's intimidating, he's twisted, and Christopher Plummer always makes a cool villain. It's just that his motives are a bit questionable. I mean think about it: he's trying to earn back his reputation as a scientist by capturing this rare bird. In the meantime, he's had no one but these dogs for company and he's modified a few things to make things more accessible for them. For example, he invented the collar that allows Dug to talk and there's even a scene where he even modifies an airplane where a dog can not only fly it but also shoot weapons. Um... don't you think that has more potential for redemption as a scientist than catching a bird? I mean you could market the hell out of these inventions! Everyone in the world would want to buy them! You could be rich, man! And why stop there? You could modify the same collar for other animals. This could open new gateways for animal communication and intelligence studies! You could go down in history! And you throw it away for... catching a rare bird!?!
Oh, and how do he and Carl look roughly the same age?
 Never explained... aw well, still a damn good movie.
Back to the good stuff! The real magic of the film is in its imagination and adventure. It sticks with being an almost straight adventure picture. It is frequently thrilling and exciting, and lets up only for a few moments at a time. For such an older character, the film really stuns with some of its fantastical ideas. What it lacks in realism it makes up for in fun: something that has been sorely missing from a lot of live action movies for years. It came back for a short while like in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but the focus lately for many films has been based on deeply conflicted, depressing narratives. And while this film does have it's really sad moments, it never wallows in them. It throws the moments at you, and then quickly moves on. Like I said earlier, the tonal shifts do work in Up's favor.

The animation, of course, is great. While Up doesn't break a lot of ground in this field, it still holds Pixar's high standards for animation. The locales are realistic looking and the dog fur is near perfect. For me, watching Carl's facial hair gradually grow in as the story moves along was kind of interesting. The little details and minute perfections have always been key to the Pixar films, including this one, is no different. 

Somehow or another, Pixar always manages to outdo themselves and Up is another all-time high for Pixar. Even if it gets a tad silly, it's still a fun, exciting, clever, and creative adventure film with genuine characters and moments. The animation and designs are wonderful. The characters are memorable and the relationships that they have with each other are intriguing. It may have it's deep, emotional moments (especially with Carl), but it never wallows in them or overbears. It's the perfect amount. I honestly have very few complaints about it and can't recommend it enough. Kids will like the adventures, but folks around my age and older will get more out of it. It's very mature in it's aspect of death and the emotions that stem from it blended perfectly with fun and imagination, which is probably why it got it's infamous nomination. And to my amazement, Pixar managed to get another nomination for Best Picture with their next film. Two in a row? Trust me, that ain't easy. So which film did it again? The answer will come next time.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pixargust: WALL•E (2008)

After directing Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton felt Pixar had created believable simulations of underwater physics and was willing to direct a film largely set in space. He also thought it would be a neat idea if the film was mostly visual. As in having little to no dialogue at all and having the animation, music, and expressions on the characters tell the story. An even bigger challenge was to do this not with people, but robots. The end result was the wildly acclaimed film as well as film number nine from the acclaimed and innovate animation studio, WALL•E.  I'm not kidding. Usually the critics love Pixar movies, but this one? They were all over it! TIME magazine even ranked it #1 in their article Best Films of the Decade! I was expecting it to at least be nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards because of all the acclaim it received. Sadly, it didn't. But it got Best Animated Film. That's something, right? I mean jeez, Academy! If there's an animated film that deserves that kind of nomination, it's this! Hold on, I'm getting off topic here. So again I must ask, is this really one of the best animated films of all time? Let's get down to earth in today's film, WALL•E.

In the far off year of 2805, Earth is a very different place. It's a lot more brown and covered in garbage due years of mass consumerism from the mega-conglomerate Buy n' Large. BnL evacuated all of Earth's population due to the continuing piles of trash while a special model of robot called the Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth Class, or WALL•E (Ben Burt) for short, clean up all the garbage left behind so that Earth will be cleaner when they return. They eventually stop functioning and Earth is left for dead. One is still left, though, as he manages to break out of his original programming to form a personality of his own. He collects objects he sees as treasures rather than trash, befriends a cockroach, and his favorite film so far is Hello, Dolly! One day while he's out working, he finds a small plant growing and decides to keep it in a boot. Later, a ship lands on Earth and releases a small, white, sleeker robot named EVE (Elissa Knight) and WALL•E becomes infatuated with her. After days of trying to get her attention, WALL•E gets his chance to talk to her and they seem to hit it off well. WALL•E decides to show EVE his collection of trinkets, including the plant he found earlier. When he does show her the plant, her programming puts the plant in her compartment and she shuts off, worrying our little hero. WALL•E never leaves her side until the ship arrives. Thinking she's being kidnapped, he rushes to the ship to try and save her. After days of space travel, the ship lands in a bigger ship's deck called the Axiom, where the people there are a little too reliant of technology to take care of them, resulting in massive weight gain. The captain of the Axiom (Jeff Garlin) finds out about the plant on board and is needed to put in a compartment so that the people can return home. When they open EVE, the plant is missing. She is considered defective and ordered to be repaired while WALL•E follows. Turns out this is part of the Autopilot orders his robotic assistant GO-4 to steal the plant as part of its no return directive, secretly issued to autopilots after BnL incorrectly concluded in 2110 that the planet could not be saved and humanity should remain in space. GO-4 puts the plant in an escape pod headed back to Earth, but WALL•E rescues it. EVE thanks him with a spark kiss and they dance in space. The captain finds some soil left over from WALL•E's handshake and has it analyzed, revealing it's from Earth. He learns more and more about Earth and is eager to return home. He sees EVE's footage and realizes that they need to go back to restore the planet. Auto mutinies and tries to dispose of the plant. WALL•E saves the plant but is severely injured by Auto. EVE remembers that all of WALL•E's parts to fix him are back on Earth, so she needs to get the plant to the ship to save WALL•E. The captain defeats Auto, the Axiom heads for Earth, and EVE fixes WALL•E but he loses all his original memories. He is revived thanks to a spark "kiss" and WALL•E remembers everything again. He and EVE continue their love while the people restore Earth back to the way it was over the credits.

Let's start with what everybody remembers the most from the film: WALL•E himself and his arch with EVE. Why? Because it's interesting that both these characters can portray so much character and emotion solely through the animation and a few robotic sound effects. WALL•E also happens to share a little of his charm to the other robots in the film, as they too figure out there's more to existence than their original directives. The chemistry between the two is charming to watch. WALL•E is sort of timid and has a bulkier design and EVE is more serious and more streamlined. I guess it's true: opposites do attract. They have their bumps throughout the movie, but they overcome their original directives to find love and deeply care about each other. Again, done with little to no dialogue. It's one of the best movie romances ever made. I especially love it when WALL•E gathers the courage to talk with EVE and the dancing in space scene.

The social commentary provided in this movie is rather interesting. It's really more of a "what-if?" scenario if anything. Like I said earlier, Earth is covered with so much garbage that the humans have to leave. Meanwhile on the Axiom, they become overly-reliant on technology and BnL products that they suffer morbid obesity and bone loss from the gravity in space and not really having to lift a finger. It's not really attacking corporations per se, unlike 2012's The Lorax. They sort of portray the C.E.O. of BnL (played by the real-life Fred Willard by the way!) as sort of a naive man, not evil. He does realize the mistakes he made, takes responsibility for his actions, and tries his best to fix everything. There's also the matter of restoring Earth. Since they left Earth has become uninhabitable, but plants are starting to grow back. Nature just has odd ways of restoring itself. As a part of the movie, I never found it overly distracting. It may be a bit on the nose at times, but the movie remembers to keep it's focus on WALL•E and EVE.

The first 40 minutes of WALL•E is just so perfect. The animation is brilliant, it has an engaging story, the score by Thomas Newton is wonderful, and it's all told solely on the animation. It's entirely visual and takes advantage of the fact that it's a movie very, very well. However, it's when we land on the Axiom and hear the people speak is when it starts to lose a bit of it's novelty. It's not a bad script by any means. It's damn brilliant and the dialogue does sound natural. My problem is that if you're going to have your movie silent in the first half of the movie (which was really charming) and then there's people talking left and right, it sort of takes away from the magic. If you really want to be really innovative, go all out. It would be nice to have an animated film, or any film in general, be completely silent and have the story told strictly from the surroundings, music, and the gestures, expressions, and movements of the actors. Take full advantage of the visual medium. As is, it's not at all a bad movie, In fact, the extreme opposite. I just wish that it went all out in the silent direction. That's my only qualm.

WALL•E is definitely Pixar's most unique film. It's a sci-fi romance that never disappoints. Even though I wish it was completely silent like it's trying to be, it's still an entertaining, charming, and intelligent film. Like Nemo before it, WALL•E is another prime example of Stanton's talents as a director and screen-writer. It's definitely a cut above the rest. It's in my top 5 Pixar films for a very good reason. So back to the Academy Awards. I'm still scratching my head as to why this never got that Best Picture nomination it really does deserve. And if it didn't then, then when will Pixar ever get the honor of having the first animated film since Beauty and the Beast to be nominated for Best Picture? I got that answer the very next year. Join me next time to see which film it is.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pixargust: Ratatouille (2007)

Okay, so all of you should know by now that my favorite Pixar movie is Finding Nemo. But if I had to pick a runner-up that had a clear three-act structure, is not part of a franchise, and has everything such as imagination, heart, and memorable characters that Pixar is now infamous for, it would have to be Ratatouille. Why? Because it's as close to perfection as you can imagine. The story: humble, but engaging. The characters: identifiable. The musical score by Michael Giacchino: perfect. The animation: Flawless. The best since Finding Nemo. As expected it was a big success when it came out, making over $620 million worldwide, opened with universal critical acclaim, and was even nominated for five Academy Awards, but only won one. Not a bad run at all. This was the first Pixar movie that I never got to see in the theaters. I wanted to, but never got the chance. My father knew this and felt bad about it so as soon as the DVD came out, we went to our Target, bought it, and watched it together. We both liked it, but I think it left a bigger impact on me personally. Watching it again, I may have figured out why. Join me as we sink our teeth to a true five-star film: Ratatouille.

We see our main character is Remy (Patton Oswalt) who lives in rural France and dreams of being a gourmet chef in the finest restaurants in Paris. One problem: he's a rat. And rats aren't welcome with people's food. Turns out Remy has a very strong sense of smell and taste, which enables him to smell out fresh food from garbage, even rat poison. Once his clan figures this out, Remy becomes the official "food-checker" to see if anything is tainted. But once he's free, he ventures in the kitchen of an old woman to experiment with cooking by watching his idol Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garret), author of the best-seller Anyone Can Cook, on television. But his cover is blown and the clan has to leave with the rest of his clan. Remy is separated from them and winds up in the sewers with a copy of Gusteau's book. He begins to see Gusteau's image come to life and becomes his "spirit mentor" throughout the movie. He finds out he's been underneath Paris the whole time and finds Gusteaus's old restaurant: once five stars, now three due to his death and a review by notorious food critic Anton Ego (Peter O' Toole). Remy gets a peek inside the kitchen but finds a new garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano) spills the soup and poorly tries to recreate it. Remy falls in on accident and is tempted to fix the soup. He does but gets caught by Linguini. The sou chef Skinner (Ian Holm) orders Linguini to get rid of the rat, but he can't go through it. He finds out that Remy can understand him and he takes him home. The two try to work together to recreate the soup from the other night but it doesn't work with Remy biting him. So on accident, Remy discovers that by pulling his hair, he can strangely control Linguini's actions. This does work and they are able to not only recreate the soup but also make Gusteau's restaurant a hit again and Linguini forms a romance with a coworker named Collete (Janeane Garofalo). That is until Ego hears about this and vows to re-review the restaurant again. Now under immense pressure, the two also have a suspicious Skinner investigating what is Linguini's secret. Skinner finds out it's Remy that is the true chef and he catches him so he can use the rat to make a line of frozen foods for him. Remy is freed and Linguini reveals the truth to his staff only to have them walk out because they think he's crazy, even Collete. But Remy does succeed to impress Ego with his family's help with Linguini's and eventually Collete's help in making ratatouille. The next morning, Ego gives a positive review of Gusteau's but is shut down because Skinner ratted them out on a rat infestation. But Remy, Linguini, and Collete form a new hit bistro with Ego as a regular customer.

This film gets my vote as the most pleasant Pixar film to look at. Just the skyline of Paris blows me away and they capture the Romanticism and charm of the city beautifully. From what I hear, the animators had some trouble with making sure the food in this movie looked appetizing. Thankfully, it does. Frankly, it makes me hungry just watching it. I know it's animated, but I really want to reach for the screen and eat it myself. I just want to taste it.

Doesn't that look appetizing?
For 111 minutes, the film has a much, much better pace than Cars did. It's beautiful, and a tight, smart, wonderful script flows from this. The pacing of the story is odd and choppy at places, but this is a very forgivable grievance. It's the most layered, complex, and satisfying script from Pixar since The Incredibles. In fact, I live by a lot of these quotes. Here's a few to indulge in.

Part of the reason I love this movie so much is because I can connect with the main character Remy. As an artist myself, I'm always looking for new ways to draw or design certain characters: both before my time and ones I create. Remy is more or less the same. He's always experimenting with flavors and ways of cooking his dishes. His family, though, is a little less appreciative of his talents. My father has always been supportive of me and my mother is slowly but surely warming up to the idea of me being an animator. Remy's father is constantly arguing with him about his life (as my mother did before) and his brother doesn't have the passion or drive that Remy does. This is just a rare character that I identify with 100%. In fact if anyone ever plans on entering a creative career, I suggest watching both this and Ed Wood, as both have valuable lessons for careers like this. Here, it's that even the humblest of origins can succeed, but in Ed Wood, there's always the chance it could bomb hardcore. But both show that the sky's the limit with your creativity and that you should pursue your dreams no matter what. That and the voice acting by Patton Oswalt is superb. Even though he's a famous comedian, I can hear Remy's character and not a celebrity doing a voice behind a microphone. Bottom line: I just adore this rat.

The rest of the characters are entertaining. I like Emile's ignorance is bliss attitude, which has a comedic contrast with Remy. His father has some good scenes too. You feel the rocky relationship he has with Remy, but he's just trying to be a good parent. Collete was a scary, tough-nuts woman at first, but she gets much more pleasant as the film progresses. Skinner was a nice comedic villian who wants to market Gusteau's name. The scenes where he tries to expose Linguini and his reactions are especially funny. Guteau himself is a pleasant man, offering Remy sage advice through the rat's imagination. The rest of them play minimal parts, which is what A Bug's Life and Cars should have done. The only character I'm not a big fan of though is Linguini. We've seen the socially awkward guy before in other movies and there are points where he can be a little whiny. But I can tolerate him. At least he has some funny scenes with Remy and Skinner.

Ratatouille is close to being perfect. With beautiful animation and settings, delicious looking food, a scrumptious complex script, voice acting, fantastic musical score by Michael Giacchino, and a character and message that touches me as an artist, it's no surprise why it's my second-favorite. The pace and a few of the humans, though, are what keep it from being my #1 pick. But those are only minor flaws and it's still an excellent film by all means. It's not just a film, it's a work of art. If you haven't seen it yet and happen to see this at your video store, do not pass it up! Just have something to snack on as you watch it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pixargust: Cars (2006)

Over the last six years, Pixar has captured the hearts and imagination of people around the world just as Walt Disney did with his films over 75 years ago. So far we've had films about toys that became an instant classic and revolutionized computer animation, a look at the insect world, monsters scaring people as parts of their jobs, a father fish searching the entire ocean to rescue his son, and a family of superheros that become closer by breaking the tradition of secret identities. The films broke records, won awards, and all that good stuff. What would Pixar do next? Well, John Lasseter had an idea about a film with cars that he developed with Joe Ranft, who sadly passed away in an automobile accident before this film was released. While the film called Cars was a modest success when it first came out, it garnered a reputation from movie-goers and critics alike for being... the least imaginative film Pixar has produced so far. So what happened? And is it really as bad as most people make it out to be? Time to get a need for speed and drive off in... Cars.

The film begins in a racetrack, where three rival race cars compete for the coveted Piston Cup trophy and sponsorship from Dinoco. Our focus is on a rookie named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) as he becomes a racing sensation overnight. During his race. he stubbornly refuses to change tires which causes a blowout on the last lap. He manages to make a three-way tie with his rivals Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and The King (Richard Petty), so the officials will hold a new race in California with just these three to determine a true winner. After a meeting with the sponsors, McQueen saddles up with his driver Mac (John Ratzenberger) to be the first one in California. While McQueen is sleeping, the exhausted Mack drifts off and is startled by a gang of reckless street racers, causing McQueen to fall out the back of the truck into the road. He frantically tries to find Mac on the freeway until his aimless driving takes him to a small community on the historic Route 66 called Radiator Springs. He's arrested for reckless driving and is impounded overnight. During his trial next morning, he is ordered to fix the town road by order of the judge Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) under supervision of the sheriff and a tow-truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). As he fixes the road and gains the affections of the town and the town lawyer Sally (Bonnie Hunt), McQueen learns that the town was once a hot spot before the interstate was built. He learns to appreciate the little things in life as well as gain a few friends in Mater and the rest of the town, except for Doc. McQueen also learns that Doc was once a famous race car. After he fixes the road, McQueen decides to give back a little more by shopping at all the stores and fixing the town's neon somehow. The media finds McQueen and he is taken to his race in California. Turning over a new leaf, some of the town surprise McQueen at his race by being his volunteer pit crew, even Doc. McQueen loses the race, but gains so much more in the end.

Okay, so what problems would someone have with this movie? My main problem with Cars (and it's unfortunately a big one) is the story. If you've seen Doc Hollywood before, then you know Cars. Only replace the entire cast with cars. I'll admit I think it's an odd choice for a story and it does seem a little like plagiarism on that part. Or maybe it was a coincidence? I'll never know for sure. What bothers me about this is that this is Pixar. Story is usually what this company was best at. They could create these original, creative stories with beautiful looking animation and memorable characters. They got the animation part down, and it does look amazing, but the storytelling is a bit rusty. It's all flash but no substance.

Flashy surface, but rust engine.
For a movie about fast-paced vehicles, it starts slow and keeps in this lane longer than it should. One hour into the film, Lightning still has not learned his lesson. Undoubtedly its other fatal flaw is its length: there is absolutely no need to stretch a Disney comedy across two hours.It has it's clever moments, but they're sparse within its run time. And speaking of lessons, I do like it's moral. It's one I don't really see that much in other animated movies, and I do really love how it ends. It's nice that the hero didn't win but gains much more. Then again, it's not taking that many risks. It just sort of plays it safe.

Now for the characters. I'm not really a big fan of Lightning McQueen. I just think we've seen this guy before. He's the arrogant show-off that learns a valuable lesson in the end. And we're supposed to be engaged with his story when he's pretty unlikable in the first half of the movie. The side characters though, are what make this movie for me. There's a lot to keep track of like in A Bug's Life and not that many have stand-out personalities, but I do like them all more than the main character. One example is Doc Hudson with a wonderful back story and he comes to life by the excellent acting by Paul Newman. Another, and I know a few of you may hate me for saying this, is Mater. I'm not a big fan of Larry the Cable Guy's stand-up and I thought he'd be annoying as hell when I learned he was attached to this. But when I saw this movie again, I found Mater kind of charming. Maybe it's his sweet, friendly nature. Maybe it's his innocence of the outside world. He can be annoying sometimes, but I just like him. I especially love the end where McQueen helps them all. This is where they all shine through.

The animation and designs of the cars are the only consistent good things about the movie. It is cool that the Pixar folks did a little research to see what models of automobiles to use for the film, like how they decided on all the varieties of fish in Finding Nemo. I also really like the setting of Radiator Springs. From what I heard, Pixar artists got a full tour of the real historic Route 66 and many of the landmarks on that highway are present in the movie, like how The Cozy Cone Motel was modeled after the Wigwam motels in Holbrook, Arizona and Railto, California. It's little things like that that do make me like this movie a little bit more.

Cars on the whole is sort of a mixed bag. As much as I like the side characters and the homages to the real Route 66, the problems it has with the storytelling, pace, and how eerily similar it is to Doc Hollywood do hold it back from being a top-tier movie. It's on the bottom of my list because it really lacks the extra push and innovation that other Pixar films have. And considering the critical acclaim from the last movie, The Incredibles, it seems like a step backward instead of  forward. As it's own movie, it's alright. But as a Pixar movie, you sort of expect more than this. And despite it's shortcomings, there is a general charm and likability to it. You do grow to like some of these characters and they're environment. If you haven't seen it by now, take what I've said and judge it for yourself when you do see it. It's just not my favorite.