Tag Archives: Pixar

WALL-E

I never appreciated just how dark the opening to Wall-E is. The landscape is littered not just with trash, but with the busted skeletons of old Wall-E models that have met their doom while relentlessly cubing trash. In fact, Wall-E sizes up one robot corpse and swaps his worn out tracks for the newer ones on the dead body of his comrade – very reminiscent of war movies where soldiers are always on the lookout for newer boots, and the soul-crushing way they’ll pry them off a bloated corpse if necessary.

Wall-E, by the way, is the last functioning trash-compacting robot (Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) on Earth. All the humans fled 700 years ago when the Earth was overwhelmed with garbage. The whole living in space thing was thought to be temporary (5 years), but no amount of Wall-Es could get the job done, and eventually all but our Wall-E became trash themselves. Wall-E is a bit of a hoarder; he collects MV5BMjZkODJmYzktMDYzNi00NWQ3LTllZTMtMWVhOTgxY2U4ODA3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzA4NzQyMjk@._V1_human treasures much the way Ariel does in The Little Mermaid. He’s got a Rubik’s cube and an Atari and he loves to watch Hello, Dolly!, which keeps his romantic streak alive despite living a pretty solitary life. But then one day a lovely robot named Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) gets sent to Earth to search for signs of life. Having found a seedling, she jets back to the Axiom where humans have been living for more than 250 000 days, despite some “slight” bone loss. Enamoured, Wall-E follows her there, where her positive probe engages a return-to-Earth protocol. Unfortunately, the ship’s autopilot computer has other ideas.

The first 20 minutes or so of Wall-E are dialogue-free. This put many people off the film, but I didn’t even notice, so enraptured was I by stunning visuals. Cinematographer Roger Deakins was consulted to see how he might light and shoot the scenes, and he was happy to oblige. Those opening scenes therefore look like some of his atmospheric, sepia-hued stuff, and it’s no accident.

Wall-E has a magic that cannot quite be explained. It’s a sci-fi epic that manages to give us a glimpse into the future through the telescope of a current issue, while maintaining a nostalgic reverence. It’s Back To The Future, but with robots, and gelatinous blobs that used to be human (which begs the question: when a blobby human falls out of their chair, and literally cannot right himself without robot assistance, how in the heck are they still fucking?). Minor qualms aside, Wall-E is exhilarating and beautiful. You may know that I’m reviewing Disney movies this week because I’m at Disney World with my two sweetheart nephews, who are sure to make the experience a memorable one. It puts a literal pinch in my heart to say this, but they’re both born after Wall-E came out. Gulp. So they may not be searching for signs of Wall-E in the Magic Kingdom, but I will be – or I would be, if Wall-E had any presence at all. Sadly, he does not. Which is weird, because Wall-E was a huge movie in 2008, and it went on to score 6 Oscar nominations, a feat that had only been equaled by Beauty and the Beast, and you can be sure that both Belle and the Beast are featured heavily in these parks. In fact we’ll be dining on “the grey stuff” in the Beast’s castle, whether or not the boys get the reference because their mother and I grew up on 90s Disney, and the last time I checked, it was our Visas doing the heavy lifting.

Speaking of which, I have in fact visited Disney World once before, when the older of my two nephews was but a babe of 18 months. I had heard about this magical place all my life, and it didn’t matter that my first visit was as an adult, I went at that bitch with childhood wonder, delighting in Mickey-shaped ice cream bars, waving at the mascots on parade. I was obsessed with finding the perfect set of Mickey ears, but only knew about them from my elementary school classmates who brought them back without fail, embroidered with their names, from their own Disney vacations. I didn’t realize that today there are hundreds of dozens of possibilities: ears for every occasion, for every character, for every film, for every ride in every park. It was so overwhelming I spent my whole vacation embarrassingly ear-less. This time I’m anticipating being crippled with indecision and I’ve done two brilliant things:

  1. I’ve warned Sean to bring ALL the money.
  2. I’ve given myself permission to buy new ears each day.
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I’ve already pre-scouted these Wall-E ears that will be very hard to resist. But I think we can all agree that they only work if I can convince Sean to wear the other pair. And though the man is smart enough to never say no to me, he also doesn’t have a whimsical bone in his body and i’m just not sure I can do it to him. But probably I can! After all, this is the place where dreams really do come true.
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Incredibles 2

Taking up pretty much where the last film left off, Bob, Helen, and the whole Incredible family are in hot water for the havoc they’ve been wreaking while saving the world, and even the super hero witness protection program is folding. Luckily, a rich benefactor named Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and his genius-inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), step in with a plan to bring supers out of hiding and back into the light.

To do that, they need Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to don her tights to pull some major super hero moves while Mr. Incredible stays home to be Mr. Dad to daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash, and baby Jack Jack, who is just starting to come into his own powers. MV5BNTZhODcwN2EtYWI3ZS00NGU1LTlkYWEtMzgzNmY0MGViYmI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc1MTQ5MTI@._V1_Mr. Incredible is feeling more like Mr. Second Banana being relegated to the side lines, but Pixar is famous for doing a protagonist switcheroo for its sequels: Finding Nemo became Finding Dory, Monsters University was about Mike instead of Sully, and Cars 2 followed Mater rather than Lightning McQueen. I think it’s a great idea, in 2018, to give Elastigirl top billing (even if it’s still the 60s in the Incredibles’ universe), but I wish they had kept that messaging consistent enough not to have her waist be about the same size as her neck, or to have her fighting crime in thigh-high pleather high-heeled boots that would have Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman blushing.

Other than those qualms, Incredibles 2 (they dropped the The!) is a pretty fun ride. It feels less emotionally complex than some of Pixar’s most beloved offerings, and Matt thought Elastigirl’s new kickbutt attitude came at the expense of a real character arc for her. But Incredibles 2 is full of giggles. There were a lot of kids in the audience around us (some of them in adorably muscled Mr. Incredible cosplay), and they laughed at the most unusual, nonsensical times (not just the fart stuff!), which made me grin as well.

Baby Jack Jack is not a new character but the sequel finds him in the process of discovering his new powers, which both thrills and terrifies his proud and exhausted dad. Jack’s powers include but are in no way limited to: combustion, levitation, duplication, and laser eyes! The more ridiculous his powers, the funnier it plays. He’s a baby AND he’s a weapon of mass destruction! Imagine having to babysit that!

Incredibles 2 isn’t quite as incredible as its predecessor but it’s got some really cool set pieces (planes, trains, and incredimobiles!), and both the old guard and new friends are fun to spend time with. Most of all though, I have to say the animation itself was spectacular. You can see the wrinkles in Mr. Incredible’s linen shirt. That’s how specific and crisp the animation is – what a discernible difference 14 years makes! Incredibles 2 is a visual delight and has massive appeal for the whole family, whether you’re super or just really, really great.

Coco

First, if you haven’t read my piece about John Lasseter, please do. It feels like an important piece of the conversation.

On to the movie. Coco is Pixar’s latest offering about a little boy named Miguel. Miguel comes from a long line of shoe makers and he knows that’s his destiny even if it isn’t his passion. He lives and works with his parents, his grandmother, and his great-grandmother, who all have the same very strict rule: absolutely no music. So guess what Miguel’s true passion is? That’s right: it’s music. He idolizes Mexico’s most popular singer, Ernesto De La Cruz. And on the day of the dead, he’d love nothing more than to participate in the town’s talent show, but not only is this forbidden by his relatives, he must honour the dead at the family altar instead – every single one of them, except for his great-grandmother’s father, who left his young family to pursue music, which is the whole reason behind the curse.

coco-movie-01Of course, this being a movie and all, things do not go smoothly. Miguel’s pursuit of his passion means he accidentally crosses into the land of the dead himself, and he needs the help of his dead ancestors (possibly including that cur, his great, great-grandfather) in order to return home.

Pixar does not miss the opportunity to splash the screen with colour. It’s a riot, and constantly just beautiful to look at. Sean and I love and visit Mexico frequently, and it’s clear the animators do too. There’s something about the juxtaposition of smiling skeletons and vivid colours that just captures the imagination. But the film treats every day Mexico just as lovingly. The opening scene is done through papel picado – those brightly coloured tissue paper banners with intricately cut-out designs. It’s distinctive and impressive Mexican folk art that really establishes the scene for us early on. Coco is a buffet of visual delight, but it also tells a very compelling story. Yes, the following your dreams thing has been done to death (pun intended) but Coco is also a meditation on family, forgiveness, memory, and love. It takes a kids movie about death to truly speak to the joy and the pain of being alive.

And I’m glad Pixar has finally given us a non-white character in the lead role. It’s about time. I feel like the whole movie reads like a love letter to Mexico and its culture and traditions, but Pixar hasn’t acquitted itself entirely honourably during the film’s production. Pixar has a history of distinguishing itself from Disney movies by not really doing musicals. This isn’t technically a musical either, but it’s got musical numbers, so it seems like a missed opportunity, and in fact a bit of an embarrassing blunder, to have not used a Mexican composer. We have to tread a coco-moviefine line between paying tribute to another culture, and appropriating it. Coco was originally set to be titled Dia de los Muertos, and of course Disney tried to copyright that name. You can imagine the uproar this caused – so much so that Pixar belatedly brought some Mexican ‘consultants’ on board just to make sure they didn’t step in any more shit, and as you can tell, they quickly made a name change. At any rate, the movie felt quite respectful to me, but I’m not really the one who gets final say on that. I will say that it feels like a nice offering by an American studio in the age of Donald Trump and his egregious wall.

And a note to parents: Coco has a running time of 1 hour, 49 minutes. There’s also a 21 minute “short” before it (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure), and when you factor in previews on top of that, you’re looking at nearly two and a half hours. The kids in our screening were quite well behaved, but the middle-aged man who felt entitled to sit in the middle of the row despite his flimsy bladder, got up no less than 3 times. So be prepared.

Coco is Pixar’s best since Inside Out. It’s so layered with detail that it begs to be rewatched. It’s charming and lively and yes, it made me cry.

 

 

 

 

If you can’t get enough of Coco, check out my own Day of the Dead makeover.

The Trouble With Pixar

A word about Pixar. For years it has been helmed by John Lasseter. He left the company this week – a “temporary leave of absence”, they called it, but with whiffs of sexual misconduct about, I’m thinking it’s likely a permanent and somewhat shocking move. John Lasseter IS Pixar, and I think we’re only beginning to understand why that is in fact a bad thing. First: we know that Pixar studios is a boy’s club. It doesn’t nourish and nurture female talent the way it has their male counterparts. Between its 19 films to date, there were 34 director credits and only one of them was female.

Brenda Chapman trained on The Little Mermaid, was an artist on Beauty and the Beast and became the first female head of story for The Lion King. She was the MV5BMzgwODk3ODA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3NjQ0Nw@@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio with a personal favourite of mine, The Prince of Egypt. She came aboard Pixar in 2003. There were NO women at all in the story department and they needed her to fix the one-dimentionality of the female characters in Cars (they were too far along in production for her to have much impact). Next, she conceived Brave and directed the project until they replaced her because of “creative differences.” Since they still had to give her co-director credit, she became the first woman to win an Oscar for (co) directing an animated film. She left Pixar and went on to LucasFilm and back to Dreamworks. Of her exit, she has said “I made the right decision to leave and firmly closed that door. I have no desire to go back there. The atmosphere and the leadership doesn’t fit well with me.” And I can’t help but read that “me” as “women” generally. “This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother. To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels.”

Of Pixar’s 19 films, only 3 have females as their lead protagonists (Brave, Inside Out, Finding Dory). That’s a really dismal number. Even worse: Miguel, from Coco, is its first non-white protagonist (although Up has an Asian boyscout sidekick – possibly). And Pixar has been head and shoulders above its competitors, leading the way in top-notch animation and story-telling, which means millions are exposed to movies that refuse to give an equal voice to girls, women, minorities, and other cultures. Rashida Jones (along with collaborator Will McCormack) had been brought on board by Pixar to pen the script for Toy Story 4. She has since left the project: “We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences. There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.” Out of 109 writing credits on its films, only 11 were women or people of colour. That’s eleven women OR people of colour, and 98 freaking white men.

So now we know why there is such a lack of female talent at Pixar: John Lasseter, proud president of the boy’s club, is a perv. Female employees had to develop a move they named “The Lasseter” just to keep him from running his hands up their legs. And though he paid lip service in 2015 to the lack of diversity in his studios, there are no female directors or writers attached to their upcoming films either.

John Lasseter won a Special Achievement Oscar for his ground-breaking work on Toy Story, but he has done so by overstepping women, and at the expense of diversity of thought and talent. He has spent his career groping women and refusing to promote them, creating a void of basic respect and decency – and he was the CCO (and when Disney bought Pixar in 2006, he took over leadership there as well). I don’t deny that Pixar has created some great films, but after shutting out diverse voices for over 20 years, it’s time to dump this loser and let someone else do some ground breaking for a change.

Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.

Cars, Cars 2, and Ultimate Lightning McQueen

My nephews love Lightning McQueen and have about a thousand toys bearing his likeness.  So when I learned about the Ultimate Lightning McQueen, I had to get it, even though I had never seen Cars (or Cars 2 for that matter).  For those who aren’t on Sphero’s mailing list, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is a remote controlled car that costs US$300, and here’s why it costs so much money:

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is not just an RC car.  This is a robot that has animated eyes and mouth, reacts to touch, and can recite tons of lines from the movies either randomly or in pre-programmed scripts.  Basically, it’s the toy robot that little Sean always dreamed of.

With the toy on the way (it arrived last night!), I felt like I should finally watch Cars beforehand so that I knew the basics about Lightning.  So that’s what we did, and it turns out that Lightning is a real jerk.  Like so much of a jerk that he doesn’t have a pit crew because he can win on his own.  So much of a jerk that he doesn’t change his tires, which naturally givecars-movie-disney-pixar_large out on the last lap and cost him a win.  So much of a jerk that when he gets lost in a small town and is pursued for speeding he wrecks the whole main street.

Lightning eventually does redeem himself in a very weird way, but here’s the thing: my nephews have such short attention spans that I guarantee they have not ever watched this movie past the opening race.  They will have watched that race a thousand times but probably have no idea that Lightning ever becomes less self-involved or that he ever needed help.  So it is a good thing that Ultimate Lightning can say so many lines, because I am going to be choosy with my catchphrases.  That way, maybe I can redeem Lightning in real time and teach my nephews that they do indeed need a pit crew (/more applicable sports metaphor), just like Lightning eventually figures out.

For good measure, we also watched Cars 2, which is more Mater’s story than Lightning’s (though Lightning doesn’t miss the chance to be a jerk to Mater in the sequel).  Just like in the first movie, Lightning wins with the help of his friends.  It would be a mycars-2-02172012stery why he is so loved, except that he is definitely the coolest looking racecar in the movies and that’s really all the explanation required, isn’t it?

And now, we have Cars 3 to “look forward to”.  My hopes are not high, because these movies definitely aren’t Pixar’s best work.  Still, it’s something I know our nephews will love and now that they’re old enough to go to the movies, something that we’ll probably get to enjoy with them, and that’s good enough to make me genuinely excited about Cars 3 even though I thought the first two movies were entirely forgettable.

It also makes a US$300 Lightning McQueen toy feel like a bargain, because I know our nephews are going to lose their little minds when they see it in action.  Ultimate Lightning McQueen is everything I could have expected – it blinks, it looks around, and moves as though it is alive.  It is truly animated in every sense of the word.  As a bonus, it is a powerful little car that is really responsive, does donuts on command, and has a turbo button.  Because who doesn’t love a turbo button?  Having tried it out, I am even more excited to show off Ultimate Lightning McQueen to Lightning’s three biggest fans!

Zootopia

videothumbnail_zootopia_officialtrailer_disney_a4d0f4ceIn 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for the equivalent of $7.4 billion dollars. It’s becoming more and more clear how good a deal that was for Disney. Every Disney animated movie since has been amazing, from Wreck-It-Ralph to Frozen to Big Hero 6. maxresdefaultNot only is Zootopia another success for Disney, it may be the best of the bunch since John Lasseter and Pixar came on board, and that’s probably the best endorsement I can give.

The best part of Disney Animation’s renaissance is that these movies aren’t just for kids. They’re as enjoyable for adults as for little ones. Zootopia, for example, includes a spot-on reference to Breaking Bad! Striking that balance must be incredibly hard butb17 Disney has picked up the torch from Pixar in that area and is doing it as well as Pixar ever did. Zootopia is literally a movie that all ages will enjoy. So it’s one up on LEGO!

Most importantly, Zootopia’s underlying message is timely and may be more important for adults than kids at this point, given the horror that is the U.S. Republican party’s nomination process. We as Canadians dealt with some of the same terribleness in our recent election so it’s not just an American tactic.  Fortunately, enough of us were able to reject fear and demonization of minority groups to trump-chicago_wide-af9dd849d37a7079224f21dd42973b4aae2a4c88-s900-c85choose someone who wants to bring us together instead of tearing us apart. We really, really, really want to believe American voters will do the same (just like they’ve done in the last two presidential elections).  Please don’t let us down!

As for Zootopia, it is a movie that will definitely not let you down. It’s smart, funny and deep and you should totally see it. I give Zootopia a score of ten sly rabbits out of ten.