Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks), a Civil War veteran, travels the landscape of 1870s Texas, bringing literal news of the world to all the towns on his route. For ten cents, he will read you the news from whichever newspapers he’s got in his saddlebag. He’s been on the road a long time; it’s a lonely life, and a dangerous one, but aside from missing his wife, he seems to embrace the solitude.
You see a lot of shit on the dusty roads between Texas towns, and one day he comes across a (Black) man hanging from a tree, his wagon overturned, and his ward cowering nearby. The little girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), was adopted by the Kiowa Indian tribe long ago, after the slaughter of her parents. Lately her adoptive Indian parents have also been killed, and she was being brought “home” to an aunt and uncle. Kidd somehow gets transferred this responsibility, and together they’ll travel hundreds of miles to deliver her to a home she’s never known, after being orphaned twice over. Johanna doesn’t speak English; she seems wild and almost feral, communicating in grunts and screams when her native language won’t do. She longs to go back to a tribe that no longer wants her, longs for a people to whom she never truly belonged, yet she remembers no other way.
The open road in 1870s Texas were no place for a child. They were no place for a man, either. The danger was grave, and constant. Tom Hanks, who goes full Daddy in the role, reunites with his Captain Phillips director, Paul Greengrass. If they thought the open seas were dangerous, they hadn’t tried to cross the harsh and unforgiving plains of Texas, where it’s hard to say whether human or natural forces are the biggest threat. If the marauders, thieves, and rapists don’t knife you and leave you for dead, the wilderness itself will be all too happy to claim your body and strip the flesh from your bones.
A slow and ambling western, Greengrass’s images have a quiet effectiveness to them, though they are frequently interrupted by rough and ready action sequences. Despite the bare-knuckled violence, the film is really about amiable companionship, and a steadfast faith in the importance of truth. Hanks channels his inner Eastwood and young Zengel is a marvel, communicating whole spectrums without the benefit of words. News of the World may be simple in premise but it is complex in character and superior in performance; definitely worth a watch.
When the Americans were finally self-interested enough to join WW2, they needed a lot of boots on the ground, and some in the air, and a few if by sea.
Captain Krause (Tom Hanks) is in command of an escort force protecting an Atlantic convoy consisting of 37 Allied ships on their way to Liverpool. They’re passing through the Mid-Atlantic gap, so called because no antisubmarine aircraft are able to reach them. They’re on their own. Still three days out of range from protective air cover, they intercept German transmissions. It is likely U-boats are near. This is merely the start of 13 back to back covers (or 52 hours) on the Greyhound’s bridge as Krause fights to save his ship, protect those in his convoy, and rescue those who succumb.
As a war movie, director Aaron Schneider makes very effective use of his 90 minute runtime, keeping the focus on a very intense combat. It’s basically a race against time, a fight for survival until they reach precious, essential air cover once again.
But the reason Greyhound really shines, as did its source material, The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, is in its fascinating and intricate character study of the man behind the wheel. Captain Krause has been a career Navy officer for many years. His seniority is unquestionable, but in truth, this is his first wartime mission. The other captains are younger and junior to him in rank, but they’ve been at war for two years already. Although we see him act in competent and level-headed ways, we are also privy to his self-doubt. The combat is relentless as the minutes and hours tick by, Krause unwilling to leave his post, and only the kindness of a mess attendant (Rob Morgan) ensures he doesn’t go hungry.
Hanks adapted the material himself, and though we never see the guy make an acting misstep, he is clearly suited to this character, slipping on the captain’s skin as if it were a comfortable, monogrammed slipper. You feel his fatigue, and inklings of inferiority, but with the weight and fate of an entire fleet on his shoulders, he never gives less than his best. The constant danger is exhausting, the many snap judgments that must be made while in command are overwhelming, and above all, we see Krause struggle with his conscience – muttered prayers for the souls on board, but also a refusal to celebrate enemy kills, a necessary part of war perhaps, but one with which Krause is not entirely comfortable. It’s a facet rarely explored in war movies and Hanks is up for its portrayal, but cleverly, the points are merely plotted, the lines themselves drawn by the audience.
I expect nothing less that complete satisfaction from the material Hanks is choosing, and he’s so unvaryingly good it’d be almost tedious if it wasn’t so wonderful. And this, too, is wonderful, and not even annoyingly so. Hanks truly is a master and Forester’s carefully observed novel cannot be over-rated.
During a transatlantic flight, Viktor Navorski’s eastern European country suffers a coup and simply (bureaucratically and practically) ceases to exist. Unaware, Viktor (Tom Hanks) lands at JFK eagerly awaiting an NYC vacation filled with Broadway shows and Nike shoes. Instead he finds that his passport has been revoked. He is presently not the citizen of anywhere. Airport official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) cannot allow him to step onto U.S. soil but nor can they board him on a plane home. There is no home. No passport, no visa, no valid currency, and a very tenuous grasp on the English language.
Days later, Frank is very surprised to see that Viktor is still inhabiting the airport. He’d assumed Viktor would just disappear through the cracks and be somebody else’s problem. Turns out Viktor is kind of a stickler for rules.
I’d seen this movie before, of course. I don’t often miss an offering from Hanks or from director Steven Spielberg. I remembered the gist: a man trapped by circumstance in an airport. Indefinitely. Broad strokes, but I didn’t remember the fine brushstrokes delivered by a masterful performance by Hanks (is there any other kind?). I hadn’t remembered the heartache and devastation of a man learning that his country is in violent turmoil. We don’t know much of what he’s left behind: a mother or brother who worry? A home that’s being repossessed? A dog that needs to be fed? A job from which he’d be summarily dismissed, not having shown up? Instead Spielberg focuses on the life he’s building in an empty terminal of the airport: what he’s eating, where he’s sleeping, how he’s passing the time. And the friends he makes!
First it’s beautiful flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he often sees dashing from one flight to another. Then it’s Enrique from food services (Diego Luna), who feeds Viktor in exchange for information about Dolores (Zoe Saldana) in customer service. [And who, for extra credit, reveals that she’s a trekkie, 5 years before she’d go on to play Uhura.]
You may know that The Terminal is actually inspired by the real life events of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee. In 1988, he landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, after being barred from entry into England, because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen. French authorities wouldn’t let him leave the airport. He remained in Terminal One, a stateless person with nowhere else to go. He was eventually granted permission to either enter France or return to Iran but chose to continue living in the terminal and telling his story to those who would listen. He lived there until 2006. 2006! Eighteen years! He only left in 2006 because they hospitalized him (I’m not sure for what, but his mental state had certainly deteriorated). He has since lived in a Paris homeless shelter. DreamWorks paid $250K for his story though in the end they chose not to use it.
Hanks and Spielberg have collaborated what, five times now? Perhaps The Terminal is not their best, but it’s not to be discounted either. Viktor is too pure and perhaps a little too slapsticky to seem like an authentic human, but Hanks is all charm and Spielberg’s interpretation of the American dream is something to behold.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a beautiful excuse for a movie, but it is not a Mr. Rogers biopic. It’s more like if this week’s episode of Mr. Rogers was tackling the theme of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who just happens to be a journalist who meant to write a Fred Rogers profile once. And he didn’t really succeed – he wrote 10,000 words, mostly about himself. But it was meeting Mr. Rogers that inspired and enabled him to start to process his childhood trauma and deal with his feelings. The movie ends up being a 70-30 split, and not in Mr. Rogers’ favour. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s a reminder of the profound impact that Mr. Rogers’ love and acceptance had on all of us. Above all, he taught us it was okay to feel.
Lloyd Vogel is a cynic. He normally writes about a broken world. He’s not thrilled to be writing about a children’s television show, and he’s determined to see the star’s mask slip. To see that Mr. Rogers isn’t a goody-two-shoes character but rather Fred Rogers’ honest expression of his best self is hard for Vogel to accept. Meanwhile, Mr. Rogers sees through him – sees his anger, recognizes it for pain, and has a healing effect, despite Vogel’s resistance. With a newborn baby at home and an estranged father who’s reappeared only to announce he’s dying, Vogel’s life is perhaps in need of some friendly ministration.
Director Marielle Heller finds exciting and innovative ways to frame the story, except she stole them all lovingly and conscientiously from Mr. Rogers himself. It’s a way to honour what was truly special about his show – everything way thoughtful but low-tech, without fuss or flash. The continuity was comforting. Of course, the most incredible coup is the casting of Tom Hanks in the iconic cardigan. He’s wonderful, channeling Fred Rogers’ sense of calm and peace. His signature style of slow, deliberate speech is such a balm to those he’s talking to – it is rare to feel the scope of someone’s focus. It’s also hilarious to watch his producers lose their shit as the time and attention he gives each guest means their show is constantly behind schedule.
It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t exactly the movie I expected, but it took me through all the feels (weep count: 3) and left me feeling like a very valued neighbour indeed. Mr. Rogers has always said that he tried to look through the television into the eyes of one individual child. Today I was that child, and I think you will be too.
Toy Story movies have always been darker than people give them credit for. In the first film, Buzz believes himself to be a hero stranded in a hostile environment. Turns out, he’s just a toy – everything he thought was real is a lie. He exists to be someone’s plaything, and Woody and the gang convince him that there’s dignity and even nobility in this fate, even if it strikes you and I as a kind of slavery, to exist merely at someone else’s whim, until you’re all used up, and then you’re disposed of. What a dizzying and disorienting concept; it’s no wonder Buzz literally gets depressed when he learns his true nature. In the second film, Woody literally contemplates his own mortality. His benevolent master Andy will one day tire of him, and worthless, he’ll be discarded. His friend Jessie really hammers this home with a heart-wrenching flashback of being abandoned at the side of a road by someone who once claimed to love her. Ultimately, Woody chooses to live as a toy rather than achieving a sort of immortality as a collector’s item; he’ll have a short but meaningful life rather than a long but insignificant one. What a choice. In the third film, Woody and the gang face the consequence of this choice: Andy goes off to college, and eventual abandonment becomes actual abandonment. Not only that, but the best friends are being separated, with Woody being doomed to spend his twilight years alone on Andy’s shelf, no longer a useful, loved plaything, but a mere relic of his past. Meanwhile, his friends are going to molder up in the dark oblivion of an attic. What cold comfort. Luckily, the toys are instead given to a little girl named Bonnie to live out a happy afterlife. Cue the fourth film.
Woody (Tom Hanks) and pals are having a grand old time being played with by Bonnie. Sure, the little girl prefers cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) over cowboy Woody just a tad, but still, it’s a good life, no complaints. Bonnie is starting kindergarten soon, and at an orientation session, she shows some initiative (fancy term for not following instructions) and makes herself a toy out of trash rather than a pencil cup out of art supplies. She brings her cherished new friend home and gives him a place of honour among toys. “Forky” is no more than a spork, some googly eyes, a pipe cleaner, and a broken popsicle stick, but he’s Bonnie’s new best friend, so Woody vows to keep them together at all costs. That’s going to be a problematic promise because a) Bonnie’s family is embarking on an RV roadtrip and b) Forky has some suicidal tendencies. Forky was never supposed to be a toy, you see. He’s trash. He knows he’s trash. Rather simple-minded and fairly spooked, all he wants more than anything in the world is to be trash once again, which is where he keeps launching himself. Woody keeps dutifully fishing him out, but one of these times he’s bound to get thrown out for good. It’s on one such rescue mission that Woody encounters an antique store where he thinks he may find an old friend/lost toy/love interest, Bo Peep (Annie Potts). We haven’t seen Bo Peep since the second movie, which was 20 years ago. Where has she been this whole time?
Bo’s been living free and wild as a toy with no owner. That’s essentially Woody’s worst nightmare but she makes it sound rather grand. Besides, Woody has a new worst nightmare: another antique store occupant, vintage doll Gabby Gabby wants his voicebox and she’s prepared to rip the stuffing out of his chest to get it. Yikes!
Structurallly, this fourth installment plays out a lot like those that came before it. There’s always some kind of separation, and then some kind of secondary rescue mission when the first one fails. These toys sure do get themselves into some high-stakes situations on an alarming basis!
It’s wonderful to see the cast of old friends: Bo looks shinier than ever, and Jessie’s hair has never looked yarnier. The animation on these films started out innovative and has only improved. And new friends are a hoot and a half: Forky (Tony Hale) is a walking, talking existential crisis, but the rendering of his pipe cleaner is photo realistic. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) was a dollie defective right out of the box, and her resulting failure to bond has really warped her. Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) is a Canadian daredevil who never lived up to his promise; he is haunted by his past, and by the kid who resoundingly rejected him. Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) are two brightly-coloured stuffed animals attached at the hands. They’ve been unredeemed carnival prizes for far too long, and are a little unhinged. Officer Giggle McDimples, Giggs for short (Ally Maki), may look precious and pocket-sized, but she’s a force to be reckoned with, and fiercely protective of her road warrior partner, Bo Peep. All these new toys will come together in surprising ways to give our pal Woody one last big adventure.
Coming full circle with the original film in the franchise which was released 24 years ago, Toy Story 4 has Woody once again paired with a toy who does not believe himself to be a toy. Woody’s experiences with Andy, and now with Bonnie, position him to a real advocate for finding and fulfilling one’s purpose and embracing one’s destiny. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in almost equal measure (I cried twice before the opening credits were over, and then alllllll the way home), Toy Story 4 more than justifies its existence. But after the perfect send-off in #3, is #4 a necessary or worthy addition? As much as I looked forward to connecting with these characters again, I surprise myself by saying no. Toy Story 4 is a good movie, an entertaining one, a very sweet one, but I can’t help but wish they’d left it at a trilogy so that we could have one perfect, shiny thing in our lives.
Time and again, we have been told that a toy’s only intrinsic value is to be useful. And when that toy ceases to be useful – either it gets broken, or a kid stops playing with it – well, that toy has met the end of its life. Yikes. Woody and friends have occasionally had the chance to grab at immortality but have always convinced themselves that to be Andy’s toy is the highest possible achievement. There is no better thing, therefore it is okay to accept the eventual certainty of death. One day, Andy WILL grow up, will leave for college, will leave them behind.
That day has come.
Andy is indeed off to college. Toy Story 3 was released in 2010, 15 years after the first one, so by any accurate count, Woody and the gang have had some bonus years. But their luck has run out. Andy is packing up his room – putting aside a few things to store in his mother’s attic, a few essentials to bring along with him, and the rest will be marked for garbage. Andy’s sentimental side has him setting aside Woody for college, and bagging the rest of his old pals for storage, but a misunderstanding leads both his mother and the toys themselves to think that they’re meant for the trash. The toys manage to save themselves from the metallic maw of the garbage truck, and they throw themselves into a donation pile destined for Sunnyside Daycare.
The toys are sad to leave Andy, but thrilled that they might once again be played with. Until now, the toys have spent their lives caring solely for Andy, wanting nothing but his happiness. Their own needs have occasionally gone unmet in this quest, especially in these last few years, with Andy the teenager no longer having time for them. The toys, and Woody in particular, have often seemed parental in their concern for him, and in fact, with Andy’s dad curiously absent and unremarked upon, Woody seems to have stepped into that of father figure. But parents too must say goodbye to their children eventually, and when they grow to become useless, they too will be placed in an institution. The toys are optimistic about the daycare centre, but it’s easy to read it as relegation to retirement living, being put out to pasture (Buzz even gets lobotomized, like a dementia patient). There’s always been this double read to Toy Story, one that often leaves us choked up. Thanks a lot, internet. I thought the well had finally run dry, and now I’m flooding my keyboard with tears.
But that’s not even the sad part! Toy Story 3’s genius has the toys not just facing oblivion and meaninglessness without a kid to serve, but it has them facing actual death. When the daycare turns out to be a pretty awful, tyrannical living situation, they find themselves embracing death. This is possibly this decade’s most traumatic and touching scene: with death mere moments away, the toys stop their futile efforts to save themselves, and hold hands to face it bravely together. Luckily, Pixar thinks better of killing off their revered heroes, and they do get a last minute reprieve and a second chance at life with Bonnie, a little girl just down the street from Andy. Even Woody, who was meant to accompany Andy to college, gets reassigned, and frankly, it’s with a sigh of relief that we find he will remain with his friends. Because for me at least, it wasn’t actually death that seemed the worst of it, it was thinking of Woody and Buzz, best buds and life partners, being separated in their twilight years. Is anyone not thinking of their grandparents, and who will die first, leaving the other to face those bleak years alone?
Toy Story 3 improves upon its predecessors in my ways. In 11 years, the animation has of course improved by big heaping gobs. In the first film, we briefly see a teddy bear that’s been relegated to the shelf; they chose not to make him part of the gang because fur was just too hard to get right. In this film, Lotso the bear is made a proper villain, and he looks glorious. Not only are the colours and textures perfect, but the animators find ways to show proper wear and tear on the toys as well. The animation is vivid and astonishing. The expressions on the toys’ faces are often so realistic that you have to pinch yourself to remember it’s just a cartoon (Woody has 229 animation points of movement in his face alone). In Toy Story 3, the Pixar animators are fearless. Whereas before they struggled to get clothes right, in this film they embrace them, with Ken making over 20 costume changes alone (and all of them fabulous). Hair swings. Fibers are differentiated. But they’re not just improving, they’re innovating. Believe it or not, in this film, the real challenge was the trash bag. They have properties that apparently you and I take for granted, but the animators truly struggled with.
But we don’t keep coming back to this franchise for the richly drawn cartoons, we come back because these characters are our friends, and the excellent story-writing has made us care. And boy did we line up in droves to see this film, even if it had been more than a decade since the last installment: it was the first animated film to make a billion dollars worldwide, which it did in just over 2 months at the box office. It was also one of only 3 animated films to score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast and Up were the other 2), and it did it without any of its predecessors being nominated. Toy Story has continued to surprise fans because it actually feels that each sequel is better than the last, while Hollywood of course has led us to expect exactly the opposite. Although, it should be noted: while the first and second films both had 100% ratings on Spoiled Red Fruit, this one had a mere 99.
If the nostalgia attached to vintage toys and TV shows and lunchboxes isn’t enough for you, I find it kind of neat that Toy Story has managed to keep the same guy, John Morris, as Andy’s voice for its entire run (there was an 11 year gap between this film and the one before it – the producers had no idea if adult Morris would at all be suitable, but they called him up and his voicemail convinced them on the spot). And Laurie Metcalf as his mom; Roseanne was still on network TV when the first film premiered, and now I suppose it’s kind of on again. Of course, we’ve lost some voice actors along the way: Jim Varney (Slinky) was replaced by his friend Blake Clark. And Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) will appear in the latest film via archival audio. But we’ve also seen some great additions. Toy Story 3 introduces Ned Beatty (Lotso), Michael Keaton (Ken), Jodi Benson (Barbie – but most famous as the voice of Ariel, of course), Timothy Dalton (Mr. Pricklepants), Kristen Schaal (Trixie), Bonnie Hunt (Dolly), and the list goes on. Toy Story 3 has over 300 characters, which is a lot for any movie, never mind one in which each needs to be rendered from scratch!
Toy Story 3 earned a place in our hearts with scenes that register both pleasure and pain – bittersweet, like life. It taps into our primal fears (uselessness, loneliness, death) but ends with a hopeful note. Toy Story 3 was the perfect way to end a beloved franchise: Andy says goodbye to his toys, and so do we. We know they’re safe and happy in their after(Andy)life, with the final scene panning up into white fluffy cloud, reminiscent of Andy’s wallpaper, but also a sure symbol of heaven. But this franchise has again proved irresistible and Disney-Pixar just couldn’t stay away: a fourth installment hits theatres this weekend, so if you’re curious what life has been like for the toys in their new home, you’re in luck. Just pray that this one holds up to the rest.
Minutes from departing for cowboy camp, Woody (Tom Hanks) suffers a rip to his arm seam that shelves him. Up there, in the dusty recesses of Andy’s room, Woody has an existential crisis. If he is a broken toy, what value does he have? Is he to be forgotten forever? Has his time as Andy’s toy come to an end? It doesn’t help when he meets an old friend up there, Wheezy the penguin, who was shelved months ago due to a broken squeaker. Even worse, an impending yard sale is a serious threat to all and any toys who may not have been recently played with – especially when a declutter-happy mom (Laurie Metcalf) is allowed to make cuts while Andy’s still at camp.
Woody gets a little too close to the yard sale and an eagle-eyed toy collector, Al, from Al’s Toy Barn (Wayne Knight), refuses to take no for an answer. He steals Woody, to the toys’ horror. Turns out, Woody is the valuable central piece in a collector’s set of retro toys. Woody meets the other toys in the set: yodeling cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Woody’s sidekick and noble steed, Bullseye, and the prospector, Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). True to his nature, Woody is at first concerned with returning to Andy, but as he contemplates his fate as the broken toy of a growing boy versus the intoxication of a full restoration by Al in order to be sold to a toy collector in Japan, he can’t help but weigh his options. And his new friends have a vested interest in Woody’s sticking with them: without him to complete their set, they’ll go back into storage. Without him, they’re worthless.
I moaned on and on about how cleverly the characters were built in the last movie, and once again, I can’t help but admire what they’ve done with the new toys. Jessie wants very much to convince Woody to stay, but as a former toy herself, she remembers the heady feeling of being someone’s beloved. Pete, on the other hand, is mint in the box. He’s never been played with. Together they sow the seeds of doubt.
But if the first Toy Story was a buddy comedy of sorts, all of the films in the franchise are a testament to friendship. Woody’s friends at home once again launch a rescue mission, and it’s adorable the lengths they’ll go to in order to reunite their friend with his owner. But will Woody go?
At its heart, this film is once again more contemplative and nihilistic than your typical children’s movie. Heck, than most movies, period. Being loved by a child is the thing that gives a toy’s life meaning. But accepting that means that one day you will be rendered useless, which is worse than death. It means a brief period of being adored followed by an eternity of nothingness. But this toy museum in Japan offers Woody another option: immortality. He may not be loved by anyone, but he’ll be appreciated, not forgotten. And Jessie really drives that home with her heart breaking flashback wherein she remembers being loved, and then being abandoned. Because all children grow up, and all toys are eventually discarded.
So yeah, there are some dark ass themes in this movie, but they’re told with boldly coloured characters that make the whole thing just so gosh darned palatable. Woody is still the rootinest, tootinest cowpoke we know, but there’s an edge to him, a darkness. Woody’s been through some shit. Is there a single soul who watched this movie who didn’t, at least for a split second, experience dread over the treatment and neglect of their own childhood friends? I wager there is not.
The first Toy Story was ground-breaking in its animation, but this sequel, which came out just 4 years later in 1999, is already lightyears beyond it. They’re better at animating hair; Andy’s mom has her hair down in this film whereas she had to keep it in a ponytail during the first because of animation limitations. Everything’s gone up a notch. Bo Peep, who Andy uses as a toy, is actually a detachable porcelain figurine who belongs on his little sister’s lamp. In this movie, we can actually SEE that she’s porcelain; she has a particular sheen to her that the plastic toys do not. Pixar was motivated to keep its reputation as an innovator, so they didn’t just recycle stuff from the first film, they went in and upgraded character models, created new locations, and utilized more complicated camera shots that weren’t possible in the first. But they were careful not to let the look evolve too much from the first, wanting to keep the films looking cohesive. Perhaps their greatest technical achievement was up on that dusty shelf where a broken Woody reunites with Wheezy the Penguin. Turns out, dust motes are frustratingly complex to animate. Pixar animated 2 million of them – a major feat since this sequel was originally planned as a direct-to-video release which got bumped up at the last minute, leaving animators scrambling, and fully a third of them with some sort of repetitive strain injury (like carpel tunnel) by the time animation was complete. In a perfect world, making movies wouldn’t result in injuries, but this isn’t a perfect world. It is, however, a perfect sequel. A perfect movie, in fact. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone their injuries were “worth it” but Toy Story 2 achieves even more than its predecessor. It capitalizes on what made the first film great but it doesn’t recycle its success. The story works harder, the characters dig deeper. Though the toys are often out of their element, we are firmly in their universe, a universe that is clever and expansive and shockingly complete.
Pixar establishes itself as a studio that animates adventures that kids will love but writes stories that speak directly to the adults in the audience. It even has an erection joke that’s cloaked in Pixar’s special camouflage – obvious to adults, unnoticed by kids. That’s a rare and unique talent from a studio that keeps the boundaries on what we’ve come to expect from an animated film.
You can blame John Wick for this review. As the lights were dimming in our theatre I suddenly thought – should I have rewatched the previous films? The answer was yes, but I hadn’t. I am a learner of lessons. More or less. Occasionally. When the lesson means watching movies instead of doing work. I did rewatch the incredibly complex The Secret Life of Pets in order to fully appreciate the nuances of its sequel. Now I shall do the same for a much better franchise of movies, one that has more than earned a spot on this site anyway – Toy Story.
As you can likely tell from the title, I was taken aback by the year of its release. Intellectually I probably could have told you the year, but emotionally I just wasn’t prepared to face the consequences. This movie is dang near 25 years old. I was a kid when it came out and don’t remember if I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I don’t remember seeing it for the first time at all, which is strange for such a defining moment in animation (and I’m sure I called it such when I reviewed it on the playground).
Toy Story introduces us to a little boy named Andy and his most beloved toy, a cowboy with a pull-string and a snake in his boot but no gun in his holster named Woody. Woody is the natural leader of Andy’s toys, of which there are many: an etch-a-sketch, a Mr. Potato Head, a dinosaur named Rex, a slinky dog, Little Bo Peep, a pig-shaped piggy bank named Hamm, green army guys galore. But Woody is Andy’s absolute favouritest toy, and we see them at play in Andy’s cloud-wallpapered room, and tucked into bed together at night, under a Sheriff Woody duvet. But Andy’s birthday brings a plethora of new toys as birthdays often do, but only one toy competes for Andy’s prime affection: a space ranger named Buzz Lightyear. The interesting thing about Buzz, other than his quest to save the universe from Emperor Zurg, is that Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy. He believes he’s the actual hero, and that the galaxy depends on him.
Woody, who up until now has assured all the other toys that just being Andy’s toy is an honour, is of course insanely jealous. And when he is kinda sorta responsible for Buzz “falling” out a window into the sadistic neighbour’s yard, the other toys are naturally upset with their old pal Woody and mount a rescue mission for new friend Buzz. In actuality, Buzz has all but saved himself, but our two heroes end up outside, essentially “lost toys” in the world, and they’ll have to rely on each other to get home safely. Andy’s family is moving in just 2 days so there’s no time to waste!
Toy Story was the first animated film to earn an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, and it’s well-deserved [It lost to The Usual Suspects. It also lost best original musical or comedy score to Pocahontas. There was no best animated film category in 1995, that didn’t happen until 2002, but John Lasseter was given a special achievement Oscar to commemorate the film’s ground-breaking success. Those are pretty rare; the only other one handed out in the past 25 years was in 2017 to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for his contribution to VR film Flesh and Sand.]
The characters are wonderful because the toys all manage to feel timeless. Buzz and Woody are created especially for the film and each is meant to be a character on a hit TV show (though Woody seems to be a relic, perhaps a toy handed down from Andy’s mom or dad). Buzz is newer, all plastic and flashing lights and fancy buttons compared to Woody’s stuffing and low-fi technology. But Andy’s other toys may be more recognizable. In fact, slinky dogs and potato heads and telephones saw a resurgence in popularity after each of the Toy Story films were released. The wonderful voice actors of course go a long way to help bring these toys to life. Tom Hanks (Woody) was drawn to the project because he too had as a child wondered what his toys were up to when he wasn’t looking. Tim Allen (Buzz) was drawn because his comedy idol, Chevy Chase, had been offered the role and turned it down (so had Billy Crystal, who was wise enough to regret it – when Lasseter came calling again, for 2001’s Monsters Inc, Crystal said yes before Lasseter got a single word out). Hanks recorded his lines in the early 90s, while filming Sleepless in Seattle and A League of Their Own – he wanted the voicework wrapped up before he started in on Philadelphia or Forrest Gump as he felt he’d be in the wrong frame of mind. Little Bo Peep is voiced by Annie Potts, but Bo almost didn’t make the film. Initially, Pixar had planned for her to be a Barbie, but Mattel was sure this movie would be a disaster and declined the role, rather fooolishly in hindsight. Similarly, Pixar was not able to use G.I. Joe’s name either; they rewrote the character as ‘Combat Carl.’ Rex the dinosaur, voiced to perfection by Wallace Shawn, is a particular favourite of mine because the idea of a neurotic dinosaur who suffers from self-esteem issues and extreme anxiety turns out to be a whole lotta fun. He’s got an inferiority complex and doesn’t do well with conflict, at odds with him being the biggest of the toys, and depicting a classically scary character. Hamm the piggy bank is voiced by Pixar fixture John Ratzenberger. He’s a board game enthusiast and seems to know the most about the outside world. His frequent board game opponent and best friend is Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), who covers his loneliness with sarcastic wise-cracking but he prays every birthday for a Mrs. Potato Head. Like all good dogs, Slink (Jim Varney) is very loyal to his pal Woody; he often manages to have a hang-dog look about him that’s incredibly sympathetic.
Toy Story was the world’s first computer-animated feature film, and it changed animation forever. To be honest, this film still looks good today because they were careful to avoid things they weren’t quite up to animating convincingly yet, like long hair and water droplets. Pixar has continuously astonished us with increasingly intricately-animated films, and by that standard, Toy Story is its worst. What a marvelous, beautiful worst.
All these toys work together to evoke childhood and warm feelings. Toy Story tickled our imaginations, reinvigorated the field of animation, and established Pixar as a giant in the genre.
The real Apollo 13 mission was largely ignored in 1970. People had already seen men walk on the moon twice before, so this just seemed like more of the same. Interest was so low that lots of news programs weren’t even broadcasting it. Until, that is, things went wrong.
An oxygen tank exploded, which crippled essential systems. The 3 astronauts aboard just had to hang out in an increasingly inhospitable ship as the NASA crew on the ground scrambled to get them home safely. The planned moon walk was of course aborted; they never landed on the moon, just orbited around it. Over the next few days, the spacecraft had limited power, a worrying loss of cabin heat, a shortage or drinkable water, and an urgent need to fix the carbon dioxide removal system or die trying.
America might have been bored with moon walks, but for astronaut Jim Lovell, it would be the culmination of his life’s ambition. It was not to be.
Ron Howard brought this story of NASA’s most successful failure to the big screen in 1995, and still thinks of it as his best film. In fact, he thinks the launch sequence is the highest point of his career, and he’s not wrong. Watching First Man more than 20 years later, it’s clear that Apollo 13 had a huge impact on movies that would follow it.
Jim Lovell thought that perhaps Kevin Costner had a passing likeness, but once Ron Howard signed on as director, he immediately sent the script to Tom Hanks, who is a known space buff. Bill Paxton portrayed Fred Haise, while Kevin Bacon got the role of Jack Swigert, who was never supposed to be there. He was only on the mission as a backup, but blood screening suggested that Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) might have the measles, and he was replaced last minute. Though this was an undoubtedly heartbreaking switch, it was Mattingly’s expertise on the ground that ultimately helped save his crewmates. He sat in the simulator for days, doing simulation after simulation until he could work out a way to rescue his friends.
The actors, or actornauts as Howard called them on set, floated around in $30K space suits. And yes, they really did float. Steven Spielberg suggested that Howard approached NASA for special permission to use its KC-135 airplane, and permission was granted. Dubbed the vomit comet, the plane climbs to 38 000 feet and then does a big 15 000 foot drop, creating a zero-gravity effect, but it only creates about 23 seconds of weightlessness. For the film’s production, they had the plane perform 612 dives, for a total of 54 minutes of footage. Even still, sometimes when you see the actors just bobbing around in their capsule, they’re actually just sitting on seesaws. Pretending to be in space is hard! [Note: the 3 actors were very proud to report that none of them vomited on the comet…but several cameramen could not say the same.]
It took them 6 days to get them safely home, and while America did not care about a third module landing on the moon, it became obsessed with the imperiled mission that may or may not return. Millions of people tuned in every night, and so did the friends and families of the astronauts on board. NASA didn’t have time to give them proper updates, so they, like everyone else, relied on Walter Cronkite to feed them information. Ron Howard brought Cronkite in to record a few extra reports.
Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise had of course appeared together the year before in Forrest Gump, where Sinise’s Lieutenant Dan says to Forrest: ” If you’re ever a shrimp boat captain, that’s the day I’m an astronaut.” Lo and behold. The movie is full of little Ron Howard nods: Kathleen Quinlan who plays Jim’s wife Marilyn, actually had her first ever screen credit in American Graffiti, in which she played Peggy, a girl complaining in a bathroom about her boyfriend Steve – who was of course played by Howard himself. He also found a role for Roger Corman, the producer who gave Ron his first big break in Grand Theft Auto. Ron’s mother, his father, his wife, and of course his brother all appear in the film. The real Marilyn Lovell is briefly seen in the grandstands at the launch, and the real Jim shakes hands with the fake Jim aboard the Iwo Jima.
Apollo 13 was well-received, and it holds up well almost 25 years later. There are lots of movies about astronaut heroes, but Apollo 13 sets itself apart by portraying the time when someone’s dream doesn’t come true. It takes a story whose outcome is known (and in fact infamous: “Houston, we have a problem”) and still makes it feel tense and compelling.
I’m not going to write a full review, she tells herself. Not even a full rant.
1986: a year I can’t even fathom. The Challenger blows up. Out of Africa wins best picture. Chernobyl is unleashed. Oprah gets on TV. Lady Gaga, Robert Pattinson, Armie Hammer, Kit Harrington, Shia LaBeouf, and the Olsen twins are born. Donna Reed, James Cagney, and Cary Grant die. Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, and Platoon top the box office. Dionne and Friends’ That’s What Friends Are For and Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me race up the top 40 charts. A jar of Skippy peanut butter could be had for $1.49, and a Mustang for $7452.
And Tom Hanks made a super weird movie with Jackie Gleason called Nothing in Common. Now, I thought I’d done a pretty deep dive into Tom Hanks’s catalogue, but I hadn’t seen this, or been aware of it, or been prepared for it, more importantly.
David Basner (Hanx) is a womanizing, successful ad executive whose life gets derailed when his mother (Eva Marie Saint) suddenly leaves his father Max (Gleason). This divorce is totally unexpected and shocking. For Max. And David. Not so much for the long-suffering wife who had a neglectful lout for a husband for 30 years or more. Of course, Max is a typical man of his time: totally and completely useless. He doesn’t know how to grocery shop, much less make a sandwich. Or how to do laundry. Or find which drawer the bills go in. Or prevent himself from getting lazy-boy-induced pressure sores (probably). So poor David has to put his life on hold to act as the go-between between his feuding parents.
And let me tell you, 1986 was a pretty slimy time. Because even goody-two-shoes Tom Hanks comes off pretty badly in this. He thinks his mother should go back just because. And he has to listen to his father call his virginal mother frigid. Garry Marshall’s in the director seat, and makes some very mid-80s decisions regarding music. There’s an EXTEEEENDED opening song. Whew boy, I’ve never been in a 30 year marriage but I almost felt like I had by the time the opening credits shut the fuck up. I can’t even tell if I liked this movie – it’s hard to tell ANYTHING when 1986 is punching you repeatedly in the face. And I have a worrisome feeling that this movie could be the story of my own grandparents’ mid-80s divorce, if they weren’t good catholics who believe that god wants them to be miserable in an adversarial marriage for 60 odd years before they die (67 years and counting!), although if my mother is the Tom Hanks in this scenario, she’ll die long before they do because they are driving her to an early grave, and not slowly either! Having old, cantankerous parents is fun, I’m told. Loads and loads of wildly xenophobic fun.
Tom Hanks is charming, but this movie is not so much the fun. But hey, at least Chernobyl can sleep a little better knowing it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to 1986.