Tag Archives: Toy Story 3

“TOY STORY 4” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Toy Story 3: The Epilogue.

Pixar is great at many things. One of the few things they’re not as good at is making sequels. The Cars franchise, for instance, was the animation studios’ first attempt at making a trilogy, and it was so lackluster that it exhausted all of the joy prevalent from the first movie. Monsters University was a fun and spiffy little prequel to Monsters Inc., but it evidently lacked the heartstrings that the first one was so good at pulling. Do we even need to get into how Pixar made us wait 14 years for a sequel to The Incredibles?

Time and time again, Pixar has demonstrated that it can do sequels, but often not as well as their originals. The only real exception to this has been the Toy Story franchise. Ever since Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear’s (Tim Allen) first adventure together 24 years ago, their characters have matured and grown, not unlike Andy himself did between the three movies. Toy Story introduced Woody, Buzz, and their need to feel affection as toys. Toy Story 2 continued their adventures as the fear of abandonment grew as quickly as Andy did. Then Toy Story 3 capped off the trilogy beautifully, showing that while all things end, there are also new beginnings that come with those endings. That’s all part of growing up.

In Toy Story 4, the toys are back yet again as they’re trying to help their new owner, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) through kindergarten. Unfortunately, there’s not much they can do since toys are not allowed at Bonnie’s school. But in a moment of sudden inspiration, Bonnie makes herself a toy during arts and crafts using popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and a spork and names it “Forky” (Tony Hale).  When it surprisingly comes to life, Forky is horrified at his appearance and tries to throw himself away in the garbage, since he is made out of literal trash. Now determined to help Bonnie get through kindergarten, the toys band together to protect Forky from everything for Bonnie’s sake – including the trash can.

Watching the first few frames of this movie, I was reminded of the child-like joy that Toy Story always brought me when I experienced this franchise for the first time as a kid; how it’s raggedy-dolled characters always flopped about in a clumsy fashion and how their small world became big as they explored new places and met new toys. There’s a good reason why Toy Story is widely considered to be Pixar’s flagship franchise: it’s because it demonstrates what the Academy Award-winning studio can accomplish.

Toy Story 4 is no exception to Pixar’s creativity and imagination. For instance, when Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is re-introduced after her absence from Toy Story 3, she’s given a new look and feel that’s different from her docile, delicate appearance in Toy Story 2. She’s no longer a helpless shepherd waiting to be rescued by Woody the cowboy. She’s much more fearless and versatile now, using her cane as a weapon to fend off hostile toys and using a mobile car disguised as a skunk to make her way around. Watching her in this bolder, more daring fashion reminded me of how original Pixar can be, putting a different spin on older characters and ideas to make them feel fresh and new.

The voice talent in their characters is equally exceptional, with Hanks and Allen reprising their roles and feeling as familiar and welcoming as they’ve always been. Yet there is an assortment of newer characters to also appreciate here, and all of them have the voice talent to back them up. There’s a Canadian stuntman action figure named Duke Caboom played by Keanu Reeves, and he possesses the impeccable skill of being the best crasher out of the motorcycle circuit. There’s a hilariously fluffy duo in Ducky (Keegan Michael-Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), two stuffed animals way too sarcastic for their own good who have an unhealthy obsession for cartoon violence and mischievous shenanigans. Perhaps the funniest is Forky himself, who is going through an existential crisis questioning whether he’s a toy or trash. I practically died laughing in my seat as I watched his several attempts at throwing himself away along with Randy Newman’s aptly-named tune “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away.”

So the animation, the voice acting, and the perfectly-timed comedy is all on-par with the rest of the films from the Toy Story franchise. Where it falters is in the relevance. And to be fair, that isn’t necessarily Toy Story 4’s fault. If anything that’s the fault of Toy Story 3, since it ended on a note so powerful and profound that anything after that would feel like a redundancy.

Still, that begs the question: why did Toy Story 4 have to get made? I couldn’t give you a good reason why. The only reason I can think of is that Toy Story 3 made over a billion dollars and a sequel was bound to make more money. But that’s a profit-driven rationale, and Pixar isn’t usually known for making something that isn’t story-driven first and market-driven second. And don’t be mistaken: there’s definitely a message, and a purpose, here behind Toy Story 4.

The problem is it isn’t a necessary one. Toy Story 3 capped the trilogy off perfectly and beautifully with a message saying that while all journeys end, that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones and there are new adventures to experience out there. Toy Story 4 ends on a note similar to Toy Story 3, and since the two endings are so similar, neither of them feels like the definitive conclusion of the franchise. Even if this is the quote-unquote “last” Toy Story movie, who’s to say Pixar won’t change their mind later on? Toy Story 3 was supposed to be the last movie, and Pixar backtracked from that after it was the highest-grossing movie of 2010. Who’s to say Toy Story 4 won’t get the same treatment? Or for that matter, Toy Story 5?

On the surface level, Toy Story 4 is a fun, energetic, and joyful little sequel that brings you back to the classic days of being in the playroom with the toys. Through that simplicity, Toy Story 4 is a rewarding experience, even if it isn’t as fulfilling as one. But it also reminds me of a depressing truth about cinematic franchises: throw enough money at it, and studios will be incentivized enough to make a sequel, even if the story doesn’t at all call for one.

I’m glad I got to see the toys one last time. I just hope it really is the last time.

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“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

J.J. Abrams: the spiritual successor to George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original.

It’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A new sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has arisen and is bent on taking over the galaxy. His pursuits lead him towards a troup of misfits who have become acquainted almost by sheer chance. A scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) lived on the desolate planet of Jakku before she got entangled into this conflict. Finn (John Boyega) was a Stormtrooper who defected for reasons unbeknown to us. BB-8 is a spherical droid who wants to get away from Kylo Ren for reasons also unknown. What is known is that these three figures have something that Kylo Ren wants, and he won’t stop at nothing until he has fulfilled his destiny.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers. One thing I will say without giving too much away is that the story is exemplary, and is reminiscent of the adventure and intrigue that made Star Wars iconic in the first place. The screenplay, written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Ardnt and polished up by Star Trek director J.J. Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan, is an active synergy of the old and new, incorporating elements that we are familiar with while at the same time introducing original content all their own. This is not just a strong Star Wars story. It’s a strong story, period.

For me, that was my biggest concern going into the theater, and the biggest relief coming out of it. This was the first Star Wars movie where its key subjects would not be featured. Yes, we have references to the older films, but we don’t have Darth Vader. We don’t have Yoda. We don’t have Obi-Wan. We don’t have any of the key figures that linked the whole series together, minus R2 and C-3PO. How would the movie hold up on its own?

Very well, as it turns out, and the new cast members do a great job servicing their roles and making them memorable on their own. Driver is menacing and malicious as Kylo Ren, an egotistical and maniacal presence that reflects both the chilling imposition of Darth Vader and the deepening paranoia of Episode III’s Anakin Skywalker. Boyega is both humorous and likable as Finn, a reformed spirit who is just trying to find new meaning and purpose in his life. Out of the entire cast, however, I am most impressed with newcomer Daisy Ridley. This is the first time she has acted in a feature film, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that based off of her performance. She is both heartbreaking and intriguing as Rey, equal parts fascinating, sympathetic, and compelling as this character whom is a complete mystery to us. Even by the end of the film, we still don’t understand everything about her, and that’s the point. We’re not supposed to understand her history; we’re supposed to understand her. Ridley did an amazing job at bringing this character to life, and out of anyone else from the cast, she made me most excited for her journey in the future installments.

Do I need to go into the film’s visual and sound effects? They were the groundbreaking features of the very first movies, and they’re stronger than ever in this motion picture. Part of that is because Abrams takes a note out of George Lucas’ old playbook, reverting to practical effects and detailed costuming to bring authenticity to this universe. He still uses CGI, but he doesn’t rely on it. He only uses it when he absolutely has to, when X-wings are firing at TIE Fighters or when lightsabers are clashing against each other. Everything else is created through elaborate art direction and set design, while the CGI is used to compliment the visuals rather than serve as them. The result is the most visually authentic out of any of the films yet.

I have one gripe, and one gripe alone, and that is that there are plot elements that eerily mimic the storyline of one of the original films. I won’t spoil it by saying which one. I will say that even in the face of that criticism, The Force Awakens still manages to make itself unique and special in a series that is already unique and special by itself. We said goodbye to this universe a long time ago. Rejoice as we are once again reunited with the galaxy from far, far away.

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“HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Step one: Don’t get eaten by a nightfury.

How To Train Your Dragon is a pure joy, a complete and captivating wonder that reaches the inner child in you, touches it, and fills you with such inexplicable excitement and adventure that you almost feel like you can do anything. I was initially worried about this movie going in to it: how many other movies have attempted the human-pet budding romance E.T. did so wonderfully all those magical years ago, and failed? Well, there’s nothing to fear here, fellow reader. In their long line of successes, failures and mismatches, How To Train Your Dragon easily ranks among DreamWorks’ best work.

We open up on a grand battle on the land of Berk, an island where the vikings are as stubborn and hard-headed as the metal helmets they wear on their heads. But this battle isn’t against other vikings, mind you: it’s against dragons, giant, dangerous beasts that tear through the sky and spit fire like its flu season for them. For the vikings, killing a dragon is like the starting point for becoming a man. It’s their form of puberty I suppose, next to the endless gorges of food and testosterone that they throw and shout about at each other.

One Berk citizen, however, is a little more hopeless than other vikings: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a smart, inventive but helplessly clumsy little fellow that will reach for a pencil when he’s supposed to reach for an axe. Fate turned an eye to him when in the midst of the battle, he captured a “nightfury”, a sleek black dragon whose fast speed and blue fire makes him the most deadly dragon out in the field of battle. However, against his better judgement, Hiccup decides not to kill the nightfury after discovering that he was injured during the battle. Now, while slowly helping him back to health and back to being able to fly, Hiccup discovers the truth about the dragon race, and how similar he is to them and their personalities.

Taking a look at the past animated movies DreamWorks has helped produce, you realize how much of a mixed bag they put out there to their audience. Look at the best they’ve had to offer, such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Now look at the worst they’ve had to offer, such as Shark Tale and Shrek The Third. And don’t even get me started on Bee Movie. Looking at their filmoraphy, and looking at how much they’ve done wrong mixed with their right, I was expecting a very artificial, forgettable experience.

Boy, was I wrong, and boy was I glad to be wrong. The very first detail you notice in How To Train Your Dragon is it’s animation, how crisp and refined it is in detail, and how authentic it makes everything look. In the opening sequence, for instance, we shift through the dark clouds and sea as we approach the land of Berk, and it was so atmospheric that I felt like I myself was flying over the ocean surface when I first saw it. Later in the film, you look at vikings talking to each other in the dining hall, and the rock floors and the wood detailing look so real that you can almost reach out and touch it.

But I know what you’re really after. You’re not after what the waves, clouds and wood looks like. Nuh uh. You’re interested in how the dragons look, how exhilarating the fight scenes are and how exciting it is when you see a dragon spread his wings for the first time.

Let me assure you, fellow reader: the action could not be any more exciting. The dragons are all colorful, lifelike and filled with variety, their wings spread out in glorious, anthropomorphic detail. When they fly, they soar at supersonic speeds, dodging mountains, flipping through the air, and skydiving towards valleys like they are swimming in an endless sea of clouds and sky.

I especially liked the chemistry Hiccup shares with the nighfury, who he later names Toothless in the movie. Did I really just say that? That I liked the chemistry between two fictional, fake, animated characters? Yes I did, because these characters are neither fake nor artificial: they’re genuine, sharing real, heartfelt emotions with each other in ways almost no other animated film captures in movies. When Hiccup touches Toothless’ snout for the first time, you feel conflicted emotions between each other as they struggle to trust one another. When Toothless saves Hiccup from certain death from the dangers of the skies, you feel their relationship growing as they form a closer bond with each other. But when an all-out war spawns in between the vikings and the dragons, it’s Hiccup and Toothless that remain strong through it all, their friendship so compelling that it almost feels like connecting with a long-lost brother, not too disimilar to how Boo and Sully interact in Monsters Inc. 

My only regret with this movie is that it won’t be the best animated film of the year. With Toy Story 3 releasing just around the corner, and considering Pixar’s track record, it’s doubtful to see How To Train Your Dragon trump years of animated fandom and cherishment, especially when we’ve had years to grow with these characters. Shame, because this movie has great, fluid animation, an involving story, and memorable characters just like Toy Story does. If Toy Story 3 wasn’t coming out in June, I am positive that How To Train Your Dragon would win the best animated feature award at the Oscars.

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