Tag Archives: Toy Story

“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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“FINDING NEMO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Fish are friends, not food.

Reviewing a film like Finding Nemo is an impossible task, because it isn’t meant to be reviewed. It’s meant to be experienced. Like Pixar’s other masterpieces, Finding Nemo finds joy and adventure in seemingly ordinary environments. Toy Story found theirs in a toy box, and A Bug’s Life found theirs in an anthill. Now Finding Nemo plunges into the ocean to tell us a story about family, fatherhood, and friendship. The resulting film is nothing short of Pixar’s best: iconic, entertaining, and meaningful.

After viewing what is perhaps the most heartbreaking opening I’ve ever seen in an animated movie, we are introduced to the film’s key characters. Marlin (Albert Brooks), a deep-sea clownfish, is the single father of Nemo (Alexander Gould), his son who suffers from a short, defective fin. He’s very protective of his son: so much so, that he will hide him away in his anemone, away from the rest of the ocean.

One day, Marlon goes through any parent’s worst nightmare: he sees his son kidnapped by human divers swimming out in the ocean. Now accompanied only by a short-minded regal tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), they set off across the ocean to save Marlin’s son.

The first thing you notice in any Pixar movie is its animation. Vibrant, elegant, and beaming with life, the one thing you can always appreciate about their films is the vivid details of their animation. With Finding Nemo, however, I’d argue that it is the most refined out of Pixar’s other films. This is the fifth film Pixar has produced now, and the fifth time that they’ve captured me with their ambient motions, intricate details, and complex characters. The colors are bright and saturated, reaching out to you in all of its eye-catching graphics and details. The fish feel fresh and alive, briskly swimming through the ocean as if they were real animals. The ocean itself breathes with just as much life as the fish do. Its plants flow in synchronization with the ocean streams, its currents moving like breaths in the ocean. This is easily Pixar’s most visually pleasing film yet, not just because of the colors and motions, but because of how real entire environments feel. This isn’t just an animated ocean: it is the ocean. That’s how authentic it feels and moves.

But the animation isn’t the only beautiful thing about Finding Nemo. Its story is equally breathtaking; simple and straightforward, yet creative and complex. On the surface, we have this father-son dynamic going on in between Marlin and Nemo, which serves as the emotional focal point of the film. In deeper insight, this is a movie about environment conservation and the effect our race is having on fish life.

Take Nemo’s plight as the most pure example of this. After being kidnapped, Nemo is dropped into a dentist’s fish tank with a collection of other fish, all of whom are terrified of the dentist’s reckless niece. It is in this tank where you see very simply that fish are not viewed as living creatures to these humans, but rather as objects, property, gifts. Seeing how poorly the fish are treated in this movie reflects a very sad truth under its layers of fun and humor, and it makes me ponder on how much of a threat we truly pose on the environments of the real clownfish, regal tangs, sharks, sea turtles, and the rest of the fish in the ocean.

None of this takes away from the fact that this is at heart a kids movie: a fun, colorful, and unique one at that. Yet this is a rare picture even among children’s films, an animated movie parents can enjoy just as much as their kids do. Perhaps that is because the main character is a parent himself, and it is easy to relate to his joy, his fears, and his solace as a father, and as someone who cares for something much bigger than himself. Animated films nowadays are like the ocean: vast, wide, never-ending, and impossible to predict. Finding Nemo is the pearl you find in it: small, hard to find, yet immensely valuable, just like its small-finned star.

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“THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)” Review (✫✫1/2)

Talk about bare necessities. 

In a 2012 TED talk titled “The Clues To A Great Story“, Pixar animator Andrew Stanton gave some fast facts about Pixar’s successes while creating Toy Story. The essence of his pitch laid in five tips: No songs, no “I want” moments, no happy village, no love story, and make me care. That last part is perhaps the most pertinent.

Well, in 1966’s Disney movie The Jungle Book, there’s a plethora of songs, one of them titled “I Wanna Be Like You”, a happy village, and a romance that’s rushed at the end of the movie. Oh, and it didn’t make me care about Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera, Kaa, Shere Kahn, or any of other jungle animals in this predictable, by-the-books story. Removing me from the experience was perhaps the movie’s biggest violation.

Oh, I admit there’s a lot going on in The Jungle Book. Based on a collection of short stories of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), a human orphan who was adopted by the jungle animals and taken care of throughout his youth. One day, the jungle wolves find out that Shere Kahn (George Sanders), a vicious tiger who has a intense hatred of human beings, has returned to the jungle and wants to kill Mowgli. In an effort to protect the boy and save him from Shere Kahn, Mowlgi and his friends Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) and Bageera the black panther (Sebastian Cabot) travel throughout the jungle to return Mowgli to the man village, where he will be reunited with his kind once again.

Back to the TED talk. When Stanton gave his presentation, he gave it knowing the genre’s conventions and with what audiences are used to seeing. Case in point, the singing, the on-the-nose “I want” moments, the happy villages, and the love stories. How many times have we seen each of these? Indeed, how many times have we seen it in most of the Disney movies, dating all the way back to Walt Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs in 1937?

Disney has used and reused these elements over and over again through the likes of Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty, and seeing those elements repeat again in The Jungle Book definitely doesn’t help in its representation. The film’s premise is not the worst in the world. It had good ideas of man versus nature that it could have been explored very well, and might have even stood out in a long line of conventional Disney pictures.

The problem is The Jungle Book is incredibly rushed, and character’s motivations are not explored much deeper beyond their surface value. Mowgli, for instance, wants to remain in the jungle instead of traveling to live in the man village, but we’re never told why. We assume its because the jungle is where his wolf pack family lives, but since they only appear in the first 15 minutes of the film and are never referred to again, that reasoning quickly diminishes. Baloo is a laid back and easygoing bear that wants to raise Mowgli as his cub, which is not only creepy and silly, but also just plain nonsensical. Why does Baloo want to raise Mowgli as his cub after mere minutes of just meeting him? Why does Mowgli trust this big, brutish bear that could eat him in a heartbeat to be his bear dad? Why are they more concerned about relaxing and chilling in the jungle when they both know that a man-eating tiger is after them?

Which brings me to Shere Kahn. He is perhaps the most underdeveloped of any of the characters, which is the most frustrating to me because he has the most potential for development out of any of the other characters. We’re told that he is a tiger that hates human beings. Okay, why is that? Was there some deep, traumatizing experience where mankind crippled him for life? Did he lose his tiger family to a human tribe? Did mankind kill and take his food supply? Why does Shere Kahn hate mankind?

We’re never given a reason. Shere Kahn just hates man, and Mowgli is a man, and that’s supposed to be it. There’s no complexion to their relationship, just typical archetypes that could be written by any screenwriter that has a thought in their brain and a head on their shoulders.

I acknowledge that the movie is fun, that is without exception. The characters, while flat and thinly written, do have interesting and unique personalities, with the most memorable character being an ecstatic orangutan named King Louie (Louis Prima). The musical numbers are the opportunities where character’s personalities shine the most, and their silly, wacky, and fun energy takes over the screen like an Elephant herd stampeding through the jungle. While the movie is definitely too conventional for its own good, I must admit that I had fun with the music and I especially liked seeing the characters sing along to them. It’s the parts in between where the movie slows down to a crawl.

I look at this movie, and I think of how many Walt Disney pictures came before that did so much better at involving its audience than The Jungle Book did. Look at Pinnocchio. Look at FantasiaDumbo. BambiPeter Pan. Look at all the wonder, the excitement, the feeling of adventure that those movies provoked. Look at those characters, their ambitions, and their reasons for having those ambitions. Look at the magic they instill, the sense of creativity and imagination in their journeys. Yes, those characters had songs, wants, happy villages, and love stories in their movies, but they all did one very important thing that The Jungle Book forgot to do: they made me care.

When Baloo sang “Bare Necessities” to Mowgli, I didn’t know the audience was supposed to take it literally. Walt Disney certainly did.

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“INSIDE OUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A lot going on inside Riley’s head.

Pixar movies have a way of transcending fantasy and translating it into a form of reality. Does that make any sense? Of course it does, because you’ve seen many of Pixar’s masterpieces before. Up’s fantasy is about a man building a floating house about balloons, but the reality it’s portraying is an elder man dealing with personal loss and finding happiness in unexpected places. WALL-E’s fantasy is about a clumsy dumpster robot, but its reality is about discovering humanity and protecting our home and history. And Toy Story. Ooff. That’s a fantasy about one boy’s childhood with his toys and how they’ve impacted him into his adulthood. That is also its reality.

Here we have another colorful Pixar masterpiece that uses reality as its springboard for creativity and fantasy, using a human being as a setting, and her emotions as its characters. The human is Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl who just recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black), and their memories with her make up the core of Riley’s personality and how she reacts in different situations. After the move-in, Riley gets all shaken up from all of the new adjustments she has to get used to, from being the new kid at school, to moving in to a home smaller than her old one. It’s up to her vibrant and unique emotions to try and keep Riley together and make her new life a happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry one.

Written and directed by Pete Docter, who also helmed Pixar’s Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out is a clever, original animated feature that uses the human psyche as its playground. The best thing about the movie is seeing how creative it is in re-creating the human brain for a child’s mind, and seeing children react to all of the colorful adventures going on in this infinite cranial wonderland.

The first thing you notice with the film is its animation: vibrant colors and character models reach out to you in vivid details, even more so without the dimmed effects of 3D. Memories come in the form of small bowling ball spheres, colored after the fashion of each of Riley’s emotions. Different parts of her life are modeled into vast theme-park-like islands, from Family Land all the way to Goofball Island. Each island is also jam-packed with its own sleek features and gadgets that make you feel like you’re in the wonderful landscape of Disney land. Be honest: you would love to ride the literal “Train of thought” if it existed, wouldn’t you?

The film’s creative landscape, though, is to be expected. We’ve seen dozens of vast, colorful settings from many of Pixar’s films before. Andy’s room in Toy Story. Paradise Falls in Up. The AXIOM in WALL-E. You can probably name one setting that struck your eye in each movie, from the world of self-aware automobiles in Cars to the anthill in A Bug’s Life. Pixar has never failed in creativity, and I doubt anyone expects them to start failing now.

What I’m most impressed with is how the film handles its vastly ambitious premise, even with the film’s somewhat purported flaws. For instance, in Riley’s mind, a lot of childish, silly things go on that might make adults go on “offline” mode while the kids laugh at the overt goofiness going on the screen, like double rainbows and processed boyfriend machines. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, and for a film that has five emotions in it, the movie primarily focuses on only two of them: Joy and Sadness.

In any other movie, these quote-unquote “flaws” would make the film a weaker experience for me. It didn’t here. Why? The film’s premise, setting, and execution constitutes a need for each of these elements, making them contributors to the plot instead of distractions degrading from the experience. I would knock the film for being really silly and goofy at times, but it’s taking place in a kid’s mind. What else would be in the ecstatic and excited mind of a child? Doom, gloom, and misery? The characters are mostly one-dimensional and go through little change in the motion picture, but isn’t that kind of expected? I mean, what emotions do you think characters named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger are going to feel? Woe, Delight, Calm, Desire, and Peace? That would break their characters, and detract from the personalities and make them who they are. Finally, there’s the greater focus of using Joy and Sadness as the film’s key players instead of the others. There’s a specific reason for doing this. It’s because those are the core emotions any human being is going to experience: positive and negative.

In the film, Joy and Sadness conflict with each other with their contrasting personalities, each one trying to help Riley in the best ways that they can. Joy wants everything to be happy and optimistic, and for Riley to feel the enjoyment out of every situation. Sadness focuses on the reality of each situation and on the raw reactions one may feel from those that are less than happy. While both emotions conflict with each other in the ways they want to help Riley, they are ultimately the most essential for her. They allow her to express her emotions in their purest forms: in either pure Joy, or pure Sadness.

This is the ultimate meaning of the film, in that there are different things that make up each human being. Some has more anger in their bodies than others. Some may be filled with more Fear than others as well. But like the animated, wacky emotions in Riley’s curious little head, we’re all unique to each other and in the ways that we handle life’s problems. It’s how a baby will react differently to a traffic jam in how a taxi driver would. It’s how a fully-grown man will react differently to broccoli-covered pizza than a toddler would. It’s how a young, maturing boy will react differently to meeting a girl for the first time, and visa-versa.

As human beings, we are all made up of different emotions and personalities, but being different doesn’t mean being bad. Sometimes we need to experience the rawness of certain emotions for certain situations, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, we need the help of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger to get through life. How we express those emotions is what makes us who we are, and we end up being human beings as unique and diverse as Riley’s wonderful emotions are because of them.

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