Tag Archives: Disney

Weekend Outlook – Pirates of the Baywatch: Guardians of the Covenant

Happy Memorial Day weekend everybody! So after you get done with your barbecue (which is really just burgers and hotdogs, or maybe brats if you’re fancy), then what are you going to do?

Maybe you’ll go shopping. I hear there are some good deals meant to lure you away from the simplicity of always paying less for things by shopping online. Perhaps you are thinking about visiting a theme park, but that’s expensive and you run the risk of dehydration. I guess you could watch any of the mediocre sporting events which will be on all weekend, you’ve got the Indy 500, the NBA conference finals, a whole bunch of baseball, or the carbonated poison water 600. But those all sound long, boring, and better watched in short clips on YouTube as a last resort of entertainment.

Why not hang out at the multiplex and catch up on those early Summer blockbusters that you have missed because you have been so busy catching up on your assignments from procrastination class or cramming for that test that you no longer remember because of sleep deprivation? It has been a relatively slow start to the summer movie season, but this long weekend should be the perfect time to catch that movie that has been calling you. We’ve got 3 sequels and an R-rated comedy TV adaptation to examine so buckle up!

If you haven’t already seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you might be a Mennonite (Note to self: find Mennonite comedian and pitch the idea of stealing Jeff Foxworthy’s signature bit). It has only been out since Cinco de Mayo and it has already made close to 3 quarters of a billion dollars worldwide! Guardians is a ton of fun and it is fairly kid friendly, so as long as your kid can dress themselves and no longer needs a high chair, they should be up for this adventure.

The premise is simple. We rejoin our lovable gang of space anti-heroes a little while after the first film ends (If you haven’t first Guardians of the Galaxy, then you should probably buy it on iTunes and catch up with the rest of civilization). Star Lord has daddy issues that he needs to work out and they do it in hilarious fashion. This is has more laughs per minute than the first film with more of the same character driven drama and amazing 80’s soundtrack. (I’m serious about the soundtrack! I literally just Googled “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass. It will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week, just be prepared.) I’ll be honest, if you haven’t seen this one, and maybe even if you have, it is your best bet. The rest are likely going to be hit or miss.

I just saw Alien: Covenant last night and it was very good, but it kind of felt like it was struggling with what kind of movie it wanted to be. But what should we expect from the 3rd film from Ridley Scott in this franchise which he helped reboot back in 2012 with the prequel Prometheus. Covenant rides the line between the heady philosophical ramblings of Prometheus and the crap your pants scariness of Alien.

If Guardians was safe for kids that can ride a roller coaster then this one is only safe if you can drive a car (manual transmissions only, none of that wussy automatic garbage). I’m serious, there is blood everywhere in this, aliens bursting out of all kinds of cavities and orifices, not to mention the synthetic on synthetic porn that almost happens. I could hear the Fassboners rising in the theater. If you’re a fan of Ridley Scott and the franchise you won’t be disappointed, but it’s not his best work. I’m seriously hoping that Blade Runner 2049 is better.

I’ll be quite honest, the only thing that get’s me excited about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Longest movie name since Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood) is the inclusion of Javier Bardem as the baddie. If you’ve seen Skyfall or No Country for Old Men you know that he can be extremely creepy and intimidating, and that’s before he’s been all zombified. Even though it looks creepy, this is Disney we are talking about and I’m sure if your emo kids are into pirates then they would be okay going to this one too.

I know that this is a total cash grab on Disney’s part. They want to revive the franchise that has brought in $3.7 billion since 2003. I get it, but even Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley were smart enough to get out after three films and here Johnny Depp is riding into his fifth. He is simply the worst pirate that I’ve ever heard of, but I have heard of him so I’ll be checking this one out on Saturday, so stay tuned for my thoughts.

Finally, we have the R-rated 90’s TV adaptation that literally no one has ever been clamoring for. Baywatch hits theaters this weekend and I can only hope that they at least got Hasselhoff for a cameo, I mean he’s in Guardians so it’s not like he wasn’t available for filming. If they missed out on the Hoff, at least they have the ghost of Pam Anderson’s boobs, a.k.a. Alexandra Daddario. It looks like they are trying to go down the comedy parody road with this one and that would be great. But they have had me worried in a couple of trailers that they might try and take this straight, and if it takes itself too seriously it will be garbage.

The critical consensus is already that it is garbage (18% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I’m hoping that this could at least be as good as Central Intelligence. I’ve never been much of a fan of Zac Ephron, but I’m willing to give him a shot. This one is for adults only, the red band trailers have been bad enough that I had to watch them after my kids went to bed. I’ll be seeing this one next Wednesday so you’ll have to wait a little bit longer for my full review.

The most important thing is for you to enjoy this weekend and remember those brave men and women who died so we can eat lots of expensive buttery popcorn and be entertained by the beautiful monkeys we pay to entertain us. Have a great weekend!

 

 

Weekend Outlook: Secret Life of Pets

Well it looks like Dory will finally lose her box office throne this weekend. However a new animated feature will be taking over. No, it’s not The BFG which is a quality film that suffered from poor scheduling sandwiched in between Dory‘s massive opening and The Secret Life of Pets which looks like it is going to at least have a huge opening weekend, but I doubt that it will have the kind of staying power that we saw from our favorite Blue Tang.

The Secret Life of Pets

Does anyone need to see this trailer? I have seen it more times that I care to admit. The film has created a huge amount of buzz, to the point last week that my daughter wouldn’t stop asking if we could see it instead of The BFG. I have to say that it broke my heart a little bit, because I have some serious doubts about this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I think kids are going to love it and parents are going to take them and it is going to make boatloads of money. But I just don’t think that it is going to be as good as the animated fare that we have been recently feasting on.

Continue reading Weekend Outlook: Secret Life of Pets

Will Pete’s Dragon Continue Disney’s Success in 2016?

 With only 5 releases this year, Disney has been setting the box office on fire. They have already easily broken the billion dollar mark. One of those hits has been The Jungle Book. Like The Jungle Book, the studio has seen significant success with remakes of their older films, but this August, we’ll see a remake of a film that wasn’t a huge hit the first time around. If the trailer is anything to go by, the second time around may be the ticket for Pete’s Dragon. Check out the new trailer below.

Pete’s Dragon follows an orphan boy who has been lost in the woods for six years, with his only apparent companion being a large dragon who can make himself invisible. While the original 1977 production was mostly live action and musical comedy, this new version is obviously looking to channel the more dramatic aspects of the story. As a follow-up to The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon makes a lot of sense. Both stories follow orphans, and have put a lot of effort into creating realistic digital creatures. Whether Pete’s Dragon will be able to be as successful as its predecessor is a more difficult question to answer.

What do you think? Have you ever seen the original? Does this trailer get you excited to see the remake?

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

When Marvel Studios began ambitiously building towards the first Avengers movie, many openly wondered: “How can they even hope to do this?” Many times over the years, most notably in Sam Raimi’s bloated Spider-Man 3, too many characters clogged up the screen, diluting that film and others like it of any real focus. This was a legitimate concern for Marvel and for The Avengers, a movie that was going to star not one, but seven superheroes. Now we jump ahead to 2016 and seven superheroes suddenly doesn’t seem like such a big number. Now Marvel has arrived with Captain America: Civil War, the latest in their progressively expanding franchise, with a lineup that includes 12 superheroes and three villains. Have we reached maximum capacity superhero? Was this finally, once and for all, just too much?

civilwar6

Judging from the $1.1 billion that this film has grossed worldwide, I would say that is a big NOPE. Captain America: Civil War doesn’t even feel like a crowded restaurant on a Friday night. Suddenly, I can imagine the whole mutant universe from the X-Men films joining with the Fantastic Four and the Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. I will try not to spoil anything major however, if you haven’t seen this film stop reading and find a theater and go see it. It won’t be there much longer. Soon it will be moving to Blu-Ray and will hold a permanent spot on my shelf. Also, since this is a sequel to other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films you should be familiar with them as well.

Civil War is loosely based on a 2006-2007 Marvel comics storyline, the film serves as a sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film opens with Captain America and a small group of Avengers — Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch — teaming to stop Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon. Crossbones is Frank Grillo who survived the ending of Winter Soldier, but now has a severely scarred face and jackhammer fists. Despite stopping Crossbones, the operation ends poorly, resulting in a number of civilian casualties.

civilwar1

The Captain and team are called into the office of the Secretary of State, Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. You’ll remember him from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Following the events of Age of Ultron, the United Nations drew up the Sokovia Accords, a treaty that would essentially put the governing nations in charge of The Avengers. Tony, after being confronted by a mother who blamed him for the death of her son in Sokovia, is feeling guilty and sides with Ross arguing that the Avengers need to be put into check.

Naturally in a movie subtitled Civil War, not everyone agrees. There are some polite arguments and disagreements until a terrorist attack at a United Nations conference is blamed on Winter Soldier. Polite arguments quickly heat up as Cap defends his BFF and is determined to keep him concealed as they attempt to prove his innocence. With the Sokovia Accords now signed, Ross wants Captain America and his team arrested. Tony Stark asks for 36 hours to bring them in without incident. Let the Civil War begin.

civilwar2

In a movie that has an almost literal army of superheroes — Captain America, Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Panther, Spider-Man, War Machine, Ant-Man, it’s almost remarkable that a movie this big can still feel intimate. True to its name, Civil War remains a movie about Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, two friends from Brooklyn and their enduring relationship over 60 years. However, this movie is definitely not a bromantic comedy.

Captain America: Civil War includes some of the finest action in a Marvel movie, including a glorious showstopper extended battle sequence between Team Cap and Team Iron Man at a Berlin airport. It’s a magnificent and exhilarating scene that never once feels overstuffed or confused, despite the sheer enormity of the action. What could serve as the detriment to some hero-stuffed movies, actually works to the advantage of Civil War. Part of what is so delightful is how easily the characters, the majority of which we’ve come to know over the course of 13 Marvel Studios movies, interact and play off each other. Scarlet Witch using her powers to allow Captain America to super jump into a high-rise building. Hawkeye firing a miniaturized Ant-Man on an arrow inside Iron Man’s armor. Spider-Man using his webbing to wrap up…OK that one is too good to spoil here.

civilwar3

After this sequence, which would be an extremely hard act to follow, directors Joe and Anthony Russo wisely dial back the scope of the film. Instead of trying to go even bigger and having our heroes fight against a giant, spiny, CGI glob, the focus shifts to our three main protagonists: Tony, Steve and Bucky. While more than one character manipulates the events of this film for their own nefarious purposes, it all comes down to these characters, ultimately Captain America vs. Iron Man, and their own beliefs, personalities, neuroses and paranoias coming out to play. Tony expresses resentment over how his father, Howard Stark, liked Steve Rogers more than he liked his own son. Steve repeats a line a pre-Super Serum Steve told a group of bullies who were beating him up in an alley (“I could do this all day”).

This is not some hastily assembled superhero brawl to sell more movie tickets; These two have been bickering and brawling over the course of two Avengers movies — one of their very first conversations includes Cap telling Stark, “Put on the suit, let’s go a few rounds.” — and that all comes to a head over the course of the film, whose finale feels earned rather than mandated by the mechanics of the plot. If the idea of watching even more superheroes punch each other after Batman vs. Superman feels like a chore, let me assure you this film could not be more dissimilar. While slightly overlong, this movie is bright, creative, insightful, affecting and, above all else, fun.

civilwar4

Here’s how enjoyable Captain America: Civil War is: Much has been made about Spider-Man returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a few disastrous movies over at Sony Pictures. I was acutely aware and excited that Spider-Man would be making his debut in this movie alongside Captain America, Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers. Yet midway through the movie, I was so invested in the film, that when Spider-Man shows, it was a legitimate surprise. Civil War is so entertaining that I actually forgot Spider-Man was coming. It’s like enjoying a delicious meal and then the chef reminds you that was just the first course.

By the time Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 charges into theaters in 2018, who knows how massive the film’s roster of superheroes and supervillains will have expanded to, and whether that will be too much. Just a few years ago I would have argued that this film would be “too much.” However, for now, it turns out that “too much” may be just enough.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

The familiar scrolling yellow text setting the scene as the grand John Williams score blares to alert all that things just got real. Yes, Star Wars is back, and I for one am very excited about where this series is going in the next 30 years. This is the first Star Wars movie we have seen in 10 years, and the first real one in 32 years. I’m sorry but the prequels were just not good. I’m not sure if it was Hayden Christensen’s awful acting, the invention of midichlorians to science away the force, or Jar Jar Binks’ zany comedy relief, but the three prequels need to be lost to the annals of time and maybe we can let J.J. Abrams have a shot at recreating them. With The Force Awakens, he manages to perfectly blend the old and the new and makes a powerful and dramatic next step in the epic saga.

swfa1The movie features a blend of new characters as well as actors reprising their roles from the original movies as we join them 30 years since the destruction of the Death Star and the fall of the Empire. We are treated to Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew as Han Solo and Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher as Princess turned General Leia Organa, and Mark Hamill even makes a brief albeit epic appearance as the nearly mythical Luke Skywalker. There are plenty of other visuals and references that caused the theaters to erupt with fanboys (and girls) gushing their praise. However, some have said that this film was too close to the originals and it should be called more of a reboot than a sequel. I disagree.

swfa3.pngI see the presence of the original characters as a way to pass the baton on to a new generation as we step into new adventures. John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, and Oscar Isaac as Poe bring a delightful on-screen chemistry reminiscent of the original trilogy but setting a course for a new direction. The new characters are at home in the Star Wars universe, nothing feels forced, and they welcomingly provide a lighthearted and fitting next generation of heroes. Both the old and new cast work beautifully together, and the result is a film jam-packed with classic banter, references to previous movies and suspenseful action.

While the aforementioned prequel trilogy received criticism for its excessive use of CGI among other things, The Force Awakens returned to its roots, using models and miniatures whenever possible. John Williams provides yet another great soundtrack, however upon my first watching I did not hear another song that would compare to Duel of the Fates. But there were beautiful call backs in tone and melody to the original series especially the Imperial March. Ultimately, the music did what it is designed to do enhance both the action-packed battle and chase sequences and touching personal scenes. Also, I don’t think there were any lulls in the movie, meaning that if you do go and see it in the theater, make sure you go to the bathroom first and don’t drink too much because there are no good opportunities to leave for 5 minutes.

 

swfa2I will not spoil anything here, though if you have waited as long as I did to watch the film you will need to watch out for sneaky spoilers already creeping their way into pop-culture. My recent favorite being Adam Driver reprising his role on Saturday Night Live as Kylo Ren becomes Undercover Boss.

The movie is very good and provides a great introduction to the next trilogy. There are several shocking reveals throughout, and the conclusion leaves many questions unanswered while pointing to more movies to come. However, would you expect anything else from the guy who brought us Lost. All in all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wonderful addition to this saga and I can’t wait for my kids to get hooked on this new series.

 

Day 29 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie From Your Childhood – 30 Day Movie Challenge

I could pretend that I had great taste in film even as a toddler, but that’s no fun. I do remember watching movies like Jurassic Park as a kid, but one that I come back to over and over again is Disney’s Robin Hood. For some reason, this treat tends to get the cold shoulder from animation purists whenever it comes up in conversation. For the life of me, I just don’t understand the hostility to this cozy, endearing adventure/comedy.

Released while the studio was still recovering from Walt’s death, this was one of the first Disney productions that didn’t benefit from his personal touch. The studio was still jittery when it came to artistic direction now that their greatest supporter was gone. It’s unusual to Disney films because it stays very tight on its characters. This leaves the plot winding a bit aimlessly at times, so there’s not a big payoff in the end, but the care with which the characters are handled grows on the viewer as the film strolls along.

Looking back, as an adult and a film snob, I can see that the picture is notorious for its corner-cutting animation, it simply doesn’t have the sparkling hand-drawn detail of earlier Disney masterpieces, or the glitzy sheen of the latter ones. It’s certainly one of the more crudely-drawn productions of the company. But even when you stack up the complaints lobbed at this incarnation of the Robin Hood tale, they really don’t matter, because in the end we get a richly entertaining good time, and I’m glad to say that this film is just as captivating to my children as it was to me.

What movies do you remember fondly from your childhood? What do you think about Robin Hood? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 23 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Animated Film

Being a dad, it seems like I watch more animated movies than any other type. And since I am a film snob, I can’t stand to endlessly re-watch sub-par movies the way that I see so many parents do. Just because Cars is my kids’ favorite Pixar movie, that doesn’t mean that I am going to put it on every time they ask to watch a movie. Although they would be happy with that, I would go insane. And even if it was a good movie, it would lose some of its magic after seeing it twice a week for 3 years. I am constantly looking for good animated films to share with my family. That passion, along with my general love for film, led me to the breathtaking and impressive canon of Japanese hand-drawn animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

Now 70 years old, he is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney. He has directed ten feature length animated films as well as several shorts and Japanese television shows and personally hand drawn tens of thousands of frames. I know that most Americans don’t think to highly of “Japanimation,” as it has been called. I can’t say that I blame them. Run of the mill “Japanimation” is irritating, overly violent, raunchy, indulgent, and devoid of good storytelling. But that description could be used to describe most modern American fare.

But Miyazaki is a glowing exception. His animation has an attention to detail that rivals the exacting standards of a company like Pixar. His intense yet delicate shading of colors would make his works of art more at home in a fine art gallery than in the Sunday comics. Miyazaki also has a great sense of humor, a gift for poetic storytelling, and a taste for adventure. His beautiful children’s movie, My Neighbor Totoro, is a charming and deeply affecting look at how a child’s imagination helps her endure a time of private fear and sadness. His most recent work, Ponyo, is a beautiful story of the transforming power of love. Princess Mononoke, is a powerful, sprawling epic about the need for humankind to respect and live in harmony with the environment. And that is a message that people of all faiths should proclaim.

I almost chose Princess Mononoke, but decided to go with what is widely considered to be Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Spirited Away combines the weighty mythologizing of Mononoke with the playful spirit of My Neighbor Totoro, but then goes in new directions as well. It is funny to me that Walt Disney Studios has helped bring Miyazaki’s features to American cinemas, because Miyazaki’s work tends to reveal that most Disney films are simplistic and predictable.

Spirited Away is a coming of age story of a little girl named Chihiro, who gets lost in a wonderland of spirits and witches, and her quest to find a way to break the curse that has transformed her parents so they can return home. Her only friend in this world is a mysterious boy named Haku who helps her to survive. Eventually we come to hope that Chihiro, her parents, and Haku will all eventually break away from the harsh tyranny of the powerful and dictatorial witch Yubaba.

The secret to their freedom lies in discovering their true identities. Yubaba gains her power and control over her subjects by stealing their identities, much like Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Yubaba can hold her own with the most memorable wicked witches of all time. She’s wider than she is tall, her head makes up half her body, she has snake-like shoots of white hair bound up in a bun, and her massive nose bulges out before her like a weapon. She snarls and cackles her way through the film. One of the things I love about Miyazaki is that he never sets up a simplistic face-off between good and evil. He knows we all have good and evil within us, and thus his “villains” have moments of kindness, and his heroes do things they regret.

If the film sounds complicated, it’s because it is. This film runs just over two hours, but with its fast pace and a plethora of subplots Spirited Away feels like Miyazaki decided to challenge George Lucas at his own game of exotic adventure and whimsy. There are enough bizarre creatures here to make the cantina in Star Wars look boring. The depth and fertility of Miyazaki’s imagination leaves me stunned at every turn.

Some will say that this film is too complex for children, and too scary. For small children, possibly. They could get lost in the intricate plot, and the monsters might scare them. I personally showed it to my kids starting at age 5 and up. But I think kids should be challenged to think through what they’re watching, and this is a story that provides great opportunities for discussion with grownups. Spirited Away is at times frightening, but it emphasizes the importance of an individual’s virtue, and affirms that the smallest of characters can make a big difference. It offers powerful displays of sacrificial love. And it, as I mentioned before, portrays “villains” who are redeemable and can be transformed by compassion and kindness.

Many Christians will probably berate me for my love of this film calling it occultic. But Miyazaki comes from a culture that is steeped in Shinto mythology and beliefs about the spirits of nature and of the dead. So of course, his story reflects such traditions and beliefs. But he is not “preaching” these ideas any more than Jiminy Cricket is preaching astrology when he croons about wishing upon a star. He is treating them as myth, as fantasy, and using them to illustrate lessons and morals that open-minded Christians will find quite similar to their own. The film makes no mention of “God” or any benevolent force which rules the world, but it does affirm the importance of personal virtues like: selflessness, sacrificial love, humility, friendship, compassion, and courage. People of any faith can read these characters as symbolic, and the story reflects powerful truths.

One spirit in particular, No Face, appears at first to be gentle and friendly. But he becomes more and more mysterious, shifting between gentleness and violent destructive behavior. Eventually, we come to understand that he is a lonely spirit who seeks approval. When he is around greed and evil, he responds with greed and evil. But when he is offered friendship and unconditional love, he seems to try a better path. Chihiro has patience with him and her kindness reminds me of how Christ patiently endures with me in my own tendency to become self-absorbed. He waits patiently, always offering love, forgiveness, and direction to a better way. No Face is amazed at Chihiro’s virtue. And I came to hope that he would abandon his violence and follow Chihiro to a better life. This is just one of many such parables within a vast tapestry of interconnected stories.

All in all, this is an absolute must-see. And the bigger the screen the better. The colors are incredible, from shots of a magical train that skims across the sea, to fantastical gardens and intricately painted murals. Well, I’ve said my piece. What is your favorite Animated movie? Do you love Miyazaki’s work as much as I do, or do you have another opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Monsters Inc. (2001)

I’m not very good at this whole “watch a movie a week and write a review on it” thing. I easily watch 3-5 movies a week, but the problem is, I would much rather watch another movie than write a review. Especially when it’s a movie like the one that is on the slate for today. But alas, I made a commitment and so I’m gonna keep it.

20110327-173353.jpgThe most difficult part of writing a review for Monster’s Inc. Is that it is an animated film and we tend to treat these movies simply for their entertainment value for kids. But I think that animated films can have great value apart from mindless entertainment. And that is the area in which Pixar films in recent years have excelled above their peers in the animation business.

Everybody is doing computer animation, but the thing that elevates Pixar’s films and recently some of Dreamworks’ offerings (Flushed Away (really, it’s actually pretty good), Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and Megamind) is the story. It’s not just about hyper-realistic imagery and the creation of a fully submersible world. Those are all pointless if you don’t have a story with characters in which the audience of both children and adults will invest their emotions.

20110327-173258.jpgMonster’s Inc. at its core is the inversion of a horror film. Normally, kids are wetting their beds at the idea that monsters live in their closets and are going to come out to scare them. Monsters Inc. simply admits this epidemic of home invasion as fact and then goes inside the closet to tell the story from the monsters point of view. It turns out that monsters don’t particularly enjoy scaring children, it is simply their job. Monstropolis (the Narnia on the other end of these impressionable children’s wardrobes) runs on the screams of children. But because human children are flooded with violent movies and television shows at increasingly younger ages, they are getting harder to scare and consequently Monstropolis has a scream shortage.

It seems to me that most animation studios would have been content to leave the story there then throw in a lot of cultural references to make the movie funnier. But Pixar understands the value of irony and as it turns out in this universe, these monsters know just as little about us as we know about them, and that makes monsters deathly afraid of human children.

20110327-173112.jpgAdd to that two of the most likable characters in all of Pixar’s movies, second only to Woody and Buzz, and you’ve got a movie that went toe-to-toe with Shrek, and by all counts lost that battle. But I would invite you to rematch both films and decide for yourself which has aged better. I think that Monsters Inc. could do equally well today, but I’m not sure I could say that about Shrek.

Essentially Monsters Inc. is a great buddy comedy. On one side you have the purple spotted horned Bear-cat named Sully. He looks ferocious which makes him great at his job, but in reality, he is just a big softie. John Goodman did a good job voicing him as he is the most dynamic of the characters in the film. And playing the Laurel to his Hardy is the effervescent Billy Crystal placed in the body of a green volleyball with one giant eye and an even bigger mouth. They make an odd couple to be sure and lift what could have been a mediocre movie to Pixar gold.

20110327-173150.jpgAnymore, it is pointless to mention the superb animation that is present in these movies. But in its time, the computer animation rendering of every frame featuring Sully took 11 hours to complete because the movement of each of his 2,320,413 hairs. With a frame rate of 24 fps that is nearly a month of processor time to create a single second of footage.

This might not be the highest grossing or the best reviewed of any of the Pixar movies, but it is a solid and highly entertaining movie that I have confidence my kids will he showing their kids one day.

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Well, after a crazy couple of holiday weekends I am attempting to get back on schedule with my reviewing of the IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all time. Though I’m sure I’m going to fall behind again. We close on our new house on Friday and then the next two weeks will be a blur as we move all of our accumulated crap across town. But this isn’t a Christmas card… on to the review.

I was and am a fan of Toy Story. It was magical. A great story which birthed a whole genre of animation. It came out when I was 12. I was a little bit older than it’s target audience, but I was still too young to recognize the significance of this groundbreaking film.
However, when rumors of Toy Story 2 began to circulate, even at my tender age, I was already jaded enough with production companies money-making tactics to know not to expect much. The original plan was for Toy Story 2 to be a direct to DVD release. To this day, Disney has only created one worthwhile sequel without the help of the masters at Pixar, that being Fantasia 2000. To illustrate my point, let’s briefly review Disney’s track record with sequels.
The Rescuers Down Under
The Return of Jafar
Aladdin & The King of Thieves
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamps Adventure… I could go on, but I think I made my point.

So when the folks at Pixar brought the script and some storyboards for what would eventually become Toy Story 2 to Disney, they made the smart decision to pour their resources into this sequel. Most sequels simply dilute the story and characters like too much water added to good Scotch. But not all sequels are bad. The best sequels take the original film at face value and then seamlessly expand from there with a movie that stands on it’s own merit instead of being propped up simply by the success of it’s predecessor. For instance, I loved Terminator II: Judgment Day from the moment I first watched it, but it took me several years to build up a desire to watch the original Terminator.

So what about Toy Story 2 earned it a 100% fresh rating from the aggregated rating site Rotten Tomatoes? Well, to answer that question I re-watched the movie a few times, some with my kids and some by myself. And I think it comes down to two main issues which play themselves out over and over again in this film. First is the film’s ability to entertain both the young and the young at heart. My kids love it because even though it is now over 10 years old it looks great with an attention to detail that Pixar has become known for. The colors and textures are light years (no pun intended) better than the original, and that’s saying something because it was beautiful and the improvement came in just 4 year’s time. Also, my kids are continuously quoting lines from these movies, and I believe it’s because the movie isn’t pandering and condescending to “their level.” The dialogue is incredible for a kids movie and it is carried by a voice cast that has expanded its diversity to include Joan Cusack. But my kids watch it over and over and hear different things every time. The story is easy enough to understand that you could follow it even if the sound on your TV went out, but everything about the story is enhanced because of the humorous and touching script.

I love the movie because of the little movie homages, the inclusion of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001: a Space Odyssey in the opening video game sequence, Rex chasing after the car in a nod to Jurassic Park, and the hilarious twist that Zurg didn’t kill Buzz’s father… he is his father! When my kids watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and Vader spills his big secret, one of my kids said it’s just like Toy Story. Speaking of twists, though I can’t remember the first time I watched this film, I am willing to bet that I was surprised at the devious selfishness of Stinky Pete. And even though we are used to movies like this now, this one is simply action packed, with at least 5 distinct chase scenes, two shootouts, several covert operations, and epic surroundings for all of the above make this movie one that I find it hard to rip myself away from.

But not only is this story entertaining for all ages, but it is a classic because it is so well done and we can see the shadows of many Pixar greats yet to come in it’s deep library of scenes. I don’t know that we would have had the emotionally crushing opening montage from Up were it not for the “When She Loved Me montage in Toy Story 2. The same goes for the door warehouse chase scene from Monsters, Inc. It would have been impossible had Pixar not broken ground in Toy Story 2 with the chase through the airport baggage area. Also, think of as many animated films as you can that have made you want to both laugh and cry, applaud and think, remember and wonder. I would be willing to wager that almost all of those films are from the storytelling magicians at Pixar. They just have the ability and lack of inhibition that lets them expertly dive into issues that most animated or childrens’ films won’t touch. Issues like loss, rejection, abandonment, fear, identity, purpose, and love.

Just take this film for example and you will see Woody’s crisis of purpose as he battles with a desire for eternal life and fame. But to get it he must reject the very reason he was made, as he taught Buzz in the first film, life isn’t worth living if you aren’t being loved by a child. At the same time, the roundup gang treats Woody as if he is the promised messiah who has come to save them from the darkness and loneliness of storage. There is the mistaken identity of Buzz, and the matter of who is the real Buzz is not determined by who has the cooler tool-belt, but which action figure bears the name of their owner. This is a unmistakable Christian ideal, we are who we are not because of some inherent goodness in us, but because we bear the name of Christ.

Who knew that a simple movie about the secret lives of toys could go so deep as to teach its viewers something profound about themselves. That is the art of film-making, the magic of Pixar, and the reason why I can’t stop watching movies. Because movies have this ability in common with Scripture. I love Scripture because it can destroy me one minute as it reveals my sin, then restore me as it reveals my Savior. And I keep watching movies because I hope that the next one will cut me open to my core and teach me a little bit more about myself. If my kids watch the Toy Story movies and want to act like Woody or Buzz, that is fine with me, because both characters exemplify the type of behavior and strength and purity of character that I wish everyone had and pray that my children will develop. I can’t say that about every cartoon character. The thing that makes Toy Story great is the desire it creates in its viewers to not only observe greatness but to pursue and attain it.