Category Archives: pixar

Planes

Planes ~ I was hesitant to jump back into the ‘World of Cars,’ because of the revelation I made while watching Cars 2, you know, that the ‘World of Cars’ is actually occurring in the aftermath of Stephen King’s short story “Trucks.” I know, scared the crap outta me too. But The Bride wanted to see it, so I went along.

This one is similar to Cars 2, in that it’s about racing, and in this case, planes. Dusty Clodhopper – voiced by Dane Cook, who is much less annoying when all you hear is scripted and you don’t have to see him – is a small town cropduster who wants to be a racing plane in the big leagues and enters a race around the world. Underdog makes good, that kind of thing.

We have seen this before. Good voice cast, lots of clichés with fresh takes, and jokes for the kids and the adults, Planes is a good hour and a half of harmless entertainment. There’s nothing really new, nothing to make us go wow, or how did they do that? A good Pixar flick, originally made for direct-to-DVD, so to do so well in theaters, it must have something. Enjoyable.

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Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph ~ After helping friend Marni celebrate her birthday at Red Lobster, The Bride and I decided to continue the evening as a date night, despite the raging rainsnowstorm outside. We hadn’t been able to see Wreck-It Ralph since it’s been out so we trekked across Route 38 to my least favorite theater to see it.

It was a rainy/snowy Wednesday night, and that may have something to do with it, but I was pleased to see the place nearly empty and doing very little business. I couldn’t wish it on a nastier movie theater. That said, to be fair, we had no problems on this trip. As a matter of fact, the young man who took our tickets was very helpful. But you know, too little, too late. Gonna take a lot to change my mind about this place.

First things first, Wreck-It Ralph being a Disney/Pixar flick, we get a Pixar cartoon before the main feature. “Paperman” was a sweet short utilizing different animation than usual for Pixar, and it also had a bit of a Japanese anime vibe to it. I liked it a lot, a big reason to see this movie is to see “Paperman” first.

Wreck-It Ralph, the newest from Disney/Pixar, is loosely at first glance a cross between Toy Story and Tron. Like the first movie we discover that the entities in our videogames actually live, especially when we’re not looking, and like the second flick we discover that they live in their own little universe with its own physical and moral laws, all within the confines of one arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph is the bad guy in a game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., essentially close to Donkey Kong in many ways. Ralph, shunned by the other denizens of his game, determines to leave his game and make good. He goes off to Hero’s Duty, a hybrid of Halo and Starship Troopers, to win a medal, and recognition. When things go awry, he becomes stranded in Sugar Rush, a mix of Mario Kart and Candyland. There, Ralph must decide if truly is the bad guy, or a hero.

It’s a complex plot that is quite dark in places, but for the most part, it’s an enjoyable journey through 1980s videogame nostalgia. It has a sharp sense of humor, great characters, and the voice work of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and especially Jane Lynch is first class. There are also many cameos of classic videogame characters that make the flick a real treat.

An added trivia bonus for old school videogamers is the song that plays over the closing credits, “Wreck It, Wreck-It Ralph” by Jerry Buckner, formerly of Buckner & Garcia of “Pac-Man Fever” fame.

I liked Wreck-It Ralph quite a bit, and while I wonder if this might be over or under the heads of some folks who weren’t into, or alive for, 1980s arcade games, I highly recommend it. Great flick.

Not Your Average Disney Princess

Brave ~ Disney/Pixar has done something with Brave that is extremely difficult to do in the age of the internet, and I’m glad they did. They managed to hide from audiences what this movie is all about. And that’s a good thing.

At first glance, it is the latest of a long line (and a damn fine tradition, don’t get me wrong) of Disney Princess movies. The Princess Merida with her tangled scarlet locks, independent attitude, and Scottish bearing stood ready to become not only the latest, but probably one of the most popular of the Disney Princesses. In some cases, the DP is not a good role model or stereotype. The female protagonist is passive, waits for the prince to come and save her, save the day, and live happily ever after with. It’s tired in this age of enlightenment.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that type of movie. In its time, stuff like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and even The Little Mermaid to an extent worked well and are wonderful stories. But this isn’t that kind of movie.

Brave is about relationships. Chiefly about daughters’ relationships with their fathers, and mostly their mothers – and most importantly, mending those relationships. Now there are moments where Brave is predictable, and there are times when it’s madcap and sometimes it’s scary, but it is always entertaining, but just don’t expect your typical Disney Princess here.

I’m not going to give anything away, much like Disney/Pixar’s marketing did not, and reasonably has not yet given anything away, but I loved this flick. Viva la difference! Recommended.

John Carter Is Awesome

John Carter ~ In the year of The Avengers , there are only a few movies that I have been anticipating with the same tension and excitement as that of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. There is Battleship, which is more a curiosity than anything else, as in how can a flick based on a kids game have such an awesome trailer? There’s also The Dark Knight Rises, which falls more into the morbid curiosity category. Regular readers know how much I absolutely hated The Dark Knight, so I am curious to see how much of a train wreck this one will be. And then there’s John Carter. In some ways, I have been more excited about this one than The Avengers.

First things first, all you critics and naysayers and underage idiots who think it rips off Star Wars can all just go to hell. John Carter is awesome. The books, by Edgar Rice Burroughs about John Carter of Mars are now over a hundred years old. A century, idiots, so if anything, George Lucas was mining Burroughs, not the other way around. And that goes for everything else under a hundred years old the uneducated are saying John Carter rips off. This is the original, literally the great granddaddy of pulp adventure science fiction. Everything from Flash Gordon to Superman to Adam Strange to Avatar owes a huge debt to this property.

And the other thing, yeah, that thing, I don’t want to hear any crap about box office. Yes, it was an expensive movie, and yes, it did not do well at the box office. The box office folks are talking about is domestic, John Carter did quite well overseas, where also apparently folks knew who the character was, despite the “of Mars” being removed from the title, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The fact is not that the movie did do well financially, it just did not do the numbers it was expected to do, that’s all. Let’s look at the facts – John Carter has made more money than The Artist and Hugo combined. Does that sound like a bomb to you?

There were other problems. The project got orphaned at Disney/Pixar, as nearly everyone involved in marketing was no longer with the company when it came out. So Disney only gave it the minimum promotion a motion picture of its size, budget and content should have gotten. Disney had written the film off before it even came out, and in recent weeks has even admitted it. Feeling saturated by the PR blitz of The Avengers and Brave? Well, enjoy, that’s John Carter‘s marketing money at work.

And then there’s the title. Disney had a real bomb last year called Mars Needs Moms, and decided that the word “Mars” was bad publicity, and so removed it. These are also the geniuses who wouldn’t call it A Princess of Mars (the book on which this movie is mostly based) because it would confuse the little girls (and probably the parents as well) in the audience. Not only is that just plain stupid reasoning, it’s also ripping the heart out of the character. John Carter is John Carter of Mars, period. It’s like calling a movie about Superman just “Man.” And also if they had kept the “Mars” in the title, at least some of the folks who weren’t aware of the character wouldn’t have at least known it was scifi of some sort.

Despite all that that, despite all of this crap that has been piled on top of the movie – I loved it. I’ve seen it three times. John Carter is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great movie, and there’s nothing original you haven’t already seen somewhere else (it has had a hundred years to be ripped off, mind you), but it is a fun movie, and I really enjoyed the two hours plus I spent in the theater each time. There hasn’t been an adventure like this is some time.

Based on the first novel A Princess of Mars, yet borrowing from later novels as well, John Carter stars newcomer Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights”) in the title role, genre actress Lynn Collins as the Princess, and Willem Dafoe brilliantly voice acting Carter’s Thark friend Tars Tarkas. Rounding out the cast are two veteran actors from one of my favorite HBO series “Rome,” Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as Dominic West and Bryan Cranston who rule the screen while they’re on it.

I loved this pulp adventure of a Civil War vet transported to the otherworldly Mars to fight for and against its various peoples. I read these books as a ten year old at the Camden County Library when it was part of the long gone Echelon Mall, thanks to my reading enabling big sister. They were great then, and great now, as I read the first book again before seeing the movie. A friend of mine called it adventure porn for ten year old boys. I don’t find that all that offensive, I think it’s right on target actually.

John Carter is a fun adventure flick – don’t believe anything the naysayers tell you, go see it, go see it now.

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Cars 2

Cars 2 ~ I really liked this sequel to Cars a lot, and it has a lot going for it but one thing bothered me a lot as well – and I just couldn’t get it out of my head once it reared its ugly head. Remember the short story by Stephen King called “Trucks”? It was made into a movie twice, once for television under its own name and once theatrically as Maximum Overdrive. The story goes that something happens, some event, and machines, mostly cars and trucks, gain sentience, and proceed to wipe out the human race, and those that remain alive are turned into slaves, slaves that maintain them and fuel them.

The thought occurred to me while watching Cars 2 that this was that world! In this flick, the characters participate in several international races and pass a lot of architecture, much of which featured doors and windows that were built and designed for humans, not cars as evidence would indicate. And we never see any people, only vehicles. It gave me shivers and I couldn’t shake them throughout the flick. Watch and see. If you’ve seen either of the movies, or read the short story, you’ll be freaked out.

Stephen King comparisons aside, this is a great kids movie, and terrific for adults as well. Like most Pixar flicks, it works on many levels providing entertainment for old and young. I especially liked that Cars 2 was a perfect sequel for Cars in that kids who saw the first movie when it was right for their age, will see Cars 2 a few years older and still find it age appropriate for them. The story, the development, the action, language and even the small amount of perceived violence actually grew up with the kids.

I was kinda bugged by the subpar Toy Story shirt before the movie. I would have really had a Pixar original, which are always wonderful and innovative. I guess they had to bow to the powers that be, go for the sure buck and cash in. Shame. I also noted that a whole new cast of characters, and new versions of old characters were introduced to ensure a good toy merchandizing blitz for the sequel. Nothing wrong with that but its obviousness bothered me.

On the good side, there was a lot there for me and other adults. I loved the whole spy parody plot with Michael Caine doing the voice. Not many folks realize how big Caine was in the Brit spy cinema game in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is a fitting homage. Folks of my age will also smile at the “Speed Racer” references and homages in the race sequences. Cars 2 is very reminiscent of both the original cartoons and even the amazing live action of a few years back. Loved it.

So other than the creepy Stephen King “Trucks” thing, and the short before the movie, Cars 2 is an excellent sequel and a great movie for kids and adults. Just be wary, parents, the language and violence is a bit more intense than the first one, okay? But definitely check it out.

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Tangled

Tangled ~ Much like Disney’s last animated feature, The Princess and the Frog that re-imagined the fairy tale of “The Frog Prince,” Tangled gives “Rapunzel” a new spin. And while very little of the film has the energy or the verve of the preview featuring the music of Pink, it is still very good.

Leads Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, though not most folks’ choice of a male lead, hand in terrific performances. Levi, especially proving the magic of animation is about voice work, not appearances. Character actor Donna Murphy rounds out the singing cast as the heavy, with Alan Menken doing the music this time out.

The songs are formula unfortunately and go in all the right places and do everything these types of songs have done for Disney songs for almost two decades. They’re almost interchangeable, which again, is not to say they are not good. One tune, “I’ve Got a Dream,” stands out far above the others in its difference above all else. It’s an almost Monty Python-ic madcap piece that brings more than a few laughs with it.

All in all, a great entry for Disney’ fiftieth animated feature, and their first CGI one without Pixar. We’ve seen it before, but it’s still worth seeing again, ya know? Terrific holiday fare for the kids, and the adults, recommended.

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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is a good film. It could have been better, but it’s still a heck of a lot better than some of the crap we’ve gotten so far this summer. I might have some complaints about it, but don’t get me wrong, I liked it, a lot.

First things first, as with all Disney/Pixar features, this one begins with a short, and as always it’s just amazing. This short, Day & Night is just brilliant. Not just brilliant as most Pixars are, but also innovative, just pure genius. This is the type of thing that Pixar excels at – conceptual genius. Do not miss. For me, this alone was worth the price of admission.

We paid through the nose to see this flick in both 3-D and IMAX, but unlike many recent offerings, this was fully worth it. Toy Story 3 picks up years after the last sequel. Andy is leaving for college and hasn’t played with his toys in years so they are awaiting their destiny – a trip to the attic or being donated to a local daycare center. The queues for crying in the audience are a bit obvious and manipulative unlike the last two films

The theme is pretty much the same as Toy Story 2 – that kids are never as good as they seem, and abandon their toys when they get older. It worked for the last movie, but gets a bit creepy here the second time around. More than that, this is a much darker episode of the movie series. The Buzz and Woody Go to Hell sequence is especially scary, and downright frightening for the little ones. We’ve had bad kids and bad toys before, this time out we actually have evil toys. It’s a bit disturbing.

These problems may stem from the fact that what we are seeing is actually the original, rejected script, albeit rewritten, for the first film, and that a better concept had to be abandoned due to legal issues. It’s a shame, because it was good. The movie we got is still good. Ken (when he’s not being evil or creepy) is a hoot, and the highlight here. Some bits, like the rebooted in Spanish Buzz, seem out of place, but are still fun.

As I said, this is still the best movie so far this year, despite its flaws, and the ending is sweet and sincere as opposed to manipulative. I liked Toy Story 3 a lot. Recommended.

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Toy Stories in 3-D

Last night we got to see a delightful treat, but it was a long way to get there. We planned on seeing the special Toy Story and Toy Story 2 double feature in 3-D, but got a late start of it since, surprisingly, The Bride and I are pretty busy people. We had a variety of choices and settled on a 10:35 show at the Cinemark in Somerdale, but once we got there we found that that show was in fact on for the second movie. What the f with the showtimes? Don’t think we’re going back to Cinemark anytime soon.

We hit the Showcase at the Ritz who had their showtimes right and correct, and we enjoyed the double feature immensely. For those wondering, it was a great flick/flicks, bookended with new material as well as a cool intermission with trivia and behind the scenes stuff. We also got 3-D previews of Toy Story 3 and other upcoming 3-D features. A good time was had by all, except those who went to the Cinemark…

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Toy Story 3 – Trailer

This was one of the highlights of seeing Up, seeing this trailer for Toy Story 3.

It opens June 18, 2010.

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Up

There’s not really a lot I can say about this one other than wow. Up isn’t my favorite movie so far this year, but it’s right ‘up’ there with Star Trek and Watchmen, and that’s just a matter of my own personal taste, not quality. Trust me, Up is easily the best movie so far this year.

My only quibble might be that it’s not as family or kid-friendly as it might seem from the commercials and previews. There is much much more to this tale than an old man in a flying house lifted by balloons. It’s high adventure, it’s great fun – and it has its dark moments. For every Skunk and Flower there has to be the hunter that kills Bambi’s mom. Up has its share. This is not a bad thing, but it should serve as a heads ‘up’ to parents and others too sensitive or politically correct. Me, I thought the film was wonderful.

There is an amazing and heart-wrenching and nearly wordless sequence early on detailing the life of the main character and his wife that I believe is some of the best cinematic storytelling ever, period, on a par with what Orson Welles did in the 1940s or Steven Spielberg in the 1970s. It’s beautiful. This is not just any summer film, folks. And the score is by Michael Giacchino, quickly becoming my favorite all-time composer. Highly recommended.

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