Posted in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019, Ranking

Pixar Films: Ranked

When you think of animation studios that combines superb animation and compelling well-rounded characters who come in all sorts of lifeforms, there aren’t many studios out there who do it better than Pixar Animation Studios. Ever since they released their first film to the world in 1995, they have consistently crafted breath-taking and emotional stories that almost never fail to tug on the heartstrings of audience members everywhere. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Pixar revolutionised the animation industry, as their debut feature film was the first entirely computer animated featured film. In the years since, the studio has only gone from strength to strength, crafting some of the finest animated films to have graced the big screen over the last three decades.

Earlier this year, the studio celebrated its 35th birthday this year. And in honour of that occasion, and with their new film Luca now out on Disney+, I’m going to take a look at all of their feature films that they have released thus far, and rank them all from worst to best. To Infinity and Beyond!

23. Cars 2

The only film on this list that is truly terrible. Was anyone really asking for a sequel to a film that, even at the time, was one of the studio’s lesser efforts? To give the film the tiniest minuscule of credit, it did try to do something different with an international espionage side plot, that felt like something out of James Bond or Mission Impossible. However, this is decidedly ruined by numerous jokes that seemed to be primarily aimed at younger audiences. But, by far and away, the biggest misstep is the filmmakers’ baffling decision to make Tow Mater a central part of this premise. As a supporting character, he was just about bearable, but as the main character, the hazard lights should have been blinking from the word go. Even with Sir Michael Caine lending his voice to a British secret agent, that is not nearly enough to save this severely lacklustre sequel from its place on the scrapheap.

22. Cars

Speaking of the studio’s lesser efforts, comes the first film in a franchise that somehow spawned two sequels. Sentient cars seems an extremely bizarre concept on paper, but in the hands of Pixar, it just about worked. By this point, the studio hadn’t really put a foot wrong, but it had to come to a point when one film that didn’t quite hit those lofty standards, and Cars is very much that film. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical character, in this case, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as those that came before it, yet, it does the of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that, like this film’s sequel definitely felt as though it was geared more towards the younger generation.

21. Monsters University

Before they became best friends and co-workers at Monsters Inc, there was a time before Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan were rivals, as they learnt the ropes of how to become a top scarer at Monsters University. This uni’s modus operandi is to teach budding young monsters how to become a good scarer, so that they’re ready for life at Monsters Inc. The only prequel that the studio has thus far created, it is fun and enjoyable enough, with some good ideas in concept. Unfortunately, while seeing Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their iconic roles is a joy, the plot, and the majority of the supporting characters, are pretty forgettable.

20. Cars 3

After the horror story that was this film’s predecessor, the bar was set very low for the third adventure featuring Lightning McQueen. Thankfully, this was a step up from Cars 2, but then again, that wasn’t too hard. The film takes the decision to stick more closely to the first entry into the franchise, where instead of looking at McQueen’s early journey into the world of racing, it goes the opposite direction. When a younger and newer race car starts to compete and become a serious threat to McQueen’s chances of success, McQueen has to reinvent himself to stay relevant. There’s plenty of familiar tropes found in lots of sports movies here, but it’s decent enough entertainment, and easily the best film in the franchise.

19. The Good Dinosaur

It’s common knowledge that several million years ago, an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. But what might have happened had that asteroid instead missed the planet and dinosaurs continued to roam the Earth? When he gets separated from his family, young dinosaur Arlo must find his way home, and finds himself accompanied by a Neanderthal human child whom Arlo must try to reunite with his family. The Good Dinosaur boasts some spectacular animation, but given that just about every other film on this list also boasts stellar animation, that isn’t nearly enough. The film has a sweet sentiment about the importance of one’s family, but when you look at the film, and certain events that take place, it’s hard to not see the very obvious similarities between this and a certain Disney film involving lions.

18. Brave

After seeing Disney Animation Studios’ great success with the Princess genre over the years, Pixar clearly fancied taking a leaf out of their sister studio’s book, with their own version of a Princess tale. The results were decidedly a mixed bag. What Brave has going in its favour is the feisty, flaming haired protagonist Merida, a Princess who is a dab hand with a bow and arrow and definitely does not conform to what society expects from her, which puts her on a collision course with her mother. The big creative direction that the film chooses to go in, is an odd choice, and while it does provide for some laughs, and a touching look at the relationship between mother and daughter, it sadly feels like too much of a creative misstep.

17. A Bug’s Life

If you’re a studio that absolutely revolutionises the animation industry with your very first film, whatever your next film happens to be instantly has an uphill task to match those lofty heights. Following in the wake Toy Story was always going to be a tough act for any film to follow, but A Bug’s Life has plenty of things going for it that make it a strong film in its own right. The story about about an underdog (or should that be under-ant?) who has to prove his worth to his people has admittedly been done numerous times. However, there’s lots to like about lead protagonist Flik, as well as the leader of the colony Princess Atta. Additionally, there’s plenty of humour to be found with the colourful troupe of Circus bugs that enter on the scene to defeat those dastardly grasshoppers.

16. Finding Dory

After playing her part to reunite Marlin with Nemo in Finding Nemo, for the sequel to Pixar’s adventure through the big ocean blue, the loveable Blue Tang Dory became the centrepiece of the sequel. Which, thankfully, was not just a cynical cash grab. When Dory remembers something of her past that could lead her to her long lost parents, she sets off on another adventure in a bid to reunite with them. There aren’t any appearances from Bruce and co, and those pesky (yet hilarious) seagulls are only given the most fleeting appearances. Though in their place, are an equally amusing collection of characters, including a hilarious pair of sea lions and a grumpy but loveable octopus. Note to Cars 2, this is how you take a supporting character from one film, and successfully utilise them as a main character in a sequel film that is not extremely annoying.

15. Soul

After going deep into the emotions of the emotions that define who we are as people for his last film, Pete Docter went one step further with his next film. Taking a deep psychological look at humanity, the essence of what makes us who we are and our existence as human beings, and asking what is it we were put on this Earth to do? Focusing on Joe Gardner, the very first Pixar film to feature a Black lead character, who is deeply passionate about jazz music. After suffering a fatal accident right after landing his dream gig, Joe ends up at the Great Beyond, where souls who have lived their lives ascend.

Convinced though he has more to give, he ends up at The Great Before, where fledgling souls get their personalities before heading to Earth. The film is bold in its attempts to tell a very existential story, that will surely speak to anyone who has a passion for something, and for that it is to be commended. However, the film lacks that emotional punch that so many films before it have. Furthermore, what positive steps forward it makes for representation is hindered somewhat by a problematic creative decision that could have very easily been avoided.

14. Incredibles 2

Another sequel a long time in the making. The Incredibles was a game changer for the superhero genre, as it came out at a time when superheroes and superhero films were not quite the dominating force that they have since become. Hence, the sequel to Pixar’s answer to Marvel’s first family wasn’t quite as revolutionary. Nevertheless, it proved to be a worthy successor to the ingenuity of the first film. It took a risk by picking up straight after the events of the first film, but it was a risk that paid off. With superheroes still unable to come out of hiding, a corporation offers superheroes the chance to regain the public’s trust, which has Elastigirl front and centre, leaving Mr Incredible on parenting duties. And little baby Jack Jack almost steals the entire show.

13. Toy Story 4

After the third instalment of Pixar’s most lucrative franchise wrapped everything up in a beautiful and emotional manner, questions would have undoubtedly been to whether there was really any need for a fourth entry into this franchise. Would this be a worthwhile sequel that earnt its place, or a cynical cash grab of the nostalgia of fans who grew up with these characters? Thankfully, it was definitely the former as it earnt its place as a worthy continuation of this beloved franchise. While the majority of the old gang were side-lined, the film tells a story worth telling, most notably for Woody as he has an important decision to make, after having been reunited with Bo Peep. While it was a shame to see the rest of the old gang side-lined, the film introduces a bright and memorable collection of new characters including the voice talents of Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, and yes, even a loveable plastic fork named Forky.

12. Monsters, Inc.

Every night before bed as children, we may have been told of a story by our parents about the supposed monster that was hiding under our beds. Well what if there was, and these monsters were just looking to utilise the screams of terrified children as a means to power the city that the monsters live in? On that description, that does sound completely terrifying, but leave it to Pixar to take that premise and turn it into a winning formula. Focusing on the small and not very intimidating Mike Wazowski and his best friend, the much more intimidating James P. Sullivan. These two are together are the top scarers at Monsters Inc. Everything is going well for them, this is until an adorable little child named Boo comes along to challenge the perception that these monsters have about human children. Much like Woody and Buzz, what makes Monsters, Inc. roar is the winning dynamic between Mike and Sully, which is no small part due to the excellent voice work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman.

11. Onward

Imagine a world where the wonder of wizardry and magic, co-exist with the modern technology that we have in the world today. When two brothers receive a gift from their late father that they barely got to know before he passed away, they set off on a magical quest to bring him back to life for a day via some magical wizardry. The ensuing adventure is extremely funny and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, such as the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on to get them through those difficult years. This film wonderfully celebrates that.

And so we come to the top 10, and believe me when I say that ranking these movies was extremely hard. As in all honestly, all these films are as close to perfect as a film can get, but as this is a ranking list, they must be ranked, and so on we go with….

10. Ratatouille

There’s some extremely satisfying about tucking into a delicious meal that was lovingly prepared by someone. Yet it takes a certain kind of skill to take ingredients of a dish and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. We may go to fancy restaurants to have the pleasure of the finest chefs in the world serve up a delicious meal. So the idea of one of those chefs being a rat that has a real culinary talent, sounds like a repulsive idea in real life. Yet, under the vision of Brad Bird, it works an absolute treat.

Inspired by his hero Gusteau, Remy dreams of becoming a world renowned chef. The problem is that given who he is, it seems an impossible goal. This is until he meets Linguini, a bumbling garbage boy at a nearby restaurant who works with Remy to help them both achieve their goals.  It may be a familiar story of not being afraid to be who you are, but with under Bird’s direction, and a wonderful Michael Giacchino score, the end result is Chef’s kiss, a five star delight. Bonus points for the extremely clever pun in its title.

9. Toy Story 2

Given the phenomenal success that Toy Story enjoyed, a sequel was bound to happen at some point, and it really set the benchmark for the studio on how to craft a sequel that goes very very close to matching its predecessor. When Woody is toy-napped by a collector, he finds out he was once the star of a much beloved children’s TV show, along with a handful of new toys, namely Jessie the Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye the Horse. With plans for Woody and his new friends to be sold to a museum in Japan, Woody’s loyalty is torn in two directions, between his new gang, or being loyal to his beloved owner Andy.

Picking up on the first film’s themes of what is the true purpose of a toy, whilst continuing to explore Woody’s relationships with his friends, both old and new. The film is once again filled with plenty of heart, emotion (see Jessie’s When She Loved Me moment) and brilliantly humorous moments, such as the traffic cone sequence, and of course the wonderful references to The Empire Strikes Back. And to think, originally, the film was planned to be a straight to home video release!

8. Up

There’s no way anyone can talk about this film without talking about the opening 10 minutes. Without a single word of dialogue, and just that beautiful score from Michael Giacchino, the heart-breaking montage captures blissful young love and marriage, before transitioning into the devastation of miscarriage, and the sobering fact of mortality. And that’s just the first ten minutes!

The opening montage is undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, and if someone makes it through that montage without sobbing their eyes out, I would genuinely worry that their soul is missing. The ensuing adventure that follows after the montage is also extremely entertaining. Focusing on an elderly Carl who’s determined to fulfil his last wish to his beloved Ellie by fulfilling their dream to relocate to the picturesque Paradise Falls in South America. Throw in an eccentric collection of creatures, the plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell, and the late Christopher Plummer in the role of the villain, and you have the only film on this list that secured a Best Picture nomination!

7. Finding Nemo

The ocean, a vast, deep, dark, terrifying, and seemingly never-ending place. It’s not the sort of place that you would want to have to venture across to try and find your son. However, that’s exactly the task that clownfish Marlin faces. As a single father due to a traumatic incident in his past, he’s overly-protective of his son Nemo. However, after he’s fish-napped by scuba divers he must venture across the ocean to reunite with him. Thankfully, for him he’s not alone in this task as he’s accompanied by Dory, the forgetful Blue Tang fish.

Pixar’s animation is almost always on point, but the work that is accomplished to capture the depth and vastness of the ocean is an extraordinary accomplishment. As well as Marlin and Dory, the film is filled with an eclectic bunch of characters, from friendly(ish) sharks, to super laid-back sea turtles, to those ominous seagulls (mine!). The film demonstrates the unshakable love that a parent has for their child, and one who will stop at nothing to be reunited with them, the love of a parent who will stop at nothing to be reunited with their child. But most of all, you must remember: “Fish are friends, not food!”

6. WALL-E

It says a lot about any film that if it can absorb its audience into the world its created, all without any character uttering a single word of dialogue, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, that is an extremely impressive achievement. In the far future, Planet Earth has been long abandoned by humanity due to excessive consumerism and climate change. One of the last beings left to clean what has been left behind is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot (or WALL-E).

This bot’s existence is a very lonely one, until a very sleek futuristic looking robot named EVE shows up, looking for signs of life on the surface of the planet. As the two central characters, WALL-E and EVE sharing such heart-warming chemistry, the film is proof that any love story, even if it is one about two robots, can melt your heart if done well. Despite being released in 2008, the film has only become more relevant in recent years with the acceleration of climate change that represents an existential threat to our planet, and our very way of life.

5. The Incredibles

Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before the landscape of superheroes and Hollywood was forever changed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gigantic money making behemoth that it is today. Superhero films were being made, but they didn’t quite enjoy the popularity they do now. So in many ways writer/director Brad Bird was ahead of the curve, with this thrilling superhero flick, that one could argue is the best un-official Fantastic Four film that has been made to date.

When superheroes are declared illegal and must adopt regular lives, the lives of the Parr family are forever changed. This is until Bob (AKA Mr Incredible) gets a chance to don his superhero outfit for a secret mission, in the hopes that it will enable supers, like his family to come out of retirement. Though behind the scenes, the dastardly plans of arguably Pixar’s best villain Syndrome, force this super-family to suit up to save the world. Thanks to its exhilarating action scenes, an entertaining dynamic between the titular family and a fantastic array of supporting characters, this is one of the best superhero films ever made. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

3= Toy Story 3

It is a rare feat for a third film in a franchise that can lay a legitimate claim to be the best film in the franchise, but it’s a testament to the magic that director Lee Unkrich brought to the table for this entry into the studios’ most successful franchise, that no one could really argue if anyone said this is the best of the franchise.

After an 11 year absence, Woody, Buzz and all of the gang returned for what was meant to be the last hurrah for these beloved characters. With Andy now heading off to college, having long moved on from playing with his toys, they are all left are left with a heart-breaking dilemma as to what to do. Believing that they’ll be better off at a day care where toys are constantly played with find themselves, life appears to be rosy for them, until it decidedly isn’t. This culminates in a thrilling Shawshank Redemption-esque prison break, and the hilariousness of Spanish Buzz. And to cap it all off, not one but two extremely tear-jerking moments that should have had anyone who grew up with this franchise sobbing their eyes out.

3= Toy Story

The one that started it all, and the film that made history as the first fully computer animated film, and it certainly set the bar very high for the franchise and for animated films in general. We may have always wondered as kids what happens to our toys when we leave the room, what if they came alive? Working on that genius premise of the lives our toys live when we’re not at home, the film is filled to the brim with an array of colourful characters, and the studio arguably created their most memorable characters in the lovable cowboy doll Woody (voiced wonderfully by Tom Hanks) who gets jealous when his owner Andy, gets a shiny new toy, Buzz Lightyear, to usurp him as Andy’s favourite toy.

The lovable nature of Woody may or may not be down to the man that lends his voice to him, but just about every character here is memorable, and the dynamic between Woody and Buzz cemented these two as one of the most iconic duos in cinematic history. Even decades and multiple films later, the one that started it all off, is still one of the best films that Pixar has made.

2. Inside Out

The human brain is a wonderful thing, and as we go about our lives, the emotions we feel at any given moment, make us who we are. But what if the emotions in our brains also had emotions? Focusing on the five emotions in the head of 11 year old Riley as she is uprooted from her cosy Minnesota life to California, and the adjustment that she, and her emotions go through during this time. The premise of this film is quite simply, from the mind of Pete Docter, is a work of absolute genius. Furthermore, it matches that extraordinary innovation with an extremely witty, and emotional story.

Furthermore, with one of Pixar’s most memorable voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively. Each actor perfectly brings their emotion to life in a hilarious and emotional manner. While these five are great, one must not forgetting Richard Kind’s beautiful performance as Bing Bong. It’s a film that definitely feels more geared to older audiences with some of its ideas, whilst serving an important reminder to us all that while we may dislike feeling sad, it is acceptable to let that emotion overwhelm you, because it’s an emotion that plays an integral role in our lives.

1. Coco

As this list has demonstrated, Pixar have no shortage of incredible films that are filled with beautiful storytelling, excellent characters, and absolutely stunning animation. However, on a personal level, nothing has captured the beauty, and the wonder of their work, quite like this beautiful look at the culture of Mexico and the celebration of Día de Muertos, or The Day of the Dead festival. For young Miguel, he aspires to be a musician and play for the world, but due to an incident in his family’s past, music is outright banned. Determined to not let his family’s hatred of music stop him from pursuing his ambition, he mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and must get home safely before it’s too late.

Touching on so many deep themes including, family, music, grief and the need to remember loved ones after they’ve moved on from this world, it’s all just captured with so much beauty and emotion. Pixar’s animation is often just absolutely mesmeric to look at, however the animation here, particularly in the Land of the Dead, is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. And for a film where music is such an integral part of the story, the music is so immaculately beautiful and emotional. Just typing the words “Remember Me” is just making me want to break down crying. I genuinely don’t think I’ve cried quite as much whilst watching a film at the cinema, as I did with Coco. I adored this film so much but what makes it hit even harder is that just a week or so after seeing this film, my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew) passed away. Every time I watch this film, and hear those beautiful lyrics, I always think of her and my late mother. For these reasons, Coco holds such a special place in my heart and it is my favourite Pixar film.

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And that concludes my ranking for each and every Pixar film, thank you so very much for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What did you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree my choices? Please comment below and let me know.

You can connect with me on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d, cos you’ve always got a friend in me!

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgement Day  – Film Review

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: Having failed with their mission to assassinate Sarah Connor, the machines send a new and much more advanced lethal to go after John Connor as a child. However, the adult John Connor counteracts this by sending the same cyborg that tried to kill his mother, to protect him.

Review: “I’ll be back,” said the T-800 before he rammed his car through a police station during a climatic event of the first Terminator movie as he ruthlessly hunted down his prey, Sarah Connor, in a bid to kill her to prevent a deadly war between man and the machines from ever taking place. It’s a line that has become one of the most quoted lines of dialogue in cinematic history. Though he did not succeed in said mission, he was true to his word, and came back with an almighty bang to help create what many feel is one of the greatest sequels ever made in the history of film.

The first Terminator film was revolutionary and it managed this feat on quite the remarkably small budget. Hence for the sequel, as sequels should do it upped the ante and in considerable style too, including quite the higher budget. With the war against the Machines still raging, and having failed to eliminate Sarah, Skynet sends an advanced Terminator, the T-1000 back in time to eliminate John Connor as a child to prevent him from leading humanity to victory against the machines. Yet to counteract this, the adult John sends back a reprogrammed T-800 that was originally sent to kill his mother, back to protect him at all costs.

Having shown himself to be a ruthless badass killing machine in the first film, to see Arnie flip that on its head, and be a little bit more compassionate this time around was a masterstroke in terms of storytelling. Yet at the same time, he still remains an absolute badass that you wouldn’t want to find yourself up against. And once again, he has some terrific one liners that he delivers with such charisma. The role of the Terminator is what perhaps Arnie has become best known for, and he absolutely bosses every minute of screen time that he has.

With Sarah Connor as well you also have a character who has gone through some shit, and it’s made her a much tougher individual in this film than compared to the rather timid waitress she was in the first film. Taking the characters from the first film and developing them is what sequels should do, and this film does it perfectly, as Sarah is a transformed woman in this film. On the other hand the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is one of the most persistent relentless antagonists ever put to film. To watch him scrap with Arnie, two very well matched forces, it makes for some pulsating action. By doing this it makes it that so much more compelling, given that in the first film it was Arnie VS Sarah and Kyle, not exactly the most even of match ups.

With the budget now considerably enhanced, much like The Terminator himself, Cameron manages to create just as compelling, if not more compelling action sequences. he manages to top those action sequences here. The film is paced perfectly with plenty of tremendous action scenes to keep the energy going, including perhaps the best chase scene that has ever been put to film. However, though there are a lot of these chase sequences, it crucially allows those personal moments between the characters particularly between John and Sarah, and indeed the whole plot surrounding the war between man and machines and the dreaded Judgement Day.

It’s the perfect blend of upping the ante in terms of action and the drama, whilst crucially giving moments for the central characters to develop.  It’s one of the finest examples of a sequel that some might argue is better than the original. It is a film that has helped shape science fiction and indeed action films in the years that followed, and will in all likelihood, continue to be a staple of both genres for many more years to come.

He said he’d be back, and he certainly was a man (?) of his word. With much more developed characters and some breathtaking action set pieces, this is the perfect example of a sequel done perfectly. Hasta la Vista Baby indeed!

 

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Se7en (1995)

Image is property of New Line Cinema

Se7en – Film Review

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey

Director: David Fincher

Synopsis: Two detectives are assigned to a case in which the killer is brutally murdering his victims, based on the seven deadly sins.

Review: Sometimes, it just seems that there is just no escaping from the brutality and horrors life can sometimes be. On any given day, you tend to come across stories of horrific violence committed against all sorts of people, brutal murders and the like all seem to have become just so common for us to hear about. As such, there is something almost generally disturbing and unsettling about the second directorial effort of David Fincher, because it depicts events that could very well happen in the world today.

The opening credits along let the viewer know the sort of ride that they are in for, and it sure as heck won’t be pretty. In an unnamed US city,  Detective William Somerset is a veteran at the job, and is just a week shy of retirement when he gets assigned to this deeply disturbing case of a killer who is using the seven deadly sins as a basis for his crimes. With each respective murder representing each of the seven sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust. Also assigned to the case is the recently reassigned Detective David Mills who’s a bit brash, polar opposite to the calm and methodical William Somerset. Together these two must piece together the clues of the crimes to catch the killer. Except this mystery killer always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

Even from the opening credits, there’s something just so deeply unsettling about the events that we see on screen. The weather is almost always drab and bleak, which mirrors the tone of the film, extremely sombre and just downright macabre. The film-making is gritty and realistic to the point that it and almost makes you feel like the events you’re witnessing are real life events, but the film doesn’t go all out with the gore, it all just feels very realistic. With each murder that takes place, it keeps the plot moving along at a very steady pace. You want to turn away as the events, and more specifically the murders are so disturbingly gruesome, but the quality of the writing keeps your interest glued to the screen.

In a story that feels like it could be something you see in real life, the performances from everyone, in particular Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are tremendous. Their relationship is not exactly harmonious, and indeed the crime scenes they’re investigating understandably take their toll on the duo, but they remain committed in their efforts to bring down the killer. Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’s wife Tracy also gives a very vulnerable performance, a woman who is hiding something quite important from her husband, something that plays great significance when we reach the final act of the film.

Speaking of said final act, though there is tension right right throughout the film, particularly during a gritty gun battle in a residential block. The finale is where the tension is really turned up to maximum and the whole story comes to a head. Right up to this point, you had never actually witnessed the murders be carried out on screen, only the very bloody and unpleasant aftermath of each crime scene. Yet all that changes, and the whole plan of our mystery serial killer comes full circle. It’s so unexpected, delivering one of the best twists in cinematic history and providing the viewer with an ending that is more than likely to leave them reeling.

It’s shocking and bold storytelling combined with meticulously crafted film-making. Thus, credit where credit is due to Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for creating not just an ending that surely ranks up there with one of the very best ever put to screen. For creating a chilling tale that won’t be leaving your mind in any hurry, and one that ensures you will never hear the sentence “what’s in the box?” in the same way ever again.

Dark, brutal and uncompromising storytelling, with great performances from Pitt and Freeman, and a masterfully executed ending all equal one of the best films of all time.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 2 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wayne Knight, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Directors: John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: When a toy collector steals Woody, Buzz leads the gang on a mission to rescue their rootin’ tootin’ cowboy friend.

Review: Creating a sequel to anything that enjoyed incredible success is always an extremely tough act to follow, because well what you make is inevitably going to be judged on what preceded it. Sometimes though a sequel does improve upon its predecessor, but give that 1995’s Toy Story was in many ways revolutionary for the animation movie business,  that was always going to be a challenge for Pixar. Yet despite that enormous challenge, it is one they rose to and delivered another wonderfully animated, funny  and heartfelt story concerning Andy’s (and indeed everyone’s) favourite toys.

Instead of dealing with a new arrival among them, the toys are thrown into disarray when the leader of the gang Woody is pinched by a toy collector who happens to reunite Woody with some past associates of his. His toyknapper plans to sell Woody and co to a museum in Japan, which Woody greets with initial dismay. For Woody, who spent the majority of the first movie berating Buzz for his delusions of grandeur of not being a space ranger but simply a child’s play thing, now faces his own dilemma as to what a toy’s purpose is, and where does he really belong, given that Andy will not be a kid forever. While all this is going on, Buzz is taking the lead on a mission to find Woody and bring him back to Andy’s Room, with the help of a few of the other toys. Though it takes a bit of time to get going, once Woody is toy-knapped, it really picks up the pace.

“The force is with you young Lightyear, but you are not a Space Ranger yet!”

The original movie established these characters that audiences everywhere grew to love, not just the likes of Woody and Buzz, but all of the toys in Andy’s collection too. Impressive then, that there are a handful of new characters here as well that are so well developed and well realised, that it’s almost impossible not to love them too, namely Jessie the yodelling Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye, Woody’s trusted noble steed. The voice talent is truly of a very high order. On top of this, there’s a great villain, clearly inspired by everyone’s favourite Dark Lord, Darth Vader, this being the Evil Emperor Zurg, with a hilarious parody of an iconic Star Wars line thrown in for good measure. The story, much like its predecessor, is again a wonderful piece of work, much like its predecessor, it explores themes and ideas that will make an impact on anyone who has ever owned a toy in their lifetime, and if you’ve ever had to part company with said toy, it hits you where you live, kids and adults alike.

As well as the emotional tone, there is a great vibe of adventure and humour as we watch these toys go an exciting new adventure. An adventure where plenty of the toys really learn one or two things about themselves and also undertake some rather daring but hilarious ventures, like using traffic cones to cross a road, and mayhem ensues. As to be expected, there’s a handful of really good jokes aimed at the adults watching, in signature Pixar style. Initially, the studio planned for this to be a straight to video feature, but an eleventh hour decision meant that this thankfully got a cinematic release. It doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors lofty standards, but with that movie being one of the best animated films ever made, that was always going to be a tough act to follow. The studio reinforced their, at the time growing, reputation as a powerhouse of animated cinema, that would only continue to grow in the subsequent years.

Continuing on the path set by its predecessor, this superb sequel offers more well developed characters, tremendous voice animation, and a story with real emotional weight behind it.

 

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Beauty and the Beast– Film Review

Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Synopsis: A young woman offers to take the place of her father who has been captured by a horrible beast who unbeknown to her, is a prince who has been cursed by a terrible spell.

Review: Walt Disney Animation Studios, synonymous with making the most magical movies that exist on Planet Earth, probably. How fitting then, that they would bring to life what is perhaps the most magical fairytale of them all, and what is perhaps the most well known adaptation. Based on the French fairytale of the same name, published in 1740, focusing on Belle, a beautiful young woman who lives with her father. When her father stumbles upon a dark and mysterious castle and becomes imprisoned by the beastly owner of the castle, she offers to take his place, and what follows is without doubt one of the finest animated movies to ever grace the silver screen, and one that despite being released over a quarter of century ago, has stood the test of time remarkably well.

The third film to be produced as part of the Disney Renaissance, it really in many ways set the benchmark for the films that followed it to reach in terms of making a Disney Princess movie that has had a lasting effect on pop culture, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the coming years. What makes this film so great is not only its superb animation, which particularly for the time is remarkable. But even more than that are the characters, both leading and support, they are all just so memorable. Belle of course, clue in the name, is a beautiful princess but she’s also intelligent and compassionate, with a great singing voice. Gaston is in many ways Belle’s opposite, brash and rather arrogant who thinks he’s just the best, and that women should just fall at his feet, but of course Belle isn’t buying it.

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There are plenty of memorable tunes, right from the opening number to perhaps the most memorable tune, Be Our Guest, to the beautiful titular song, as performed by the great Angela Lansbury, which indeed won the Oscar for Best Song, which when you listen is easy to see why. The voice acting is flawless from everybody, and the singing too, every note that is sung is perfect, whether it’s Belle’s beautiful voice, or Gaston’s song about being the best man Belle could dream of, pompous to the maximum! Every song does its bit for the story, to move it along, and each of them have become some of the most iconic music, that’s perhaps ever been written for film. In addition, Disney’s films have become synonymous with producing magical fairytales, and this might just be the most magical of them all.

In addition to the Oscar for Best Song, a well deserved gong for Best Original Score, and the film also made movie history by becoming the first full length animated movie to get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It is a testament to the film’s quality that it was the first to achieve this honour, and this is before the Academy introduced a separate category for animated features, which is no mean achievement. Even more so that its legacy has endured for well over a quarter of a century now, and with the live action re-imagining shortly upon us, it should only ensure its legacy remains intact for generations to come, ensuring it will retain its status as a true timeless Disney classic, as if that was somehow ever in doubt.

Magical in every sense of the word, from story to characters to music. A truly wonderful piece of cinema that has been, and will continue to be adored for years to come. 

a

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

The Lion King (1994)

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Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

The Lion King – Film Review

Cast:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Niketa Calame, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Synopsis: A young cub is being prepared by his father, the king of a pride of lions, to become the future king, while the King’s brother secretly plots to seize the throne for himself.

Review: If ever there was a studio that could perfectly demonstrate the enduring power and appeal of animated films that are almost universally adored for their brilliant characters, gorgeous animation and emotional scenes that really threaten to tug at your heartstrings to such an extent you become a big blubbering mess of happy and sad emotions, then Walt Disney Animation Studios and their extraordinary collection of films could be just the studio you were looking for. Yet, if there was one film that does all of the aforementioned things, and a film that has stood the test of time with flying colours, and has built itself an enduring legacy, loved universally by all generations, 1994’s The Lion King certainly ticks all of those boxes, in an emphatic manner.

A soaring and stirring musical number opens proceedings, and for the next ninety minutes or so, you are taken on an enthralling journey set in the heart of Africa, specifically on a pride of Lions, ruled over by Mufasa and his wife Sarabi, and their young cub Simba. The young cub is taught all about life, and more specifically the great Circle of Life, via one of many absolutely brilliant and powerful songs, of which there are aplenty to be found here. Of course, life has its ups and downs and as Simba finds out, sometimes things can take a significant turn for the worse. With little choice, he goes on a journey that anyone watching can and will relate to in some way.

The screenplay, inspired by the works of Shakespeare and more specifically Hamlet, packs plenty of powerful and emotive themes into it. It is profound and deeply moving, that will almost certainly leave a lasting impression on the viewer. the characters have a great many layers to them, perhaps none more so than Simba. Initially a brash, cocky cub, through time he becomes this wise, powerful Lion just like his father Mufasa, voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones. Like most animations, these days, there are more than a few scenes that get the audience emotional, and if you have seen this film, you certainly know what scene in particular here will ensure the audience will be looking for something to wipe away the tears. The voice cast is excellent from Matthew Broderick as Adult Simba, to Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, to Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timone and Pumba. Jeremy Irons as the villainous Scar was another excellent casting choice. Last but not least is Robert Guillaume as the hilarious Rafiki (friend in Swahili).

Disney animations have certainly become known for their great and extremely effective use of music in scenes. From the soaring opening number, to the more jovial tunes like Hakuna Matata, to the powerful Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the great songs are aplenty and they’re all extremely memorable. The great songs are exquisitely matched by the score from Hans Zimmer, which as usual, is near enough perfect. Disney has for a while been what some may argue as the champion of animation in cinema, and for an animation that came out over two decades ago, the animation has stood the test of time, and still remains absolutely excellent and breath taking to watch.

The Lion King has ensured it will remain a staple of animated entertainment for a great many years to come. Having generated a very popular  production that has also been on for several years now. It is safe to say that through all of their spectacular and brilliant animated features, there may not be a film that has stood the test of time and left its mark on numerous aspects of popular culture to such an extent, like the Lion King has. Disney has made many movies since, and although their greatness is undoubted, it is worth considering if any since have reached the remarkable heights that have been set by The Lion King. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Beautifully animated, with rich and complex characters, with incredible music and a wonderful score, this is truly one of Disney’s most undisputed masterpieces.

a

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Mulan (1998)

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Mulan Film Review

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong, George Takei, Pat Morita

Director: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook

Synopsis: After her elderly father is called up to serve in China’s army, his young daughter Mulan disguises her self as a man to serve in his place, to help defeat the invading Huns.

Review: For Walt Disney Animation Studios, the period between 1989 and 1999 is known as the Disney Renaissance. Having had something of a difficult time prior to this, the studio came back with a bang, making and releasing ten films during this booming period in animated films, many of which can be considered some of the most successful films the studio has made. The penultimate film of said era, released in 1998, is certainly a fine example of the brilliance and wonder that the studio brought to the big screen.

Set in Ancient China, with war having just been declared after the villainous Hun army invades, the Emperor responds by ordering that one man from every family must serve in the Chinese army. When her elderly father, having served previously is called up yet again, Mulan decides to take action. She will not fulfil the traditional female roles that is of expected of her, instead, she takes her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man, and goes off to join the army in order to protect him. Disney certainly does princess stories perhaps like no other, and here they pull of yet another incredible story.

With strong themes of honour, duty and family surging throughout, the film also offers a great example of a strong independent female character who doesn’t bow what was expected, maybe even demanded of a woman at that time, and offers a great role model for all young females to aspire to. Despite the war that is raging at its heart, Mulan also offers plenty of great humour, this is mostly down to the brilliant work of Eddie Murphy as Mulan’s pint sized sidekick Mushu the dragon, before he was Donkey in the Shrek franchise. The veteran comedian and actor is on superb form here as he attempts to guide Mulan on how to be and act like a man. His lucky accomplice Crickey also does his best to add the humour but the bulk of it comes from Mushu, with more than a few references that will fly over the heads of younger viewers, but will provide adults with a good laugh.

There are more than a few very memorable characters besides Mulan and Mushu of course, some of her recruits in the army are also extremely funny and a lot of fun to watch. The story is very well executed and the animation is of course splendid, with Disney you wouldn’t expect anything less. With superb supporting music by Jerry Goldsmith and Matthew Wilder, along with some really well written and performed songs, Mulan is the perfect blend of exciting and beautiful story telling that the whole family can sit down and enjoy immensely.

With a strong female protagonist at its core, fused with majestic animation and solid story telling and great music, Mulan was a further example of a studio at the very top of their game in the late 90s.

a

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Independence Day (1996)

independenceday
Image rights belong to Centropolis Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Independence Day – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Vivicia A Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: After a wave of alien attacks obliterate several major cities of the world, the remaining human forces that survive prepare to launch an assault on the extra terrestrial invaders and fight back.

Review: When a movie features several recognisable landmarks such as the White House, or The Empire State Building being blown to smithereens, then you know what kind of movie you are in for, particularly if said movie is directed by one Roland Emmerich.  A director who has since gone on to make his name with a handful of disaster movies, many of which also feature big global destruction. Disaster movies are certainly his M.O and while sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t (see Godzilla 1998.)

It is on the eve of the Fourth of July and all of a sudden, these colossal sized alien spacecraft appear out of the sky and poise themselves above many of the world’s major cities. Of course, these alien beings aren’t here to play sports with us and be friendly, no they’re here for one purpose, global destruction. Soon enough, they pull the trigger and blow the aforementioned cities to hell, and what remains of the human race, led by the President Thomas Whitmore, must find a way to repel the hostile visitors, and it is certainly an entertaining, but bumpy ride!

white house boom

With these disaster films, you’re not here for brilliant Oscar winning performances and or well written, well developed characters with gripping dialogue. The main reason you are here is to watch shit get blown up, and Emmerich certainly brings that in abundance. Of course, this can be boring as hell to watch without any substance to it, but there is some substance to it. The iconic shot of The White House being blown to kingdom come has certainly become an iconic moment of cinema, and the action scenes that accompany the arrival of these big bad aliens are very well shot and well handled. The CGI for the alien ships, especially at the time of the release, is also very impressive. You really feel the scale of these ridiculously large ships as they hover over the cities of the world, with many fatalities once the trigger has been pulled.

That being said, you can have things getting blown to bits, and write some interesting characters in there as well. But sadly, these interesting characters are few and far between. By far the most developed, and most interesting characters are David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) a computer expert who may have the key information that is needed to defeat the alien invaders, and pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith.) It is these two performances in particular that prevent the movie from slipping into just mind numbing action mediocrity, but they are by no means Oscar worthy. Bill Pullman also aids their cause as the President of the USA, but beyond these three, the rest of the characters are largely forgettable, and in some cases, just flat out annoying to watch.

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The film’s script does leave a lot to be desired and is a little bloated in places. Certain scenes could have been a lot shorter, and some could have been cut out of the movie altogether to reduce the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Yet the film serves its purpose as a big dumb action movie where the audience should just leave their brain at home, and throw popcorn in their face while they watch the action in all its ridiculousness unfold. The film knows what it is, and it plays on that to great extent. With a fair bit American patriotism thrown in there, as you would expect with a film revolving around an American holiday, you have yourself a cheesy and entertaining 90s action movie!

The action is cheesy but entertaining as hell with great CGI for the time, but a very paper thin script and largely weak characters prevent this from being one of the best action movies of the 1990s

b

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story (1995)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Director: John Lasseter

Synopsis: Woody, a cowboy doll, is the leader of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, but when a brand new Space toy called Buzz Lightyear arrives, and because a firm favourite of both Andy and the other toys, it creates a rift between the toys.

Review: Toys, we all played with them when we were kids, and chances are if you have had kids, or intend to, you will probably deal with toys all over again. And surely we have all wondered, what happened to our toys when we have left the room? Do they come alive and have thoughts of their own? Well if you have seen Toy Story, from the juggernauts of Disney and Pixar, chances are you might just have thought so at one point in your youth. This first collaboration between the two, with John Lasseter at the helm, was a match made in heaven, and while it was the first full length feature film to be fully computer animated, it has a claim to being the studio’s very best.

The story focuses on a group of toys, led by the jovial and upbeat Woody, who is the firm favourite of their owner Andy. This is until the arrival of the shiny and awesome Buzz Lightyear who becomes the centre of both Andy’s attention and the attention of all the other toys. Thus making Woody exceedingly jealous that he has been displaced as Andy’s favourite plaything. Even more so for poor Woody, is Buzz’s fixation that he’s not in fact a toy, but a Space Ranger charged with the protection of the Galaxy. It’s such a simple concept, but the story is outstanding with lots for kids to enjoy and plenty of adult references that will ensure watching parents get a good chuckle. What’s more, the voice acting is also first class.

Tom Hanks is sensational as the voice of Woody, providing calm and reason to the rest of the toys when they have an ever present fear of being replaced, whilst also showing authority over the other toys when he needs to. Tim Allen also is equally excellent as Buzz, Woody and Buzz are in many ways the polar opposites of toys, but this drives the movie on to the soaring heights that it does reach. The rest of the voice cast is also absolutely perfect from the somewhat aggressive Mr Potato Head, to the timid Rex.

The animation is also crisp, detailed and provides glorious viewing. Pixar set the benchmark for animated movies, and they’ve hit this mark, and then some time after time with lots of their feature films since Toy Story.  The debate as to the best Pixar film is one that in all probability many people have had, and it could be debated all day till the cows come home, but what is an indisputable fact, is Pixar’s maiden feature film revolutionised the genre of animated movies, etched itself into popular culture. It has themes of friendship and respect that we can all relate to, and is one of the best animated movies ever made.  To Infinity and Beyond, indeed.

In a word, perfect. From the voice acting, to the screenplay, to the animation, to the story. One for kids and adults to adore in equal measure, and deservedly so.

a

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Image rights belong to Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Film Review

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewen McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Director: George Lucas

Synopsis: When the planet of Naboo comes under attack from the sinister Trade Federation, it falls to two Jedi Knights, and a mysterious young boy to try and solve the conflict.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Review: Back in the 1970s, in 1977 to be precise a film was released that would later go on to redefine not only the science fiction genre, but films in general. A film that would go on to have two successful sequels and remain insanely popular to this day.This film is of course Star Wars, and the man behind this remarkable feat of cinematic brilliance was George Lucas. Therefore when plans were announced to expand on this universe with a prequel trilogy, fans must have been overjoyed, and excitement built. However, ultimately their excitement and anticipation was misplaced.

The first film had the immediate sense of intrigue and excitement, and you would have thought that the creator of this universe would recapture that immediately. Yet right from the opening credit crawl, something just doesn’t feel right. This is not the Star Wars movie we were looking for, it is trying to be a part of the much loved franchise and although it technically is, it just feels hopelessly out of place. The first three films had great writing, some terrific characters, and some brilliant action scenes and combined great use of practical as well as visual effects, but virtually none of that is employed here, with some stilted dialogue and some horrendously written characters.

It is worth wondering when watching this film, is this the director who created this universe with his 1977 masterpiece? The main plot revolves around peace treaties, and political squabbling. It just doesn’t boast the excitement of the original trilogy, or have that emotional punch towards the climax, and the writing is absolutely nowhere near the level of quality that was on show in the original trilogy (for the most part.)It is almost painful to watch at times watching these characters devoid of any emotional connection to the audience. The film struggles to retain interest in the story, which in parts is down to the horrendous overuse of CGI. There is so much on show here it is once again painfully apparent that some shots were done on a computer, and the lack of quality written characters, despite some considerable talent in front of the camera, shows the real weaknesses in Lucas’ script, which is evident with what many believe is one of the worst characters ever put to film: JAR JAR BINKS!!!

Right from the off, this creature instantaneously irritates, with his nonsensical actions as well as his dialogue and he is just downright infuriating to watch. Also annoying, but not quite to the level of Mr Binks is the introduction of Anakin Skywalker, played by Jake Lloyd. The big selling point of the prequels is to watch Anakin turn from the good Anakin to the evil Darth Vader, but he spends the majority of the movie moaning and it’s just painful to watch, particularly because Jake Lloyd does not give a good performance at all, but then again with the script by Lucas being as bad as it is, it doesn’t help him shine. Vader is one of the most iconic villains in film history and his back story is just ruined by this terrible performance. The absence of the emotional connection for the film is seriously damaging and the overuse of the CGI particularly in some of the action sequences is so noticeable that it hurts your eyes while you watch. It’s like being fed with the same food day in and day out, after a while you’re going to get bored, and the effects are a bore at times. The effects do not hold up in parts and they add nothing of substance to the movie.

With all that said, there are some, but not many plus points, namely the John Williams score remains as excellent as it always has been. There are some cool scenes such as the Pod racing sequence, and there is a very cool character in Darth Maul. In addition he is part of what is probably the best scene in the movie, the light sabre duel between him, Qui Gonn and Obi Wan. But yet again, there is frustration as Darth Maul has has very little screentime and is ultimately killed off before we had a chance to see what he could really do. It is ultimately a shame that after 3 near perfect movies, and a 16 year interval between Return of the Jedi and this, this is the end product. It’s a real shame because with the advancement in the effects at the time, there was scope for greatness, but this fritters away into a gigantic CGI and effects heavy mess.

With a poor script, and a frustrating over-reliance on CGI, as well as some truly atrocious acting and characters, this was such a missed opportunity to expand on the brilliance of the original trilogy, but instead chose a path of mind numbing mediocrity. 

C-