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 2020-2029, Film Review

Soul (2020)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Soul – Film Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Synopsis: When his soul is separated from his body after an accident, a passionate about jazz musician finds himself in a mysterious realm called the Great Before, a place where new souls get their personality traits before heading to Earth.

Review: As each and everyone one of us goes through life, we will have undoubtedly asked those many existential questions. Questions that we can spend a considerable portion of our lives striving to find the answers to. For instance, what is the meaning of life? Or what is the the thing that we feel like we were put on this Earth to do? The films from animation giants Pixar, especially those from Pete Docter, have attempted to pose some answers to those existential questions. These questions have been posed to a whole range of beings, from monsters, to humans, and even to emotions themselves. Yet with his fourth film with the animation powerhouse, this could well be the most profound look at life, and existence that studio has produced to date.

Joe Gardner (Foxx) is a passionate jazz musician, who earns his living as a middle school band teacher. However, he dreams of being a full time jazz musician, but the opportunities to make that possible are becoming increasingly rare. However, when the chance to play for a prestigious jazz band fronted by Dorothea Williams (Bassett) opens up, Joe is given a shot and is determined to land the permanent gig. But before he has the chance to perform, and to do what he loves the most, an accident separates Joe’s soul from his body. His soul lands onto the path to the Great Beyond, a destination for souls to go once they have lived their lives on Earth. Believing he still has more to give, Joe escapes and instead finds himself in The Great Before, a place where new souls go before heading to Earth.

It’s here in The Great Before that he gets paired up with Soul #22 (Fey), a fledgling soul who is completely disinterested about leaving the Great Before to have a life on Earth. Joe must do all he can to help #22 realise that a life on Earth is worth living, whilst trying to return to his own body before it is too late. The screenplay, by co-directors Docter, Powers and Mike Jones is perhaps the most contemplative screenplay that the studio has brought to fruition. While they’ve never been afraid to attempt to answer those burning questions that many of us have about our existence, they take it a step further with some deep probing about the lives we lead, what our passions are, and is this thing that we call life really worth pursuing in the first place?

Marking the first time that a Black character has been the lead in a Pixar film, Foxx’s voice work is excellent. He gives Joe Gardner a distinct personality and a desire to achieve his dream that anyone watching, no matter what their hopes and aspirations are, can easily connect with. Alongside him, Tina Fey lends her brilliant comedic talents to tremendous effect as the soul that couldn’t be less interested in what it means to have a life on this world. They are complete polar opposites, which gives the dynamic that they share ample opportunities for some excellent comedic moments. However, for all the strength of the voice work, and the significant step forward for representation on screen, the majority of the supporting characters don’t have a great deal of screen time. Furthermore, there’s one aspect of the film that could be seen as problematic and a hindrance to the film’s attempts to make positive, forward strides in terms of representation.

With Pixar, it is practically a sure bet that the animation is going to be outstanding. While this is once again the case, the work done for this film is something truly exceptional, and some of the best work that the studio has produced. Not only is the vibrancy of New York City and the atmosphere (at least pre-pandemic) brought to life in such rich and incredible detail. Furthermore, the imagination and the vivid colours of the places like The Great Before are also absolutely stunning, and they are perfectly complemented by ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While taking on such fundamental aspects of life, there’s only so much that can be tackled over the course of one feature length film. Yet, as they have proved through their previous films, Pixar have delivered another bold and profound piece of storytelling.

It might lack the emotional punch of some of the studio’s previous work, but with gorgeous animation and a bold and contemplative look at the lives we lead, Soul is another splendid addition to Pixar’s filmography.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story 4 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks

Director: Josh Cooley

Synopsis: When Bonnie brings a new toy named Forky home, the new toy is unsure of himself and when he gets lost in an amusement park, Woody and the gang set out to save their friend.

Review: “So long, partner” as those words were uttered by everyone’s favourite rootin’ tootin’ cowboy Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, it was the perfect ending to a near perfect trilogy, or so we thought. Amid the waterworks that many audiences likely experienced at the time, we were led to believe it was the final bow for Woody and the gang. Yet those folks at Pixar clearly had other ideas, and while the news of a fourth film was greeted with initial scepticism, Pixar once again proved that they still have that magic touch.

In the years since Toy Story 3, Woody has very much fallen down the pecking order among the gang, with new owner Bonnie preferring to fill her playtime with the other toys. This is until Bonnie makes a new toy out of a fork, and appropriately dubs him “Forky.” It doesn’t take long for this little utensil becomes Bonnie’s most valued possession and so Woody takes it upon himself to look after him and teach Forky what it means to be a toy. Though matters are complicated when Forky gets lost in an amusement park, and Woody decides to go after him in an attempt to bring him back to Bonnie.

With each of the previous three films, they all developed the narrative in a significant manner. New, and memorable toys were introduced, and the toys themselves were put in emotionally investing predicaments, situations where the audience could relate to the dilemmas these toys were going through. This time around, though it is a it’s a story that does merit being told, it’s doesn’t quite feel as well developed as its predecessors, nor as emotionally charged as the three films that came before it. Though once again, Woody is very much at the centre of this new adventure, as is a very different Bo Peep, who makes a welcome return to the franchise.

Though Bo’s return is a welcome one, Woody’s old gang of toys such as Buzz, Jessie, Ham, Slinky and the Potato Heads are given very little to do and so they are frustratingly sidelined. However, this gives Woody and Bo a chance to rekindle an old friendship, whilst letting a new crop of toys to take centre stage. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, bring the hilarity you would expect from them as a fluffy duck and bunny respectively. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves lends his charm and talents to the super cool Duke Caboom, a toy who’s clearly not shy of charisma or confidence, and who loves to strike a pose. It’s these three new additions that give the film bulk of the laughs, with Key and Peele’s comedy background definitely coming to the fore.

To follow in the wake of what Pixar achieved all those years ago, was always going to be a tall order. Though the themes that have been at the heart of this franchise from the very first time we met Woody and the gang all those years ago remain very much present in this new adventure. There are elements of this story that feel a little underdeveloped, and consequently they don’t quite recapture those glorious highs of the first trilogy. Going back to this franchise could have backfired, but as they so often do, Pixar reached for the sky to give those who grew up with these toys another worthwhile, immaculately animated film that earns its place in the Toy Story toy-box.

It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of its predecessors, but with a story worth telling and a delightful mix of old and new characters alike, you’ll be glad to go to Infinity and Beyond with these guys all over again.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Incredibles 2 – Film Review

Cast:  Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener

Director: Brad Bird

Synopsis: With the world still distrustful of superheroes,  Elastigirl is recruited in a secret mission in order to win back the public’s trust, all the while Mr Incredible must manage their super-powered children.

Review: Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before superhero films were billion dollar cinematic universe juggernauts, cropping up here there and everywhere. like they do today. As such when the first Incredibles film debuted, it was released in a market nowhere near as competitive as it is today. Therefore how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?  For returning writer/director Brad Bird, the answer is, stick to your guns.

Given the amount of time that has passed between the two movies being released, that a similar amount of time would have passed in the lives of the Parrs, thus putting a new  on the tale of this family. However, this this film dives straight back in, picking up pretty much almost immediately where the last film left off, with the family facing off against the dastardly Underminer.

All the while despite their heroism, superheroes are still illegal putting them in a tricky predicament. This is until a chance to win back the faith of the public opens itself up to Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). All the while Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) must look after their 3 children, a task that is the trickiest of tests even for a superhero Dad. Teenage daughter temper tantrums, problems with homework, and a baby whose powers are frighteningly, but at the same time, hilariously unpredictable.

The real strength of this film lies in its action sequences, which are just as enthralling as those of its predecessor. What’s more, given that her role the first time around was not as front and centre as her husband. Seeing Elastigirl taking the lead role, is undeniably awesome to see. In the void that was left behind by Syndrome, the villain here is one who goes by the name of the Screenslaver, intensely critical of humanity’s incessant screen addiction. This is certainly an interesting plot thread but it is disappointingly not explored to the extent that you would have liked the film too, and given the sheer quality of a villain like Syndrome, the antagonist here is nowhere near as compelling as Syndrome was. Furthermore their motivations are a bit flimsy, and the direction they go in can be spotted from a mile off.

The film’s pacing is a little sluggish at times, but when the action is going down, it is extremely entertaining. Given Brad Bird made a Mission Impossible film, in between his Incredible endeavours, there is a strong MI vibe present here, and all the better for it. On top of that, with the central theme of the importance of the family definitely reinforced once again, it neatly ties itself in with the first film. There is no emotional gut punch that previous Pixar efforts such as Inside Out or Coco provided.

However, it more than makes up for that dearth of emotional drama. Given that the first film is regarded by many as being one of Pixar’s finest works, topping that was never going to be easy for Bird, but after such a long wait he delivers a sequel, that while is not as incredible as its predecessor, comes mighty damn close.

A long time in the making, but worth the wait to see this super family back in action, delivering superb action scenes and a great barrel of laughs along the way courtesy of baby Jack-Jack. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Coco (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Coco – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos

Directors: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Synopsis: 12 year old Miguel strives to be a musician, but due to a tragic family past, his family won’t allow it. Undeterred, when he’s accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestor, who was himself a famous musician.

Review: It is perhaps a question that we as humans have been asking ourselves for as long as we have been around, what happen to us when we die? The belief in an afterlife is certainly extremely prevalent among certain cultures, perhaps most notably The Día de Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico. It is on this premise that animation juggernaut Pixar uses as a backdrop for its latest feature film.

After a few sequels, the decision to focus on an entirely original concept is a welcome one, especially since the studio has arguably been at their best when focusing on original concepts (see Inside Out). At the centre of this new tale is Miguel, a young boy who has a passion for playing music. He is desperate to pursue this dream, but a terrible incident in his family’s past means that music is not welcome in his family, instead their focus is solely on their thriving business. Yet this doesn’t stop Miguel from his dreams. But in trying to accomplish these goals, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and is in a race against time to get back to the Land of the Living before it is too late.

The true power of music…

For a film that focuses on the afterlife, in which a considerable proportion of the cast are well dead people, seems unlikely to be family friendly material and is perhaps just a bit too macabre for the kids. However as they so often do, Pixar makes it all work an absolute treat. The story they construct is so beautifully told that once again, there are moments here that will tug on your heartstrings to such an extent that any audience member will find it hard to resist the urge to not have a quiet sob.

With Pixar you usually find some of the most beautiful animation to ever grace the big screen, and here they do so once again. The colours on display here are so vivid and just stunning to look at, and the animation feels so life like, that it brings all of the characters to life, whether they are living or if they have moved on. Miguel as our lead is immediately likeable, and despite the aggression he receives from his family for wanting to pursue music, he doesn’t take no for an answer, even when it looks like it will land him in a significant amount of bother.

Once again, Pixar has crafted a story works on two levels to tremendous for both the kids and adults. It explores themes such as love, family and what it means to have a dream, especially if you’re not encouraged to pursue these dreams. With another superb score from Michael Giacchino and what could well be another Oscar winning song in Remember Me from  Frozen duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. At this point, with their filmography brimming with so many beautifully told pieces of storytelling and animation, it is hard for any new release to take its place among the cream of the crop. However, Coco might just ensure it takes its place in that collection, as it is another string in Pixar’s guitar, that almost always hits the right notes.

Delivering animation of the highest quality once again, with another beautifully crafted story that tugs at the guitar strings and the heartstrings in equal measure. Another Pixar masterpiece.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 3 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, John Morris

Director: Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: With Andy now grown up and heading off to college, having not been played with for several years, the toys face a tricky decision, whether to remain in the attic or move on to pastures new, or more specifically: Daycare.

Review: When you have made two films, the first of which redefined the genre of animated movies, and then you followed that up with another supremely well made and heartfelt sequel that built so successfully on the world that its predecessor established, that is quite the feat. Therefore, when you decide to complete the trilogy, let’s just say that you have an almighty task ahead of you to try and top what came before it. Leave it then to the animation powerhouses Pixar to complete their Toy-tastic trilogy in tremendous style!

Toy Story 2 had quite the superb intro scene, but here they somehow top it with an incredible action scene of sorts that immediately reminds the audience that there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to a child and the toys they have, whilst immediately hitting you in the feels with the “You Got a Friend in Me!” tune, arguably one of the finest songs ever written for a Pixar film. Though Pixar continues to make their films that work on both levels, it’s evident that this is a film that is geared towards those grew up with the first two movies, as they more than others will relate to the feeling of growing up and having that dilemma of what to do with the toys you once cherished more than anything else in your life. Yet as time progresses, that undying love, just slowly just fades away.

Blissfully unaware of what’s coming…

Indeed, this is the very situation Andy finds himself in, what with being off to college and all. Despite a last ditch effort to get attention, Woody and the gang realise that maybe now is the time to find a new life for themselves or risk never getting played with ever again. through a mixture of unfortunate events sees the gang end up at a children’s daycare. Their excitement at a new lease of life quickly turns to horror though as these kids have a VERY different take on the word playtime, and life with Andy is a distant memory now.

In Michael Arndt’s capable hands, the screenplay continues down the path that the first two films walked down. The characters continue to be well developed and compelling, including all of the gang you know and love with a couple of significant new additions. These being a Ken doll (voiced brilliantly by Michael Keaton) and Ned Beatty as Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (AKA Lotso) who is the leader if you will of the Daycare. Smell of strawberries he might, but he’s not as sweet as he comes across. The humour is also maintained throughout the film with a truly hilarious moment in which Buzz is once again convinced he’s a Space Ranger, except he’s gone a bit European! The dialogue is all vintage Pixar and it’s simply joyous to watch.

Though the first two movies had plenty of emotion in them, there’s a couple of scenes here that really pack the emotion in such quantities that if it does not generate an emotional reaction among the watching audience, in which they’re fighting back the tears, one would have to question whether they are indeed human. Pixar films are littered with such moments, but two in particular here, might just be the best of the best. With a superb ending that continues to pack that emotional weight and one that wraps up this trilogy in just about the best way possible. Trilogies tend to have the one film that trips them up, but when a trilogy comes along, with each film being about as close to perfect as it could, that is a rare feat, and kudos to Disney and Pixar for pulling it off.

It’s been quite the journey with Woody, Buzz and co, but as third films in trilogies go, this is one of those rare films that is as good, if not better than what preceded it. Another masterpiece from the brain boxes at Pixar.

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 2000-2009, Film Review

The Incredibles (2004)

incredibles
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios and Disney

The Incredibles – Film Review

Cast:  Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee

Director: Brad Bird

Synopsis: After a public outcry, superheroes are forced to put away their capes and live in everyday society. However a deadly plan to wreak world havoc forces one super family to band together to help save the world.

Review: Largely thanks to the work of DC and Marvel, superheroes are currently enjoying a great boom in popularity in Hollywood at the moment. Yet back in 2004, the superhero fever hadn’t quite reached the level it enjoys at this moment in time. Nevertheless, it didn’t need to have the soaring popularity it currently enjoys for an idea about a superhero family, all with extraordinary abilities, in a world that has superheroes aplenty to gain traction. From an idea first spawned in 1993 by writer and director Brad Bird, after being brought on board the Pixar train that up to that point hit a home run with with all of its prior releases, and soaring critical praise, Bird’s superhero dream finally came to fruition, and soared spectacularly so.

Focusing on Robert Parr AKA Mr Incredible, a super strong superhero who after committing a selfless act of heroism leads to fierce criticism from the public and gives the government a great big headache, which ultimately forces the superheroes to relocate, and to become as they say “average citizens, average heroes.” So reluctantly, Bob settles down with wife Helen AKA Elastigirl who has the ability to stretch, and their three children, Violet who can create force-fields and turn invisible, Dash who has super-speed and Jack-Jack whose powers are somewhat undefined.

Bob is experiencing something of a mid life crisis, with a dead end career. This is until he has a chance to put on his mask and suit up once again, setting off a chain of events that lead to some super entertaining excitement from a studio that has almost always produced cinematic gold. Bird’s screenplay is witty, entertaining and slightly moving at times, with lots of gags aimed at adults for good measure, as one might expect from Pixar.

Incredibles 1

Animated characters certainly have demonstrated in the past that they have the power to pull on the heartstrings of the audience and once again, Pixar nails this with flying colours, as it so often does. Bob is a character whom many could undoubtedly relate to, in terms of his career and his burning desire to put on his mask again, but not the cape, the cape must never be worn at all!

Each of the family members are well developed characters, and each absolutely gets their moment to shine, with tremendous voice work by all concerned, Bird himself lends his voice to the quite brilliant and eccentric Edna, yet Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone is in many ways the scene stealer, with some brilliant one liners and a fantastic exchange with his wife that surely ranks up there as one of the best scenes ever put to screen by Pixar.

Bird had animation experience after directing 1999’s The Iron Giant, and although that film suffered at the box office, his talent is undeniable. His script is matched by the film’s enthralling action sequences, whether its hero vs villain, or hero vs machine. It is faultless stuff and the detail on certain aspects such as the hair and the explosions is remarkable, almost as close to real life as it could get.

This pun probably has been mentioned in every review for this film ever written, but it really is incredible, and well recognised with the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, as well as one for Sound Editing, Throw in an excellent score by the ever excellent Michael Giacchino and you have all the ingredients to make a truly excellent Pixar film, and a studio that with this making it sixth big release, had six super hits, and only went from strength to strength.

The Incredibles really sets the standard for superhero movies, animated and live-action alike, with relatable characters, some great dialogue, and some truly enthralling action sequences.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Finding Dory (2016)

finding dory
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

Finding Dory – Film Review

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olsen, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba

Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Synopsis: Set one year after the events of Finding NemoDory begins to get flashbacks about her past and her parents. Determined to find answers, she sets off on a quest to reunite with her long lost family.

Review: It has been thirteen years since we were introduced to a bunch of lovable fish that swam their way into the hearts of audiences in Finding Nemo. It could be argued that of those group of fish, there was one who perhaps swam her way into the hearts and minds of viewers more than most, this of course being the blue tang Dory. So of course it was only natural that this phenomenal piece of storytelling would get a sequel. Sequels for Pixar are generally a mixed bag, for every Toy Story 3, there’s a Cars 2. However, given Dory’s immense popularity, the head honchos of Pixar decided to make this movie about her, and what an inspired decision that turned out to be.

Nemo director Stanton, along with Angus MacLane, with a scripted penned by Stanton and Victoria Strouse take us back to the big blue, and one year after Dory has helped Marlin reunite with Nemo after the latter went somewhat astray. Seemingly content with life, and still a bit forgetful, she begins to have flashbacks about her past and believing that somewhere out there she has a family, Dory goes off on her own adventure with Marlin and Nemo in tow. Pixar certainly knows how to give its audiences full on emotional punches, as last year’s brilliant Inside Out demonstrated, and once again, they have delivered a heartfelt worthwhile story with a great new batch of characters and a script that is packed with plenty of laughs.

Once again, Ellen DeGeneres is on outstanding form as Dory, her humour ensured she was one of the funniest movie sidekicks of the 2000s but now she is front and centre and she absolutely holds her own. Brooks returning as Marlin is his usual somewhat grump self and Hayden Rolence replaces Alexander Gould as the voice of Nemo. Adding them on their quest are a great bunch of new characters, the standout by far though is Ed O’Neill’s Hank the Octopus. He may be a bit grumpy too, but he certainly adds a lot of humour to the story. Ty Burrell as a beluga whale and Kaitlin Olsen as a clumsy whale also add a great deal to the plot. The seagulls were another highlight of Nemo, yet they have been replaced by a pair of equally amusing sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West.

Pixar has certainly shown in the past that they’re not afraid to go deep (pun absolutely intended) with their films. They tug at your emotional heart-string and it’s one of the many reasons why they have cemented their reputation as an animation powerhouse. There is no real villain here, but it’s not a hindrance to the plot in any way, as the struggles of family life and finding your place in the world are themes that almost anyone out there can resonate with. A debate could rage all day about whether Pixar or parent company Disney make the better movies. However it cannot be argued that both have put out tremendous pieces of work so far this year, and both of these are centred around animals.  This particular Pixar sequel was not out of its depth, but instead swam its way to success, and that bodes well for the sequels that are currently in the works. The price of a ticket is worth it if just to see perhaps the cutest animated short you will ever see in your life too.

Pixar produces another superb piece of storytelling, beautiful animation, with more well developed characters, and another superb performance from DeGeneres, a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo. 

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