Up – Film review

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After two critical and commercial successes with Ratatouille (2007) and WALL-E (2008), Pixar was on a roll that was only going to continue for the next couple of years. The second Pixar feature to be directed by Pete Docter (his first was Monsters, Inc.), Up was arguably the most emotionally resonant animation the studio had produced thus far, a story that concerns the life of a married couple who never got the chance to live out their biggest dreams.

The married life of Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie is really the heart of the story and is what drives it forward. Carl meets Ellie when they are children, and they both idolise Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a famous explorer. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that she plans to fill up one day, but her ultimate dream is to have a house that overlooks Paradise Falls. Their common goal of travelling the world sparks a romantic connection between them and, in one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking montages ever committed to celluloid, we witness the big picture of Carl and Ellie’s extremely happy life together until they reach old age and Ellie passes away.

Ellie’s death changes Carl’s perspective on life massively. He is now a bitter, grumpy old man who rarely leaves the confines of his own home, probably because of all of the joyous memories it contains. He’s rude to construction workers who are replacing homes with skyscrapers, and he knowingly misleads a “Wilderness Explorer” named Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young boy who is trying to retrieve his final badge for assisting the elderly. However, when Carl attacks one of the construction workers for damaging the mailbox he and Ellie painted together, he is deemed as a menace to society and is ordered to move to a retirement home.

As all hope is now lost, Carl decides he has nothing to lose and attaches thousands of balloons to his house, causing it to fly away. He has now set off on his journey to land his and Ellie’s house by Paradise Falls, something Ellie always dreamed of. That does not mean that Carl is alone in this venture, however. Russell was stood on his porch when the house took off, accidentally roping himself in on this journey. The duo also meet a couple of colourful characters; a “Snipe” whom Russell names Kevin (although he soon discovers that Kevin is a girl) and a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson), a Golden Retriever that can communicate with humans through a technological device in his collar. Carl is naturally frustrated by all of this havoc, but he accepts the situation he has now found himself in and sets off on this journey with his new companions.

Up doesn’t work in a logical sense and the plot does seem rather silly if you just read it, but trust me when I say that it works exceptionally well when it comes to its emotional impact. Every single person who has ever seen the film cites the first 10 minutes as the greatest part of the entire movie and they’re right. Without a single line of dialogue, we witness the life of a married couple who were deeply in love, and no dialogue is needed for you to understand what is going on. The use of visuals and music alone is enough to convey every single detail and emotion. Like any married couple, Carl and Ellie go through a series of ups and downs. They decorate their house together and share lots of laughs, but also have to suffer the sorrow of Ellie suffering a miscarriage and the realisation that they can never have children. After this heartbreak, they go about achieving their initial dream of going to Paradise Falls by saving up but, again, life gets in the way and financial obligations stack up. Carl does finally get tickets to go to their dream place, but as he is about to surprise Ellie with this gift, she collapses and later dies in hospital. Up makes you cry with the very notion of having such a likeable character die so suddenly, but it also goes the extra mile by showing you that they didn’t achieve everything they wanted to together.

It’s one of the most perfect sequences of all time. The music is initially quite fast, cheerful and upbeat during all of the couple’s happiest times, but then that same music is used as a counterpoint when it is slowed down during the most devastating moments. It’s a work of artistic genius by those who worked on the film and they don’t make a single misstep; every single moment of the montage blends together flawlessly. It only gets better (and more tear-jerking) every time I watch it.

I could really just write a review of how brilliant those first ten minutes are, but that would be doing a disservice to the rest of the film, which is also wonderful. Some say that the first ten minutes completely overshadow the rest of Up and, while the first ten minutes are undeniably the best part of the film, it is still a charming, endearing and, dare I say, uplifting experience from beginning to end. Carl, despite being miserable for a large portion of the film, is still so loveable because we have witnessed the beauty of his poignant love story. Everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they loved will understand Carl’s new worldview; grief is one of the most difficult things to overcome and, even after the passing of his wife, Carl’s face still lights up whenever he is reminded of his beloved. It’s tragic that a man with so much love in his heart has now been beaten down by the weight of the world.

However, this adventure that Carl goes on gives him a new lease of life, although not everything goes entirely to plan. This film would’ve really fallen apart if Carl’s sidekicks were unlikeable or annoying, but they all fit into the picture wonderfully. Russell, for example, could’ve been this irritating liability who constantly gets in the way of Carl’s quest and, while he does tend to get in his way sometimes, it comes from a place of love and care. In that sense, Carl has more in common with Russell than he initially thought. Russell, being the wilderness enthusiast that he is, wants to look after their new animal friends, especially Kevin, who is an endangered bird. Also, Russell is incredibly funny and, most importantly, forms a genuine friendship with Carl that never feels forced. Kevin, meanwhile, cannot speak, but his actions say so much about his fun personality, and Dug is a very affectionate dog who wants a master and to be accepted by the other dogs in his pack, who are much more intimidating than he is.

Due to how strong and emotionally powerful the opening of Up is, the rest of the film functions very well because Ellie provides the emotional anchor the story needs throughout all of the crazy antics that occur. It can be amusing, but it’s the dramatic moments that elevate this material. What’s also admirable about Up is that Carl eventually learns from the wise words of Ellie that, sometimes, life does get in the way of your dreams, but that doesn’t stop you from having different adventures. Carl discovers that Ellie deeply appreciated every moment they shared together and she saw their life as one giant adventure. It’s another thing that Pixar, as a studio, does so perfectly; telling us that things don’t always work out the way we want them to, but that does not mean that we have failed in life or that a new path can’t lead us to happiness. People underestimate animation and see it as just entertainment for children, but the ironic thing is that Pixar often produces films that are more adult and sincere than many live-action movies nowadays.

If there is a flaw to be acknowledged in Up, it’s that there is a twist villain in here that is very predictable. Even as a child, I worked out who the antagonist of this story would be rather quickly and it does create a few dull moments when you can already guess what that character’s intentions are. The villain works fine in the overall story and the voice acting adds a lot of menace, but the character needed to be more interesting if the film insisted on focusing on them for a significant chunk of the story. It is a bit of a shame that a rather generic character exists in a story that is so full of originality.

Despite its minor setback, Up is still a masterful piece of work and it continued Pixar’s streak of terrific films. It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s bright, it’s got unforgettable characters, it’s suspenseful, it’s emotional; it just has virtually everything you could want from a family film. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to but, you know what? I think we’re all going to be okay.

★★★★½

Rating system out of 5 stars

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WALL-E – Film review

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Anyone who has read about the history of film musicals has probably heard of Hello, Dolly!, the 1969 financial and critical bomb starring Michael Crawford that pretty much killed the popularity of musicals for a while, although there has been a resurgence since the early 2000s with films like Moulin Rouge! and Chicago. However, the world of Hello, Dolly! is adored by one being: a cute, naive robot named WALL-E (Ben Burtt), who was created to deal with the Earth’s waste. He is the only remaining robot on the planet, and humans are far away in space trying to find a way to make life on Earth habitable again. It’s a very lonely existence for WALL-E to lead.

His mundane life is soon transformed with the arrival of EVE (Elissa Knight), a more hygienic and high-tech probe who has been sent to Earth by humans to scan the area. While she searches for any signs of life on this desolated planet, WALL-E quickly falls in love with this mysterious, complicated but ultimately endearing machine. Although EVE often acts on impulse and destroys anything that she perceives to be a threat, WALL-E shows her all of the items he has collected over the years that inspire curiosity in him. A romance appears to be blooming, but when WALL-E gives EVE a plant, she goes into standby mode and a human ship transports EVE to the starliner Axiom. WALL-E follows  Eve on this scary journey into space and discovers what humans have been up to this whole time.

Numerous people believe that viewers often fall into one of two categories when it comes to this film. They either love it in its entirety or really love the first half but lose interest in the second half. I fall into the former category; WALL-E is one of the most perfect examples of visual storytelling ever committed to celluloid and the fact that it managed to get children – including my nine-year-old self – invested in a story with very little dialogue is astonishing. It’s a beautiful film because, although it is obviously communicating an environmental message, the true heart of the story is the romance that is formed between these two robots. Neither of them speak that much throughout the entire film yet you understand so much about them, their personalities and what they’ve been designed to do. That’s really a combination of brilliant writing and terrific animation that allows WALL-E and EVE to be incredibly expressive.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E knows how to explain to the audience what has happened to civilisation without using much expositionary dialogue. Take, for instance, the opening scene, where the film opens up in outer space while “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” – sang blissfully by musical theatre legend Michael Crawford – blares in the background. It then quickly zooms into Earth, and as the upbeat music slowly begins to fade out and quieten, we see what the planet has become: a barren wasteland with no signs of human life. What started out as a happy, uplifting opening moment soon becomes darkly ironic; Michael Crawford continues to sing about how there’s lots of world out there, but what the film shows us is in great contrast to that notion. Straight away, without any dialogue at all, we are introduced to the depressing state of futuristic Earth. Like Hello, Dolly!, Earth is underappreciated and forgotten about.

Easily the greatest story about robots since Brad Bird’s The Iron GiantWALL-E works tremendously on an emotional level. Seeing the disastrous state of Earth, viewers very quickly identify with WALL-E’s feelings of loneliness and his desire to find someone to share his life with. He’s a very likeable protagonist, one with a curious mind and one who tries to entertain himself in any way he can, even if he just amuses himself with objects he finds in his day-to-day life. EVE is also very loveable, although we always feel a hint of fear towards her actions and the way she sometimes treats WALL-E. Her frustration ultimately comes from a place of pure love, however. Environmental messages are important to address but films like Avatar or Pocahontas don’t do anything interesting or innovative with this idea, rendering these films generic and stale. But WALL-E is special; it’s a romance film first and an environmental story second.

The vast decline in the quality of human life provides a very fascinating backdrop to the plot, but it’s the story of these two lonely robots whose lives are transformed once they meet each other. It is one of the greatest love stories from any animated movie I’ve seen; how many of those Disney Princes do you reckon would cross the galaxy to save and be with the one they love? WALL-E is filled to the brim with moments from a classic love story, from WALL-E showing EVE all of the gadgets he’s collected to the two of them sharing a tender moment while a scene from Hello, Dolly! compliments it. But the moment that will awaken the romantic in even the most cynical of hearts is the scene where WALL-E and EVE dance together in space. The colours, the atmosphere, the sheer bliss that is evident on both of their faces, makes this one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sequences ever.

But just because the romance is the main focus does not mean that the environmental subtext should be ignored. The new human world that is located on a starliner is both amusing and deeply horrifying. Every human looks the same and all sense of individuality is lost. Imagine if the world was full of the human characters from 2001: A Space Odyssey; that’s how dull and meaningless the concept of humanity is in this futuristic world. The humans are all morbidly obese, metaphorically glued to their chairs as they consume futile means of entertainment. Their addiction to their screens means that they’re not privy to the beauty of the world around them, as the environment itself is actually rather lovely to look at. There are swimming pools and other reminders of a simpler time for humanity. WALL-E is a very timely story, especially for those of us who are addicted to our phones and, even worse, social media. Watching this film makes me want to throw my phone away and take a big step into the open air, to appreciate life for all of its simplicities and beauties instead of aimlessly scrolling through my phone, waiting for something exciting to happen.

Charming, imaginative and unafraid to share deeply troubling fears about the future, WALL-E is a profound masterpiece and a unique addition to the Pixar canon. It encourages you to take a look at the gorgeous world you inhabit but to also appreciate and look after it. If we refuse to do so, we could be looking at a future where robots have more personality and human emotion than we do.

★★★★★

Rating system out of 5 stars

Ratatouille – Film review

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When the question of “What is the greatest Pixar film?” arises, Ratatouille seems to be one of the films that is left out of the conversation. Not because it’s bad – far from it – but it seems to be easily forgotten about for some reason. A real shame because this is such a treat, and definitely a giant step up from Cars, which was okay but certainly below the standards of what Pixar is capable of.

Ratatouille is a masterwork, both from an animation standpoint and a storytelling and character perspective. Take one look at the lusciously warm colours of Paris (especially in the shots where Remy is admiring the view from a tall building) and you’ll instantly get invested in Paris’ gorgeous, romantic atmosphere. But the film is also incredibly smart, charming and genuinely moving, things that, for some reason, people don’t seem to give it enough credit for. Maybe some viewers just see it as a cute story about animals and nothing more. Again, a real shame, as there is so much more to this Brad Bird film, who had previously directed The Incredibles.

It’s difficult to really explain the plot of Ratatouille because the story is so fast-paced and moves forwards so quickly that an abundance of events occur in the space of roughly 100 minutes. Remy (Patton Oswalt) is the protagonist, a loveable, expressive rat with a heightened sense of taste and smell, meaning he can detect rich, sophisticated dishes and often tries to sway his family of rats away from constantly eating garbage, although he is ultimately unsuccessful. Remy’s father (Brian Dennehy) insists that humans are dangerous and that Remy must stay far away from them. However, Remy admires humans, especially a chef named Gusteau (Brad Garrett), the owner of the top restaurant in Paris who recently died after receiving a scathing review from an intimidating, brutal food critic (Peter O’Toole).

After Remy gets separated from his family and stumbles across Gusteau’s restaurant, many situations follow. There’s a new employee, a clumsy garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano), who tries to fix a soup but unsurprisingly ruins it. Remy, being the food enthusiast that he is, decides to fix the soup after he accidentally falls into the kitchen. The altered soup gets served to a customer, much to the dismay of the short-tempered chef Skinner (Ian Holm), and the customer doesn’t just like the soup, they love it. Linguini is given the credit for making the best dish to come out of the kitchen in a while, but he, after witnessing Remy at work, knows who’s really responsible. He realises that his new rat companion can understand what he’s saying, and they form a cooking partnership so that Remy can pursue his dream while Linguini can maintain his high status in the kitchen. In order to maintain this facade, Remy hides in Linguini’s hat and controls all of his actions by pulling on his hair, operating him like a puppet.

There’s so much more that follows, including a romance that starts to blossom between Linguini and the tough and aggressive Colette (Janeane Garofalo), the only female cook in the kitchen; there are fears from the head chef concerning Linguini’s origins, there’s a plot by the head chef to expose Linguini for the liar that he is, and conflict is created between Remy and Linguini when Remy eventually becomes tired of Linguini receiving all of the credit for his hard work. What is to be most admired about Ratatouille is just how the story plays out; it’s truthfully difficult to predict what will happen next, and it’s exciting to watch. Some complain that, while they enjoy Brad Bird’s work, they do find his stories to be a bit jumbled and inconsistent. But in the case of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, every new plot point follows on beautifully from the previous one and it feels like everything has been wrapped up in a neat bow by the time the film has ended. Bird ensures that there is never a dull moment here, and you’re invested in the antics of a rat and a socially awkward man from beginning to end.

The great characters are too many to count. Remy is a wonderful protagonist to follow because of how determined and passionate he is. He doesn’t just love food, he is obsessed with it, and is always searching to find the best flavour and texture for any dish he makes. His relationship with Linguini is also interesting and takes a lot of fascinating turns throughout; it’s a complicated and frustrating situation for both characters to be in but you can feel the admiration Remy and Linguini feel towards each other. Colette is a great character and her angry facial expressions are a ton of fun to watch, and all of the other cooks have their own little quirks that ensure that the kitchen is an entertaining environment for viewers to witness. But the absolute best character has to be Anton Ego, O’Toole’s food critic character. He’s snobby and holds things to a ridiculously high standard, playing into the stereotype that critics are stick-in-the-muds who don’t enjoy anything. But when you see him taste Remy’s ratatouille dish for the first time and see what memories of his spring back to the surface, not only is it moving, but it is also surprisingly tearjerking.

The discussions about who is capable of great art ensure that Ratatouille is not just a good film, but a truly brilliant one. The critic’s review of Remy’s dish at the end is one of the most perfect endings to any film I’ve seen, a high compliment to give to a movie that many believe is just a cute story about a rat who wants to cook. In two minutes, Ego beautifully explains why critics matter, even though “the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so”. The best critics are the ones who accept and encourage the new, the ones who aren’t afraid to give a positive review to something that most people would dismiss as nonsense. It’s astonishing to see how much depth can be given to a minor character in such a short space of time.

As Ego wonderfully concludes, “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere”. Ratatouille teaches audiences to never give up, even when their dreams seem impossible. It’s a film that insists that we should not prejudge things that society has told us to be wary of. But, more than anything, Ratatouille inspires a feeling of joy within us all, taking us back to all of those happy times we had in our youth that have shaped the person we have become today. Ego may be menacing and overly harsh, but that harshness comes from a place of love. It is Ego’s belief that the work of any chef could ever live up to his mother’s cooking and that feeling of home that she created for him, but when he takes his first bite of Remy’s dish, the pen is dropped, the desire to criticise has vanished, and all that is left is his desire to savour every single bite of a dish that reminds him of why he loves food in the first place. And that feeling of letting go all of your negativity and fully experiencing a piece of art that feels revolutionary is the true meaning and purpose of great art.

★★★★★

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

Cars – Film review

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The year was 2006, and the directors, writers and animators over at Pixar were on a streak with smash hits like Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. All three of these films felt fresh and original, opening up so many doors for an abundance of new stories to explore. But what did we get instead? Cars. Not a film where humans control animate cars. Just a world where every single being appears to be… a car. This was really the best thing they could come up with?

That’s not to say that Cars is the worst animated film I’ve ever seen, but when you stack this up against the amazing features that preceded it, this story about a famous race car who gets stranded in a rundown town and must learn the value of quiet living feels incredibly average and way below the standards of Pixar. Owen Wilson voices the protagonist of the story, Lightning McQueen, an arrogant, fame-hungry vehicle who plans on travelling to California to race against two other cars that he was in a three-way tie with in his previous race. Unfortunately, he falls out of his trailer during the night due to exhaustion and finds himself in the uneventful Radiator Springs, led by Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, in one of his final film roles). Lightning McQueen, in a state of panic, causes damage to the town and is forced to fix everything before he can leave to take part in his big race.

Lightning, being stubborn and conceited, does nothing but complain for roughly the first hour of the film and shows little interest in any of the citizens that inhabit Radiator Springs. That is, apart from a tow truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who soon becomes his closest companion, and his love interest: a blue Porsche named Sally (Bonnie Hunt), who is fixated on making the town a more appealing attraction for outsiders. Unsurprisingly, though, Lightning soon begins to admire the cars he has met and he even learns a few valuable things about racing, which assists him in the grand race towards the end of the film.

So, where do the problems start with Cars and why isn’t it as strong as a lot of the other Pixar animations? The main issue with the film is simple: it’s boring. I remember liking it fine as a kid but, even back then, I knew deep down that it was lacking something that my favourite Pixar films (which were the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc. back then) had in large quantity. In short, it just isn’t as clever, thought-provoking or moving as the previous films from the studio were, which is crazy to think about considering how brilliant the filmmakers at Pixar are at treating children like adults with complex and even rather dark plot threads. But then again, this is a story about cars. What possibly could they do to make this an interesting and poignant concept? It was a doomed idea pretty much from the start. And out of all of the films in the Pixar canon, did anyone think that this was the one that demanded TWO sequels?

Cars is particularly frustrating because the characters are not engaging, another mindboggling thought when you think about all of the unforgettable characters the studio had created thus far with the likes of Buzz Lightyear, Dory and Edna Mode. The characters in Cars either fall into the category of being bland or the category of being annoying. For example, Lightning McQueen? Bland. Sally? Bland. Mater? Annoying. McQueen is every other overconfident flawed protagonist we’ve seen in movies and there’s nothing to him that makes him stand out. He’s not funny, he’s not charming and I couldn’t have cared less whether he won the Piston Cup or not. The only time I really liked the character was at the end when he made a really admirable choice (which is also one of the few elements of the film that warmed my heart) but he’s pretty much a blank slate for the entirety of the story. Mater is supposedly the comedic relief but he becomes an annoyance rather quickly (how he was the main focus of the sequel astounds me, but we’ll get to that hot mess another day), and all of the other side characters are just forgettable.

The only character that I actually do like in this series is Doc Hudson, and I’m not sure if a lot of that is due to the voice work of the late great Paul Newman, who I’m convinced could never put a foot wrong. Doc was a former race car champion, taking home three Piston cups, but an unfortunate incident meant that he had to give up racing and reside in a humble town. Now, most people have forgotten about him. A few characters go through their own dilemmas in this film but he’s the only one I genuinely felt sorry for. Something about Newman’s voice provides the character with this gentleness and sad wisdom that I really engage with, and it is rather sweet that the casting directors put Newman in this role because of his real-life adoration for cars.

Apart from one character I got invested in and a few moments of humour, charm and decency, Cars is a slow, meandering dud for Pixar, although the scenes that are good are worth seeing. It’s a very middle-of-the-road film (I swear that pun wasn’t intended) and, had it been released by a lesser animation studio, I’d probably be more willing to give it a pass. But the fact that the people at Pixar made a film that was so dumbed down in comparison to their other works is a real disappointment, and you expect better from a studio like this. While most Pixar movies are geared towards both adults and children, this one definitely appeals more to kids because I remember enjoying it more as a seven-year-old watching it in the cinema for the first time than I do twelve years later. If you’re looking for a simple, harmless story with some colourful animation and a good message at the end, I think you’ll like this fine. But if you’re expecting an animation that’s more complex, adult and emotional, my advice would be to do a U-turn.

★★½

Rating system out of 5 stars

The Incredibles – Film review

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Fans of the Fantastic Four have often been left disappointed by the few failed attempts at making a film focusing on their beloved superheroes, including the two directed by Tim Story and the latest critical failure in 2015, directed by Josh Trank. As things stand in 2018, it turns out that the best Fantastic Four film is in no way related to the franchise, but is instead a Pixar animation that is more well-written and more in line with what the Fantastic Four is all about. That Pixar animation is The Incredibles, created by the extremely talented animator and filmmaker Brad Bird.

The only difference, of course, is that this story is about a superhero family, a definite rarity in the world of cinema. We are introduced to the impeccably strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) – a strong-willed woman with the power of flexibility who soon becomes Mr. Incredible’s wife. They enjoy their life of saving the city, but lawsuits are soon filed against them when Mr. Incredible saves a man from committing suicide, as he had no desire to continue living (another dark subject that is surprisingly dealt with amazingly in a film geared towards children). The superheroes now must go undercover and can never reveal their identities, so Mr. Incredibles and  Elastigirl are now known as Mr. and Mrs Parr. Fifteen years have passed and the couple now have three children – Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack – who all have unique superpowers of their own. The film soon turns into a story about a man going through a mid-life crisis as Mr. Parr is completely unsatisfied with suburban life, which is brilliantly highlighted by the use of dull colours in Mr. Parr’s workplace, as opposed to all of the bright surroundings when he was still a superhero.

Problems soon arise when Mr. Parr goes behind the back of his wife and decides to pick up his life as a superhero again, only to land himself in danger when the sly and smug Syndrome (Jason Lee) enters the picture and captures Mr. Parr. Sensing that something isn’t quite right, Mrs Parr goes on a mission to locate her husband and, eventually, the entire family has to fight off any threats in order to save the city from destruction.

One thing I absolutely adore about The Incredibles is its attention to detail and just how fresh the story feels. Seeing a superhero go through a mid-life crisis is something that hasn’t really been explored in a superhero film, and the way the subject is tackled is very funny and never feels like it’s too generic. The dynamic between the family is also excellent; Dash is a comedic troublemaker, Violet is shy and reserved and Jack-Jack does some insane things for someone who is the age of a toddler. What’s also great to see is that Mrs Parr isn’t criticised for becoming a stay-at-home mother. It’s very difficult to write female characters because people seem to find issue with them no matter what, but Mrs Parr is completely comfortable working at home and looking after the kids and therefore doesn’t feel the pressure to become an independent businesswoman or to get a full-time job. Everyone loves her character and it is a remarkable character trait considering how modern the film is. It just shows what you can get away with when you’ve got great writers behind a project.

If there was a trophy for “The Funniest Pixar Film”, it would either have to go to Toy Story or The Incredibles. This film is full of hilarious and memorable characters; the family members all have their own quirks that make them amusing, and I absolutely love the kid on the tricycle who constantly waits outside the Parr residence waiting for something exciting to happen. Edna Mode, the snobby, fashion-obsessed costume designer for the Parr family, is arguably one of Pixar’s greatest characters, delivering some of the best lines in the film, including “No capes!” and “I never look back, darling. It distracts me from the now”. But the funniest moment has to be the interaction between Mr. Parr’s best friend, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and his wife; as he desperately searches for his Super Suit and informs his partner that he needs it for the greater good, her reply is “Greater good?’ I am your wife! I’m the greatest *good* you are ever gonna get!” The Incredibles really was the height of Pixar’s impeccable comedic timing.

If there are any issues with The Incredibles, it does slow down a bit somewhere in the middle section of the film. None of the middle act is necessarily bad or pointless but it doesn’t move anywhere near as quickly as the first and third act, and you do feel the slowness of it in certain spots. However, it is nothing too distracting and the third act is certainly worth waiting for. The only other thing I can complain about is the resolution of Violet’s character. At the beginning of the film, we see her hiding her face behind her hair as she quietly admires a boy she’s attracted to; it is only at the end of the film, when Violet moves her hair out of her face, that the boy notices her. I always take issue with a plot point like this because it adopts the idea that you need to change yourself in order to get someone to notice you (it’s the same reason why films like Grease or The Breakfast Club slightly irk me). But again, it’s only a small detail and it in no way wrecks the film as a whole, and it is rather cute seeing Violet gain some confidence at the end.

As much as I love The Dark Knight and a number of installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredibles is definitely one of my favourite superhero films of all time. It has all of the entertaining action, well-written characters and heartfelt scenes to make it stand out against an already great line-up of superhero movies. It even explores darker issues of suicide and of crazy fan obsession (highlighted in the film’s very interesting villain, who starts out as Mr. Incredibles’ number one fan, scarily reminding you of Kathy Bates’ delirious character in Misery). What else can you say about it? It’s The Incredibles. And incredible is the perfect way to sum up this animated marvel.

★★★★½

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

Finding Nemo – Film review

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When it comes down to it, Finding Nemo really is one of the scariest Pixar films thus far, exploring some of the most threatening and intimidating elements of the deep blue sea. But it is not the case where it becomes too dark for children to enjoy; it’s still a bright, fun and colourful story with cute characters and a lot of heart. In most Disney films, the parents are dead, so it is also refreshing to see an animated feature that revolves around a father-son relationship.

The reason why Finding Nemo stands out within the Pixar canon is the opening scene, which is one of the most heartbreaking and devastating moments in any animation that has been committed to the silver screen. A clown fish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) – who is often mocked by other fish for not being funny and therefore not living up to his own title – is living a life of peace and happiness with his wife as they wait for their hundreds of eggs to hatch. However, a famished barracuda lurks nearby, and it eventually strikes, knocking Marlin unconscious until he wakes up and discovers that his wife – along with his future children – have been eaten by the barracuda. That is, save for one remaining egg, and as Marlin cradles his only surviving child (one of the most devastating images in any Pixar film), he names his soon-to-be-son “Nemo”.

Has there ever been a darker opening to a Pixar film? Even in Up, a film that still reigns champion for containing the saddest moment in any Pixar feature, Ellie still has a natural, peaceful demise; her death is just a part of the ageing process. In Finding Nemo, the film opens up with cold-blooded murder, which is only realistic when you consider the food chain, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling and heartwrenching. That opening sequence only leaves you hoping that things cannot get any worse, but they soon do.

Nemo grows up and is ready for his first day of school, although Marlin is naturally worried about leaving him in the care of someone else, especially since Nemo has one abnormally small fin and is also too curious for his own good. Marlin warns Nemo about the dangers of the drop-off and commands him to avoid going anywhere near it. Nevertheless, Nemo, being the young, adventurous fish that he is, swims out to prove a point to his father, only to be captured by a scuba diver. All hope seems to be lost for Marlin, but he and his eventual sidekick Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) find the scuba diver’s mask that was knocked overboard, and on this mask, details of his location are inscribed. Marlin and Dory now know where to locate Nemo, and set off on an ordeal into the deep sea, an adventure that must be petrifying for someone who has lost as much as Marlin has.

Transporting themselves to this location – 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney – unsurprisingly proves to be a difficult task. It doesn’t help that Dory, for all of her loveable qualities, is probably not the best companion for someone as anxious or serious as Marlin, especially in the early stages of their journey. It’s amazing how the writers introduced a character like Dory – a dopey, wide-eyed fish with short-term memory loss – and made her so enjoyable and amusing when she’s probably only creating more obstacles for Marlin to overcome. That being said, it’s hard to imagine how Marlin would be successful in his mission to save his son without Dory; she is more sociable and willing to ask more questions, and Marlin needed an easygoing figure like Dory at this very stressful point in his life to weaken his own anxieties and fears. It’s the type of companionship that you rarely see in movies and, no matter how many times you watch Finding Nemo, the humour still works and the emotional moments between the pair are still very convincing.

Meanwhile, Nemo now resides in a fish tank in a dentist’s workplace with a group of other colourful characters, including a starfish called Peach (Allison Janney) and Gill (Willem Dafoe), a Moorish idol fish who is the leader of the Tank Gang and plans an escape route for Nemo before the dentist’s creepy niece named Darla (who shakes fish until they are dead) arrives at the workplace to take Nemo away. The members of the fish tank are all memorable characters and they’re not useless like a number of side characters are; they are not just here for comedic relief (although they are very funny too), but they are genuinely great assistance to Nemo and his escape plan. For a film that’s aimed towards children and is meant to be an endearing little adventure for younger viewers to enjoy, death is a heavy theme in this story, and you only seem to appreciate the risks the filmmakers took as you get older.

Marlin and Dory meet various interesting characters along the way too. They stumble across a group of menacing sharks, led by a great white shark named Bruce (an obvious reference to Steven Spileberg’s Jaws), who hilariously claim to be vegetarians, chanting “fish are friends, not food”, one of the best examples of irony found in any Pixar film. They also meet a group of relaxed and chill turtles, a giant whale that Dory humorously tries to communicate with, and a collection of moonfish who give the pair helpful directions. You don’t have to have watched Finding Nemo lots of times to recall all of these characters because they stick in your mind easily; they’re well-written, unique and all serve a purpose to the story, rather than appearing in scenes that feel like random detours.

Arguably the darkest that Pixar has ever gotten, Finding Nemo still knows how to balance all of its depressing moments out with scenes of wonderful humour and enjoyment, while also avoiding pointless things like a forced romance between Marlin and Dory (which never would have worked) and other details that would have added nothing to the story. The film birthed my fascination with the deep blue sea, and if it managed to do that when I was at such a young age watching it for the first time, you know that it did its job.

★★★★½

Rating system out of 5 stars

Monsters, Inc. – Film review

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I’ve loved Pixar from a very young age, but if there was one film from this particular animation studio that I watched more than any other, it was probably Monsters, Inc., Pixar’s fourth animated feature. What child wouldn’t love a story about a young girl being protected by two very loveable monsters?

What is striking about Monsters, Inc. is the incredibly inventive world that has been created. In order for the monster world to have a sufficient amount of energy, it is the titular company’s job to send monsters through children’s doors to scare them, and their screams provide the monster world with the resources it needs to continue functioning properly. The top scarer of this company is a fluffy blue monster named Sulley (John Goodman), who’s assisted by his small, awkward one-eyed companion named Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). Sulley has a jealous rival, Randall (Steve Buscemi), a sly, menacing lizard creature, who brings in a door when everyone else is off duty to try to boost his numbers and overtake Sulley as the company’s best scarer. However, this eventually leads to a young girl named Boo (Mary Gibbs) entering the monster world, and the hilariously ironic thing about this is that the monsters are terrified of a sweet, innocent girl, rather than vice versa.

Sulley and Mike are initially terrified of her, but they eventually bond with Boo (especially Sulley, who is much more open-minded and less prone to panicking than Mike). But the monster world essentially goes on lockdown trying to look for this child, and it is up to two very unlikely heroes to protect Boo from harm whilst also trying to keep their jobs, whether they’ve completely warmed to her or not.

Monsters, Inc. works really well because, not only is the world extremely creative, the characters are so entertaining to watch. Mike Wazowski was one of my favourite film characters growing up and I still love him to this day; his anxious yet very sarcastic nature always makes me chuckle, especially when he is verbally mocking Sulley. There is one scene in particular where Mike makes up a song on the spot which is guaranteed to make every single young viewer giggle relentlessly. The characters are so enjoyable partly due to the great voice work from John Goodman, who provides Sulley with a significant level of dignity, and Billy Crystal, who always sounds like he is on edge, a perfect piece of voice acting for a character like Mike.

The film doesn’t quite rank as one of Pixar’s greatest features, however. The story isn’t as complex as some of the other films and it does suffer from having rather standard villains that aren’t that unique or interesting, although you do feel the weight of their threat as the story progresses. Nevertheless, Monsters, Inc. has such loveable protagonists that you can forgive it for any of its minor downfalls, and the friendship that develops between Sulley and Boo is surprisingly believable. It’s difficult to not tear up at Sulley’s goodbye as the film draws to an end, especially when it’s clear that Boo doesn’t entirely grasp the concept of him leaving her for good.

It’s not particularly thought-provoking, but that in no way means that Monsters, Inc. is a bad Pixar animation. It’s good. In fact, it’s very good. The animation still holds up, the attention to detail for this world is astounding and it’s a very amusing buddy comedy about two monsters who end up in the worst situation possible. It may not resonate with adults as much as the likes of Up or Inside Out, but it’s a cute, colourful adventure that will provide you with an abundance of laughs.

★★★★

Rating system out of 5 stars