The Good Dinosaur – Film review

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★★

Oh Pixar, you were doing so well. Inside Out was my favourite film of 2015; it was clever, imaginative, colourful and beautifully thought-provoking. Most importantly, it was very original and took animation into a new and exciting direction. It was only months later that Pixar released its next feature: The Good Dinosaur, a film that is so confused and uninspired that it is totally unsurprising to discover that it went through production hell.

A real shame considering that this had the potential to be much more interesting than the actual finished product. It explores the question of what it would be like if dinosaurs and humans evolved together; in a history that is alternate to ours, the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses planet Earth. Dinosaurs exist peacefully, and the story follows farmer dinosaurs Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand). Already, there are issues and plotholes. The dinosaurs do not have opposable thumbs and must use their heads to farm, pretty much limiting what they’re capable of. I also noticed ropes lying around and it got me wondering how those ropes came to be in this world without intelligent human life; the dinosaurs certainly couldn’t create them. Eventually, it got to a point where I just stopped thinking about all of the things that don’t make sense because the film is full of things like that.

Five writers came together to conjure up this story and it really, really shows. Like Brave, the film simply does not know what it wants to be. There are elements of The Lion King and The Jungle Book thrown in here, adding heavy moments of drama. Fair enough. But there are others scenes where The Good Dinosaur is cutesy to an almost unbearable degree. The cartoon character design for the main dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), is so offputting when you place him against these gorgeous, authentic backgrounds. If you are an admirer of animation, the film may be worth checking out just for the backgrounds alone; the landscapes are absolutely stunning. There’s clearly a lot of talent in the animation department here, and the character design wouldn’t necessarily be bad in another environment, but Arlo’s wide-eyed, lizard-like character design is so out of place that it makes it even trickier to connect to his already generic character. I don’t know whose creative decision it was to try to force these two highly opposing forces together, but it was the wrong choice.

The plot is basically every “boy and his dog” story you’ve ever seen. Arlo is the youngest of three children, and he is the only one who is very clumsy and scared of pretty much everything. After a series of unfortunate events, Arlo finds himself whisked away from his family and forced to care for a caveman-like child whom he decides to call Spot. Following this encounter, everything you expect to happen occurs; Arlo dislikes the human child initially and sees him as a threat, but he soon learns to trust him and they create a valuable friendship together. As Arlo tries to find his way home, he and Spot encounter a number of obstacles; some creatures threaten their livelihood while others prove to be useful to them. However, what they all have in common is that they’re incredibly unmemorable and I started to forget about them as soon as they left the screen. Everything with The Good Dinosaur seems to go through one ear and out of the other, and what makes it worse is that it is not focused or well-written enough to provide a satisfying conclusion at the end.

During its opening weekend, there were stories of children kicking their seats out of boredom in certain cinema screens and it sadly isn’t shocking whatsoever. It’s not original or daring enough to appeal to adults and it’s not funny or charming enough to appeal to kids. I already mentioned the undeniable tone problem this film has; the issue with The Good Dinosaur is not that it contains dark and upsetting moments of drama, but it also includes supposed moments of comedy that do not fit the mood of the rest of the movie at all. For example, not long after an intense emotional scene for Arlo, there is a jarring montage of he and Spot doing really dark and messed up things that is clearly played for laughs within the context of the film, including decapitating a bug and being shown its insides (nope, I am not making this up) and a scene where the duo trip on hallucinogenic fruit. Beheadings of helpless creatures and drug references are just what you want in a mature and hilarious family-friendly film.

With all of that said, the animation – despite the highly distracting character designs of certain dinosaurs – is gorgeous. Just take a look at the image above this review and admire how realistic and beautiful those backgrounds are. To also be fair to the film, there are a few moments between Arlo and Spot that are heartwarming, especially towards the end. I even really like the fact that Spot can’t speak properly, as it birthed the potential to include some intelligent moments of silent cinema. However, The Good Dinosaur really would’ve benefitted from a few more rewrites to make these characters more fascinating and unique.

When it comes down to it, the main problem with Pixar’s sixteenth animated feature is that it’s dull and doesn’t take any risks. The whole product plays it way too safe, something that you cannot accuse most Pixar films of. There are definitely fans of it out there, but I won’t be joining them any time soon. Even the title – The Good Dinosaur – does not make sense; there are plenty of morally good dinosaurs in this world and there is nothing about Arlo as a character that makes him stand out. He’s just a typically nice but boring protagonist. I suppose the title is fitting since the story is equally as nonsensical. It’s not quite as bad as Cars 2 (at least you can actually see some potential in this idea) but it was only a hair more entertaining than Pixar’s 2011 disaster.

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

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Inside Out – Film review

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★★★★★

When I think of animated films that are practically perfect from beginning to end, the first ones that spring to mind are usually Beauty and the Beast, the Toy Story trilogy, Coco (a feature that will be discussed at a later date) and, indeed, Inside Out. A film that contains a plethora of imaginative and intelligent ideas, this directorial work by the animation aficionado Pete Docter beautifully explores the pain one may suffer when dealing with a major life change. In this case, it is the story of what takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl when she is forced to move with her family from her beloved Minnesota – the place where she grew up and enjoyed playing hockey with her friends – to the dull, colourless world of San Francisco.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a very likeable protagonist, a sporty tomboy who tries her best to keep her head held high when she and her family arrive at their new home, as the move is unsurprisingly and understandably causing a lot of stress for her parents, who both think the world of their daughter and would do anything to keep her happy. In this regard, they have a lot in common with one of the anthropomorphised emotions inside of their daughter’s head: Joy (an ecstatic Amy Poehler). She resides in the main headquarters of Riley’s mind and does everything she can to ensure that Riley’s other main emotions – the smartly dressed block of Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who is reminiscent of Regina George from Mean Girls, the anxiety-prone Fear (Bill Hader) and the softly spoken, clumsy and sweater-clad Sadness (Phyllis Smith) – do not play too harshly on Riley’s mental health. This quintet is perfectly cast with hilarious voice talents who can exaggerate their character’s emotion to full effect.

What also exists inside Riley’s mind are the five islands that make up her personality – Family, Honesty, Hockey, Friendship and Goofball – and what keeps these islands functioning, alongside the different emotions inside her mind’s headquarters, are core memories. Each core memory is represented by a different coloured ball that represents the emotion Riley feels when she recalls a certain event (for example, all of the happy memories are contained in yellow spheres to represent Joy’s impact). Joy is definitely the leader of the group, a Tinkerbell lookalike with an abundance of energy who ensures that everyone does their job the way she wants them to. This could potentially make Joy unlikeable, but it all comes from a place of love and devotion to the child’s mind she operates. She is not mean to Sadness out of malicious intent; she excludes Sadness from the group because she believes it is in Riley’s best interest.

However, when Sadness accidentally turns some joyful core memories into sad ones, this causes Riley to embarrass herself on her first day of school when she cries about how much she misses Minnesota in front of her new schoolmates. In the midst of trying to fix the damage Sadness has caused, Joy and Sadness, along with some of Riley’s core memories, are sucked up into a vacuum that lands them both outside of headquarters, meaning that Joy and Sadness are no longer emotions that exist inside of Riley’s mind. This is a very clever metaphor for the depression that is now eating away at the young girl; she cuts herself off from her parents and, with the assistance of Anger, Disgust and Fear – the only three emotions that exist in her head – she decides to run away. Hearing of her plans to run away, and realising that Riley cannot be happy without Joy operating inside her mind, the duo are assisted by Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a part elephant, part cat imaginary friend of Riley’s (who is made out of cotton candy and cries sweets when he is sad), agreeing to help them get back to headquarters before all of Riley’s personality islands collapse.

But what is key about Inside Out – and why it is such a masterpiece of storytelling – is that it recognises that happiness cannot exist without sadness. It recognises that sadness is something that should not be repressed, and also demonstrates that trying to be a positive force in everyone’s life all of the time will burn you out and only make you feel more down in the dumps. How often will an animated feature deal with the burdens of depression from a childhood perspective? And not only does it highlight Riley’s upset beautifully, it also understands her frustrations and doesn’t judge her for them. Often in our reality you will find people telling you that “Things will get better” or that you need to “Look on the bright side”, but there is simply no point in trying to fight an emotion that demands to be felt. Embrace your sadness, cry all of the tears you need to and take all of the time you need to repair the emotional damage. Only then can you move on and be happy again.

In typical Pixar fashion, Inside Out is a very funny family film (there are some hilarious moments including Abstract Thought, but also depictions of what takes place inside the minds of Riley’s parents and Riley’s imaginary boyfriend, a boy band type who chants “I would die for Riley”), but it is also one of the studio’s most poignant and intellectual stories. It refuses to spoon feed the audience and waste a lot of time with emotionless expository dialogue; its visuals and deeply moving sequences are enough to captivate and engage viewers.  And if there’s a sequel on the cards that will focus on Riley dealing with teenage life, happily sign me up.

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters University – Film review

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It’s rather remarkable how Monsters University – a prequel to an animated classic that no one asked for – ended up being so charming, creative, meaningful and, yes, underrated. Although not quite up to the standards of the original film, this story about Sulley and Mike’s chaotic journey through further education was a significant step up from the awful Cars 2 and deeply flawed Brave.

Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) has dreamed of being a top scarer ever since he was a kid, and he feels like all of his dreams will become a reality when he is accepted into Monsters University, where creatures learn to scare children to fuel the monster world with the energy it needs. But when he meets his future best friend James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman), their egos clash and they are kicked off the program by the stern Abigail Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), the chair of the scare program. In order to get back into the program, Mike and Sulley must put their differences aside and work together to win the university’s “Scare Games” with the help of some colourful (although not very intimidating) monster sidekicks. Fail to do this and they will leave Monsters University forever.

The notion of a battle between egos is nothing new to the world of cinema (or to any world of storytelling) but it is particularly interesting in this scenario. Mike Wazowski is the intellectual, the monster who studies for every exam and has read every single book there is about scaring techniques. What Mike lacks, however, is the ability to actually be scary. That’s where Sulley comes in; although he is an athletic jerk who never prepares for a test, he is a naturally gifted scarer and has the potential to go far in this line of work. The worldbuilding of Monsters, Inc. was already fascinating, but this adds another layer; it’s a clever prequel because it shows perfectly how and why Mike and Sulley end up in their jobs at Monsters, Inc. (Sulley becomes the top scarer, while Mike is his intelligent and valuable assistant). Sure, it’s not a story that demanded to be told, but I’m glad it exists simply because it makes Sulley and Mike’s dynamic all the more understandable and entertaining.

Another thing that is to be admired about Monsters University is that, like many satisfying Pixar films, it isn’t afraid to show that things don’t have to work out perfectly in order for you to be happy. We know from the very beginning that Mike will never become a top scarer; it simply is not in his blood. But the original film also showed us that Mike ended up content anyway. As we grow older, our aspirations and priorities change, and Pixar beautifully teaches us here that there isn’t one clear path in life that we all must take. There are a variety of options out there and, even if Plan A doesn’t work out, there is always Plan B, and Plan B may not be as unsatisfying as you expect.

The film does not betray the identities of the characters from the original animation either. Sulley is more arrogant and slightly unlikeable here, but this prequel slowly develops him into the placid and friendly monster we know him as. Mike is pretty much the same as he was in Monsters, Inc., although he also has much more of an ego in this installment which he learns to overcome. He’s also clumsy and uncool when you compare him with Sulley, and it’s always amusing to watch these two clashing personalities working off each other. There are also numerous throwbacks to the first film; the conniving Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) is Mike’s university roommate, although the film highlights that he was nerdier and more welcoming in his younger days; humorous little touches like this add a lot to an already pretty funny film.

Monsters University, whilst being a typical college movie in many respects, does actually have a lot of creativity to it. The “Scare Games” alone are very imaginative, including the monsters having to collect their team’s flag without notifying a frightening librarian of their presence, and a final scare contest in which Sulley makes his ultimate betrayal to Mike. The monsters on Mike and Sulley’s team are also very likeable, including twin monsters conjoined together and a loveable innocent named Squishy. Again, not the most threatening creatures out there, but they are another example of achieving your dreams against all odds.

While not quite capturing what made Monsters, Inc. so endearing and special (mainly the friendship between Sulley and Boo, which is why it’s so unsurprising that so many people wanted a sequel instead of a prequel), Monsters University is a cute and often poignant look into the early life of a very memorable animated duo. Here, we are taught a very important lesson; sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want it to, but that does not mean we are failures that deserve to be unhappy.

★★★½

Brave – Film review

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If there’s one thing that has always separated Pixar from traditional Disney animations, it’s that it veers away from the princess formula and tells more original stories with a more diverse set of characters. However, after Cars 2 was a critical flop with critics and audiences, Pixar decided to play it safe with its next feature: Brave, a film that is by no means awful but definitely suffers from being generic and rather messy from a storytelling perspective.

Merida (Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald) is certainly against the princess stereotype; she enjoys archery and exploring the world around her, rather than sitting in the confines of her fancy castle and constantly being told how to behave by her strict but well-meaning mother Elinor (Emma Thompson). When Elinor informs Merida that she must choose a suitor and get married, the rebellious daughter runs away and stumbles across a witch (Julie Walters). Merida wants her mother to change, to understand that she should only get married when she is ready to (kind of taking on the message from The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement). The witch has the ability to alter Elinor, and Merida agrees to give her mother a potion that will hopefully make her see sense. However, the potion does not transform Elinor mentally but rather physically; she turns into a bear and Merida must do everything she can to protect her mother from being killed by her unknowing father (Billy Connolly).

Brave seems to be one of those Pixar films that falls under peoples’ radars and it’s clear to see why. Unlike many Pixar animations, it doesn’t break much new ground; the story of a princess who wants to defy her parents is a storyline that has been executed a countless number of times beforehand. Even many Disney films have already covered this topic so it’s not as if it has been left much room to include a lot of original or groundbreaking ideas. Brave, unfortunately, is a mess, but for some reason, it is a rather interesting mess. It tries to pull all of these different elements we’ve seen before together to create something unique and, while it doesn’t quite achieve its goal, it’s still fascinating to see how the writers tried to force these pieces of the puzzle together. The film suffers from a lot of the same problems as Cars, but the former somehow manages to feel more ambitious than the latter.

The plot evidently steals a lot from Brother Bear (another Disney product) yet also tries to squeeze in a tense mother-daughter relationship concerning the daughter’s betrothal to a man she does not love. If you put the main focus of Brother Bear into a bowl and mixed it with the message of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, you would have this film. Perhaps not the most complimentary combination of films, but it is incredibly intriguing to watch two completely different stories that just don’t fit together. The film even introduces us to elements of magic that fascinate Merida and Elinor, but the magical aspects are then completely forgotten about until halfway through the story when the defiant princess plotline is thrown into the mix. You can’t really say that the film works from a narrative standpoint because it jumps around way too much, yet it still does not inspire a feeling of distaste. Like Elinor, maybe I too have been put under some kind of spell.

What is interesting about Brave – putting its bizarrely engaging narrative flaws aside – is that it does focus on a mother-daughter relationship, something that is very rare for a Disney animation to do. The mother is almost always dead and it is normally the father who plays a role in the protagonist’s story, in films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Merida and Elinor may not be the most complex characters or have many characteristics that help them stand out, but their relationship gradually becomes more riveting when Elinor transforms into a bear, as they start to connect in a more charming – and ironically, human – way. One twist is thrown into the latter stages of the film that is actually rather clever and inventive; when the mother shows signs that she will transform into a bear permanently, she starts to lose her doting and motherly personality and starts to behave like a real bear, growling at her own daughter. It’s one of the few things in the film that provides the story with a genuine feeling of tension.

Is this Pixar’s return to form after the disastrously shameful Cars 2? Not really. It is, for the most part, a paint-by-numbers princess story that very rarely does something bold or innovative with its premise. But, for what it is, it is more enthralling than Cars, although it is fair to say that Cars has a more focused and less messy narrative than Brave. But Brave earns some respect by just going a bit crazy with its story and trying to interweave all of these different plot elements that clearly do not go together. I can’t really say it was an experiment that worked, but the very least it can be credited for is being an experiment in the first place, as experimentation is often something Pixar thrives off and excels at. By no means a great film, but it is one of the most fascinatingly cliched animated films I’ve ever seen.

★★★

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

Cars 2 – Film review

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One question: how did it all go wrong for a studio that was doing so well? Prior to the release of Cars 2, Pixar was at the height of its powers with films like Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3. It was on a streak of critical and commercial success, only to have all of that temporarily tarnished by this film. Cars 2 is, as of now, the only disaster for Pixar, a shameful attempt to sell toys instead of actually trying to tell a compelling – or at the very least entertaining – narrative. It obviously didn’t kill the studio, but it was disappointing to see it stoop to such low levels of quality.

There’s no real point in trying to explain the plot of Cars 2 because it is surprisingly rather difficult to follow. It opens up with a sequence involving car spies, which introduces British master spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine). Already, five minutes into the film, problems have been created. In what way did the first Cars film have anything to do with spies? It was about Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) learning to not be such an egotistical jerk and to appreciate the smaller things in life. It’s not exactly an original message that is told in a unique way, but it is still an important message to communicate, especially to children. Honestly, Cars 2 renders the first film pointless; you wouldn’t even have to watch the previous film in order to watch its sequel.

Lightning McQueen, for some bizarre reason, also becomes a secondary character to Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater, the tow-truck comedic sidekick from the first film who is even more unfunny and obnoxiously dumb here. You’re already setting yourself up for failure when you make the comic relief the focus of your movie; it was what made Minions so unbearable. Mater, after setting up a race between McQueen and the latest hotshot driver Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), departs to Tokyo with McQueen in preparation for his big day (there are “Towkyo” signs in the background, which shows the extent of the jokes in this film). But, in the most convoluted way possible, Mater accidentally gets himself involved with McMissile and another spy, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), whom Mater is attracted to. So, whilst McQueen is preparing for his race and butting heads with his rival, Francesco, it is up to Mater and the spies to keep the other cars safe when a bomb is planted.

If you think the plot sounds ridiculous and contrived, you are correct. All the way through the film, I couldn’t decide if the plot was really hard to follow or if I just didn’t care enough to even bother trying to make sense of it all. From the very beginning, the film loses you; the cliches are endless and the lack of creativity is astonishing. Sure, the animation is still top notch (the bare minimum you expect from a studio like this) and there are a few action sequences that are well put together, but it is incredibly challenging to get invested in a world that barely makes sense, characters that are very irritating to listen to, and a story that is a complete mess from start to finish. If you took out the racing aspects of this film, it would make very little difference to the overall story. So, in that case, what is the point of even having Lightning McQueen in here? We should still be following his story and the further development of his character, but virtually all of the focus is on Mater.

And that’s where the biggest issue with the film lies. If you don’t like Mater, you will hate this film, and I unfortunately fall into this category of people. Dumb comedic characters can often be very funny (I use Nick Frost’s loveable Danny Butterman from Hot Fuzz as a prime example of that) but making them the central focus of a film is a big mistake because they work much more efficiently when they’re in the presence of the main character. On top of that, Mater never has anything funny to say or do; a lot of the humour involves poop jokes or Mater doing some stupid slapstick routine, which is, again, so below what Pixar is capable of. I think this is the first Pixar film where I didn’t crack a smile once; even the first Cars movie occasionally got a laugh out of me.

In the end, Mater is a nuisance and constantly gets in McQueen’s way or embarrasses him. And it’s not in a charming way either. His stupidity is so overwhelming that you wish that he would just stop talking for one second, but he constantly has to make himself look like a fool in order to apparently amuse us. When McQueen shouts at Mater about halfway through the film, I find it difficult to sympathise with him because everything McQueen says is true. And Mater doesn’t learn his lesson either because he continues to do silly things when he is with the spy cars. I get that the message of the film is to be yourself, but was there no way for the writers to make Mater less obnoxious in order to get this message across?

What else can one really say about Cars 2? It does not contain any of the intelligent wit or thought-provoking storytelling that most Pixar films do. And I do not get a kick out of saying that because Pixar is a studio that I have always loved and will continue to love. But the film is nothing more than a cynical cash grab, made by people who only wanted to sell lots of car-related merchandise instead of telling a genuinely good story. Not only is the film a letdown, it is the only Pixar feature that is sincerely terrible outside of its animation. By no means the worst animated film out there, but it was clear that Pixar, for lack of a better term, was starting to run out of fuel.

Here’s hoping Cars 3 is a vast improvement.

★½

Rating system out of 5 stars

Toy Story 3 – Film review

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I have very clear memories of seeing lots of advertisements for Toy Story 3 on the Disney Channel back in 2010 and, while I was undeniably excited for the next installment of this franchise, a part of me was really nervous. The first two movies are as close to perfect as family films get so the follow-up, released 11 years after Toy Story 2, had a lot to live up to and could have potentially been a bit disappointing. However, the passion for this beloved franchise remained intact and, like the first two films, Toy Story 3 is an animated masterpiece that deals with difficult feelings of abandonment and loss.

A number of years have passed and Andy (John Morris) is preparing for his move to college. His mother insists that he should sort through his old toys, picking which ones to put in the attic and which ones to throw out. We all already know that Andy has a special emotional attachment to Woody (Tom Hanks) and he therefore makes the choice to take him with him to college. He throws the rest of the toys in a trash bag and sets out to put them in the attic, but a misunderstanding leads to the toys being left on the curb to be destroyed by bin men. These toys, which include Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and his developing love interest Jessie (Joan Crawford), decide that they will hop into a box and be shipped to Sunnyside Daycare. Woody, in the midst of trying to save the rest of the gang from being crushed by the garbage men, gets roped into going to Sunnyside with the rest of the team, although he is more than displeased about it and insists that they should all be there for Andy.

Initially, Woody’s prejudgement of Sunnyside appears to be incorrect. It seems to be a welcoming, tranquil and relaxing place for toys, as they get played with all the time by numerous children. In the words of Lots-o’ (Ned Beatty), a pink bear who smells of strawberries and is in charge of the other toys, says that “No owners means no heartbreak”. Understandably, the group like the sound of this idea, especially since they believe Andy doesn’t want them anymore. However, Woody bared witness to Andy trying to put the toys in the attic and tries to convince his friends to come home with him. They all refuse and Woody, feeling rejected and hurt, tries to find his way back to Andy’s before he leaves for college.

It soon becomes clear that Lots-o’ had misled the group about Sunnyside, as Buzz Lightyear, Jessie and the rest of the gang have to endure being played with by younger kids, who aggressively throw the toys around and unknowingly cause them a lot of physical injuries. Buzz Lightyear requests for the group to be moved to a room with older children, but Lots-o’ turns on the toys and imprisons them. Meanwhile, Woody discovers the true nature of Lots-o’-Huggin’-Bear, and tries to work his way back into Sunnyside to rescue his friends.

Toy Story 3 is an incredibly poignant film, even more emotionally powerful than the first two. It opens up with a montage of all of the amazing times Andy had with the toys as a kid whilst Randy Newman’s very famous “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” plays in the background, but as Newman sings the words “Our friendship will never die”, this joyous montage cuts to black and it jumps forward to the depressing reality of the present, where Andy does not show any interest in his toys anymore. Although viewers will naturally sympathise with the toys, you cannot blame Andy for being the way he is. People grow up out of their old toys and find new hobbies. It’s not something the toys want to accept, but it’s the harsh reality of their existence and they knew that this day was inevitable. Still, it hurts to see the characters we’ve loved for so long lose so much hope, and after seeing everything they’ve done to be there for Andy in the previous two films, it makes it even more gut-punching.

Although 11 years passed since Toy Story 2, the writers stayed completely true to who these characters are. Woody cares deeply about his friends but continues to remain completely loyal to his owner and Buzz Lightyear is still the intelligent peacemaker who has developed massively from being the brainwashed space ranger from the first film.  Also, the side characters still have an excellent dynamic and create very entertaining back-and-forth banter with each other. I am especially fond of the Potato Heads and Hamm the Piggy Bank, who definitely provide this dramatic film with some much-needed comedic moments. There are also some new additions to the franchise that are highly enjoyable; Michael Keaton is hilarious as Ken, Barbie’s fashion-obsessed love interest at Sunnyside, and Woody meets the toys who are owned by a little girl named Bonnie. These include a well-spoken porcupine and an aptly named doll called Dolly, who ensure that the scenes where Woody is separated from the rest of the gang do not fall flat.

I’ve loved this film since the night I saw it back in the summer of 2010, an experience I remember very clearly still and hold dearly to my heart, but one thing I did not think about when I was a child was just how well the action sequences are put together, especially the jailbreak during the third act of the film. Everything is meticulously planned; the animation is very varied to keep the audience on their toes and to move the story forward at a fast, exciting pace. There is simply never a dull moment and the mission to escape is incredibly tense; at times, it almost feels like a child-friendly version of The Shawshank Redemption. There’s even a moment where the lives of the toys are seriously threatened, and it is during this scene that Pixar goes to the darkest place its ever gone to with one of its animations. Nevertheless, it’s a risk that payed off, as it had virtually every single child and adult at that screening in tears (myself included).

Toy Story 3 is extremely resonant with people, especially those who have grown up with these films and have gone through the same life changes as Andy has. One day, we all have to grow up and leave the ignorant bliss of our childhoods behind, but that ecstatic feeling we get when we recall something that is nostalgic to us helps us to accept the fact that nothing lasts forever. I’m hopeful that Toy Story 4 is as masterful as this astonishing trilogy of films, but I highly doubt that this sequel will feel necessary. Toy Story 3 was a flawless sendoff to these unforgettable characters. This film is very special to me because it came out around a time where a significant period of my life came to an end, but it did not leave me feeling hopeless or lost. We will always carry positive memories around with us wherever we go, but there is no shame in moving on.

★★★★★

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

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