Tag Archive: Pixar


Zootropolis-1Arguably, the output from Disney Animation Studios of late has been better than that of Pixar Animation Studios, not that the two are competing. Since 2010, Disney Animation (with John Lasseter as its head of production) has released Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now Zootropolis, all of which were graced with strong to exceptional box-office numbers and equal critical acclaim. Pixar, while capable of still producing both critical and box-office darlings like Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, have seemed to lack a certain spark or depended upon hits of yesteryear (continuing to do so this year with Finding Dory). Disney themselves are once again leading the pack when it comes to mainstream animation, and in Zootropolis they have cemented what we were already beginning to suspect; Disney are in something of a resurgence period, one to match the second Golden Age of the 90’s. And this time, it’s political.

In  a world populated by animals of an anthropomorphic nature, whom all co-exist peacefully, young rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just become Zootropolis’ first rabbit police officer. While often being faced with a certain degree of prejudice due to her size Zootropolis-2and species, Judy none the less is keen to make an impression and prove she’s more than capable to tackle the serious cases often handed out to her colleagues. The opportunity soon arises when she is tasked with a missing animal case, one of many in the city. Teaming up with street-wise con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy soon uncovers a conspiracy that could upset the peaceful balance held in the city of Zootropolis

Zootropolis is the type of animation that offers plenty for more adult viewers, despite the fact that it is a feature populated by talking animals walking on their hind legs. It is an incredibly timely tale that deals with various degrees of prejudice, holding a mirror up to American society, both its past and unfortunately its present. It tackles these mature themes through sophisticated allegory, all the while remaining a cute and engaging caper allowing for plenty of fun to be had throughout. Disney has often been very deft at such a balance, but rarely has it felt this timely.

Zootropolis-3Along with this potent allegory, Zootropolis also has a team of animators working at the top of their game. The level of detail in the design of the numerous districts of the city of Zootropolis and its suburbs is phenomenal, with many scenes littered with intrinsic features and visual gags. This is the sort of film which will appreciate home viewing experience so one can pause a frame and pick out all the wonderfully imaginative details that can be found within a chosen scene. The character designs as well hark back to Disney of old, with the 1973 Robin Hood particularly coming to mind through numerous characters.

The general plotting of Zootropolis is perhaps the weakest point of the film. While it does have some smartly applied allegory, it does take a while to get to the truly meatier aspects of its politically tinged plot developments. For the most part, the proceedings take on a noir-ish element, and it is not always all that successful, particularly when it feels the need to reference both films within that genre and popular culture which don’t particularly share any DNA with the proceedings. It means a few of the gags do fall flat, but for the most part the script remains largely witty, if a touch too obviously self-referential in regards to Disney’s history (and future).

Zootropolis does a great deal beneath the surface of being a seemingly traditional Disney animation. It has an incredibly well written central female role, as well as populating the rest of the cast with characters who feel well crafted and well defined, even if this still suffers from the prevalent issue of Disney movies of Zootropolis-4late struggling to deliver a truly memorable antagonist. The voice-cast across all the characters, no matter how small their part, all do excellent work, particularly Goodwin and Bateman, who strike a strong chord as the two leads whose dynamic is incredibly refreshing, proving to be excellent company across the neatly paced run-time.

It shall be interesting to see how long this strong streak lasts for Disney, as they will more than likely succumb to the call of sequelizing their recently popular titles (Frozen 2 is happening, a decision which is surely more financially motivated than it is creative). For now, though, they can revel in what is proving to be a resurgence in which both the studio and the audience benefit, providing films that offer excellent entertainment and important moral lessons for all ages. A shining new era is tip-toeing nearer.

4/5- Textured, progressive and incredibly timely, Zootropolis can easily class itself as an instant Disney classic. 

 

InsideOut-1It would be fair to say that public opinion of Pixar has waned in recent years following the studio producing and announcing a number of sequels to their most successful titles, with seemingly little concern for the fresh ideas that once characterised the mighty animation studio. That does look set to change this year, as after a year off in 2014, Pixar are hitting back with two original concepts in one year, The Good Dinosaur (due for release in November) and, of course, Inside Out. As I am sure many of you are aware, Inside Out has been an incredible success once again for the studio, being both a commercial and critical success, and for good reason, for it truly does encapsulate the ideals and calibre that we know Pixar are capable of, but haven’t delivered for quite a few years.

The film takes place in the mind of 11-year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), as we are introduced to emotions who help maintain Riley’s well-being; Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). For 11 years the good ship Riley has run smoothly under the control of Joy, crafting happy core memories and establishing distinct personality traits based on Family, Friendship, Honesty and Goofiness. But when Riley and her family leave home to move to San Francisco, Riley’s emotional development takes a turn for the worse as Joy and Sadness are ejected from the control room, leaving the Fear, Anger and Disgust in control. With Riley’s very personality at stake, Joy and Sadness must make the journey back to the control room, all the while, JoyI must learn the importance of other emotions in the development of ones self and well-being.

 

Inside Out comes courtesy of Pete Docter, the man behind previous Pixar hits Monsters Inc and Up. His two previous efforts stand as two of the most imaginative and heartfelt pieces of animation that the studio, heck the industry, has had to offer in the past 20 years, and here Docter makes it three for three. The high concept energy of Monsters Inc can most certainly be felt in the spirited opening as we are introduced to the workings of Riley’s control room, accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s beautiful and plucky score. What particular works well in juxtaposition is the clear effort to construct two very distinct styles between Riley’s real world and the world inside her mind; the real world being a little duller, with even the odd moment of shaky cam, while the world inside her mind is bright colourful and vibrant.

Where the film is at its most successful though is in its balance between playfulness and emotion. Riley’s story of moving to a new town is something I’m sure many people can relate to, but what allows most of the emotional beats to work is the sheer likeability of nearly every character on screen. It would take the coldest of hearts not to be moved by the relationship between Joy and Sadness, as well as the character of Bing Bong (Richard Kind) Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend. Pixar have always been capable of pathos and with dealing with emotional issues that are important for children to face, and here the key concern is letting its audience know that it’s ok to be sad sometimes, InsideOut-3demonstrating how being sad may be the only way to truly over come an event in ones life. These messages are told clearly, but never in a condescending fashion and work due to the spot on voice casting and Giacchino’s theme, which can flirt between playful and melancholic effortlessly, much in the same way as his score for Up.  

Pixar were in great need of a big hit, both with critics and audiences (although, they have hardly been struggling financially, the up-side of producing sequels), Inside Out has provided that and then some. It contains that unique energy and creativity that has been somewhat lacking from Pixar efforts as of late. Inside Out is near perfect, if I have any gripes it is that the road trip aspect of the plot does feel a little trite, but the spot-on casting of Poehler as Joy and Smith as Sadness help to propel these moments, which still provide the film with some rich detailing of the high concept world of Riley’s mind.

The Good Dinosaur has a rather tough act to follow, as the shadow of Inside Out is sure to be a long one for quite sometime. Important lessons are taught, visuals are impressionable, and the story relate-able. Inside Out represents InsideOut-4not just a studio working to their best ability, but also comes to stand as one of the stronger original projects currently playing in cinemas. Holding the record for most impressive opening for an original story, Inside Out already has established its place as one of the hits of the year, and I would be none too surprised to see award buzz around the end of the year. While Pixar’s upcoming slate is coloured with sequels, Inside Out has restored a great deal of faith in the notion that they are a studio which keep story and character at heart.

5/5- The definition of ‘instant classic’; Inside Out is a pure joy for celebrating the complexity of human emotion. This is the Pixar we know.

 

Michael Perry Reviews ‘Brave’!

Greetings all! Andy Gaudion here, again, only briefly. Today I have another guest review for you, once again from the one and only Michael Perry! I am sure that we can all agree that his TDKR review was brilliant, and I am more than happy to have him back once again for his views on the latest offering from Disney/Pixar, the fantasy adventure Brave, out now (unless you’re in Alderney, in which case, we have Men In Black 3). Read on and enjoy loyal readers, and I promise I’ll blog something soon, or hand it over to Mike, he is pretty darn good!

After Pixar concluded their majestic Toy Story franchise in 2010 (well, hopefully it was the conclusion…), they were the unquestioned masters of the animated realm.  Boasting a string of classic movies which stood among the best ever put together – animated and otherwise – they had viewers young and old alike eating from the palms of their hands / fins / paws.

Then, along came Cars 2, and there was a shift in the balance.  Their first critical (if not commercial) misstep, the general consensus is that Cars 2 is nothing but a disappointment, and born from a film which didn’t really warrant a sequel anyway.  Suddenly, all sorts of doubts were thrown up: now that they’ve been bought by Disney, have Pixar sold out?  With a release date for Monsters University now slated, and rumours of Finding Nemo 2 spreading through the grapevine, has creative motivation been pushed aside to make way for a more money-centric objective?  These concerns have weighted Brave with a huge responsibility: Pixar have to prove that they’ve still got the mojo – they need to tighten their hold on the animation throne which is under threat from the gradual rise of DreamWorks.

Thankfully, though, Brave just about pulls it off.  Pixar have taken more chances on this one, with the narrative following their first primarily-human cast.  In addition, it’s their first film led by a female protagonist, and they have adopted a genre new to the studio personally, if not to their mother company: the fairy-tale.  However, Brave isn’t quite as adventurous as it seems to be on the surface.  Yes, it’s a film which is distinct in their catalogue, but it never fully delves into dramatically different territory, keeping the key components of their much-loved repertoire in place, and adhering to many of the conventions of a traditional Disney fairy-tale.

In the highlands of Scotland, the free-spirited, fun-loving Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) feels restricted by the wishes of her conservative mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  Elinor makes arrangements for Merida to be betrothed to one of the valley’s esteemed warriors, but Merida wants to take control of her own destiny.  Going against the grain of a traditional princess, her desires include practising archery, climbing mountains and chasing rainbows: none of that matrimony malarkey.  When the men of the land compete to win Merida’s hand in marriage, the tension between mother and daughter finally comes to a head.  From there, a dark dealing with a witch prompts a literal transformation, and without spoiling too much, Merida must find a way of bringing her mother back to her.

The tale begins fantastically, with a wonderful prologue featuring a young Merida as she receives her first bow.  As ever, Pixar’s visuals are truly breath-taking, with painstaking attention to detail bestowed upon both the scenery and the characters.  Pixar’s Highland-based heroes are brilliantly designed: colourful, expressive, and crucially, relatable.  Merida is one of Pixar’s finest leading characters: a feisty, flame-haired pixie with a believable vulnerability nestled just beneath the surface.  Kelly Macdonald does a terrific job, delivering a vocal performance which simply radiates fun and energy.  Elsewhere, Billy Connolly shines as King Fergus, a huge one-legged softie who keeps the humour levels nicely balanced with his buffoonish antics and playful jibes.

The first half of the film is a delight, as we get to examine the deftly-drawn relationship between mother and daughter, with both arguments given consideration.  It’s one of Pixar’s more mature touches: the ability to weave in elements suited to older and younger generations, and it’s a well-written, big-hearted and very human story.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments when the film stalls.  By and large, Pixar’s spin on the fairy-tale genre is delightful and fresh, but when the inevitable moralising arrives, it’s a little muddy and threadbare.  The final act, too, doesn’t entirely gel: it’s all a bit of a whirlwind rush with little time to catch one’s breath, and as a result, the emotional pull of the climax suffers.  There are also minor niggles: the will-o’-the-wisps are intriguing additions which could have done with more exploring, and likewise, the antagonistic force of the narrative feels like something of an afterthought, crying out for more space to breathe.

But there is always enough of that magic Pixar dust sprinkled about to just about keep it all in check: a lovely fishing scene set during a golden sunrise; an immersive world splashed with colour (main case in point being that wild, wicked hairdo); and Merida’s younger triplet siblings, who look set to be the groan-inducing infant comic relief, but who in fact hold their own amid the action – their mischief charming rather than irritating.

As Pixar offerings go, Brave can be comfortably ranked alongside A Bug’s Life and the original Cars: a film which may not quite compare with emotionally-fulfilling masterpieces such as Toy Story, Up and the like, but still a beautifully made, inventive piece of work, shot through with warmth and humour.

4/5- Brave might not be as courageous as its title implies, but it’s certainly strong enough to show that when Pixar have the right tools, they can still make animated movie magic.