Tag Archives: Pixar

Finding Dory (2016)

I’ll be the first to admit that I was never the biggest fan of Finding Nemo. Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked it — it was cute and amusing and all that — but I was just stunned by how much everyone else absolutely loved it. And so I was not particularly excited when they finally announced, after what felt like forever (13 years, in fact) that the sequel/spin-off, Finding Dory, was finally going to be released. I actually wasn’t even going to see the movie but my kids wanted to, so we all went.

As the title suggests, Finding Dory is all about tracking down the lost regal blue tang with short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen DeGeneres from Finding Nemo. It was of course not hard to get the ball rolling given Dory’s mental ailment, and this time it’s up to Nemo and his dad (again voiced by Albert Brooks) to track him down. Added to the all-star voice cast include Ed O’Neill as an octopus who has lost the tentacle, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale, and Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions, plus Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett and Stephen Root. Holy crap that is a great cast.

Like its predecessor, Finding Dory is an adventure comedy that teaches us to about friendship and to believe in yourself and who you are. And like its predecessor, it’s also absolutely fine as an animated film. It’s beautifully animated, with a smorgasbord of bright colours and wonderfully rendered textures. It has a good handful of good laughs, solid one-liners, quirky characters, and a good dash of poignancy. 

But also like it’s predecessor, Finding Dory didn’t really wow me — and for me there were no expectations to live up to. I didn’t remind it and you could even say I enjoyed it, but I certainly wouldn’t put it on the same level as say the Toy Story franchise or Up. It just didn’t affect me the way those films did.

My kids actually said they enjoyed it, though my elder son was disappointed there were no sharks like the first one, while my younger son fell asleep just before the climax (granted, it was a matinee screening). And as a true barometer of their interest, neither kept talking about the movie or re-enacted scenes from it for days afterward like they have for other films. Like father, like sons, I suppose.

As I have said many times before, I’m usually not the biggest fan of animated films, so take this review with a grain of salt. But I have to call it as I see it and declare that Finding Dory for me was just an above-average film experience that won’t have me running to get the Blu-ray any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

Inside Out (2015)

inside out

As I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. That said, if there is an exception it’ll have to be films produced by Pixar.

The studio’s latest effort, Inside Out, is an ambitious project that is taking the world by storm — notwithstanding its seemingly less attractive premise — largely thanks to rave reviews and word of mouth. And so I decided to check it out for myself.

There’s a Tumblr post being passed around lately outlining the premise behind each of Pixar’s films, with the joke being that every movie is “what if X had feelings?” So Toy Story is “what if toys had feelings?”, Wall-E is “what if robots had feelings?”, and Finding Nemo is “what if fish had feelings?”, and so forth. The one for Inside Out, fittingly, is “what if feelings had feelings?”. And that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly.

In Inside Out, we follow a human character called Riley from birth, though most of the action takes place inside her head, which is inhabited by different emotions who are personified into various characters. The lead character is Joy (Amy Poehler), and there’s also Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and so forth.

I won’t give away much more than that, but I will say it’s an extremely clever depiction of what goes on inside a person’s head, the conflict between different emotions, how memories are stored, remembered, recalled and discarded, and how all of this shapes a person’s personality.

There’s a lot more to how it works and the film will get to that as it progresses, and it’s all done with Pixar’s trademark simplicity, humour, emotions and of course colourful, stunning visuals. The most amazing thing about it all is that this heavily simplified and yet complex psychological system of feelings, memories, personality, depression and the subconscious — as told through a cartoon, no less — all somehow rings true. I’d be very interested to see if there are any educational studies into this film to see just how closely it matches up to what experts understand about the workings of the human mind at this point in time.

When you think about all the intricacies, the mutiple layers and the depth, Inside Out really is quite a remarkable piece of work. Many have gone as far as calling it “genius” and “a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I would go that far, or even as far as what some critics like Mark Kermode have said, which is that Inside Out could become the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It certainly is a very intelligent premise filled with many clever ideas throughout, though as a piece of entertainment I feel like it still lacks a certain “wow” factor that the most compelling films have. There were times when I asked myself whether the confined limits of the premise would allow the film to truly take off. Maybe it’s just unrealistic expectations after hearing so much hype.

And while it easily passes the six-laugh test for a good comedy and has another handful of hearty chuckles sprinkled throughout, I also think the movie could have been even funnier given the ridiculously talented comedic cast (that also includes Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and the easily recognisable voice of Richard Kind). Phyllis Smith is absolutely hilarious though.

It might be because cartoons just don’t have that effect on me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one as my wife is among several people who have told me that they think the film is just “OK”. However, I think the film is a lot more than just OK because it had an emotional impact on me that only a handful of animations have had before. I rarely get teary-eyed in movies these days and this film got me a few times. Perhaps it’s because I had gone through some similar life experiences to Riley and share some of the same memories. That’s why I think it’s actually a film targeted more at adults than children because it dredges up all these memories and emotions and nostalgia from when we were growing up.

With its imagination, intelligence, depth and ability to tug the heart strings, Inside Out is a film I can definitely see myself rewatching a few times and share with my kids as they grow older. Based on how much I enjoyed this first viewing already, I rate it…

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: The short film before the main feature, Lava, is also very sweet and touching, with a catchy tune that could get stuck in your head for days.

Movie Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an all-time classic.  Animated garden gnomes are deliciously cute.  Elton John’s music is sensational.  James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are both likable Brits.  But the culmination of all of these things, Gnomeo & Juliet, is one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.  And it’s in pointless 3D.

I had reasonable expectations for this one for the above reasons, and the fact that the promotional campaign made it look like a fun, funny, musical spectacular with an all-star voice cast (including, apart from McAvoy and Blunt, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan!).

But somehow, Gnomeo & Juliet turned out to be painfully unfunny and entirely uninspiring.  How could this be possible?  The garden gnome jokes were essentially exhausted in the first few minutes, and the rest of it was repetitive and unclever.  Yes, the garden gnomes were cute, but that alone wasn’t enough to carry the film.  I actually had a couple of micro naps during the film, which has not happened since Van Helsing.

Worse still, Elton John’s music was criminally underused.  How they managed to screw up something with so much potential is beyond me.

The worse part is probably the lack of heart.  I wasn’t moved at all by the story or the characters.  Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks are light years ahead when it comes to creating a cartoon that connects with audiences.

And yes, once again the 3D served no purpose other than to rip people off.

1.5 stars out of 5

DVD Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

I absolutely intended to watch Pixar’s Toy Story 3 (in 2D) at the cinema, but for whatever reason I missed it.

Thankfully, it’s no longer too long of a wait these days before films go to DVD, and I finally watched the third instalment of arguably the greatest animated feature film series in history.

The thing with the Toy Story franchise is that you know exactly what you’re in for — a focused and clever storyline, fantastic animation, an all-star voice cast (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, etc), a touch of poignancy, and plenty of great laughs.  So while Toy Story 3 offers no real surprises, it’s still extremely funny and a joy to watch for the whole family.

This time, toy owner Andy is all grown up and heading to college, and Woody, Buzz and the gang are in danger of being tossed out for good.  But as fate would have it, the toys find themselves in a brand new setting, with new friends, enemies and challenges.

As usual, the toys (especially Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, the Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, the freaky Baby and the Monkey with the cymbals) offer many laugh-out-loud moments, most of which are pure genius, but it’s the touching relationship between the toys and their owners that elevate Toy Story 3 (and all the films in the series) to that whole other level.  While it may not be as magical as the first film, Toy Story 3 is in my opinion better than the second, and is arguably the best in the franchise.

At 108 minutes it is probably a little too long for animation, but on the whole Toy Story 3 is a perfect blend of comic brilliance and emotional satisfaction.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Up (2009)

I’m not usually a big fan of animated films.  There have been a few very good ones (such as Toy Story, Shrek and Ratatouille), plenty of terrible ones (such as Shark Tale, Astro Boy and the worst of them all, Resident Evil: Degeneration), and a whole lot of average or overrated ones (in my opinion just about everything else, such as Finding Nemo and Happy Feet).

Accordingly, I approached the latest Pixar/Disney venture, Up, with plenty of scepticism.  I’m not going to discuss the plot – the poster is about as much background as you need.  Anyway, I ended up loving it.

For starters, Up is one of the funniest animated films I’ve ever seen.  It has that Toy Story quirkiness to it, that matter-of-fact approach to completely random and outrageous situations.  There are plenty of WTF? moments, but the execution is so sweet and cute that you can’t help but be captivated, regardless of how crazy it may all seem.

There’s also the wonderful characters – extremely unique characters.  Can you imagine any other film carried by a grumpy old man and a fat little Asian kid (plus a whole bunch of dogs) from start to finish?  Incredible.

Most of all, Up has plenty of heart.  The opening sequence summarising the life of old Carl Fredericksen up to that point is one of the most bittersweet and moving I’ve seen in any film.  And when he comes on board, the back story of Russell the kid is also very touching.  The balance between humour and drama and action is handled brilliantly, each hitting the spot at the crucial moments.

And did I mention the amazing animation?  The gorgeous blend of colours and crisp textures, coupled with the beautiful scenery and perfect character design, took the exuberance and warmth to a whole new level.

Granted, Up is not perfect – it started off wonderfully but dipped a little towards the middle before picking itself back up before the end, but on the whole it is hands down one of the best animated movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

4.5 stars out of 5!