August 13, 2010
Animated, Comedy, Film
3D, Disney, Dreamworks, Film, film music, Finding Nemo, Michael Giacchino, Michael Keaton, movies, Ned Beatty, picture, Pixar, Randy Newman, review, score, Shrek the Third, Tim Allen, Timothy Dalton, Tom Hanks, Toy Story, Toy Story 3, Up
In terms box-office gross, “Toy Story 3” has already become the most successful Pixar film ever, passing out 2003’s “Finding Nemo”. This third entry brings to a close a franchise that caught on with children as well as adults in the mid to late 90s and keeps that very close at hand: Those children have grown up and will be the ones who understand the ‘grown-ups’ humour this time round. Fittingly then, the plot takes place as the Toys’ owner Andy is leaving home for college in a week and must decide whether or not he wants to throw out the things he hasn’t played with in years. As with every other Pixar movie to date, the underlying themes are decidedly adult – here it’s growing up and moving on. However not at any point does it get quite as nostalgic as last years fantastic “Up”.
Convince they’re set for the garbage the Toys desperately debate their preferred course of action. By a series of terrible coincidences Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang end up being donated to Sunnyside day-care centre rather than ending up in the attic. At first all of them, with the exception of Woody think it’s not so bad after all. The day-care led on toy-level by purple, plush, strawberry scented bear Lotso-O’-Huggin’ Bear “You may call be Lotso!” (voiced by Ned Beatty) seems like a quiet retirement home for them, a place where toys are peacefully played with by loving children. What they don’t realise is that Lotso in fact runs the place Mafia-style, complete with gambling, torture and punishment with toys first having to attain said retirement status, a task made near impossible by the unloving toddlers of the centre. Cue quest to break out!
This is by far the funniest “Toy Story” – for the adults anyway. Much of it is downright hilarious, all the characters providing laugh-out-loud moments: “This is the perfect time to be hysterical!” cries Hamm the Piggy-Bank and indeed it is: the characters, new as well as returning are an absolute delight, from the bitter Lotso to Barbie’s new-found friend Ken (Michael Keaton) who is desperately trying to shake off his reputation of being a “girl’s toy” and the ‘in-character’ Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton). And while it may be a swipe in the direction of Dreamworks and Puss in Boots, Spanish Buzz will manage to squeeze every last drop of laughter out of you. In fact there is so much fun to be had here that all the heart-breaking emotional moments of owner-less toys who want only to be loved might bring you roughly back to earth. When they do appear, they are not overdone with cheese but are simple yet highly poignant. Pixar have always between masters at this stuff and it certainly matures further here. Those who grew up with the earlier movies may well shed a tear towards the end. A particular moment of holding hands while facing into almost certain death at a landfill site is the climax of this and makes one wonder just how terrified a five year-old would be at this point.
The one thing I cannot comment on is whether the 3D employed is any good. The version I saw was good old 2D which was just fine. Reliable sources tell me the technology was subtly employed here and not in any way spectacular. I’ll take their word for it. Not that it matters: The “Toy Story” movies have always been about so much more than just visual trickery despite being the first and probably best computer animated series ever. So as of now, this looks to be Woody and Co’s final adventure and it’s been ended perfectly.
Although he’s been replaced as Pixar regular by the hugely talented Michael Giacchino, Randy Newman has returned to score (and sing) this final chapter. Simply put, he doesn’t reinvent the wheel on this outing, listeners and fans of the first two will be on familiar ground with the mix of jazzy song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and the more muscular western Americana style that characterises Woody. There is also some stylish guitaring to portray Lotso and Spanish Buzz (and don’t forget the Spanish end-credits rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”!). In keeping with Disney’s (frankly quite stupid) no-CD policy, the soundtrack was released as a digital download only. But unless you’re sick of predictability this score is worth a listen.
We won’t be seeing any more of these characters but “Toy Story 3” brings the franchise to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s great comedy viewing with an adult twist but avoids silly pop-culture references that are now as tired as “Shrek the Third”. A triumphant effort!
Have you seen this summer’s best film? Well, which one is it? Let me know! Please feel free to leave a comment telling me what you thought of the film or my review. Discussion serious or not is always welcome. Also please subscribe to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter. Until next time I wish you all the best!
April 19, 2010
Animated, Comedy, Film
3D, animation, Disney, Film, film music, Finding Nemo, Michael Giacchino, Monster's Inc., movies, Oscars, Pete Doctor, Pixar, Ratatouille, review, score, The Incredible, Toy Story, Up
Pixar, Disney’s computer animation division has over the past fifteen years enjoyed success that has even outdone the more traditional hand-drawn output of its owner. Let’s not forget that these are the people behind “Toy Story” and its sequels(s), “Finding Nemo,” ”The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” and the movie is directed by Pete Doctor who previously worked on “Monster’s Inc.” As it was released in cinemas in the new 3D format, this film pushes new boundaries in animation technology but thankfully the story and character creation never suffer under this. The result is 90 minutes of unabating fun and adventure and a new masterpiece to add to Pixar’s ever growing collection.
Carl Fredricksen is a young budding explorer who dreams of adventure just like his hero Charles Muntz. One day he meets another enthusiast Ellie and together they go on an adventure of a different kind: That of life. Fast forward to the present day and Carl has grown old and grumpy, his beloved wife Ellie has died and his cosy house is threatened by construction diggers on all sides. Following an alternation with a construction worker he is forced to enter a retirement home. However instead of giving in, Carl begins on a quest to fulfil Ellie’s dream – to have a house at the top of Paradise Falls in the Amazon, he ties thousands of helium balloons to the house, literally take it there. What he hadn’t counted on is enthusiastic young wilderness-explorer-boy-scout Russell who accidentally ends up on his porch when the house takes off. The house is blown away into a storm and sets the unlikely duo off a new adventure in South America, with an eventual reunion with Carl’s boyhood hero.
What Pixar have always managed very well is to make children’s movies that contain very adult themes (such as parenthood in “Finding Nemo”) and this trend continues here and many of the images on show here may be hard for young children to swallow. Indeed some of “Up” may well make you cry. One of the film’s most heart-rendering comes close to the beginning as we see Carl and Ellie live through the trials and tribulations of life – the loss of their child, the chasing of a childhood dream that will never be realised while the pair are alive. Not a word of dialogue is needed to portray the love, care and ultimately heart-break that defines their relationship, Doctor confident in letting the images and the music (more about that later!) speak for themselves. But when dialogue is employed, it’s smart and genuinely funny.
That’s not to say however that up isn’t funny and many Pixar and Disney trademarks are present here: Enthusiastic but inexperienced youngster. Check. A strong sense of childhood awe and wonder. Check. Annoying but loveable talking animal. Check! This is arguably the studio’s most enjoyable, exhilarating and funniest film to date, every frame filled with incredible detail and colour. Each character is meticulously and lovingly realised and there is never a dull moment. The film’s main emotional heart lies with the contrast between Carl and Russell, on one side the grumpy but kind at heart Carl and the youthful and innocent concrete-explorer Russell on the other. While Carl’s character, his emotions and ticks are clearly the centerpiece of the show, it’s Dug the adorable (and talking) dog that gets some the film’s biggest laughs. His dopey and oddball energy are simply hilarious and if his exclamation of Squirrel!!! doesn’t crack a giant grin on your face you must be dead inside.
The music for “Up” was composed by Michael Giacchino. The composer enjoyed a bumper year in 2009 with “Star Trek” and “Up” as well as the score for the “Lost” TV series. And that is before we even mention the truckloads of gongs heaped on this score during awards season! Giacchino is well versed in animation as well of course having supplied excellent score to “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” and in many ways “Up” is a continuation of that style. Waltzes, comedy and light jazz are prominent throughout and the highlight of the score is the cue Married Life which accompanies the sequence described above. Unfortunately Disney never released this album on CD and it is only available as a digital download at inferior quality. However by all accounts a great score.
Up was the deserved winner of the Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars. It is perhaps one of the best animated films ever and defines the genre as it exists today. It’s a damn near perfect film so see it if you can.
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