We’ve made it to Pixar review 20! Can you believe it? I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am enjoying watching/writing about them. I have particularly enjoyed the animated shorts as they can be unjustly ignored when people look at the Pixar legacy. Today we are talking about a very special comedic short called Lifted. It is one of the longer shorts and it gets some of the biggest laughs (and looks great too).
Lifted is a simple story about aliens- one alien to be exact. His name is Stu and he is in training to man the control board. He is being watched over by ‘Mr B’ who has a clipboard and seems to be giving him some kind of test. It reminds me of someone getting a test from the DMV.
I love the expression on Stu’s face as he knows he is failing in his test. Poor thing! The test is to get a human into the ship using the light beam. This was a clever twist on the classic sci-fi scenario because not only does he struggle to get zapped up but we actually want him to be abducted. Normally an alien taking a human would be scary but in this case we want Stu to succeed and get the guy from his bed!
It’s also funny how the human never wakes up despite all the abuse going on to him and his house. He’s certainly no light sleeper that’s for sure!
I love how incredibly massive the control board is. How many features does this beam have?
The final joke as Stu is allowed to commandeer the ship back home is a great laugh.
Here’s the full short if you haven’t seen it.
All the shorts are very simple but Lifted is one of my favorites. It’s bright, colorful and very funny. Plus, I like Stu and his efforts to pass his test. When he cries it’s a very sweet moment. Let’s be honest- we’ve all been there trying desperately to pass a test or make an audition. We’ve all wanted to something so bad and yet all we do is screw it up.
I also really like the way Mr B and Stu move and look. It is bright but also translucent and very fluid. I read they came up with a new program called jiggle to create this look. “The animator can control how far out to resonate body movement, such as only within a limb, or stay away from specific parts of the body such as the face”. In the strong tradition of Pixar shorts creating new technology Lifted is no exception!
Lifted was first film directed by Gary Rydstrom who did the sound mixing and editing for most of the Pixar movies going all the way back to Luxo Jr. Naturally the sound design in Lifted is great with little details like the alarm and human reactions at the ending.
The most prolific list site watchmojo.com came out today with their list of 10 Greatest Animators of All Time. It’s a pretty good list. If it was up to me I would have put Don Bluth on the list and maybe given an honorable mention to Ralph Bakshi, Patrick McHale, Glen Keane, Tomm Moore and Bill Plympton. That said it’s always tough to make a top 10 list (believe me I know) and good stuff always gets left behind. But Don Bluth? He’s so big and practically kept animation alive when Disney was struggling in the 80s.
What do you think? Who would you add or take away? I admit I am a little less familiar with a few of the modern TV animators like Genndy Tartakovsky but I am sure they are very talented.
Hi guys! So I have finished reviewing the Disneynature films! It has been such an amazing experience to see God’s creation in all their variety and order. I’ve learned a lot, been entertained and inspired. But I know you are dying to know now that I have seen all 8 how do they rank? First of all, they all have incredible cinematography and what these people do to get these images is unbelievable. They risk their lives to keep all of us and especially children aware of these animals. That is worthy of the strongest praise. All of them are worthy of integration into the classroom and could be valuable parts of any home library.
But here is my ranking of the films.
8. Wings of Life– bugs just aren’t that cute and I didn’t learn that much about the bees or bee crisis. The only one I would say was kind of boring although Meryl Streep is good as the narrator.
7. Earth– more like a nature documentary for television. No real narrative but full of amazing images so I enjoyed watching it. Some of the global warming stuff feels a little dated and heavy-handed although a very important message for kids.
6. Oceans– again no narrative and more like a documentary you’d see on PBS or Animal Planet but I love the ocean so it was very interesting. I just like the one’s with a little bit more story added in. Like Earth it feels a little dated and preachy at times.
5. African Cats– this one has amazing images but the narration is a little corny and it can get kind of brutal at times with lions hunting and eating zebras and antelope. It could be upsetting for preschool age children. It’s also a little bit too long.
4. Monkey Kingdom– a very sweet story of Maya and her little monkey baby. I liked Tina Fey and it will provide a good learning opportunity when kids see the different social classes within the monkey tribe. Maya is on the bottom of the class structure so she is kept from doing many things and life is harder. It is the movie which seemed the most staged to me especially the birthday party but I still enjoyed it.
3. Bears– this is the most child-friendly of the films with a bear and her cubs trying to get food, catch fish (basically the bear necessities!). There is a wolf that gives a few tense moments but nothing compared to African Cats. It’s not as slow moving as the more traditional films (Earth, Oceans, Wings of Life etc). It has a narrative kids will like and the bears are really cute.
2. Chimpanzee– this is a cool movie because you can tell the outcome surprised the filmmakers which is the grandest part of nature. They are ready to close up shop when the mother chimpanzee dies and out of the blue another male chimpanzee decides to care for the little chimp. Even Jane Goodall is amazed at what happens. She says it is highly unusual for male chimps. It could be staged but it doesn’t feel so. It is such a huge part of the movie and there are so many interviews and stories that I believe it happened. What they had to go through to make this movie is unbelievable and to hear Goodall talk about the experience gave an authenticity that none of the other Disneynature films have. I sometimes wish they would use a little bit more science but I understand they are trying to tell stories and inspire kids.
1. Crimson Wing- I found out after watching this movie it wasn’t released in theaters!!! Shocking because it was my favorite by a fairly wide margin. I was totally invested in the story of the flamingos in Tanzania. It was such a different environment I have never heard of before with the pink lake with algae, salt flats and beautiful flamingos. The little birds were so cute and as some of them struggled with the salt shackles I got upset. It is set up like a mystery. The mystery of the lake, flamingos and everything else. I liked that and it really got to me! I wanted the cameramen to help the poor little birds, but I know why they couldn’t. It was all so new and different and even though they didn’t give names to the birds there was a narrative. It was good vs evil with the evil Macaques preying on the weak and lonely. It was so different, beautiful, inspiring and absorbing. The score on Crimson Wing was also the best out of all the Disneynature films.
Here’s a video I did of the ranking
So that is the Disneynature films! Have you seen any of them? What do you think? Which are your favorites? Please put in the comments section.
It’s time for my third entry in the Hit Me with Your Best Shot film project done by Nathaniel over at the Film Experience
I’m really excited about this project because it is kind of like a book club- in that it is interesting to see what other people think about the same movie, all watching it at the same time. Plus, it introduces me to new films I might not have discovered on my own. I won’t be able to review every movie because of content (as last week’s Magic Mike selection demonstrated) but the one’s I can I’m very enthusiastic about.
This week’s choice is The Red Shoes which is a film made in 1948 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as The Archers) . It is a movie I admit I had never heard of before but of course it is a classic (so many of those it’s hard to keep track of all of them). And it is fortunately a classic for a reason. It is a stunning movie about passion, work, love and dance.
Frequent readers to this blog will already know one of my favorite topics in film is work. Why we work? How we balance work? When have we over-worked? How do you know what work to do? What is passion and what is too much? What about the doldrums when we are miserable at work? I love comedies, dramas, even cartoons about work.
Well, in The Red Shoes you have a woman that has an unusual job- she is a prima ballerina. At the beginning I was a little bit confused about who all the characters were and what was going on. If this happens to you stick with it. It all gets explained. The ballerina in question is named Victoria ‘Vicky’ Page (Moira Shearer) and through an aunt of hers she is introduced to Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is an eccentric strange man who’s obsession is having the greatest ballet company in all of France.
As the director he ends up giving Vicky a shot when his ballerina gets married and is fired (there is no option of a working woman in this film). Vicky’s first role is as the lead in a ballet called The Red Shoes based on the Hans Christen Andersen story. It is written by the conductor Julian Craster (Marius Goring) who is new to the ballet company like Vicky.
I don’t want to give too much away because I went into this movie completely fresh and I’m glad. Basically it is about Vicky’s battle between her love or personal life and her passion for dance or career. There is an extended ballet sequence which is a stunning surrealist masterpiece. I loved this shot from that dance. You can see both the home and the dance reaching out to Vicky.
There is also a great scene towards the end where Lermontov tells Vicky ‘you cannot live two lives’ and she must choose what she wants. (I have to admit I was a little bit let down by the ending but given it was 1948 it is kind of understandable). Even in modern times most working women will tell you ‘you can’t have it all’. Something is always sacrificed whether it is work, family or both.
But my favorite shot from The Red Shoes is from the ballet. One of the things I noticed is whenever Vicky is dancing she is always smiling. You can tell she is so happy and perhaps that is the best litmus test of all? Whatever makes you happy than try do as much of that as you can…It may not be your career but make it the thing you work for.
In a way watching her dance reminded me of the movie Ed Wood (I know strange comparison but hear me out). He is so happy making his terrible movies. The smile on his face never leaves.
So rarely is great passion matched with talent, so especially in Vicky’s case she should embrace what gives her that big smile. That’s why I picked this shot. I love the dancing, red shoes and the smile.
Now we get to the last of my Disneynature reviews 🙁 I hope you guys have enjoyed them! I certainly have and feel inspired by the majesty of God’s many creations. It really has been a wonderful experience so thanks for picking them for me to review! After this I will post a ranking of all 8 Disneynature films, so start thinking of what your favorite is! What do you think I will guess?
But before that let’s talk about Bears, which is one of the most kid-friendly of all the Disneynature films and overall most entertaining. The same crew that has given us all the films goes to Alaska and follows brown bears, particularly a mother they name Sky and her two cubs Scout and Amber (not great names. Kind of like Freddy in Chimpanzee…). I know they are dangerous animals but they are also very cute especially the cubs!
Most of the movie is about Sky trying to take care of her cubs especially Scout who tends to wander off or lag behind. She is trying to eat enough salmon to build up her food supply to provide milk during hibernation. Unfortunately her efforts at many swimming holes get thwarted by other bears, wolves and by the salmon themselves. The wolf is painted as the enemy following them and preying on the little bear cubs.
The other bears can even be cannibalistic over the baby bears! It’s unbelievable how close to these animals the filmmakers get. Especially when we know how hungry they are and yet there the crew is without any major projection. Seriously look at this shot! These photographers are nuts! The narration is done by John C Reilly and it is very similar to Tina Fey in Monkey Kingdom or Tim Allen in Chimpanzee- a lighter more child-friendly narration. I like this style of narration but I do always feel like it lessens some of the gravitas a Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons or James Earl Jones would give to these amazing images and creatures. But they are movies for kids and if the lighter narration helps them learn about nature than it is a good thing. I did keep thinking of Wreck-it Ralph the whole time while looking at the bears which was a little distracting. Why does Ralph like these bears anyway? 😉
African Cats was definitely the most brutal of the Disneynature films but this one should have nothing that will upset kids. It’s maybe a little tough for the salmon but that’s about it as far as nature on nature violence. Most of the movie is just bears being super cute and Sky taking care of her cubs. I think kids will really love it and perhaps relate to it a little bit more than a movie like Chimpanzee in such a remote setting. Alaska feels more similar to at least where I live than the jungle.
It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of either Chimpanzee or Crimson Wing so it is slightly lower than those two but I did really enjoy it.
Have any of you seen it? Have your kids? What did they think?
All right guys let’s get a little spoilery. If you haven’t seen Inside Out stop reading now and come back when you have. (No complainers about giving away details ok!!!).
Let’s talk about things that make Inside Out so special which I didn’t want to give away in my non-spoiler review. For a quick recap the story of Inside Out takes place in the mind (not the brain) of a little girl named Riley. And on an aside the idiots who are claiming ‘they stole Herman’s Head’ are wrong. Herman’s Head is about personality traits not emotions. It isn’t the same! Herman’s Head has creatures like genius and animal that represent different sides of Herman’s personality just like Riley has the islands of personality. Plus the show is super dated and not very funny. Get over it!
Even if the idea of people inside a person’s head has been done Inside Out has an entirely different take on the matter. It deals with memory and actually not that much time is spent directing Riley around or manipulating her. Aside from one moment of waking her up it is all about memories and how they ‘make Riley, Riley’ as Joy tells us in the intro.
Up was so brilliant because it was about dealing with loss and how we can ‘move on’ from memories. How we in a sense can function with those memories. The main conflict in Inside Out starts because Riley is moving away from her childhood home. This change has done two important things. First Sadness is now compelled to turn Riley’s core memories from joyful to sad, which makes sense if you think about a little girl who is losing everything she knew and loved. Suddenly a happy time with a friend feels sad because that friend is gone. (Again just like with Up the dreams Carl had with Ellie are now paralyzing him and making him feel guilty for the memories he couldn’t give her). Joy resists Sadness changing the memories creating the main conflict of the film.
Second, when Riley speaks before her class a new core memory is created and Joy tries to take it away and Sadness says “it’s a core memory. You can’t take it away”. That’s what gets Joy and Sadness sucked into long-term memory and our entire story moving. When you think about it, Pete Doctor and his team have really presented a rather bold concept. They are saying that Riley at 11 is already having to do what Carl did at however old he is. She is having to overcome the sadness of her memories and find a way to be happy just like Carl. Perhaps this is a key to the human experience? It certainly is for me and everyone I know.
So Joy and Sadness end up in long-term memory. What does this do to poor Riley? It leaves her in a state of emotional emptiness. She can feel neither joy nor sadness and that was an emotion I can certainly relate too. There have been times in my life when there seemed to be a black cloud over everything and I felt incapable of feeling anything and nothing I did made it any better. No wonder she gets desperate and has the bright idea to go back to where she was happy. Again it is much like Carl in Up trying to go to the place of their dreams where they had so much joy. In Riley’s case her mother even tells her that she needs to be happy to help her father. What a bold idea for Pete Doctor and team to share with kids- that being happy can actually be the wrong advice. (We’ll get to more of that in a little bit).
The next section of the movie you have Joy and Sadness trying to find their way back to headquarters but as Riley starts to feel more empty the more challenges are put in their way. The islands of personality are falling apart (which again makes sense when you think about depression and the dullness it gives to life) and it forces them into a couple parts of Riley’s brain- her imagination, dreams, subconscious and abstract thought. These are all brilliantly done.
First we find Imaginationland. This is obviously Riley’s imagination or creative center. It’s where she plays and fantasizes. What is so brilliant about this world is it is so clearly 11. Everything about it is changing from a little girl to a teenager. Nearly every building is either being built or taken down, which makes complete sense for Riley especially with a move going on. For example, her gingerbread house she used to dream about (and is one of the possible options for the new house in San Francisco) is being taken apart when the duo arrive. We also see the Princess Castle evaporate into thin air.
This sense of change in Imanginationland not only creates an unpredictable world (as opposed to say Sugar Rush in Wreck-it Ralph which was pink and sugary and kind of predictable) but it also tells us so much about Riley. It tells us that she is thinking about boys, and throwing off some of her more childish ideas. At the end, she has whole new personality islands like Boy Band Island and Joy seems to finally be at a spot where she can allow for whatever Riley wants to happen. Riley’s parents also seem to come to terms with their little monkey imagining a quite grown up thing of running away. She is a new person an equal to them in many ways emotionally.
Riley’s changing imagination and personality is personified with the character Bing Bong her former imaginary friend. He has been hanging out in long-term memory for some time but he still dreams of going to the moon in his rocket with Riley again someday.
He knows more than Joy about Riley’s changes and she in fact gives him a naive hope that Riley will revert back and play with him again. It’s another example of the brilliant layers within the movie. We see Joy change as Riley is changing and it impacts Bing Bong and Sadness and the whole story. He knows the inner-workings of Riley’s mind because he has no doubt been hanging around for some time (she’s 11 figure 5 or 6 years?). He knows the urgency so he suggests they take a shortcut to find the train of thought station. Sadness warns about this I think knowing there are no shortcuts when it comes to emotional growth and change. We can want some easy solution to the emptiness Riley is feeling, which is what Joy wants desperately, but that’s not the way things work.
If we think about who is left to rule Riley’s mind when she is feeling all of this emptiness it is mostly Anger and Fear with a little help from Disgust. Isn’t that true? When we are dealing with depression or these types of feelings do we feel joyful? No we feel angry and at least for me especially anxious. You will do almost anything to get rid of the emptiness and we can see Riley as she gives up hockey, gets frustrated with her parents and gets sent to her room. Her father mistakenly tries to cheer her up with the old Riley making monkey noises. That just reinforces what she has lost and the unknown lying in front of her. And yet her Mother tells her she has to be happy? That feels as impossible as if Joy was lost in a maze in her mind…oh wait she is!
So at this point Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong take the shortcut and just as Sadness predicted it ends up being a problem. They are lost in Riley’s abstract thinking. It is a brilliant sequence where they change from cubism (look like Picaso), to two dimensional objects, to lines and barely make it out alive. Again so is with shortcuts to real emotional growth. They just leave us muddled in abstract concepts like wellness and wholeness and not any closer to fixing the problem.
Once they make it out of abstract thought they arrive at the Train of Thought. All seems to be solved and Joy an Sadness are back on their way to headquarters with Bing Bong but Joy has still not accepted the need for Sadness in Riley’s life. She has started too when she hears Sadness console Bing Bong over the loss of the rocketship. (Sadness merely listens to him and he feels better. That is very profound concept, sadness listens…Still pondering that one). But if they made it back to headquarters Joy would still be resistant to Sadness and the sad core memory and Riley would probably still want to run away (remember it is Sadness that is able to remove the lightbulb to run away).
So the Train of Thought stops because Riley goes to sleep. This means they have to enter the next land which is Rileys Dream Studios. This is probably the funniest section of the movie as there is a production studio that looks alarmingly like the Warner Brothers lot (water tower and all) which I thought was funny. I like that Riley is still a normal girl having fairly normal dreams but just like our dreams the longer they go the nuttier they get. There are some definite inside jokes in this segment about the illusion of movie making. I especially like the reality distortion filter. Even in the best of movies that is the case. It’s a story not reality.
Joy wants to do something nice to wake Riley up so they can get back on the train. She gives Bing Bong the core memories and tries acting like a dog. Sadness says “this isn’t working…” Joy will not listen and they end up getting kicked out of the studio with Bing Bong taken to the next land Riley’s subconscious. These characters of Joy and Sadness have a real dynamic character arc. You see them grow and change which is remarkable when you think they are emotions. Perhaps our emotions are also dynamic fluid things that change? Particularly joy at 11 is different than joy at 70.
Joy and Sadness have to follow Bing Bong into the subconscious because he has the core memories. The subconscious is full of things that scare Riley. Things like the basement stairs or her grandma’s vacuum cleaner (I’m assuming that one was a long forgotten fear). And the largest fear is a giant clown that has trapped Bing Bong in a balloon cage. This was interesting to me that Riley’s fears have trapped her imaginary friend from childhood. I know for me when I was going through my empty time I was afraid to make a change and be happy. My fears were holding me back. All of Riley’s Imaginationland is changing and how ironic that her imaginary friend is in a cage in her subconscious? This is the only part of the movie that might scare small children. One little girl had to be taken out of the theater because the clown is pretty scary.
But they are successful in waking up Riley so we think that the train of thought will start up again and the movie will be done but Joy has still not learned to accept Sadness like RILEY NEEDS her too. By this point the plan to run away is in full swing and it really makes sense if you look at it from Riley’s perspective. As anger says ‘Minnesota was the last place she was happy so we need to get back there’. But the problem is she was a girl in Minnesota and certainly if she were to continue on the bus ride she would be even less of a little girl by the end of it. In fact, her entire personality (all the islands) would have been destroyed. This is what prevents Joy and Sadness from making it back to headquarters when Family Island starts to disintegrate. Joy and Bing Bong end up in the memory dump. (I tried to find a picture but I couldn’t).
Joy has finally reached the point of complete humility where she has stopped trying to be happy and she weeps, cries her eyes out. She does what Riley should have been doing all along- expressing all this change and fear of the future. It is then that she see’s the sad core memory from the beginning of Riley crying in class. The one she had resisted at the beginning that had started all this mess. She realizes Sadness was right and that Riley needs both of them in order to get through life (how brilliant is that!). She learns that the happy core memories are often made memorable by the heartache that proceeded it. In particular a hockey game that Joy had seen as being such a fun core memory. Now she see’s the other side and how Riley had missed the winning shot and was sad. Her friends and parents came to cheer her up which made the memory special worthy of a core memory. It is a very moving moment for the audience as we think about our core memories which are also equally bittersweet.
It reminds me of the play Our Town. In the play Emily tries to pick the most innocuous of events to revisit, her 12 year old birthday party, (Riley is 11). Surely that will be a perfectly happy care free time. She ends up leaving in tears and asks the Stage Manager if anyone on earth “realizes life while they live it”. Perhaps we are too concerned with making the birthday party and not enough the people being celebrated? We can certainly see this with Riley’s parents who are trying but dealing with a move, stresses at work and not wanting to acknowledge their daughters feelings. She just needs to be ‘happy’. Kind of like the birthday party in Our Town.
Realizing what she needs to do Joy is desperate for a way to get back to Riley and make everything right. It’s such a humbling moment for a character. I thought in a movie where a character is Joy it would be so one note and predictable. Never in a million years did I think she would come to herself and realize she was wrong. I never expected a repentant Joy! That’s how deep and emotionally rich this movie is. But they are stuck in the dump and Bing Bong is starting to evaporate.
That’s when they get the idea to use Bing Bong’s rocket to get back up to Sadness. Unfortunately after 3 tries it becomes clear to Bing Bong that it cannot make it back with his weight in the ship. He decides to sacrifice himself in order for Riley to get Joy back again. It is really a lovely moment of cinema. Joy doesn’t realize it until she is back safely up and there is just time to say goodbye to Bing Bong. (Again going back to that theme of saying goodbye to Riley’s childhood). I thought they might pull some kind of stop and not make Bing Bong die. That there would be some way to make everything work out but no they stick with it and it is beautiful, and touching and perfect. It made me think about all the people in my life who sacrificed to help me become the woman I am and gave up much so that I would feel joy (teachers, parents, aunts, uncles, the list goes on).
Eventually Joy and Sadness make it back to headquarters just as Riley is executing her plan and boarding the bus to Minnesota. They did such a great job in these sequences of making the happy little girl we see at the beginning look kind of dead inside. It isn’t really her. But Joy tells Sadness that Riley needs her and she takes the control board and wakes Riley up and she gets off the bus. Then she goes home and tells her parents ‘I miss home…I know you need me to be happy but I feel sad and need to be sad”. Her parents admit they also miss home and are also sad. Like I said this is the moment where she is no longer their goofy child but an equal emotionally and it is so beautiful. I’m tearing up just writing about it. There is such a sense of peace and comfort with the 3 of them embracing on the floor at Riley’s level. As great as the opening scene in Up is, this is a nearly equally strong closing scene. I love it soooo much.
We then understand that Riley is back to being who she is and is ready to embrace San Francisco and all the changes in her life. She is finally able to recognize and express all her emotions including sadness and is a terrific teen, even if she does like boy bands. 😉 Joy is also happy in a new way. She loves all of Riley not just the ‘fun’ parts she appreciated before.
It’s interesting because I did all of that and didn’t mention any of the funny parts and there are tons of them! There are so many good jokes thrown in at every juncture. There are dialogue based jokes that kids may not get such as when Bing Bong introduces deja vu over and over again. And then there are slapstick jokes the kids will love especially with Fear and Anger and their mannerisms and expressions. Everyone will laugh at things like Angers disgust at broccoli on pizza (or broccoli in general!). The dream sequence is especially funny aside from the clown that may be a little too scary for small kids but it is short. I loved the gag with the gum commercial that is constantly stuck in Riley’s head! Another good joke was when the facts and opinions get spilled and mixed up. Bing Bong says ‘that happens all the time…”. So funny. They also did just enough of the control boards inside other people (really just one scene) which shows Riley’s frustration while getting good laughs (although it is strange that she is the only one who has both male and female emotions and why is Sadness the leader in Moms brain?). Anyway, it’s funny and the ending inside the minds is very funny. The entire family will find things to laugh at in Inside Out.
All the vocal performances are perfect and it looks beautiful. I love the way the characters are kind of fluffy on the edges. They sort of look like faerie muppets in a way. I also thought the human characters looked great. The maze of long term memory is great and I thought the sound design was brilliant. The way the globes sounded like pool balls clanging against each other was just what I would have imagined. But then when they get to the dump it sounds like charcoal, empty and hollow.
There is so much but it is a beautiful film. I was moved by it. It made me think about my life. (In fact, I wrote a blog called Core Memories over on my personal blog). It made me laugh. It was visually interesting and new. I feel inspired in every way you can be inspired by film. One of the great movie going experiences of my life.
Do you have any response to anything I have said? Did I elaborate on any points you had been feeling or open up something new you might not have realized? I’d love to discuss in the comments section. Thanks!
Nobody could be more thrilled with the recent overwhelmingly positive response to Inside Out than I am. It is a spectacular film in every way and deserves to be heralded as such. It’s one of those movies I could watch every week for the rest of my life and never get tired of. It is emotional, funny, bright, colorful, heartfelt, smart and creative. But there is one thing in these responses that has annoyed me a little bit. People are way over-doing it on the Pixar ‘return to form’. Pixar had a few less good pictures but they were by no means the bottom of the barrel when it comes to animated movies.
I have to be careful because I don’t want to spoil my reviews for Brave, Monsters University and Cars 2 but these movies are flawed but they are not that bad. All 3 of them lie strictly in my C average movie category which for Pixar is a failure but seriously let’s have a little bit of perspective here.
You want to know what is a truly awful animated film? How about 8 Crazy Nights which has a character named Whitey who is frozen in outhouse feces. You are going to stand here and tell me that Cars 2 is worse than that? Give me a break.
How about Fly Me to the Moon which is 85 minutes of terrible fly puns including a fly exclaiming “lord of the flies!”. It’s mind numbingly bad. It’s bad in every way something can be bad- it looks awful, jokes are puns and cringe-inducing, story is stupid, voice performances lame. You going to claim Brave is worse than that?
How about last years Hero of Color City? A movie that took me a week to watch it was so painful. In a year that had The Nut Job, Hero of Color City swooped in and took the crown as not only the worst animated film of the year but one of the worst MOVIES I’ve ever seen. The animation is awful, characters are all grating and awful, voice performances suck, it’s a cheap rip off of Toy Story and the humor is all in poor taste. I’d like to hear anyone try to claim Monsters University is worse than that garbage.
And I haven’t even seen either of the Titanic animated movies, Doogle, or Foodfight, which I have on good authority from many sources, are the actual worst animated films ever made. I’d certainly rather watch any of the bottom 3 Pixars than The Lorax ruin a Dr Seuss’ book. At least Cars 2 just took aim at itself and not a beloved literary classic.
I could probably think of 50 animated movies that I think are worse than Cars 2 or Brave. I would certainly way rather watch either of those again than Dinosaur, Brother Bear, Chicken Little, or Home on the Range from the Disney canon. I’d rather watch both all day than nearly all of the Disneytoons library minus the Tinkerbell films. Have you seen Hunchback 2? It’s nauseatingly bad.
Anyway, you probably get my point. Yes, the last 3 Pixar movies have problems but they are not terrible films. They are still beautiful to look at with a lot of creativity, color and care put into them. In fact, I own all 3 and enjoy watching them on occasion. I realize that Pixar set the bar very high for themselves and so perhaps the negativity is natural. People expect brilliance when you create one masterpiece after another. So much so that when I do my Pixar ranking it is going to be nearly impossible. The lowest grade I will probably give a Pixar movie is a C- because they all have elements that I like and are at least an average animated film.
On the other hand, maybe this response is a good thing? Perhaps it makes sure they know they can’t be lazy and expect people to accept it. It’s a message that I wish Dreamworks would get more of but instead their lazy films like Home get rewarded and their ambitious films struggle (speaking of Dreamworks I can think of about 6 maybe more of their movies I would put below any of the Pixar bottom 3).
Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion but I’ve just heard this so much this week that I decided to say something. With that off my chest, watch Inside Out. It’s one of the greats.
Back in my review of Snow White I learned that it in fact wasn’t the first animated feature film. It was the first American animated feature film (I believe). I kept hearing about this thing called The Adventures of Prince Achmed and that not only was it the first animated film but I had to see it. Quickly I ordered it from Netflix and naturally the DVD has been sitting around since the beginning of May. I finally had a chance to watch it and I do see what all the talk was about. It’s a very unique movie!
Made by artist Lotte Reiniger, Achmed uses what’s called ‘silhouette animation’ which takes takes cardboard and lead cutouts under light and moves them kind of like a combination of shadow puppets and stop motion animation. What amazes me is how Reiniger was able to get small details like leaves and fingers with the paper. I would think that would be incredibly difficult to pull off.
Achmed was made in 1928 in Germany (2 earlier animated films were released in Argentina but they are considered lost according to wikipedia). Reiniger worked with 3 other avante-garde artists to make the film named Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch and Carl Koch. (On the DVD there is a featurette about these artists that is very interesting).
The film is a silent movie with no dialogue and only title cards to know what is going on. The score which is so key in a silent movie is excellent by Wolfgang Zeller under the heavy direction of Reiniger (this seems like a very neat lady. They should make a movie about all of this!).
The plot has multiple acts and it’s actually more complicated than you’d guess for a story made of silhouettes. It is reminiscent of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and starts out with a magician who creates a flying horse that he shows the Caliph, or ruler. The Caliph offers any treasure to buy the horse but instead the Magician chooses Dinarsade, the Caliph’s daughter.
Dinarsade’s brother, Prince Achmed objects and steals the horse and the Magician is imprisoned. Eventually Achmed controls the horse and lands in a mysterious land called Wak Wak with a beautiful maiden named Peri Banu.
The Magician ends up escaping and confronts Achmed. Then we get introduced to Aladdin who has his magic lamp which he has used to court and marry Dinarsade until it is lost and he is banished to Wak Wak. Here’s a scene where they meet Aladdin. This will hopefully give you a feel for the style of the film.
Finally a magic witch arrives who agrees to attack the Magician and they get the lamp back and after a little more adventure all is returned as it should be with couples in love and a the end of our story.
Aren’t you impressed with all of that for a 65 minute film all done by silhouettes? I was.
Here is a the first few minutes of the film to give you more of a feel of it.
Like I said it is only 65 minutes so why not spend a little of your time with something so unique and beautiful? Plus, you can tell people you’ve actually seen the first animated film. None of this Snow White stuff! 😉 . It is a silent film so it does require some focus and reading of the cards but again it’s only 65 minutes! So it’s not concentrating for that long.
I am shocked this is not Criterion release. It seems right up their ally. So far I believe the only animated film they have done is Watership Down (which I own). The restoration added back the original color tints which were missing for many years, but the DVD release feels very dated and Criterion could do amazing things with it.
It’s always hard to give grade when something is the first of its kind so I won’t. Just watch it and enjoy!
Do you watch any silent movies? In Salt Lake there is an old movie theater that has the largest theater organ in the world and you can see silent movies with the live organ accompaniment. It’s pretty amazing.
Look into the eyes of the chimpanzee in the photo above. Does he warm your heart? If not than wait till you hear his story. It is pretty amazing. Even the great Jane Goodall seemed stunned by the events of Chimpanzee.
The above chimp is named Oscar. He is born to a mother chimp named Isha. They are part of a tribe that spends most of its time cracking nuts with large stones and eating fire ants. They establish a rivalry with another tribe led by a chimp called Scar (not all that creative there with the name Disney!)
Spoiler coming so if you don’t want to know don’t read on but trust me it is impossible to talk about this movie and not talk a little bit about spoiler.
The producers were busy ready to tell their story about Isha and Oscar when one day Isha was suddenly gone. They didn’t know what happened to her but the narrator said it was most likely a “nocturnal leopard”. This left Oscar alone with nobody to care for him and according to Jane Goodall he should have died fairly quickly.
Director Alastair Fothergill says in the film they called Disney and was ready to tell them the project was off. But they keep the cameras rolling. Oscar looks for his Mother, starts to lose weight and tries to find another mother from the </female apes. Things look pretty grim for Oscar.
Again they were ready to take down the entire production when suddenly a male leader of the tribe named Freddy (terrible chimp name) begins to care for Oscar. He shares some of his food, and ends up caring Oscar on his back which according to Goodall is not normal behavior for the chimp males.
You could tell the production was genuinely moved by the unexpected bond between Oscar and Freddy, and we as viewers feel it as well. It is touching to see the positive in nature especially when it isn’t required for survival.
The people who make these movies are amazing. What they go through to get the shots is mind blowing and the love they have for the animals is touching.
Watch this whole video but the adoption of Oscar is discussed at about the 3 minute mark:
Chimpanzee is only 77 minutes long and it feels even shorter. There is maybe a bit too much of the nut cracking at the beginning but once Isha is gone and the relationship between Oscar and Freddy develops it is completely engaging and awe inspiring.
Tim Allen does the narration and I’d put him in with Tina Fey and Samuel L Jackson. They are fine but lack the gravitas I think a film like this needs for a narrator. To me like a Jeremy Irons or James Earl Jones fit this kind of movie a little bit better.
But I think with the male ending up adopting Oscar it is cool they had a voice like Tim Allen who is such a relatable father figure from television and real life. There’s something about his voice that feels familiar and safe.
Crimson Wings is still my favorite but Chimpanzee is probably second on my list. It wasn’t as staged as Monkey Kingdom (the birthday cake scene in that movie was obviously set up) and the adoption of Oscar by Freddy was special too watch. Even Jane Goodall says that was special so no staging could have planned it. That’s really neat.
I think kids will love it and aside from killing a few monkeys mostly off camera I don’t think there is anything too upsetting for them. Plus, it is a good chance to teach them about Jane Goodall, adoption, what ‘family’ really means and more. It also is short enough for even very small children to absorb and not get bored with.
Overall Grade- A
Have any of you seen Chimpanzee? It’s certainly one of the best in the Disneynature Canon.