Pixar Review 30: Legends of Mor’du Review

legend of morduIn these Pixar shorts reviews I have only looked at original shorts and none of the spin-offs of movies except for Mike’s New Car and that was only because I thought the audio-commentary was the cutest thing I’d ever heard.  Well, I am making another exception for The Legend of Mor’du.  I wanted to review this short because I think it is a good example of the potential of Brave and the type of story it could have told.  In this brief short we get a true legend.  The kind of story you would tell your children and they would learn a great lesson. That just isn’t the case with Brave.  I don’t think Brave is a terrible movie but I do think it fails in a lot of ways (will save most of my Brave thoughts for the review!)

legend of mordu2The Legend of Mor’du tells the story of a man with 4 sons and each has a gift- compassion, wisdom, justice and the eldest has strength.  The father decides on his deathbed to give the kingdom to all sons instead of bequeathing it to the oldest.  legend of mordu4This enrages the oldest who is not only strong but extremely prideful.  He feels his inheritance has been stolen away. He demands his claim and when they refuse the brothers turn against each other bringing the kingdom into war.

legend of mordu11The witch telling the story meets up with the Prince and offers him a chance to change his fate much like Merida is given in Brave.  And as in Brave the Prince must chose family over his own pride in order to change his fate. Like most Pixar stories family is always the most important element of life and a person’s journey (probably more so than even Disney).  But the Prince drinks the potion seeking to overthrow his brothers and he turns into a great bear named Mor’du.

legend of mordu12All he needs to do is restore the bonds with his brothers but his pride causes him to embrace the bear, defeat his brothers and fight the soldiers who of course see him as the vicious bear.

legend of mordu3The bear Mor’du slays many warriors and the armies flee the kingdom leaving it desolate and fractured.  Mor’du is left alone to wander without family to support him or people to rule over the rest of his days.  The lust for power and his wounded pride forever changed his fate and the fate of the entire kingdom.

legend of mordu14Then the witch asks her audience ‘will you tempt fate?’.

Now that is a story!  It is clear, concise, with a lesson where the character is tested and in this case fails.  There is a clear good vs evil and an epic feeling to the journey, which is necessary in this type of story.  If you think of something like Lord of the Rings Frodo is given a job to do.  He must return the ring to Mordor or the Dark Lord will find it and “cover all the lands of a second darkness”.  There is this clear battle between good and evil.  And the weaknesses of Frodo and his entire team including Gandalf and Aragorn are tested and pushed to their limit.  This makes the journey exciting and gives it an emotional heft.

Such stakes are a must for such a story.  The Legend of King Arthur is another example of this kind of epic storytelling.  Arthur wants to lead with all goodness, courage and peace. But he falls for the lady Guinevere leaving him and his high ideals vulnerable to being wounded and hurt.  Lancelot comes and he and Guinevere fall in love despite their attempts not too.  This leads to conflict and the challenge to Arthur’s vision of Camelot.

You see how such a legend needs to be a tight story with clear consequences of good vs evil?  The characters individual weakness always comes into play and often leads to tragedy (even in Lord of the Rings many are asked to pay the price for the end goal including Gollum).

The Legend of Mor’du has all of these elements and it works as the legend it is trying to be.  It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pride and that loyalty to family is always key to our fate.

Brave attempts such a tale far less successfully and you will find out why in my next Pixar review… (quite the lead in right!).

Overall Grade- B

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Pixar Review 28: La Luna

la lunaIf you can believe it we are in the home stretch of my Pixar reviews.  Only 5 left till Good Dinosaur and Sanjay’s Super Team. I’ve been reviewing the Pixar films since April and it has been a real treat and challenging because it’s hard to write about movies you really love and have it not just be hyperbole.  At least it is for me.

Well, today we have a very special animated short to talk about.  One of my favorites- La Luna.  It is directed and written by Enrico Casarosa and was based on the Italian fairytales his Grandpa would tell him. He also used Italian cartoonist Osvaldo Cavandoli who was famous for his line sketch style animation as inspiration.

la luna6La Luna is about a little boy or Bambino who sails with his Grandpa and Father to a spot where they climb a latter to the moon and set about their work of scraping the stars from off the moon.  (Doesn’t that description just sound lovely?).

la luna3In the audio commentary Enrico says he picked a Grandpa and Father for the boy because he grew up in a house with his maternal grandfather and his Dad and I guess the two didn’t get along very well.  You can see that dynamic in the short with the 2 men snipping at each other in a sweet kind of way.

But really the greatness of this short is in the animation.  The stars and the light is so beautiful. In many ways it feels like a bedtime story, like Goodnight Moon or something like that.  It’s lovely to think about someone sweeping stars off of the moon.

la luna7Michael Giacchino gets back to his Italian roots with a lovely score that reminds me of the great Ennio Morricone.

There are moments where it looks like watercolor and where the characters look more 2D than CG.  There are no other words to describe it but BEAUTIFUL!

EXR 1920x803, 4 channel image (A B G R)

I love the way the stars look like little light bulbs and clank together.  In many ways they reminded me of the memories in Inside Out in sound and appearance.  You can feel the sense of wonder from Bambino as he looks at each glowing star.

la luna15

This is just a stunning image.

la luna13It’s not the most complex as far as story.  It’s basically a Grandpa and Father showing a little boy how to do a job but that job is so magical and special that it doesn’t need anything more.  It’s like if someone’s job was to bathe an angel.  Yes it’s ordinary but it’s an angel!  I mean wow!

la luna2As I’ve rewatched the Pixar shorts I can put them into several groups.  There are the jokes (Presto, For the Birds, Knick Knack), technology advancing (Adventures of Wally, Tin Toy, Geri’s Game, Day & Night), and great artistry (Boundin, Partly Cloudy, Red’s Dream).  To me La Luna is the greatest of that latter group.  It is an artistic joy to watch and I love it.  Definitely in my top 5 of the Pixar shorts.

2011 was also a very good year for animated shorts.  All 4 nominees were completely lovely and the winner The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore is wonderful.  In fact, I wish it was a feature film.  It’s 15 minutes as a short and there’s enough there for more. So the fact La Luna didn’t win that year I am ok with.  It certainly was a much better year in shorts than feature films with Rango winning which I did not care for.

la luna12What do you think of La Luna?  If you haven’t seen it there are versions of it online but none that I could download.  I believe it is on the Brave DVD so you can see it there.  I wanted to do another short before the Brave review called The Legend of Mor’du to go with Brave so that’s why I reviewed this one here.  Next up is the much maligned Cars 2.  I just watched it and honestly guys it’s not that bad.  In fact, I enjoyed it! So you will hopefully enjoy that review as I am sure it will be a perspective you don’t get every day.

But nearly everyone I know agrees, La Luna is one of the best.

Pixar Review 26: Day and Night

Day_&_Night_posterI hope you guys enjoyed my review of Up, my favorite movie.  It was difficult to write but I did my best.  Now for a nice breath of fresh air let’s appreciate Pixar’s delightful animated short Day & Night.

In many ways this short feels like some of the early shorts because it is more special because of the methods they used than the short itself, although the short is charming.  It’s more like a Red’s Dream or Tin Toy where they were clearly stretching their artistic and technical capabilities and trying something new.

The new experiment was not just a hybrid of 2D and CG but telling stories with both mediums in the same shot.  It’s really quite brilliant.  2 years later we would get the  hybrid film Paperman but that’s more of a meshing of the 2 instead of them existing separately within the same story.  For people that are down and depressed about the loss of 2D animation (I know many of you readers are) you should take heart at things like Day and Night.  It’s sign that while we may not see the 2D film from Disney anytime soon a hybrid using both techniques is certainly possible and I think quite likely.

Anyway, Day and Night is directed by Teddy Newton and it stars 2 creatures, one is Day, one is night.  We know this because we can see the world in their bodies from their unique perspectives.

day and night2At first they are kind of fascinated by what’s going on in the others world.  Then they become envious and frustrated, even angry at the things they don’t have.

day and night 13They are also very boastful of the things they have especially Day.

day and night3 But they also learn they can work together and both enjoy experiences like when Night allows Day to enjoy a drive in movie.  The movie on screen is the cowboy scene the puppies are watching in 101 Dalmatians.

day and night4The sound design and mixing by Barney Jones and Tom Myers is first rate in Day and Night.  What’s really neat is the way the 2D and 3D worlds are connected.  For instance, when Night is punching Day each punch is coordinated perfectly with a logger chopping down a tree with an ax. Then when the tree is toppled Day falls to the ground along with the tree.

day and night14What’s so lovely is the creatures go from envy, to teamwork, to seeing life from the other’s perspective and that I think is the true message of Day and Night.  In fact, Dr Wayne Dyer appears as a voice from a radio tower ending with the thought:

“You know, to me, the most beautiful things in all the universe are the most mysterious.”

day and night12I like the message and it’s not as heavy-handed as you might think because it is split up into small bits.  And I like the idea of walking in another’s shoes before judging them.  It’s so important especially in this day and age.

And it looks so lovely.  One of my favorite sequences is them battling out Las Vegas which of course looks better at night!

day and night5I guess if I was to nitpick the oogling over the bikini clad women I Could do without, but it’s not a huge problem for me.

Michael Giacchino did a great job with the music and having just enough of it to be effective without getting in the way of the sound effects.

Is it my favorite Pixar short?  Probably not but I really do like Day and Night.  Definitely worth seeing and I hope we see even more hybrid and 2D elements in future Pixar shorts and films.

Overall Grade- B+

Pixar Review 24: Partly Cloudy

partly cloudy7Next up in our Pixar short reviews is called Partly Cloudy. It’s kind of like the beginning of Dumbo but with a funny twist.

If you don’t remember the beginning of Dumbo we see the storks getting their bundles and delivering them to the anxious mothers of the circus.  This is all accompanied by the song “Look out for Mr Stork” .  I think it might have been fun to use that song in this Pixar feature as kind of an homage but the music they have is fine.

partly cloudy4What we don’t see in Dumbo is where the storks get the bundles.  In Partly Cloudy we learn the clouds make the babies and give them to the storks.

This is a clever concept but then they take it a step further.  What about those less than pleasant animals like porcupines and crocodiles?  What poor stork has to deliver those? And what kind of cloud makes such creatures?

partly cloudy6Well one lonely dark storm cloud is given that job and a stork is assigned the rather painful task of delivering his bundles.  We see him kicked by a bighorn sheep, pricked by a porcupine and finally when he is given a shark he puts on protective headgear and body armor!

partly cloudyDirected by Peter Sohn who is the voice of Emile in Ratatouille it is a charming Pixar short.   He is directing the upcoming Good Dinosaur which watching this short kind of makes me excited for that film.  (So many of these Pixar greats including John Lasseter got their feet wet in these shorts).  There is a gentleness to Partly Cloudy which I have a hunch will work well with Good Dinosaur.

partly cloudyI also really like the music by Michael Giacchino and the fluffy feel of the clouds looks like piles of pillows.  In a lot of ways it reminds of Lava which is also very textured and gentle.

I wouldn’t say it is one of my favorite of the shorts but that’s only because the other’s are so great it makes for tough competition.  It’s lovely and a joy to watch.

Overall Grade- A-

Next up in the Pixar reviews is Up! Although I am slightly intimidated.  How do you adequately write about your favorite movie? I will give it a go!

Pixar Review 22: Presto

presto6I’m watching Wall-e tonight but before I post about that masterpiece let’s talk about the  great animated short Presto.  If you haven’t seen it I think it is one of Pixar’s funniest shorts with some terrific character design.

As most of the shorts are this is pretty simple and it does repeat the same gag over again but each time it gets bigger and more humorous.  It has the feel of an old Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry short.

It’s about a magician named Presto and his hungry and rather grumpy rabbit named Alec Azam.  The design of the rabbit feels particularly old school and I think it is very charming.

presto5So basically the story is Presto has a real ‘magic trick’ where 2 hats are connected.  Whatever you put in one comes out the other.  This gif kind of shows how it works.

presto4At the beginning the rabbit, Alec, is in a cage and he wants the carrots but in his rush Presto  forgets and rushes to the perform.  This makes Alec very upset. presto7

prestoAlec tries to tell Presto that he needs the carrot in order to participate in the magic show but he refuses making Alec angry and out for revenge.

presto9Alec even worries he is going to lose the carrot for good! I love this expression!

presto3That’s when instead of jumping in the hat like he is supposed to Alec uses the hat’s magic to send things out of the other hat to strike Presto.  It is very funny with everything from a piano to eggs hitting the magician.

presto2Meanwhile the crowd is thrilled with the crazy trick Presto is doing.  I mean wouldn’t you be if you saw such things flying out of a hat! They give Presto and Alec a huge round of applause and even though he is weary Presto is thrilled with the response (as any performer would be).  And of course in the end Alec gets his carrot.

presto8Like I said, this short feels very old school like something you would see in Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry and I like that.  It escalates the madcap antics just enough to produce a laugh at each level (you couldn’t go from a mousetrap to electric shocks.  It needs to be gradual).  I also love the design of Alec, the rabbit.  He is so cute and expressive with his eyes and face!

presto11Presto is also bright, colorful, with great music that fits the old fashioned feel by Scot Blackwell Stafford.  It was veteran Pixar man Doug Sweetland’s directorial debut and he used Tex Avery cartoons as his guide and you can feel that influence .

All in all it is one of my favorite comedic Pixar shorts.

Overall Grade A+

Pixar Review 20: Lifted

liftedWe’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.

Pixar's short film LIFTED, directed by Gary Rydstrom, shows what happens when an over confident teen alien gets behind the controls of a spaceship.  He must attempt to abduct a slumbering farmer under the watchful eye of a critical instructor.  But abducting humans requires precision and a gentle touch, and within a few missteps it's painfully clear whey more humans don't go missing every year.

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!

lifted7It’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!

lifted8

I love how incredibly massive the control board is.  How many features does this beam have?

lifted10The final joke as Stu is allowed to commandeer the ship back home is a great laugh.

lifted5Here’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!

lifted4

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.

Have you seen Lifted? What do you think of it?

Overall Grade- A+

Pixar Review 17: Lava

lava2Today I got the chance to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out and I was not in the least disappointed.  You’ll hear more about that in the next post.  But let’s not let my enthusiasm for Inside Out allow me to forget the delightful little short they had before the feature film called Lava.

Directed by James Ford Murphy Lava is a simple short that is a love letter to Hawaii and Hawaiian music (you know I will love that!).   The artwork in Lava is gorgeous.  We get wide swooping shots of both the Hawaiian mountains and the beautiful ocean.  We see whales jumping up out of the water and everything sounds so peaceful and serene.

lava3As we dive in closer we see that the volcano has a face and we learn he is singing a  Hawaiian song.  The volcano named Uku is voiced by Kuana Torres Kahele and the song he sings is a sweet plea to the Island Gods to allow him to find the love he see’s all around him.  I love Hawaiian music so that was great!

lavaI like that the volcano looks like a jolly old soul but he kind of reminds me of Jabba from Return of the Jedi!

Luckily his song is heard by another volcano but it is buried deep in the ocean. The female volcano is named Lele and she begins singing her own song to Uku. It’s a peaceful lovely duet.

lava4Like I said this isn’t one of their more groundbreaking shorts but I did enjoy it.  Anytime I can look at Hawaii, hear Hawaii, think about Hawaii I’m a fan.  It’s a sweet little love story.  Can’t go wrong with that.

Overall Grade- B

Pixar Review 16: One Man Band

one man band3This week is going to be a little strange as far as my Pixar reviews.  I am going to be seeing Inside Out tomorrow along with the animated short Lava.  This means I will have both of those reviews out of order (I’m not waiting to post about it! There’s no way!).  So I will post about One Man Band today and then Inside Out tomorrow and maybe Lava depending on how long it takes me.  Definitely by the end of Wednesday (I also have to make videos at the same time. Phew!).

I have watched Cars but am not sure when I will post about it.  So just bear with me friends as we are a bit out of order this week!

One Man Band is a Pixar short with a ton of charm and some similarities and differences to the previous shorts.  I must admit to be a little let down after Boundin’ had narration to get another short that feels like a silent film.  It’s very similar to the rest of the Pixar shorts in that regard.  It also has a similar plotline to For the Birds and Knick Knack where the cocky guy (or guys in this case) gets their just rewards in the end.  So in that sense it isn’t very creative.

But in another sense it is creative.  It is the only second short using human characters and the first to be set in the past (Medieval times). It also uses music the most effectively (as an actual character in the story) of any of the shorts.  The music is written by Michael Giacchino who would go on to do the music for Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars 2 (and the recent Jurassic World). I think it is one of his best arrangements.

In the sound design it reminded me of Tin Toy which also features a one man band but in the form of a toy. one man band4One Man Band is about a little girl who is going to put a coin in a fountain and make a wish.  She then see’s a man who has a one man band he is carrying around.  This includes a tuba, piano, drum, clarinet, and more. He of course wants desperately for the girl to give him the money instead of throwing it down the fountain.

one man bandBut just as he is about to get the coin we hear the sound of a violin. The little girl looks around and see’s another One Man Band guy who’s get up is more strings oriented with violins and other instruments.  I’ve never seen a one man band like this before and it is very fun especially when all the violins expand and play.

one man band7This guy seems a little more cut-throat than the other one who is more good natured.  I like how the guy is literally inside the mandolin (or whatever that instrument is).

The two start battling each other with music to try and win the little girl over and get her coin. This is just amazing sound work and music as it isn’t just a jumble of sounds but 2 distinct ‘bands’ battling it out.  It is never in doubt what sound is coming from which man.

one man band2Naturally as is the case with most competition things get a little out of control and they end up making the little girl drop her coin and she becomes angry. It’s really cute.

one man band5Well, it turns out our little girl might not be as hard up as we thought and she has a whole bag of coins and she makes her will known throwing coins in the fountain and making the men chase the coins.   It turns out she can even play the violin pretty well too.

one man band8So like I said there are some things about this short that make it very excellent- mainly the sound mixing and music.  They are first rate.  It also looks fine and has some of the clearest humans Pixar had done (look at the knuckles and wrinkles on the finger of the girl.  She is much less pasty than other human characters Pixar had done).   As most of the short is about music, it being the strength means the short is pretty good. And it is a very funny cute little story.

I guess I just wish there was dialogue or a narrator more of a story like we saw in Boundin’, but it is still an entertaining short, which will make you smile.

Overall Grade-  B+

So ready to go to Inside Out! I can hardly contain my excitement!

Over the Garden Wall Series Review

over the garden wallI know I am super late in the world of animation bloggers with this post but I finally got around to seeing the Cartoon Network series Over the Garden Wall from last year and let me just say the hype is deserved.  Wow!

Created by Patrick McHale from a short he did called The Tome of the Unknown, Over the Garden Wall is a miniseries about two step-brothers who get lost in a mysterious forest world.  The only way I can think to describe it is a mixture of Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.  It has the randomness of Alice and the journey of Wizard.

over the garden wall4For people that bemoan the state of 2D hand drawn animation this is stunning. It looks so beautiful particularly how it uses light to create layers of the forest and to show mood.  I was blown away by the animation! It’s unique and shows a lot of different styles while still keeping a consistent feel.  It is carefully done animation with little details like the lighting on Greg’s teapot hat always reflecting what’s going on or the colors and texture on Beatrice’s wings.  It’s lush, varied, and it reminded me in animation quality of Spirited Away- no small compliment!

Each episode is actually 2 10 minute shorts or chapters in the story of getting the boys Wirt (Elijah Wood) and young Greg (Collin Dean) home.   They are such well written complex characters especially Wirt.  He worries about life and doesn’t like to take risks.  He’s resentful of Greg and I think a little bit envious.  He wishes his family wasn’t a blended family and that Greg  didn’t even exist.  He wants to go back home but he is not unempowered or weak.

Greg is sweet and carefree.  He loves nature and carries around a frog that he often gives historical names too.   He is unafraid of monsters and when given the chance to lead he takes it very seriously.  A character like Greg could be grating and irritating but he’s not.  He also gives most of the humor of the show (and it can be very funny).

They have a third member of their group a blue jay named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) who joins the boys to try and find Adelaide a mysterious woman who will break the curse on her family and help the boys get home.  Beatrice gets irritated easily and is free with her opinion about everything.  It’s a funny juxtaposition given she’s a sweet looking bluebird without being too crass or vulgar. Her character arc has much of the heart of the series.

over the garden wall5There is a beast in the forest and a woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) as well as other magical creatures.  It can be quite scary and probably isn’t for very small children.  But the segments are short so you are never left dwelling on the scary for long.

over the garden wall10In a world where hardly anything feels new Over the Garden Wall is such a refreshing surprise.  Every episode feels like something I’ve never seen before.  It’s so creative and different and constantly surprised me.  It might be a little too random for some people but I thought that’s what made it brilliant.  You never knew what to expect.  It could be a bonfire with vegetable people or frogs on a cruise or a trip into the clouds.  Whatever it is I loved it!

over the garden wall7I love how the boys interact with each other.  It felt like 2 brothers, especially two step brothers.  I like that they never had to ‘learn’ anything and yet they did.  It’s not one of those animated shows where there is a moral at the end of every episode.  Sometimes there isn’t even a story.  It’s just the boys interacting with cool stuff (again kind of like Alice in Wonderland in that regard).

over the garden wall8 The music is also wonderful and eclectic.  Some songs are very fun like Potatoes and Molasses, others are spooky, others are very tender and heartbreaking.

I’m not sure who wrote the score but it is perfect.  It manages to feel consistent with all the eclectic stories being told.

Normally I hate when adults play children on animated shows (Simpsons being the exception) but here Elijah Wood is terrific as Wirt.  He captures a skeptical but earnest teen so well.  All the vocals are great including John Cleese, Tim Curry, Chris Isaak, Shirley Jones and more.  You can tell this was a real labor of love for all involved.

over the garden wall3People are always bemoaning the lack of originality in today’s television and movies. Indeed it feels like every day we get a new sequel, prequel, remake or adaptation.  This makes Over the Garden Wall even more of a treasure.  It’s so original in every way. I think you could watch it a thousand times and get something new each time.  Each episode is so rich with details and artistry it is definitely one I want to get on blu-ray.

Especially as lovers of animation we need to support such creative visionaries and let the Cartoon Network know such efforts are appreciated.  I would love to see a series 2 of Over the Garden Wall but I hope at least the network will continue producing such bold entertainment.

Any of you see Over the Garden Wall?  What did you think?  It’s the kind of series you want to discuss so feel free in the comments.

This shows how deep the series is.