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

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!

Pixar Review 13: Boundin’

boundin8Next short to review before Finding Nemo is both big and small in the world of Pixar.  It is called Boundin’ and it is big because it is the first real short (not counting Mike’s New Car) that has words or vocal performance.  It is small because it is the creation of one man- Bud Luckey.

boundin3Boundin’ is written, directed, narrated by, and music written by Bud Luckey.  You have to go back to the very first shorts done primarily by John Lasseter to find that kind of all-in-one creation, and I think that is kind of neat.  It would be fun if Pixar did more of that with their shorts so you could get a real taste of each animators vision and style- kind of like a showcase in a gallery of animation.

boundin7I guess the next question is what Bud Luckey came up with any good?  I think it is.  It has the feel of one of the Melody Time skits, which you may not remember is my favorite of the package films.  It particularly has a strong homage to Pecos Bill with the scenery of the Southwest.

boundin4Boundin’ is about a sheep that loves his wool coat so much it makes him dance.  This is interesting because he is kind of vein but it’s in a very likable way . It’s more like self-confidence than overly prideful.  He is so joyous with his dance that all the other critters around him start dancing too.

But then disaster strikes and our sheep looses his fur and with it his self-esteem.   Here’s a clip (I couldn’t get the entire short this time) which will give you a feel for the show.

Just when he is feeling depressed he meets a jackalope who teaches him how to jump and that “bounding is better than dancing”.  The message is “getting up when you fall down”.   The sheep tries it out and is won over.

boundin9The next winter his coat has grown back and cut again but this time he has bounding and won’t get depressed any more.

boundin10This is an extremely old fashioned short and so I could see it not being everyone’s cup of tea but I like it.  I think it has a really nice rather nuanced message about not just self-confidence but finding joy even when things aren’t perfect.  I like that the sheep learns to be happy without his fur that he still loves when it grows back.

From an animation standpoint it looks gorgeous with beautiful dessert (and snowy) vistas.

boundin5Like I said it reminds me a lot of Pecos Bill but also the old Warner Brothers shorts that had a simple message with lovely animation and some laughs.  I like that vintage quality.

The music is also very sweet and nostalgic.  It feels like Roy Rogers telling a story around the campfire!

Nice job Mr Luckey.  You’ve done good!

Overall Grade- A

Pixar Review 5- Knick Knack

knick knack

We are almost at the first feature film review, Toy Story, in my Pixar reviews but I hope you have enjoyed looking at these early shorts as much as I have.  I remember seeing them when I was little on the tape my uncle gave us and I loved them then, love them still today.

The last review we did was the Oscar winning short Tin Toy and today we will look at Knick Knack. It is one of the funniest Pixar Shrots and the comedy holds up remarkably well.

knick knack2

In the commentary John Lasseter says they got the idea for Knick Knack from his wife’s snowglobe collection.  He started to wonder ‘what would it be like to be stuck inside there’ which led him to the story of a snowman in a snowglobe looking at all the summer souvenirs and yearning to get out of his dome.

At the time there were only 8 animators working at Pixar.  Can you imagine that?  8! Each animator designed their own knick knack for the snowman to gaze at.

knick kanck6The snowman then tries all these elaborate methods to get out of his globe including dynamite and a jack hammer. As with Tin Toy the sound mixing does a ton to convey humor, emotion and the effects of the various attempts to get out.

knick knack4The accompaniment is an accapella percussion by Bobby McFerin of Don’t Worry Be Happy fame.  At the end he says ‘blah, blah, blah, blah”. Lasseter says they didn’t know what to do at the ending so they had written ‘blah, blah’ on the paper meaning to fill in later but McFerin saw that and sang the blahs.  It turned out to be the perfect way to end the short!

knick knack5The ending with the mermaid and the fishbowl is so funny. Lasseter says they were storyboarding the short and the secretary came in and suggested the fishbowl ending.  Isn’t that funny?

It has the feel of a Looney Tunes skit like Roadrunner and Wilie Coyote and there is something about that kind of humor in a short which works so well and is timeless.

The animation with the snow flying everywhere also looks great and feels like a snowglobe.  I also like the way the coal on his face get all jumbled up each time he tries to break free from his cage!

It’s a real charmer and I’d give it full points A+

Now we are on to Toy Story!  What is your favorite of these 5 early shorts- Adventures of Andre and Wally B, Luxo Jr, Red’s Dream, Tin Toy, and Knick Knack.  I still think Red’s Dream is my favorite but they are all great!

 

Pixar Review 4- Tin Toy

Hi guys!  I’m back from Georgia and it is time for another Pixar short review and we are getting our baby on with the landmark animated film Tin Toy.

tin toy3Tin Toy was created for SIGGRAPH in 1988. The genesis for the project happened when John Lasseter was watching his niece play with her toys.  She was sucking on, throwing, stomping on them.  The idea occurred to him that to the toys this sweet adorable baby would be seen as a monster.

So they got hard at work and designing an actual baby proved to be a mammoth task and they invented new facial recognition software and was the first computer graphics with bendable joints and a fluid body.

tin toy2The story of Tin Toy is a baby named Billy who has a toy named Tin Toy that is an old school Japanese one man band type toy.  Both the toy and the baby turned out very cute and the sound mixing is perfect.

tin toyWhen the toy see’s Billy sucking and throwing his toys he naturally becomes terrified and flees leading to the big laugh of the movie- All of Billy’s toys are hiding under the sofa shivering in fear from the monster that is Billy.

tin toy 8Each of the animators was given the task of designing one of the toys under the bed and it was this shot that started the idea of Toy Story.  In fact, Disney was so impressed with Tin Toy that they sealed an agreement with Pixar to create their first feature film about toys.

Tin Toy also is of note because it is their first Oscar win for Best Animated Short and the first CG animation to win an Academy Award in 1988.

The great thing about Tin Toy is how many emotions they manage to show in a 4 minute film we get joy, anger, hurt, fear, remorse, envy, desperation and more.  Tin-Toy-Sad-web

When I think of what makes a character like Woody so great he has all those emotions, sometimes very rapidly and who knows if the storytelling would have grown if such robust characters weren’t cultivated in these shorts first.

Here is John Lasseter and Bill Reeves getting their Oscar for Tin Toy.  It helps give you a sense of who they were and the community that built Pixar as we know today.

It’s worthy of the Oscar and is certainly an A+.  A great early short.  (Only 1 more short to go till Toy Story!)