Welcome to the start of my new project reviewing all the Pixar films and animated shorts. The first 5 of these reviews are going to be shorts made by Pixar from 1984 to 1995 release of Toy Story. I have a fondness for these shorts because my uncle Mark used to work for Pixar in their financing department back in 1990ish. One year for Christmas he gave us a VHS tape with some animated shorts made by his company. It had Luxo Jr, Knick Knack, Tin Toy etc. I loved watching those shorts and I’ve always felt that I was an early Pixar fangirl well before Toy Story. How many can say that? 🙂
That said critiquing or analyzing these shorts is tough. By modern standards they seem crudely drawn and very simple. For example, most of them are silent films without any dialogue just music. But we have to consider these shorts were basically tools to help them create the technology that we now have with great CG animation. In that sense they are not simple and are really quite groundbreaking.
The first short Pixar ever created is called The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. It is a 2 minute bit about an android (that’s what John Lasseter calls it) named Andre that meets a bee named Wally B. He distracts said bee and runs through the forest but is eventually outwitted and stung so hard it twists the bees stinger.
Adventures of Andre and Wally B was created by John Lasseter in 1984 when Pixar was a new division of Lucasfilm for a conference called SIGGRAPH and it feels like something made for a conference, more to show off technology than tell a story.
The big breakthrough in Andre and Wally B is they were able to design a motion blur technology called the motion doctor that allowed for characters to not just be geometric shapes but move in a realistic way that flows. Lasseter had been working at Disney and was brought on to animate the characters but I really think this short has more of a Looney Tunes feel than Disney with its physical comedy and silent movie feel.
What was really interesting in the audio commentary is technical lead Bill Reeves says “In retrospect it’s amazing that John didn’t do a robot. Where would be today if he had? Who knows but I’m so glad he didn’t”
So I suppose we can all be grateful for Andre and Wally B because it forced Lasseter to start designing outside of boxes like a robot would have been. It would take 11 more years to perfect the technology to the level of a feature film but Andre and Wally B got the ball rolling and the creative juices flowing.
I have no idea what grade to give it. Just enjoy it because it was the first and it is 2 minutes long…
What’s your favorite of these early shorts? Next up the iconic Luxo!
Sometimes I feel sorry for George Lucas. Then I remember what he did to Star Wars and I don’t feel so sorry but still what must it be like for one human being to be so high and then so low? I can’t even imagine. Well, he certainly hasn’t let failure get to his head because last week he released an animated film, Strange Magic, emblazoned with “from the mind of George Lucas” right on the poster for all to see. I’m still baffled by that choice. I can’t think of a single person who would see that tagline and think “George Lucas? I want to go to that”.
But I promised you I’d see every animated film in 2015 and I intend do so. And no matter all the bad reviews I always try to go into every movie with an open mind and have been willing to go against popular opinion on more than one occasion (Atlantis: The Lost Emipre and Wreck-It Ralph anyone?).
The only theater I could find showing it (and just opened on Friday I will remind you) is this strange theater about 13 minutes from my house. Everytime I’ve been there it is like a ghosttown and tonight was no exception. Had the whole theater to myself which allowed me to take notes on my phone and not bother anyone.
So here’s the deal on Strange Magic. It is bad but mainly because of the writing, annoying music and obvious story. The animation is not half bad. It is for that reason I would put it above last year’s stinkers Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return which didn’t look finished and the garish and unfunny Nut Job. If it was just a predictable fairy movie I might be able to place it with The Tinker Bell movies in animation quality but those movies are more clear, vibrant, better vocal performances and stories.
Evidently George Lucas made this movie “because nothing is made for girls any more”. That was definitely true in the 70’s George but since Little Mermaid I think you’d have a hard time proving that at least with Disney (Pixar yes but plenty of movies made for girls). I mean Frozen made over 1 billion!
The strangest thing about him making this for girls is a good chunk of the movie is about Sonny the elf finding the fairy Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) with little scenes of Dawn and Marianne(Evan Rachel Wood) fairies usually thrown in to sing about love or how tough they are.
I think Lucas also thinks it will appeal to girls because there is lots of talk about love (it is Midsummer’s Night Dream in the same way Gnomeo and Juliet was about Romeo and Juliet). And of course you have to throw in a wedding, a Spring Ball and an Elf Festival because girls love parties! (Groan…).
The two faeries are sisters (of course) and one is free spirited and the other is bitter about love. There is also a Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) who is taken captive by the evil Bog King (Alan Cumming) who is known simply as Bog by his mother and followers.
All of this could be good in a corny kind of way but the music puts it over the top with each choice being so on the nose it is like playing a game of Name that Tune. We know the moment we here the character is named Marianne we are going to hear “C’mon Marianne” by Frankie Valli. As soon as a character is at the dance we hear “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. It’s like Moulin Rouge but a decade too late and with an even more predictable plot.
The worst was at the end when a character breaks into Wild Thing by The Troggs. Couldn’t they have been a little more creative? It’s like George Lucas downloaded his ipod, threw in a few modern songs like Kill You Makes You Stronger and Say Hey.
Even the songs would be passable if the script was better. We get lines like
“Looking for trouble? Well, you’ve come to the right place” says the Bog King and then we get Trouble by Elvis which has lines “Well, I’m evil so don’t you mess around withe me”. Groan. It’s like these guys learned to write scripts in kindergarten.
Another line “You’re one to talk with your magic recipe. A recipe for failure”.
“See what happens when love is unleashed on the world”
“Even with a love potion I’m too hideous to love”
“Why would you think a beast like you could get a beauty like Marianne” (surprised Disney allowed that one. Gaston should be offended!
“My life flashed before my eyes. I was hot…”
“I’ve learned something. Never judge someone or it by the way he, she or it looks” Thank George for explaining the most obvious moral in the world to us in case we didn’t catch on…
And my favorite “Pull your head out of the clouds. Clouds of boys…”. Oh boy. Now I’m thinking the writers have never met a little girl. Do they think this is how they really talk?
Basically the story is a girl fairy is jilted on her wedding day by a jerk fairy. She turns against love but her sister is still a believer. The elf Sonny is in love with fairy Dawn and wants to get the potion for her from the Sugar Plum Fairy. The jilted beau also wants the potion to force Marianne to love him (the antidote is so groan inducing).
Then they meet various obstacles but get the potion fairly easily which is not guarded well by the Bog King who wants to keep the fairy because the potion didn’t work on the girl he loved. (that darn antidote again!).
They all end up meeting in the forest and battling over the love potion and it is so predictable and full of terrible puns and one liners.
I can’t figure out why they wouldn’t have made Kristin Chenoweth Dawn? The Sugar Plum Fairy isn’t in the movie that much and has only 1 song.
Lucas did get some decent singers in Alan Cumming, Chenoweth and Wood but it is all like a karaoke theme night on romantic songs.
Like I said the animation is tolerable and it isn’t going to harm your kids like something such as The Smurfs with all its obnoxious product placement. This is just a predictable bland movie with a lot of music kids won’t have heard of like People are Strange by the Doors or Mistreated by Deep Purple. What little kid knows those?
As far as content goes there is a scene where two male characters kiss for laughs which has gotten so tired a joke. Get over it! The Bog King might be scary to little children but it is tempered pretty quickly with songs and jokes (and the Bog King’s mother trying to set him up).
So it is not as bad as Nut Job or Legends of Oz but that’s really damning with faint praise. A definite skip. (The things I do for you guys!).