Pixar 43: ‘Toy Story 4’ (Spoilers)

Like many people I was a bit anxious when I heard the announcement of Toy Story 4. How could Pixar bring another entry into their treasured franchise after Toy Story 3 ended in such a satisfying way? It seemed like an impossible task but the Pixar folks have always said they only do sequels if they have a story, so I trusted them to get it right! Today I am happy to tell you my trust was not in vain. Toy Story 4 is another wonderful addition to our team of toys and a fitting conclusion to our best friend Woody’s story.

toy story 4-1

It’s impossible to talk about Toy Story 4 without discussing the trajectory of the previous 3 films. In Toy Story we have a confident Woody who learns to be a friend to the new and different Buzz. He begins the story as a good leader but as many leaders are, he’s also self-interested and prone to jealousy and deep insecurities. It is only through becoming friends with Buzz that Woody learns to let go of his pride and serve others.

Then we get to Toy Story 2 where Woody learns to think of Andy, and his commitment to letting Andy play with him as long as he wants. It’s his mission and calling and it is more important than being worshiped in a Tokyo museum. In Toy Story 3 the team has struggled and become a family and that deep and abiding bond gets them through the prison that is the daycare center.

So what about Toy Story 4? What is left to learn? Well, to answer that question we have to think about the nature of toys in this universe. As far as I can tell their sentience is eternal. They have no bodily fluids so arms can be removed, they can be reassembled into new toys without any reduction to their sentience. This leads us to the question of how can Pixar retire the toys if they can’t be killed?

toy story 4-4

We could leave Woody to be played with by Bonnie but doesn’t that lead to the same cycle over and over again? Is that a happy ending for our friends? There has to be a way for them to progress or what once gave them joy (playing with a child) will become miserable. I think the people at Pixar realized this and that Toy Story 3 could not be the actual ending for these characters because as happy as it was for Bonnie it wasn’t really a happy ending for Woody.

So, that’s where we get to Toy Story 4. As an old cowboy doll Woody is not a favorite toy of Bonnie. She is kind to her toys but prefers other toys like playing with Jessie. One day she goes to kindergarten and makes a toy out of trash she calls Forky. Creating her own toy seems to give her comfort during the scary time of a new school and she loves Forky dearly. Woody sees this and decides to watch over Forky and make sure it learns how to be a toy for Bonnie (a thing it rejects as it isn’t used to being sentient). Basically Woody becomes Forky’s father, and like a baby rejects things that are good for it, so does Forky.

forky

Woody decides that taking care of Forky is his new role in the bedroom. He even says at one point that ‘it’s all I have left’. He knows his playing days are minimal and this is the most important thing he can do to help Bonnie. He even jumps out of a moving car window in order to help save Forky. (This is quite different than his response in Toy Story. He would have been happy to see Buzz in the trash back then).

Eventually Forky and Woody end up in an antique store in a small town where to their surprise they run into an old friend Bo Peep. She had been given away by Molly (Andy’s sister) years before and to Woody’s surprise she has figured out a whole new way to live. She’s strong, confident and happy with an almost pirate-like existence. She still gets to be played with at the park but as she says ‘I am not lost’. Every day she determines her destiny and how she is going to contribute to the world.

toy story 4-5

At first Woody is shocked by this and has difficulty understanding her way of living. But as the mechanics of the plot go forward he starts to see how independent Bo is which is very attractive and eye-opening. Most of the shenanigans with Gabby Gabby and Duke Caboom are fun in their own right but more importantly they are opportunities for Woody’s room-based view of the world to expand.

That’s not to say these events aren’t amusing because they are absolutely hilarious. Duck and Bunny in particular create some of the funniest sequences in the history of the Toy Story franchise. There are also some decent scares from the ventriloquist dummies named Benson and a lot of beautifully animated action while saving Forky. I also appreciated that Gabbby Gabby wasn’t a surprise villain like we’ve gotten so often from Disney lately. Her story was more of a surprise hero, which was really sweet in the end.

toy story 4-6

But all that fun isn’t going to be enough if Woody is back in the closet at Bonnie’s rarely being played with. That’s no way to end our hero’s story! Just as the toys became a family in Toy Story 3, they, led by Buzz, understand that part of being a family is letting our loved ones follow their dreams. We send our children off to college or on a mission knowing our world’s are never going to be the same but we know it is what is best for them. We send them on their way with a hope and a prayer that they will be ok but we also let them know that everything at home will ‘be ok’. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz.

‘Bonnie will be ok’ Buzz tells Woody. In other words ‘go and have your adventure. Everything at home will be ok. We love you’. So off Woody goes and Buzz and friends stay behind to make sure they keep their promise to Woody. It’s no surprise the toys learn to listen to their inner voice throughout the story because goodbyes are hard (I just had one with my Grandma’s funeral this weekend) and it is only through a lot of practice do we have the spiritual strength to help our loved ones go down their path no matter how badly we will miss them.

A perfect ending to a story that started with our friend only thinking of himself. Well done Pixar. Well done.

A+

smile worthy

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A Look at the Animated Oscars 2019

This year the lead up to the Oscars has been more than a little bit of a mess. Whether it is an announcement for ‘best popular film’ category or the choice to not air categories like editing and cinematography. However, what has been relatively drama free is who will win the Best Animated Feature Film award. This is perhaps surprising as the 5 nominees are all very strong films yet a clear winner has emerged in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

mirai

Let’s start with the least likely to win, Mirai, from famed director Mamoru Hosoda. It’s actually a huge accomplishment for Mirai to be nominated, as it is the first non-Studio Ghibli film to receive such an honor (a designation very frustrating to those of us who loved snubbed films like Your Name and A Silent Voice). And fortunately it is not just a token nomination as the film is a sweet journey into childhood. Recently my friend David said it was ‘the most creative animated film he had seen this year’ and he hates anime!

ralph breaks

Our next most likely contender to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars comes from Disney in a rare Disney Canon sequel called Ralph Breaks the Internet. This sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph avoids the potholes of most sequels by giving us something entirely new and it worked for me even better than the original! I loved the evolution of Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship and how they had to accept each other in new ways. I loved the humor especially the princesses (which I didn’t think I’d like) and we even got a surprise Alan Menken song! Still because it is a sequel and the response to it was dampened a bit by the release of Spider-Verse, it is unlikely to win (although never count Disney out entirely!).

isle of dogs7

Coming up in 3rd place of most likely to win the Oscar is our stop motion animated offering from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs. Earlier in the year I speculated whether this was the most likely winners as the Oscars doesn’t tend to like sequels or animated superhero movies (and it has a long standing tradition of loving both Wes Anderson and stop motion). It’s such a sweet enchanting movie with incredible attention to detail. I love all of the dogs and the backgrounds are dazzling (the one pictured made out of pieces of glass is a particular favorite). However, the human sections aren’t as strong and some of the writing is a little clunky. Still, a delightful film from 2018 animation.

incredibles2-5

My prediction for the runner up for the Oscar this year is Brad Bird’s follow up to his 2004 superhero film, The Incredibles 2. I love this movie and in any other year this would be a clear favorite. It’s not only funny with terrific action but it is a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. Even Edna Mode says it best: ‘parenting when done well is a heroic act’. The reason I don’t think Incredibles 2 will win is because it hasn’t won any awards prior to the Oscars. Spider-Verse has won every major prize from the Golden Globes to the BAFTA’s. It would take a very bold ballot to pick this film to win but it wouldn’t be the first time Pixar has surprised everyone (Brave…) if it did. Still it would be a big shocker if it won.

Spider-Man-Into-The-Spider-Verse-Soundtrack-album-cover

Finally, the clear favorite and most likely to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of critics, fans, and experts alike. In fact, there are a number of other publications out there that see Into the Spider-Verse as an incredible favorite. Like I said, it would be a huge shock if it didn’t win. It is not only a game changer for animated films and superhero movies, it also speaks to the Academy’s goals to honor diversity both on and off the screen. It honestly should have been nominated for Best Picture in my and many others opinions.

So what do you think of the animated Oscar race this year? Am I too bullish on Spider-Verse? Do you agree with me it has been a strong year for the category? What other predictions are you making for this year’s Oscars? I’d love to hear in the comments section.

2018 in Animation

Today I wanted to share with you all a podcast I did with 3 of my friends on the year of animation in 2018. It’s a long one but we covered every release we could from the small to the large.

If you get to listen I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What did you think about animation in 2018? Any disappointments or surprises?

My ranking of 2018 animation:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet

3. Incredibles 2

4. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

5. The Night is Short Walk on Girl

6. Mirai

7. Maquia: When the Last Flower Blooms

8. Isle of Dogs

9. My Hero Academia: The Movie

10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

11. Tito and the Birds

12. Hotel Transylvania 3

13. Pokemon: the Power of Us

14. Liz and the Blue Bird

15. Next Gen

16. Smallfoot

17. The Grinch

18. Maya the Bee 2: the Honey Games

19. DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis

20. Early Man

21. Gnome Alone

22. Fireworks

23. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies

24. Sherlock Gnomes

25. Lu Over the Wall

26. White Fang

27. MFKZ

28. Duck Duck Goose

 

2018 Mid-Year Rachies

Hello friends!  So we have recently passed the half way point of the year in movie-going and I thought it would be fun to give you my picks for the best of 2018 so far. Around the Oscars I do something called The Rachies so you might just consider this a mid-year Rachies. Let me know what your favorites areBest Picture Live Action-

Paddington 2- As far as I’m concerned this film is perfectly executed. Funny, sweet, heart-warming and delightful.

Best Picture Animation

Incredibles 2– A delightful Pixar sequel that is both a well done superhero movie and a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete– This is a film that has really stuck with me and Charlie Plummer is phenomenal as a homeless teenage orphan who is traveling America trying to save a special horse. There are scenes in this film that broke me and I haven’t been able to shake from my brain. Devastating but emotionally true and a lot of that goes to Charlie Plummer. He’s going to be a huge star.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Thomasin McKenzie for Leave No Trace– Teenagers are giving the best performances of the year (I could have also picked Elsie Fisher for Eighth Grade). I debated about picking Leave No Trace as my best of the year because it is a film I saw at Sundance and has stayed with me all these months later. I love everything about it and Thomasin is incredible in her role. It’s amazing to see her begin to lovingly question her father and make some very tough choices.

Best Supporting Actor-

Hugh Grant for Paddington 2- I was trying to think of another film I could showcase but there really was nobody else close as a supporting performance to Hugh Grant in Paddington 2. He is so funny and obviously willing to make fun of his own reputation as a bit of a foppish actor. In a near-perfect movie he was the stand out.

Best Supporting Actress-

Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place- this might be considered a lead by some but I’d say she is supporting to John Krasiniski’s lead. What she manages to do without making a sound is so impressive and when she is trying to birth that baby it is so tense my nails were digging into the arm rests. It was the most invested I’ve been in a horror performance in a long time.

Best Cinematography-

Joshua James Richards for The Rider- I didn’t emotionally connect with this film the way I hoped I would but I still greatly admired it and thought it was stunning to look at. Richards and director Chloe Zhao have made the American prairie look both gorgeous and achingly lonely at the same time.

Best Production Design-

Adam Stockhausen for Isle of Dogs- I thoroughly enjoyed Wes Anderson’s quirky stop motion film but I loved the production design. The attention to detail was outstanding and I can’t wait to get the art book and find out how everything from the wall of glass to the Japanese political rallies were staged.

Hidden Gem-

Sgt Stubby: An American Hero- This sweet little indie animated film about a dog in World War 1 I will continue to champion and try to get everyone I know to see it. It did so many things right that so many animated films fail to do. It doesn’t have the dog talk. It gets the tone just about perfectly down. It shows enough war to be meaningful without traumatizing children. It is not a ra ra America film nor is it shaming the troops in any way. It was so sweet and inspirational without being maudlin. I LOVED it!

Best Documentary-

Won’t You Be My Neighbor- In many ways the documentary about Fred Rogers doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has talking heads who reminisce about the subjects life and his impact on the world like many have done before. However, in a world of Me Too where every famous man seems to disappoint finding out Fred Rogers was just about as great as you thought he was meant a lot. Watching this movie was a reminder to be a little kinder. To love a little bit more easily and to accept people for who they are. It was so well executed and just what I needed (I’ve seen it twice!)

Best Comedy-

Game Night- Maybe it is just coming from a competitive family that likes to play games but I thought this movie was hilarious. I loved all of the performances and thought the cast had great chemistry together. I loved Kyle Chandler playing this near-do-well but slick brother (I’m so used to him in dramas like Manchester By the Sea). I loved scenes like when Jason Bateman is trying to clean blood off a dog. It was so funny

(Game Night is rated R so it won’t be for everyone

Best Visual Effects-

Ready Player One- the best visual effects for my money go to the Steven Spielberg and the team behind Ready Player One. They made a lot of changes from the book (which I LOVE) but one thing they got right was the look and feel of the Oasis. It was so immersive and stunning. The kind of place I would like to go if I could with details filling up the screen. Each set piece contained surprises (and not just call outs but visually interesting and beautiful things). The segment at the Shining was incredible but the whole movie looked great

Some Other Quick Awards-

Most Overrated- Annihilation- looks pretty but is basically a creature scares movie pretending to be a pretentious treatise on life. It has no idea what it is trying to say as it lays one message down after another. Stupidity wrapped in smart clothing

(I also didn’t like Peter Rabbit, Upgrade, Set it Up, or The Party as much as most)

Most Underrated- I Feel Pretty- a throwback to Penny Marshall movies from the 90s that everyone took WAY too seriously. It had its heart in the right place, and I appreciated what it was trying to say. I laughed and thought it was overall very sweet.

(I also liked Adrift, Book Club, I Can Only Imagine, Solo, and The Commuter more than most)

Biggest End of Movie Letdown- Avengers: Infinity War. Most of this movie was pretty entertaining and well done but then they had the ending that tries to get me to believe that a major studio is actually killing off their brightest and newest talents. Give me a break. Most people were crying and it kind of ticked me off. I HATE when directors think I am stupid and I’m not stupid enough to believe that Marvel is killing off Black Panther. Ugh

(The last 30 minutes of Tully was also extremely disappointing and frustrating!).

Biggest Disappointment- Wrinkle in Time- I love the novel and Ava DuVernay had all the pieces to make something great but instead made something that was muddled, confusing and full of speechifying. All the spirituality of the novel is taken away in favor of sermons that looked like part of a yoga retreat video and Meg was told she was a warrior instead of figuring that out for herself and saving Charles Wallace from IT because she knew how important he was to God. What a waste!

(I was also disappointed in Early Man and Ocean’s 8 was just Ok when I was hoping it would be great)

Worst Movies So Far-

Lu Over the Wall- Made me physically nauseated. Spastic and all over the place. The parts that do work are a copycat of Ponyo.

White Fang- Exploitative animal violence in a film aimed at children was jarring and went on for way too long. Also the animation and voice acting was hit and miss.

Gotti- Terribly made in every way but also wants you to believe the mafia are the true victims of authorities who won’t stop hounding them!

Pacific Rim: Uprising- I hated every inch of this nauseating blockbuster full of stupid and irritating characters that would not shut up

Ophelia- the most ridiculous attempt to turn Hamlet into a feminist mantra you could imagine. I was dying trying to hold my laughter in.

For more of my thoughts on some indie films check out the podcast I did with my friend Orla Smith

Pixar 41: Bao

Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.

Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.

Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.

As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.

Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!

I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.

Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Team with its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.

What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?

Pixar 40: Coco

I know I can hear you guys yelling at your screen ‘finally! She posts her review of Coco!’. It is long overdue, but I wanted to do it right because it is a movie that I loved. In fact, Coco was my favorite movie of 2017, and I saw nearly 150 new releases!

One of the great things that Disney has always done for little kids is help them understand the tough things of life. They have never been a studio that is satisfied to just make kids laugh. They took on themes of death, despair, frustration and anger in movies like Bambi, Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch and more. Pixar has also carried this torch with moving films like Up, Toy Story 3 Inside Out and Finding Nemo. Coco continues this proud tradition by being an important film about forgiveness, family and death. It is honest with children about the struggles of family life while still telling an engaging story with a likable protagonist.

Coco tells the story of a boy named Miguel who wishes to sing more than any thing else. Unfortunately his family is against singing and forbids him from entering a local talent show. On the Dia de los Muertos, Miguel decides to take the guitar from his grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to use in the show. This act of theft takes him into the World of the Dead where only his dead relatives can see him. He must get a blessing from a relative in order to return to the living and this is where the majority of our story lies. His dead relatives also hate music and want him to disavow it as part of their blessing. Then Miguel meets a man named Hector who is about to lose his spot in the Land of the Remembered unless his picture is placed on the offrenda.

In some ways Coco is predictable. We know that certain story beats are coming, but I thought they were executed really well and so they still worked for me. For example, when Ernesto proves to not be the person he is praised to be on earth it isn’t surprising but it still works because it feels surprising to Miguel. His response feels so genuine and sweet that it involves you into the story and his journey. I also love the way his relationship with Hector grows in a sweet and authentic way.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Bambi is we have this gut-wrenching scene of Bambi‘s Mother getting shot and then she is never talked about again. This is not a problem with Coco. The whole point of the movie is memories and how memories keep those we love alive in a tangible way. The song Remember Me tells us as much:

Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

Remember me
Though I have to travel far
Remember me
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me

My Grandfather died in 2001 and to this day when I think of him I start to cry. I miss him now as much as I did those many years ago. There was never a person like him in my life and there will never another. When I remember it helps me feel him close by and that our love has power to make my life better.

Honoring and finding out more about our ancestry is something that is also a very important part of my religion so the themes of Coco really rang true for me. Miguel begins to understand this importance as he grows increasingly desperate to save himself and Hector. When he is pleading before Grandma Coco it is one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film in a long time. Please Grandma Coco! Don’t forget!

The artistry in Coco is also phenomenal and I love that they introduced me to a whole new culture. Yes, I have seen The Book of Life but that didn’t feel as immersive in Mexican culture as Coco (partly because it is narrated by a white tour guide…). Everything from the marigold petals to the offrendas was moving, beautiful and interesting.

Fortunately, Coco is also very funny with wonderful skeleton gags that will definitely make you smile along Coco’s cute dog Dante getting into trouble. For people that thought The Good Dinosaur was too drab and Cars 2 was too silly, Coco gets the tone just right making it a joy to watch.

Some of Miguel’s family can be a bit off-putting but I think it is similar to the families in movies like Footloose or Dirty Dancing where they don’t want the children in their lives to grow up and make mistakes. They think they are protecting them when they are actually limiting their joy. This is why Miguel’s victory in the end has added meaning and power. He has come to know for himself who he is and what really matters in life- family, tradition, music and love.

In some ways Coco reminds me of Coraline. Both movies are about young children who must learn to love and forgive their imperfect families and go into a magical world that tempts them to throw off that family. They both must fight for who and what is right (and they are both visually stunning films to boot!). Miguel just like Coraline learns the value of a single human soul and once he understands that he will do anything to save Hector. It’s the connection with the Other that separates us from the animals and this connection continues after death with our memories. This is the message of Coco.

Coco is a triumph in every possible way. The message is beautiful. The animation is stunning. The music is touching. The look at Mexican culture is immersive and wonderful. It’s the last original film we will have from Pixar for a little while, and I am going to treasure it.

Overall Grade- A+

My Little Pony and Coco Trailer Response

We got 2 trailers today for upcoming animated films. They both have their pros and cons so I thought I would talk about them here on the blog and see what your thoughts are.

My Little Pony

The first is for My Little Pony: the Movie. This is of course based on the Friendship is Magic series and is a significant improvement from the first trailer and teaser.

What I like about this trailer is it feels like this film knows what it is and isn’t taking itself too seriously. It has a definite nostalgia vibe to it in the Saturday morning style of the animation, plot, and especially the villain. It’s like everything we love about the show but with a little more sparkles and colors to it. I am sure critics will be tough on it like they were Smurfs: the Lost Village, but I think it looks refreshing and fun. I like that they aren’t going overboard with the girl power and making it something that girls and boys can have fun with.

As far as concerns for the trailer I am a little worried they are focusing on Pinkie Pie too much. She has been a focus of the teaser and both trailers and while I enjoy her she can be a little screechy when over-used. I would much rather them focus on Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash. AppleJack is my favorite of the Mane 6 but she is probably better used for comic relief. I also am not a big fan of the focus on the celebrity voices because this film should really be about the ponies. They are the true celebrity here and I hope that doesn’t get distracting.

I just want this to be a sweet, energetic movie for fans of the show of all types and I feel pretty good about where it is going.  What do you think of this trailer and the potential of the film?

COCO

The second trailer is for Pixar’s new film Coco. I am naturally excited for any Pixar film but I am starting to have some concerns about this one. Here is the latest trailer:

The strengths of this trailer are two-fold: the animation and the lovely message. We sometimes take Pixar’s amazing animation for granted but we really shouldn’t. I love the way afterworld sparkles with color and light and how likable all the character designs are. You just want to hug Miguel and his dog the moment you see him. I also think the message of the film is great. My religion places a lot of importance on connecting with our ancestors and honoring them so this theme is really lovely and important to explore.

Now for my concerns. I am hoping it is just trailers but both the main trailers for Coco have seemed tonally off. The first one had this strange narration that felt like something from the 90s. It didn’t feel part of a Mexican culture or style (no accent to the narrator) and it was frankly weird. Now here in this trailer they have a story that is focused on music and a character who dreams of playing music. This isn’t a background point but a key part of the story.

With that said, why on earth do they have Bittersweet Symphony playing in the background of the trailer? They have original songs for this movie. Why have we not heard any of them? One of them is written by Kristen Lopez of Frozen fame and we heard it at D23. It’s a good song. Why is that not accompanying this trailer? Why have we heard more music from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure than from Coco?

And if you are going to pick different music why on earth wouldn’t you pick something Mexican! Bittersweet Symphony isn’t even about a guitar player at least Kubo and the 2 Strings using My Guitar Gently Weeps makes a little bit more sense. Bittersweet is about a symphony!! There are no guitars in symphonies. It just makes no sense to me for the images of the trailer or the story and it makes the tone feel weird.  Why not use a Ricky Martin song or Shakira or something that felt a little bit relevant to the story!

Why are they hiding the music for Coco? Why aren’t they promoting it more? Make no mistake I think this will be a good film and I’m excited but I feel like Disney is really botching the marketing of this movie. I wish they put a tenth of the marketing in Coco that they put into Beauty and the Beast. There’s no way the music can be worse than that auto-tuned mess. Do kids even know Coco is coming out?

I just don’t get it! Am I nuts on this? What do you think of this trailer and the marketing for Coco?

Here’s a video I did on Coco trailer

Pixar 39: Cars 3 (Some Spoilers)

Vrrmmm Vrrmmm! It’s time to head into the world of Cars- Cars 3 to be more specific. Pixar’s latest animated offering was met with groans and derision from many when it was announced, as the Cars franchise is not the most popular amongst some fans. However, I am not a Cars hater and liked Cars and actually had fun with Cars 2(yes I don’t hate Cars 2 despite its flaws. Deal with it). So I met the arrival of Cars 3 with the normal anticipation of a Pixar sequel- curious to see where it would go and anxious for the ideas of the animators.You will never see me not excited about a Pixar film. It will never happen.

Then we got the trailers and they were fantastic! The teaser promised a new tone and feel to the series but then the actual trailers were more standard and showed a sports movie story in the vein of Rocky 3 and 4. I like sports movies so that was fine with me. A side of me was hoping Cars 3 would be a redeeming movie to the franchise that everyone would love but the response has been about 60/40 praising it. Truth is, if you hated the first two Cars movies then it will not win you over. If you liked the first but hated the second you might like it. If you liked both you will definitely like it. I’m in the latter camp and so I really liked Cars 3. I’ve seen it twice now and if anything I liked it even more on the second watch.

The basic plot of Cars 3 has Lightning reaching the end of his racing career. He’s getting older and new, faster cars are joining the circuit. A new rookie named Jackson Storm proves particularly hard to beat and enjoys taunting Lightning for how old he is. Then one day Lightning gets in a horrible accident and must put himself back together for a comeback.

Most of us have seen the crash in the trailer but it was still very impactful especially in 3D. The racing in Cars 3 felt so real and tactile it was very impressive. To see Lightning fly through the air and come to pieces was pretty upsetting especially with the great score by Randy Newman.

What follows for Lightning is a period of introspection where he thinks a lot about his mentor Doc Hudson who was also forced out of racing by a crash. As someone who has always had mentors and people I looked up to I found these scenes very touching. Plus, you get to hear the late Paul Newman voicing Doc using old interviews and clips. I couldn’t believe they were able to find such perfect dialogue from him to match the scenes. Well done!

Another similar moment that meant something to me is when Lightning goes to Rusteze headquarters for training and finds out that Rusty and Dusty have sold the company to a new owner named Sterling. Rusty and Dusty are voiced by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who are the voices behind Car Talk on NPR. I’m not a car person but their show brought a lot of joy into my life and Tom has since passed away so it was meaningful to me to hear their voices again in Cars 3. All the voicework across the board was great in Cars 3 but these resurrected voices were especially powerful and touching.

Anyway, they have sold the business and Sterling has set everything up with the highest technology to train Lightning and other racers. He has a trainer named Cruz Ramirez, who was probably my favorite character in the film voiced by Cristela Alonzo. She is bubbly and positive while having a bit of a sarcastic, cynical side to her.

I won’t go into the rest of the plot but they meet Smokey, Doc Hudson’s mentor (Chris Cooper), and Lightning learns what he meant to Doc, and they even end up at a demolition derby!It all builds to a really satisfying conclusion worthy of any sports movie. Chariots of Fire here we come 😉

There are many positives to Cars 3. As I said, the animation is first rate. The racing sequences are amazing, and I loved the way the mud splattered and flowed at the demolition derby. It was perhaps the best mud I’ve seen in a cgi film!

Just like all the Cars movies the soundtrack is also outstanding. We get great covers from Brad Paisley, Lea DeLaria, ZZ Ward, Andra Day and more.

People that hated Cars 2 will also be glad to hear it has been completely forgotten in Cars 3. I didn’t even see any Easter eggs or hints to Cars 2. There is also way less Mater and the few sequences he is in worked well- giving Lightning a friend to talk to when he is struggling with training.

As with all Pixar films, I loved the messaging of Cars 3. First of all, the idea of teaching kids that their elders are still people with emotions and stories to share is a good thing. There is something in current pop culture that often portrays old people as worthy of ridicule or mockery. As silly as it might sound, Lightning’s story may just start a few conversations between families about ageism and listening to your elders- just like Lightning did with Doc and then Lightning does for Cruz.

I also loved Cruz’s story arc. She is presented as a character who is told what she can do because she is different- both female and a minority. “You can be a trainer. You can’t be a racer” is drilled into her and if that happens enough most of us eventually believe it is true. For decades women were told ‘these are the careers you can have’ and that is it.

I particularly found it moving during a pivotal moment where Jackson Storm tells her ‘How long do you think you can play dress-up?”. It reminded me of an old article I love called ‘A Pinch of Reality’ by Lynne Tempest. She talks about the women she knows who feel like imposters in their own lives:

“What if I can’t do it? It’s just a matter of time before they discover I really don’t know what I’m doing’. These were common refrains played over in my mind during my first months as editor. It didn’t’ seem to matter that I had been intimately involved in the production of network for 6 years. I knew it was just a matter of time before they found me out. I was scared. I felt alone:

“Why is it so hard for women to accept their own genius? What are we afraid of? And what does it mean when we don’t allow ourselves to relish in a job well done? By denying our own capabilities, we prevent ourselves from fully enjoying what we’ve worked so hard to achieve. ”

When Cruz is told she’s playing ‘dress up’ it’s another way of saying she’s an imposter and doesn’t belong. Women have been told that for centuries and it can be very limiting. I love the way Lightning and the other characters refuse to allow Cruz to give in to these thoughts and feelings pushing her along. I love that Cruz wasn’t always strong but wavered and needed that encouragement. It’s something many women will be able to relate with. In fact, it is something Cristela Alonzo said she related to with her early days as a comedian and how she was treated as ‘playing dress up’ with the guys.

Anyway, it was a touching moment I really appreciated, but Cars 3 is not without its flaws. There are some sequences of training that drag a little bit and the story is certainly predictable. That doesn’t bother me because I think it is executed well but it will probably bother some.  There are also some characters I would like to see more of such as a commenter car Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) or Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) over at the demolition derby. They were a lot of fun and if there is a Cars 4 maybe we will see them again?

It also makes no attempts to explain the world of Cars so if you are someone who can’t let that go then it will continue to bother you. My theory on Cars is that it is all in the imagination of Andy from Toy Story. He has a very active imagination and doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of nature when we see his play in Toy Story 1 and 2. If he is playing with his cars he can make them talk, age, live together in their Car world and even become spies. Cars can be anything he wants! Why not?

Cars 3 is probably my favorite of the Cars movies and the more I think about it the more I like it (who would have guessed a Cars movie would give me so much to think about!). Like I said, it won’t win over new fans to the franchise, but I really enjoyed it and think all involved should be commended on a job well done! Congrats!

Overall Grade- B+ (Right now it is still under Captain Underpants for this year but it could keep rising with more viewings).

My friend AJ joined me to podcast about Cars 3 and I think you will enjoy the insight.

Pixar 38: Lou

I am going to see Cars 3 at least one more time before I write my review but I thought I would go ahead and write my thoughts about the short before it entitled Lou. This was a charming short that teaches a nice message for kids. I really enjoyed it.

I mean how can you not like that face?

The premise for Lou is very clever. Set in a playground at a school, Lou focuses on the lost and found box full of various misplaced items. These items include hoodies, rackets, mitts, baseballs and more. Through some kind of magic all of the items have combined together to make a creature called Lou.

I really liked the look of Lou and the way he flopped around as one cohesive unit while still keeping the individual items separate. It was very creative.  He kind of reminded me of a mixture of Telly and Elmo from Sesame Street. His eyes and mouth had the expressions of a Muppet and his body reminded me of how Hank from Finding Dory moved around the room.

Lou kind of takes ownership of the playground and picks up all the lost items after the kids leave. One day a boy named J.J. starts bullying the other kids and taking away their stuff (toys, backpacks etc).

I won’t give away the ending but Lou finds a way to get to the heart of the bully and help him realize what he is doing.

There is also some nice physical comedy between J.J and Lou that I enjoyed. I liked how the balls of Lou’s eyes bulged out when he was thrown about. It was a lot of fun.

Obviously the message of Lou is something many kids will be able to relate with. I certainly would have related to it very strongly. I liked also that they were able to teach J.J. a lesson without overly shaming him. He just sees what is the right thing to do and makes the correct choices.

Lou was directed by Dave Mullins and features the music by Christophe Beck of Frozen fame, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked how bubbly it was as we see Lou explore the playground and what is happening. You can see a little clip here:

It would have been very easy to make Lou a PSA and not a short but I think they straddled that line quite well. It’s funny, balanced and nuanced enough to work as a story, not just a message. Just Lou’s design and expressions are inventive enough to entertain me.

I don’t really have much to criticize about Lou. It’s not my favorite Pixar short but that’s a high bar to cross. This is sweet and a lot of fun with a nice message kids will love.

Overall Grade- B+

Now I will go off to see Cars 3 again!