Tag Archives: toy story

Dec. 21 – Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – “Holiday Time”

Original air date December 16, 2000

When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order to really set the mood for the film, Pixar created Buzz Lightyear. He had a fictional back story that felt like it came right off of the back of an action figure blister card in 1990. He had a fictional TV show in the film, though we saw little of it. He had a nemesis, and the lore of the Buzz character was added to for the sequel, Toy Story 2.

Both films were a huge success for Pixar and Disney. And since the films were popular with kids, it meant licensing was super easy. After all, every character in the film was a toy! Toys were created and sold and even more money was earned. Pixar didn’t stop there though. Kids liked Buzz and they had interest in the fictional lore of the character that the films only touched upon, so why not turn that into a real world cartoon series? That’s how the world ended up with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. This is the story of the fictional Buzz created and sold to kids like Andy of Toy Story. He’s supposed to be a cartoon in that universe, so in our real world he too is a cartoon (and because animating the show like a Pixar film would probably be way too expensive). The only thing the show couldn’t do was preserve his voice, since star Tim Allen was either too expensive (probably) and also probably didn’t want to be tied down to an animated series.

Enter Patrick Warburton, who has a better voice for the character than Allen himself. He’s a natural fit for the regal, yet brash, space ranger that is Buzz Lightyear. The show was, like many Disney Afternoon shows that came before it, a direct-to-syndication order. And like DuckTales and Gargoyles, it premiered in an extended format as a mini film of sorts which spanned multiple episodes when aired on television and could be sold at retail and marketed as a movie. The show was part of the One Saturday Morning block and also aired on week day afternoons (though not as part of the famed Disney Afternoon) from 2000-2001 and likely in reruns there after across various Disney platforms. For a long time, it was the only Pixar television series, though Disney+ is expanding that. It also has the distinction of being one of the few hand-drawn, 2D, animated offerings from Pixar.

Every episode begins with the gang racing to the TV to watch the show, a cute addition.

As a syndicated program, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command totaled 65 episodes with the 62nd being a Christmas one. We’re going to find out how the denizens of space celebrate the holiday. And if you thought the Santa who lived on earth had it bad, the one we’re about to meet has to deliver toys to an entire galaxy! And since this is a cartoon series with Buzz in the starring role, we’re going to have to meet some unfamiliar supporting characters along the way. The big, baddie is obviously Zurg, but he figures to have some minions or something, I would assume. I’m going into this show pretty cold as it’s a blind spot for me, but it at least has a solid pedigree to start.

This little robot is XR and today he’s going to learn a lesson about giving, because someone has to in a holiday special.

Each episode begins with a cute little piece of animation where the characters of Toy Story are rushing to get to a television set to watch the show. The episode begins on what I assume is the home planet of Buzz, or at least the home planet where the Space Rangers are headquartered. There’s a Santa ringing a bell in the center of town and this Santa is not the real deal, but is actually Buzz. He strikes a nice pose, though he’s lacking in the whole bowl full of jelly department. Fellow space ranger Mira (Nicole Sullivan) is educating her colleague XR (Neil Flynn) about the holiday season. Mira is pretty basic looking as she’s just a blue human, though XR is some sort of robot. He looks kind of like Earthworm Jim to me. He thinks all of this holiday stuff is pretty dumb as he buys a gift for a friend and they do the same (he’s pretty cheap since he cites the gift as being ten bucks) and doesn’t see the point. Mira stresses it’s the giving that matters, and we’re probably setting up for a holiday lesson that will pay off in the end. Some kid then goes running by and mistakes XR for a toy snatching him up and thus proving his point for him. I also can’t help but notice that the characters have yet to say “Christmas” and instead use the generic term “holiday.” It’s sort of weird to have a holiday just named “The Holiday,” but apparently there was no Space Christ for a Christmas to arise from.

Buzz is a pretty solid looking Santa.

They soon turn their attention to Santa Buzz who’s working the crowd. A large man in a red suit soon approaches needing Buzz’s help and it’s plainly obvious that this guy is going to turn out to be Santa (Earl Boen). And sure enough, he claims to be Santa! Buzz thinks he’s crazy and isn’t eager to help him out with whatever problem he currently has. Fellow ranger, Booster (Stephen Furst), then calls for backup and Buzz bails. As Santa calls out to him practically begging for help he refers him to Mira to provide a statement.

But this guy is a better looking Santa.

Buzz then happens upon Booster who too was playing Santa in a different part of town to collect donations. The kids have turned on him though as they recognized the big, red, alien is not Santa. He’s hiding in terror behind his collection bucket as the locals pelt him with snowballs. When Buzz arrives, they stop momentarily to regard him and soon claim he isn’t Santa either. When Buzz insists that he is they ask him to explain how he can possibly get toys to every kid in the galaxy in a single night, and Buzz confesses that he can’t. They ready their arms, and Buzz distracts them with promises of destruction by offering to show off his wrist laser. Problem solved!

Booster is apparently not the most reliable member of the force.

Mira is still taking “Santa’s” statement back in town. He had something stolen, but can’t say what. While Buzz is regaling the children with tales of his exploits until Star Command sends out a signal for him to return to base. They all return to an orbiting space station where Commander Nebula (Adam Corolla) hands over a list of crimes Zurg apparently intends to commit. It’s the usual sort of stuff, but ends with Buzz’s newspaper being stolen on the list which really seems to piss him off.

Diabolical!

The first item was to sabotage the fleet, so Buzz and team head to where they think Zurg is going to strike only to find nothing. Buzz thinks he was scared off, and then a flash of white light and snowflakes appear for a second. When it fades all of the space ships are in disarray. Buzz is in disbelief over what he just witnessed, but has no time to ponder how Zurg did it because next on the list was busting out everyone in a space prison. The fleet is scrambled and Buzz and team are shown surrounding the jail. Once again, a flash of light and snowflakes occurs and when it fades Buzz and his subordinates are surrounded by escaping criminals! And then to top it off, the next morning Buzz emerges from his home in his robe to find his paper waiting for him. He’s comforted by its presence, but as he reaches for it a flash of light and snowflakes once again occurs, and Zurg (Wayne Knight) appears with newspaper in hand. He offers a quick pleasantry and then vanishes!

Never mess with a man’s paper.

Back in town, Buzz is overseeing the lighting of a giant, holographic, Christmas tree. It lacks the charm of an evergreen, but at least it’s environmentally friendly. Soon the man claiming to be Santa reappears to once again request Buzz’s aide. Buzz is in a grumpy mood on account of the Zurg stuff and is in no mood to even entertain this guy’s request. The rest of the team bails too since they think this Santa guy is literally insane. Santa pushes back though and is pretty insistent on who he is. He does allow himself to get frustrated though as he wonders aloud why no one believes him. Clearly, no one realizes they’re in a Christmas special. Buzz then explains he stopped believing when he was 9 because he didn’t get the laser he wanted. Santa knows, and he knows why he didn’t get what he wanted. For one, he wasn’t going to gift a 9-year-old a weapon for Christmas, and two, Buzz was actually on the naughty list for shooting the fur off of his cat’s tail.

Nice tree, would be a shame if something were to happen to it…

Buzz is pretty shocked that Santa knows this as blasting Fluffy was something only he knew about. Now that he finally believes this guy is Santa, it’s the perfect opportunity for Zurg to strike again. He’s going full Grinch this time as he steals the giant, hologram of a tree with the same flashing lights and snowflakes as before. And it’s not just the tree, as Buzz receives a transmission from Star Command that Zurg has hit all of the other planets in the galaxy and stolen everything related to the holiday! They keep teasing the line too that Zurg stole Christmas, but no one actually goes so far as to say it as they still insist on not saying Christmas. They had me on the edge of my seat just waiting for it!

Well this puts every version of The North Pole to shame.

Santa then has Buzz hop into his Christmas tree-shaped spaceship to take him to his work shop on North Polaris. It looks like a snowglobe of a planet, which is pretty near. There Buzz meets the elves, which are actually “LGMs” or Little Green Men (the squishy aliens from Toy Story). They are decked-out in elf attire (and also voiced by Warburton, but with his voice sped up) and apparently serve Santa. They finally spill the beans on what Zurg stole from Santa. Apparently, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Santa uses a device that stops time to deliver presents. He used to use some impossibly fast jetpack contraption, but apparently he’s too old for it. The elves are working on a replacement, but it’s still a week away from completion and Christmas is just two days away. Buzz takes one look at the old hyper-speed accelerator and requests it be strapped to his back.

Buzz is a character that seems quite comfortable in the spotlight.

Buzz radios ahead to his teammates and instructs them to meet him on Trade World. Their the group rendezvous with Buzz and Santa, only the rest of the team still wants to discuss the whole Santa thing. There’s no time though, and Santa demands they help decorate the place for the holiday. As they do, they broadcast out a message designed to infuriate Zurg and basically challenge him to come wreck their holiday again. Zurg sees the broadcast and acts accordingly, while Buzz shows off his new toy. Santa’s hyper-speed whatever thing has been strapped to Buzz’s back and looks ridiculous. It’s a giant snowflake, but the side is what is strapped to Buzz so it extends off of his back twice his height. The other rangers aren’t sure of this plan, but Buzz tells them they just need to go at Zurg when he shows up to make him think they don’t have any real plan for dealing with him.

This jetpack thing is pretty ridiculous.

Zurg then arrives on Trade World flying around in this Dr. Robotnik-like ship. He’s predictably pompous, and I have to say I love the choice of Wayne Knight for his voice. Santa informs Buzz he has to activate the hyper-speed accelerator at the exact moment Zurg uses his stolen device to stop time. Zurg readies his item as the other rangers surround him and engages it. Everyone appears to freeze in place, including Buzz! Oh woe, Christmas is ruined! As Zurg starts wrecking up the place and celebrating his victory, the frozen Buzz comes to life!

This battle and chase sequence is pretty awesome.

Buzz breaks out the one-liners (“I’d say the yuletide has turned!”) and the rock music kicks in. It’s battle time! Zurg chases after Buzz and opens fire with his laser blaster. Buzz does some Matrix moves to avoid it demonstrating his impressive speed. As the two zoom around the city, Zurg blasts a bunch of holiday decorations that Buzz apparently feels compelled to save. Zurg laughs at him and tells Buzz his devotion to his holiday has made him weak. Oh, that’s where you’re wrong Zurg, it’s made him more powerful! They do the Dragon Ball Z thing of zooming around as lights and eventually come to blows.

Yes! Give me more of this!

When the dust settles, Buzz’s hyperspeed accelerator is destroyed and Zurg has lost his grip on the time stopping device, which frees everyone else. Buzz and Zurg meet in a standoff in front of a billboard lit up red as the snow begins to fall. It’s quite an impressive visual. Zurg then finds out he’s out of ammo, and as Buzz declares victory, he summons his little buggy thing which knocks Buzz over. Zurg jumps into it ready to escape, but Buzz tells him he lost since he doesn’t possess the ability to stop time any longer. Zurg points out that the device is broken so Santa can’t either. He’s ruined everyone’s holiday! XR even admits that Zurg has won.

With morale at its lowest, it’s time for XR to get his lesson in believing.

Zurg escapes and the rangers return to Santa’s work shop. They’re all pretty down as without the ability to stop time Santa can’t bring everyone their gifts. XR then asks what Santa did before he had all of this fancy tech, and he shows them. A bright, red, sleigh is summoned and Buzz is pretty taken by it right away. He jumps in and ponders what it uses for fuel, and Santa predictably confirms it runs on belief. The belief in Santa.

Who needs reindeer when you have…lights…on sticks..?

Everyone starts to proclaim they believe, and apparently it takes very little to fill the tank. With Buzz, Mira, and Booster all professing their belief it’s nearly full, but they need one more person. Santa confronts XR about his lack of belief and basically tells him he knows that he believes in him more than anyone, even though he’s rather insistent that he does not. When he asks how Santa knows that, he replies simply that he’s Santa! It’s kind of cheap as the sleigh then fills with power without XR actually declaring his belief. With it at full power, some lights extend off of the front of it. It kind of looks like an old TV antenna that used to adorn every house, but it’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. There are lights where the reindeer would be, though only six. A seventh, red, light is at the tip.

This is like Christmas porn for someone like me.

With the sleigh powered-up, Santa just needs some helpers. Buzz and the gang dawn space helmets and they take off for other planets. Buzz even gets to drive the sleigh! We see a montage of the gang sneaking into houses to leave presents, the best of which is a reverse of a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A bunch of fish aliens are sharing a bed in a manner similar to Cindy Lou Who and her siblings. Mira slides a candy cane under the hands of one of the fish kids, rather than stealing a candy cane out from under her.

A toast to a job well done. No whiskey here, though.

The gang ends up back at the work shop where Santa toasts hot chocolate to a job well done. The only thing is one person is missing: XR. Apparently he had a special task to attend to and we cut to a little boy’s room where XR is the actual present. It would seem he gifted himself to the little kid from the beginning of the episode which is…weird. We don’t get to see how he untangles himself from that situation to return to work as the episode ends on a shot of the family’s tree with a Space Rangers logo where a star would normally be. That’s actually kind of weird and is like placing a police badge or something at the top of one’s tree. If you do that at your house well more power to you, I guess. I stick with a star.

If some weird guy pops out of one of my kids’ Christmas presents and goes for a hug it’s not going to be a happy ending.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is a show I wish had existed when I was younger. It has a nice pace to it and the dialogue is rather witty. I love Warburton as Buzz and his supporting cast is solid as well. Knight is fantastic as Zurg and I wouldn’t mind seeing more episodes where he has an even bigger presence. The animation is also way beyond what I expected. Perhaps Pixar had something to prove because everything looks great. The lighting especially is dynamic and I had a great time just taking this one in. The action scene with Zurg and Buzz was set to techno music and gave off some serious Samurai Jack vibes, even though this show actually predates that one.

It’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it, but we do get the moon shot in this one.

As a Christmas story, this one is both fun and odd. The characters never actually say Christmas during the episode. It’s just referred to as a holiday and obviously shares a lot of the same imagery and even an icon. The animators kind of screw up though as the word “Noel” is present during the city fight between Buzz and Zurg. If they were avoiding the term Christmas because it references Christ, then they should have avoided noel as well since it translates to “to be born,” and is a reference to Christ as well. The lack of reindeer is almost bizarre, but I get that they wanted to do their own space thing with it. Santa does have decorative reindeer antlers on his seat in his spaceship, so maybe he had them once upon a time and now they’re dead. I definitely like that the show went for a Grinch plot with Zurg, made all the more obvious by the visual gesture during the montage near the end. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the best Christmas special ever, why more shows don’t borrow from it confuses me. We have a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, and hardly any Grinch plots. It’s 50 years old at this point, it’s fair game!

Despite there being no “Christmas,” there’s still plenty of the usual imagery.

This special could have been pretty manipulative since it telegraphs everything that’s coming our way. We know XR is going to come around on the holiday, we know Santa is telling the truth about who he is before he ever opens his mouth, and we also know that the heroes will prevail. The episode does a good job though of not really staying with anything too long. It does come close with the Santa/XR confrontation, and that bit is probably the weakest part, but at least it doesn’t get too sappy. They also made room for humor during the exchange, such as Buzz declaring you can’t force someone to believe in anything followed by him ordering XR to believe in Santa. The montage was a good move, and making the kid get XR as a present is more funny than heart-warming so it works and doesn’t betray the spirit of the show.

Bizarrely, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is pretty hard to come by. Disney never released it on DVD or Blu Ray, and has yet to add it to Disney+. It doesn’t make much sense to leave it off, but for now the company is not being protective with it. That means you can find it online rather easily, though everything is going to be a rip from a TV broadcast. I assume it’s only a matter of time until Disney brings it to their streaming platform, but for now it’s basically YouTube or bust. If you like Toy Story then give it a look. It’s pretty fun and visually it’s definitely worthwhile. I think I even like it more than Toy Story That Time Forgot and if Disney were smart it would start airing that special alongside this one during the holidays. Of course, I’m the type of person that thinks Disney should be running a ton of its holiday themed episodes and specials on ABC this time of year so maybe I’m biased.


Dec. 2 – Toy Story That Time Forgot

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Toy Story That Time Forgot first premiered December 2, 2014.

When the credits started to roll in 2010 signaling the end of Toy Story 3 I think most who were watching it assumed this was “good bye.” The toys which had captured the hearts of movie-goers going on two decades were saying good bye to their former owner and playmate, Andy, and so too were we to these characters. It was a somber close to a particularly wonderful film that closed out an improbable trilogy. It took a lot of risk on the part of Pixar and Disney to bring the original Toy Story to theaters in 1995, but it proved to be a colossal success that forever changed the animated film space, for better or worse. Toy Story 2 wasn’t even supposed to happen, and when that film ended, Toy Story 3 wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion, but it turns out there was still one more story to tell and the film absolutely nailed it. The franchise ended up being the rare one that may have gotten better with each installment in its trilogy.

Of course, Toy Story 3 wasn’t the end for these beloved toys for more was on the way. What seemed like a compromise to keep these characters alive and to line the pockets of Disney and Pixar, the company turned to an old standby – the holiday special, before a new film was eventually released in 2019. First up was Toy Story of Terror!, a Halloween themed special of sorts which premiered on October 16, 2013. Announced at the same time was a Christmas special, but fans would have to wait over a year for that one. Toy Story That Time Forgot premiered on December 2, 2014 and like Toy Story of Terror!, it was not content to be a straight-up holiday special. Toy Story of Terror! may have obviously been timed with Halloween, but the special makes no mention of the holiday. Instead it’s just a thriller with some light horror elements, but it was also rather compelling and entertaining. Toy Story That Time Forgot does at least make mention of Christmas, but it’s in passing as the special actually takes place two days after the holiday. Perhaps that is done because, as we saw in the first film in the series, Christmas is a pretty stressful time to be a toy. While the special avoids recounting that plot, it does go back to that first film for another major piece of the story.

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It’s Santa Woody!

Toy Story That Time Forgot is written and directed by Steve Purcell. This seems especially noteworthy as just a year ago we talked about a Christmas special from the property Purcell is best known for:  Sam & Max. Purcell got started in comics before moving onto Lucas Arts and Industrial Light & Magic where he honed his animation chops. He’s been with Pixar since 2000 and has made contributions to films like Cars, Ratatouille, and Brave, where he served as co-director. Toy Story That Time Forgot is his first solo director credit. The short took roughly two years to write and plan with another year in actual production to finish it out. This short also marks the last time Don Rickles was alive for production on a Toy Story project before his passing in 2017. His character of Mr. Potato Head does appear in Toy Story 4, but in a far smaller role than we’re accustomed to seeing.

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This special is going to center on Trixie and how she’s unhappy with the roles Bonnie chooses for her. Around the holidays, that includes being a baby reindeer.

The special begins at the home of Bonnie (Emily Hahn) as she plays with her toys following another successful Christmas holiday. Surprisingly, Bonnie appears to have received few new toys as the only addition to the cast is Angel Kitty (Emma Hudak), which could be a new toy or could just be a holiday decoration that spends 11 months of the year in an attic or something. Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Bonnie’s toy triceratops, is frustrated that she’s being forced by Bonnie to roleplay as a reindeer, amongst other things, when she just wants to be a dinosaur. She is even momentarily teased when Bonnie declares she needs to find her dinosaur, only to decide that Angel Kitty is to be the dinosaur today. The other toys try to cheer Trixie up while reminding her she’s lucky to be the toy of such an imaginative child, but it does little to please Trixie. Soon the toys are bagged up because Bonnie has a playdate with a boy named Mason (R.C. Cope) over at his house. This is where we say “bye” to most of the toys as only Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Angel Kitty, and Trixie are brought along.

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Angel Kitty, more of a decoration than toy, is a new addition to the gang.

When the crew arrives at Mason’s house, Bonnie finds the boy enthralled by a new video game he must have received for Christmas. She tosses her backpack of toys into Mason’s playroom and goes to join him at the television. The toys emerge from the backpack to find Mason’s room absolutely covered with boxes and boxes of new toys. They’re all from a new line of action figures called Battlesaurs, a sort of anthropomorphic dinosaur brand that would have been right at home on store shelves in the 90s. They are soon greeted by a warrior of this brand, Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd), and it becomes clear things are a bit screwy in Dinosaur Land. Reptillus is very serious about his culture and refers to the other toys as being of the “Bonnie Tribe” when they mention their kid. Trixie, seeing what she deems is a more idealized dinosaur, is taken by Reptillus almost immediately and wants to know more about their “race.” Meanwhile, another toy has taken interest in the Bonnie Tribe by the name of The Cleric (Purcell). He’s a robed, Emperor Palpatine-like character that also happens to be a pterodactyl. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Battlesaurs and does not appear to be welcoming to outsiders. As Trixie is lead away by Reptillus, the others grab Woody and Buzz from behind while The Cleric mugs for the camera because that’s what villains do.

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Mason apparently enjoying his new Optimum X gaming console.

As Trixie is taken around the room we see loads of other action figures. This kid Mason is quite the spoiled little kid as not only does he appear to have every figure and playset in this line, he even has loads of multiples (in the toy-collecting community, we refer to these figures as army builders). He’s like every kid in a toy commercial who improbably had an entire army of Foot Soldiers to battle against his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Trixie is soon outfitted with special armor to make her feel as if she is apart of this tribe. Rex also gets to play along and receives some mechanical arms and leg attachments. As she is lead around by Reptillus, he shares details of his world which even includes a righteous theme song. It’s clear he and the others are not aware of their existence as toys, and whenever Trixie makes mention of their reality it’s met with confusion by Reptillus, and anger by The Cleric who continues to lurk in the shadows.

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Trixie first encounters Reptillus Maximus.

A battle is organized and Trixie has it sold to her that this is a major part of the culture of Battlesaurs. They thrive in combat, and a gladiator-styled ring is erected for the toys to engage in combat. Trixie joins Reptillus, but soon she realizes that this activity is rather barbaric. Toys she used to play with at Mason’s house are brought into the ring against their will and are systematically dismantled by Reptillus. She does not like this ferocious side of Reptillus, and she likes it even less when her friends are brought in to fight. Woody and Buzz are forced to face the duo in combat, and it’s Woody who reveals to Trixie that these toys have never been played with. The two put up a good fight against Reptillus, but he eventually gains the upper-hand. As he prepares to finish the duo, Trixie makes the save and smashes into Reptillus declaring him a bully. Frustrated, The Cleric summons a new dinosaur; a giant, Rancor-like beast. Woody and Buzz are soon swallowed by soon swallowed by it much to Trixie’s horror.

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Trixie and Rex really take to this new dinosaur culture they’ve stumbled upon.

Trixie makes an attempt to free her friends recognizing the button on the beast that works its jaw. She is unable to do so though, and when knocked over the other toys see her mark. The “Bonnie” written on her foot is declared the mark of obedience, something which the Battlesaurs have been conditioned to shun. Trixie tries to play it off as no big deal, since it truly is not to her, but The Cleric orders her seized. He’s brought a controller and it’s revealed that it controls the arms and leg attachments that have been placed on Rex. He forces Rex to go after Trixie, and she in turn is forced to run with Reptillus ordered to give chase. As Trixie runs through the maze of boxes and playsets, Reptillus is close behind. He eventually comes face to face with his own packaging. Seeing himself, he has a crisis of faith, but is still unwilling to admit to himself he is in fact a toy.

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Woody and Buzz not having a good time.

Woody and Buzz are taken to The Cleric’s apparent lair. There The Cleric has Rex remove the pair from the bowels of the other toy, and Angel Kitty is also regurgitated. Woody and Buzz then learn that The Cleric is able to spy on Mason using a periscope-like feature on one of the playsets. He wants Mason to remain occupied by his new gaming console so that he may rule the play room with the other Battlesaurs ignorant of their station (one onlooker even remarks “What’s ignorant mean?). This is his master plan, and he intends to dispose of the nuisance toys.

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Reptillus comes face to face with his packaging.

Trixie makes a break for the TV room where Bonnie and Mason are still playing. She’s able to get under the television and as she treks through the tangle of wires all of her new armor is dislodged. She eventually reaches her destination:  the surge protector. Waiting for her is Reptillus, but she shoves past him. She tries reasoning with him, explaining that part of the joy of being a toy is being played with by an imaginative child. And as she attempts to convince Reptillus of this, it’s clear she’s also convincing herself. Reptillus doesn’t know what to believe, but Trixie presses further. Reptillus acknowledges what she speaks of as “surrender,” but the look in his eyes suggests that maybe he’s ready to surrender. He then takes up his default pose, and it’s Reptillus that turns off the surge protector. With the game turned off, Mason reaches under the television and finds Reptillus. He gives the figure a look, before Bonnie runs over and declares it’s cool. She starts playing with Reptillus as Mason turns his game back on, but as he goes to sit down he gives Bonnie a look. She’s already crafting a backstory for Reptillus and Mason is intrigued. He puts down his controller and goes over to Bonnie to learn more.

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Things aren’t looking so good in the playroom.

In the playroom, Rex has been forced to carry Woody and Buzz towards a heating vent where a whirling fan awaits. Angel Kitty plays a mournful tune on his/her horn as the toy is being carried hanging from an axe. Another Battlesaur grabs the horn and tosses it into the fan where it breaks into pieces. As Woody and Buzz dangle precariously over the opening, Mason and Bonnie rush in. The two come in like a whirlwind and start grabbing all of the toys in sight. Bonnie is happy to see her “baby reindeer” with Trixie having returned the little pipe cleaner attachments to her horns (quite the achievement for a toy with no hands) to play the role Bonnie seems to prefer for her. Even The Cleric gets scooped up into the action as the kids decide to have a dance party.

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At last, the toys get to play.

Mason and Bonnie are shown enjoying the vast amount of toys in the playroom via montage, and the frozen, plastic, faces of Reptillus and Trixie somehow convey a sense of contentment. Eventually, all play dates must come to an end and Bonnie heads home. Trixie and the others fill in the toys left behind when they get home on what happened while Trixie declares she’s found a new appreciation for Bonnie and how she’s utilized in play. Angel Kitty appears to reaffirm the message of the special, and then vanishes confusing the onlooking toys. We then see Mason, once again, only now he’s fast asleep clutching his Reptillus Maximus. The toy wriggles free from Mason’s grasp and we see he’s been “branded” on his hand. The Cleric is also shown apparently happy to be utilized like a nightlight as he possesses illuminated wings on his back. Reptillus goes to the window and forlornly looks out with anticipation of seeing Trixie of the Bonnie Tribe once again – Tuesday around 3:30.

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There’s a real “post sex” vibe to this scene between Trixie and Reptillus following an exhausting playdate.

Toy Story That Time Forgot is a Christmas special that is exceptionally light on the holiday. The opening scene contains a Christmas tree and some décor, but following that our only holiday expression is essentially Angel Kitty, a surprisingly secular choice. Anyone who has ever seen a home occupied by a child after Christmas is certainly familiar with the boxes and general chaos the holiday leaves behind. Though in the case of Mason, that is taken to another level. Even on my best holiday, I probably didn’t come close to getting half the stuff Mason apparently received. I suppose it’s possible he didn’t get all of those toys for Christmas, but considering pretty much every toy in the room also has a corresponding box it sure makes it seem like this all just arrived.

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The Cleric is written and played in such a silly manner by Steve Purcell that it’s actually hard not to like him.

The general plot for this one relies heavily on the familiar topic of a toy not realizing it’s a toy. We saw this with Buzz in the first film and this special can’t shake that familiar feeling. It makes Toy Story That Time Forgot feel like a truncated version of that story only with the focus being on Trixie and Reptillus instead of Woody and Buzz. It also turns it on its head a bit with Trixie being captivated by Reptillus, rather than annoyed and jealous. There’s also the nefarious motivations of The Cleric who’s actually utilizing the ignorance of his tribe to further his own goals where as Buzz wasn’t really hurting anyone with his delusions. It may be a bit of retread, but it’s at least tidy and there’s plenty of humor and charm to go around. We all know where the story is going basically from the moment the plot is established and we know it’s all just a means for Trixie to have a better appreciation for her lot in life, but predictable doesn’t automatically mean bad.

battlesaurs_arena

The Battlesaurs are pretty damn cool and I kind of wish they existed in the real world.

What keeps this special interesting and entertaining is the design of the Battlesaurs. It’s obvious a lot of thought when into the creation of this fictitious toyline. I get a real Masters of the Universe vibe from some of the playsets we see, and I love how the animators kept everything grounded. It’s obvious these are toys and they move and function like toys, so while it’s a bit horrifying to see Woody and Buzz devoured by a dinosaur, we also know it’s a plastic toy that is supposed to “eat” other toys with no actual harm coming to the ingested toy. The remote-controlled dinosaur arms are a bit weird and convenient for the plot of this one, but I suppose for a toyline consisting entirely of dinosaurs it wouldn’t be out of the question for something like that to actually exist for the T-Rex characters. The Battlesaurs are so convincing as an actual toy property that I wish Disney had gone ahead and had a bunch of these things made. Maybe if the special had done some crazy viewership numbers Disney would have, but alas these beings exist only in this fantasy world.

reptillus_vs_trixie

Even though it’s made for TV, this special still looks about as awesome as you would expect a Pixar feature to look.

Toy Story That Time Forgot is a fine piece of entertainment. No, it doesn’t come close to matching the heart of the films, and I do enjoy Toy Story of Terror! more, but it’s still worth an annual viewing. It’s not going to bring the Christmas cheer though, so I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t feel like this is required Christmas viewing. It’s at least extremely accessible as ABC and Freeform will air this special this year. ABC usually devotes Thursday nights to Christmas programming, and in particular, Disney specials and often pairs this one with the Frozen special. Freeform will show it multiple times as the month goes along so if you miss the network broadcast, you have cable to fallback on. And the special is also available to stream on Disney+, and if you really enjoy it, you can purchase it on physical media as well.


The Christmas Spot Returns for 2020!

Reindeer and fast food can only mean one thing…

Tomorrow is December 1st, and it’s that time of year when this blog goes Christmas! Yes, 2020 has been a horrendously shitty year so Christmas can’t come soon enough. Of course, it’s a Christmas tinged with disease this year as we’re almost certainly going to be asked to quarantine for another holiday as the world waits for a vaccine for Covid-19. I suppose that makes it a Christmas guaranteed to be memorable, though for mostly bad reasons.

Well, if we’re going to be stuck inside for much of December then we’re really going to need to dust off some Christmas specials. As in years past, each day of December leading up to and including Christmas will be met with a blog post about a Christmas special. Some are obscure, while some should be fairly popular, but all are definitely Christmas-related. And if one special per day just isn’t enough, there’s years worth of content to go through! Just refer to the official Christmas Spot index page to find the specials of holidays past.

The good news about 2020 is that there are a ton of streaming options available to the average consumer and thus a plethora of Christmas specials are just a click away! Between Netflix, YouTube, Prime, Hulu, HBO, and Disney+ you should have little trouble finding some holiday specials. Though I did want to take this moment to a pick a few bones with these networks, because some specials are still hard to come by that really shouldn’t be.

And yeah, I am so ready for Christmas this year!

Now, I really don’t have too many bones to pick with Netflix or YouTube, since they’re pretty new to content creation. And I can’t say anything about HBO since I don’t currently subscribe. With Hulu though, I got a problem! The entire series of The Venture Bros. (RIP) is available to stream on Hulu, with one exception – The Christmas Special! Why oh why is that not included? It’s a mere 15 minutes and the only episode of the show that’s a short. Hulu even has the pilot episode of the show, but not this Christmas special. And with HBO looking to get all of the Adult Swim content under its umbrella, it’s unlikely Hulu can go back and get more content without paying big bucks so if you want to watch it, get the DVD, I guess.

The only platform I take issue with is Disney+. The service has been around for a little over a year now and it’s been an okay debut. Some positives (The Mandalorian) mix with some negatives (stability is still an issue), but for the most part I would call Disney+ a success considering there is a lot of content and it’s one of the cheapest platforms around. However, I cannot overlook some glaring omissions in the area of Christmas.

Coming to Disney+ in 2020?

First off, the entire series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is missing. A lot of Disney Afternoon and Disney Afternoon adjacent shows are still missing, but this one stings a little because it’s the only series based on a Pixar property and it features a Christmas episode! And speaking of Pixar, Disney has yet to add Toy Story that Time Forgot, the sort-of Christmas special that gets aired annually on ABC, but this may be temporary. This year, Toy Story of Terror was added to Disney+ during the month of October so this one may yet surface in December.

One of the best Christmas specials Disney has ever lent its name to is curiously missing from its streaming platform.

A bigger omission and one that seems unlikely to be rectified, is the missing Mickey Mouse special Duck the Halls. Based on the new Mickey cartoons, this one is excellent though Disney has failed to give it a network timeslot because Disney doesn’t love its legacy characters as much as it should. And since the Halloween special from the same universe is still M.I.A., I have little faith in this one being added. Perhaps the bigger omission though, is the classic short Toy Tinkers starring Donald Duck and the duo Chip and Dale. I see no reason why Duck the Halls shouldn’t be added, but I’m guessing this one isn’t there because there’s some gunplay in the cartoon and in particular, Donald pointing a revolver right in the face of the chipmunks. I think every classic short needs to be added, so obviously I don’t think the presence of a gun should keep Toy Tinkers off of the streaming service. Just slap a disclaimer on it and move on! Also missing is the Silly Symphony short The Night Before Christmas and that’s due to a blackface gag. That one isn’t nearly as good as Toy Tinkers so it’s not a huge omission, but I felt like I should point it out.

Lastly, the one that puzzles me the most, is the missing Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas. This was essentially the series finale to Goof Troop. It was given a network timeslot in prime time for its initial airing and I guess it’s because of that airing that Disney doesn’t consider it part of Goof Troop? I don’t know, but I expected to find it with Goof Troop last year, but it wasn’t there and it’s still not there!

Give us The Reindeer Dance, Disney!

Anyway, don’t let these shortcomings with our streaming options get you down. There’s still a lot of Christmas content to consume out there, and as the days go by, I’ll do my best to point you towards the best place to view the specials. So get cozy, grab a festive beverage, and enjoy the ride! I’ll have more posts about toys and junk after Christmas has come and gone.


Ranking the Pixar Features

 

pixar-logoToy Story 4 has me waxing nostalgic about Pixar Animation Studios, even though Pixar is not an inherently nostalgic topic for me. I was already entering my teens when Toy Story debuted back in 1995. By the time Pixar’s fifth feature arrived I was in college and not really paying that much attention to the studio’s output any longer. The creation of Blu Ray is actually what got me interested in Pixar once more as the studio’s films looked wonderful in high definition. I began to collect them and before long I was reminded just how wonderful the studio is.

Back in 2013, I ranked what I considered to be the Top 10 Films of Pixar. Monsters University had just hit theaters and was one of four films I had not ranked. It was also the third film in four tries to be yet another sequel, something Pixar had avoided during its early days, but was turning into a staple for the studio. That period may have been the studio’s worst, as following Monsters University was…nothing. Pixar had released a film annually beginning with Cars in 2006, but problems arising with the development of The Good Dinosaur caused the studio to miss out on 2014 entirely. Since then the studio has been a juggernaut, releasing two films in 2015 and 2017 each with individual films in every other year in that time frame up until now. And as of this writing, there are two films slated for 2020 so the studio is showing no signs of slowing down in regards to its output.

Pixar has a pretty incredible track record with almost every movie the studio has put earning near universal praise. Cars 2 was the studio’s first true dud, and while it has added at least one other since, largely the films of Pixar have continued to be well-received. And we may be in the midst of another epict run as the last few years have been pretty great. Hopefully at least one of the films of 2020 continues that trend.

Now feels like a great time to rank these things once again though. Toy Story 4 is Pixar’s 21st feature film and its 8th sequel/prequel. Twenty-One films in twenty-four years, the majority of which have been original, is pretty damn incredible especially because computer animated films were a new artform. Pixar obviously had lots of practice making animated shorts and doing computer sequences in other films, but doing a feature utilizing this technology was still uncharted territory.

It should go without saying that ranking these films is an exercise in futility. While the first few were easy enough, it quickly became difficult. By the time I hit the top 10 of this list I was really scratching my head at arranging these films because they’re all just so good. And some of them I have seen more times than I can count due to my own children falling in love with them. For the ones I included in my top 10 six years ago, I’ll include where I placed them. Some moved due to new films entering the picture, while there were a few I dropped down a few spots due in large part to either fatigue or in just having a new appreciation for another film. I ranked these ones first, then revisited my past rankings and I was surprised at a few. Then I looked at the films surrounding those few surprises and I was less surprised because these things are just that hard to rank. Ratatouille, for example, is a film I absolutely adore and yet it couldn’t crack the top 5! For films I didn’t rank, I’ll include an “NR” distinction and for films not yet released “NA.” And lastly, before we begin I want to post a “SPOILERS” warning. A lot of these films are older so it may not seem important to warn folks about spoilers, but this is an examination of the films so some plot points will be discussed. In particular, the recently released Toy Story 4 so if you haven’t seen it maybe skip that write-up. That said, let’s get to the easy part, the worst of Pixar, and get on with this thing.

cars221. Cars 2 (2011)Previous Ranking:  NR

Cars 2 has the dubious honor of being Pixar’s worst film. It followed 2006’s Cars and largely feels like a sequel mandated by sales. Toys and merchandise based on the films are easy to conceive (they’re just Hot Wheels but with faces) and it was a real hit with kids. Then studio head John Lasseter also loved the project and it was basically his new baby following Toy Story, and when the guy in charge loves a franchise then you’re getting more from that franchise. The problem with this movie is that it makes the cardinal sin of taking a well-received side character from the first film and making him the main character in the sequel when the character was never suited for that role. In this case, it’s Mater who’s put into the starring role and his dim-witted nature just can’t carry a film. He was fine in the first film and occasionally funny, but here the schtick runs dry after 20 minutes. The rest of the film unfolds like a spy film, but it can’t decide if it wants to make an earnest run at being a spy movie or if it’s a spoof. Your kids might like it, but you probably won’t.

spot and arlo20. The Good Dinosaur (2015)Previous ranking:  NA

The Good Dinosaur was a supremely troubled picture, even though it had a fairly simple premise:  what if the asteroid that caused all of the dinosaurs on Earth to go extinct missed? What happened is dinosaurs flourished, learned how to become farmers, and eventually would have to learn how to live alongside humans. The film takes place though in the early years of humanity, so seeing humans and dinosaurs interact isn’t particularly interesting. The main character, Arlo, is likable enough, but the movie unfolds like a series of clichés and sequences ripped from past Disney flicks. It’s a very manipulative picture, and its somewhat original premise feels like its only original thought. On the plus side though, it looks pretty good and modern kids may be more accepting of it than The Land Before Time on account of its presentation, despite being an inferior picture.

monsters u19. Monsters University (2013)Previous ranking:  NR

Monsters University stands as Pixar’s lone prequel. Apparently wanting to do something with titular characters Mike and Sully again, but not seeing much promise in the new world setup by Monsters, Inc., we end up with a story of how the two met in college. It’s mostly fine, but also pretty forgettable. It’s not particularly fun to see the two start as enemies, especially when we know how they’re going to end up. The story of Mike wanting to be a scarer adds a bit of dimension to the character, but it’s also something that’s not even remotely hinted at in the previous film so it feels forced. The film focuses far too much on that aspect, because we know how it’s going to turn out the stakes don’t feel particularly high. The film also fails to create any new, memorable, characters and it drags on for too long. Still, it’s okay and I mostly had fun with that first viewing, I’ve just never really wanted to revisit it.

a bugs life18. A Bug’s Life (1998)Previous ranking:  NR

This is the point of the list where I feel like we’ve left the poor or merely adequate features behind and entered into what makes Pixar special. A Bug’s Life is largely hampered by the fact that it was the studio’s second ever feature when things were still being ironed out. The visuals are not as striking as they once were, and the story is a bit derivative of other works. It even felt derivative of Toy Story as it was another look at a much smaller world, only instead of toys we have bugs. Flick is a good lead though and Hopper makes for a convincing villain. Ants vs Grasshoppers isn’t a story I ever needed to be told, but it proved captivating enough. It’s just a film that has been topped many times over.

cars 117. Cars (2006)Previous ranking:  NR

Cars is a film I’ve actually come to appreciate a bit more over time. I still don’t think it’s great, but I find it entertaining enough. Which is good because my kid went through a phase where he wanted to watch this one a lot. Lightning McQueen is a fish out of water, a conceited race car who winds up in hick-ville. He’s unlikeable and he’s supposed to be, but he comes around and the journey is fairly organic rather than forced, even if you know that’s where the story needs to head. What has never sold me on the film, and franchise, is the need for it to exist. Personified cars just aren’t that interesting. They just act like humans, only their world makes no sense because of humanity’s absence even though signs of humanity are literally everywhere. Making the cars the characters did at least let Pixar off the hook in terms of having to animate humans, which was something of a weak point the studio was still figuring out. Otherwise, I’m just not charmed by the premise. Ultimately, the film is fine entertainment that’s just lacking that something extra that makes Pixar films truly special.

merida bow16. Brave (2012)Previous ranking:  10

Brave has the distinction of being the first Pixar film directed by a woman. One of the studio’s few black marks has been its inclusion of women. Few women have been writers on Pixar features and few have been allowed to sit in the director’s chair. Director Brenda Chapman did not have a great experience as she was to be the sole director, but clashes with Lasseter over the project got her demoted to co-director with Mark Andrews, who basically finished the picture. She has expressed no desire to return to Pixar and was very critical of the leadership there, and she was probably one of the many celebrating Lasseter’s exit when more voices came forward to denounce his behavior towards women. As a result, I wonder how Brave would have turned out had Chapman been allowed to make the film she wanted to make. It’s a mother/daughter picture in which the relationship and conflict between the two feels very authentic, even when the mother turns into a bear. The film has a strong start, but then it sort of meanders a bit and I always find myself losing interest the further in I go. It’s a good, solid, film though and it wouldn’t disappoint me if Merida were given another chance to lead a feature. Since Lasseter was replaced, Chapman has actually returned to Disney as a writer on The Lion King remake set to open soon, so maybe there’s still a chance she could return to the director’s chair for the company in the future. Never say never.

cars 315. Cars 3 (2017)Previous ranking: NA

It took three tries, but Cars 3 finally made the Cars franchise feel like it belonged at Pixar. After struggling to find an emotional hook in the first film, and basically not trying in the second, Cars 3 returned Lightning McQueen to the starring role and gave him a story that made him sympathetic. That story was for Lightning to confront his age and try to hang on as a top racer in his sport. In that respect, it feels similar to Toy Story 3 as those characters battle time in their own way. Cars 3 manages to surprise in how it handles the story while also providing a proper send-off for Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson character, who was basically written out of Cars 2. Cars 3 was the conclusion to a trilogy few wanted to see completed, but it proved worthwhile. Hopefully, Pixar knows well-enough to leave it be and resists the temptation of a Cars 4. Considering Cars was Lasseter’s baby, I think we may be in the clear.

RGB14. Incredibles 2 (2018)Previous ranking: NA

Incredibles 2 is the sequel we all knew was going to happen. Being a super hero film, it was the easiest sequel to craft. All one needs is a new villain for the heroes to battle and a plausible setup. Incredibles 2 surprised by playing it safer than expected. It essentially took the setup of the first film and flipped the roles of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. Mr. Incredible is the stay-at-home parent this time while Elastigirl gets to enjoy some adventuring. All of your favorites from the first film come back, and everything is still fine and charming. It’s just really long, like the first film, and since I didn’t love that one I found little to love here. It’s well-made and I think most fans enjoyed it. As sequels go, it’s pretty good, but I also expected more.

hank and dory13. Finding Dory (2016)Previous ranking:  NA

Finding Dory could have easily wound up being as bad as Cars 2. It takes the former sidekick, Dory, and puts the focus on her. It also rehashes the plot of the first film, but just moves some pieces around. And yet, the film works and in some respects I think it should be the benchmark for future Pixar sequels. If the studio isn’t confident its next sequel is as good or better than Finding Dory, then it shouldn’t make it. Dory does get a little grating, but her memory is allowed to gradually improve which helps make her more tolerable as the film moves along. Newcomer Hank is also a worthwhile addition to the cast, and there are some happy, teary-eyed, moments in this one. It’s also a tad manipulative, especially the flashbacks which include the impossibly cute baby Dory, so the emotional moments aren’t as earned as they are in other films. This one is still better than it had any right to be, and it’s more than okay that it exists even if it isn’t as good as Finding Nemo.

the incredibles12. The Incredibles (2004)Previous ranking:  9

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this film largely just didn’t work for me. I thought I was going to love it, so maybe I had a problem with expectations going in, but numerous re-watches over the years have further convinced me it just isn’t for me. I find The Incredibles to just be too long, and too slow. It’s not hard to see where the plot wants to take the characters, so the slow pace just feels so unnecessary. And like Cars 2, it seems to have an identity crisis where it can’t decide if it’s an earnest take on a super hero film or if it’s a parody. Nonetheless, the characters are charming and well-developed and there’s still a lot to like. My feelings towards it though are my explanation for why it’s ranked here, and not in the top 10 where I feel a lot of fans seem to place this one.

bo peeps outlook11. Toy Story 4 (2019)Previous ranking:  NA

The newest film from Pixar proved to be a hard one to rank. I knew I liked the other three Toy Story films just a bit more, but figuring out how to rank it relative to the non-Toy Story films was a challenge. There’s a lot to like in this one from the gorgeous visuals to the humor, largely thanks to newcomer Forky. Selling the audience on its resolution was the hardest part. Did audiences care enough about Bo Peep to want her to return, let alone to have her serve as the catalyst for Woody essentially abandoning the purpose he once clung to so dearly? I feel like the response to Woody’s decision at the end of the film to leave his friends, and Bonnie, behind to live a life beside Bo Peep will determine how most people receive this film. And yet, I was largely fine with it, but I’m still ranking the film outside the top 10. That says less about this film and more about how fantastic the 10 films to come truly are.

wall-e and eva10. WALL-E (2008)Previous ranking:  5

WALL-E is one of our biggest fallers from the previous ranking. Some of that is due to some newcomers joining the fray, but mostly it’s due to my opinion on the film changing slightly. I still love WALL-E, I just don’t find it as engrossing as I once did. That’s largely due to the film’s second half in space, which fails to match the spectacle of the early part of the film when it occurs on Earth. It’s still funny though and I love the film’s message and how charming these unspeaking robot leads are. WALL-E is one of my favorite leads of any Pixar film and his success is a wonderful tribute to how good Pixar’s animators are. He says so much, and yet he says almost nothing at all throughout the whole movie. I may not be ranking it number one, but WALL-E is absolutely one of the studio’s greatest achievements.

sully and boo9. Monsters, Inc. (2001)Previous ranking:  3

Monsters, Inc. is actually our biggest faller, going all the way from 3 down to 9. Why is that? Unlike WALL-E, this one is largely fatigue. I’ve seen this one so many times due to it being on television a lot, being a personal favorite of mine, and being one my kids adore. Though no matter how many times I see it that closing, “Kitty!” from Boo still gets me every time. It’s the stuff leading up to that which I’ve grown a little sick of. It also doesn’t help that the visuals aren’t as nice to look at as they were in 2001, though Sully’s fur still stands as a remarkable achievement even today. Even though I’m ranking it 9th, I still love this movie as I do all of the movies in the top 10. And I will definitely be checking out the television series based on this property coming to Disney’s streaming service. Hopefully, it goes better than Monsters University.

toy story 2 welcome home8. Toy Story 2 (1999)Previous ranking:  8

Holding steady at number 8 is Pixar’s first sequel. Saying it held onto number 8 is actually deceiving, as there are two new films to come along since those rankings that leapt past this one without affecting its rank. And that reflects my growing appreciation for Toy Story 2. Where as before I was certain it was a lesser film when compared with Toy Story and Toy Story 3, now I’m less convinced of that. It really expands upon the cast of the first film despite only adding a couple new characters and it does so by simply bringing along more in the journey of the toys outside Andy’s room. Mr. Potato Head, played so perfectly by the late Don Rickles, is really allowed to shine as he joins Buzz and the others in tracking down the lost Woody. The film is tightly paced and its new villain is arguably better than Sid from the first. Plus it looks noticeably better. It also holds up as it has proven to be the favorite Pixar movie of my kids so I’ve endured this one more time than I can count, and every time I see it I still get pulled in. It’s quite possibly the best sequel that doesn’t eclipse the original ever created.
ratatouille7. Ratatouille (2007)Previous ranking:  7

Another film that has held steady, but actually improved given the new films released since 2013, is Ratatouille. I adore this movie. Remy is so wonderfully portrayed by Patton Oswalt and his story is unique, engrossing, and ever so charming. I’ve seen this one a lot, and it never fails to entertain me nor does it fail to leave me hungry. The food looks so good, and for whatever reason the grapes affect me the most. I’m both hungry and thirsty just thinking about it right now. The way this one ends, with Remy finally finding acceptance amongst both his rat peers and the humans he shares a kitchen with, could lend itself well to a potential sequel, but I’m glad Pixar has so far resisted the temptation. I don’t want this film tainted in any way, even if that fear is largely an overblown one as no film could taint the original.

up6. Up (2009)Previous ranking:  1

It may not have fallen the most spots, but it feels like Up is this list biggest mover because it fell from the top spot all the way to number 6, outside the top 5. If it had fallen to number 3 because two new films supplanted it that would be one thing, but to explain the drop to 6 is practically unexplainable, but let me try. I pretty much love Up the same now as I did in 2013. I actually have not watched this one much since then as it’s one my kids haven’t taken to (though I should try again). It’s mostly moved because the films ahead of it are ones I have seen quite a bit in the interim and I just have a newfound appreciation for. Was ranking it number 1 six years ago a mistake then? Maybe. The opening beats in this one are some of Pixar’s finest work. Perhaps I placed too much emphasis on those and not enough on the ensuing adventure, which is fun and humorous, but not nearly as emotional. Reflecting on it though, I just think it really is a case of me falling even more in love with Pixar’s other works and not necessarily falling out of love with Up. This film still gets to me and I still love its characters. Ultimately, being considered the sixth best Pixar movie is also nothing to be ashamed of. I also did protect myself a bit six years ago as I said these rankings within the top 5 are pretty fluid. Not a lot is separating these movies.

inside out5. Inside Out (2015)Previous ranking:  NA

Our first new entrant since 2013 to really make a splash, Inside Out was an instant contender for best film in Pixar’s catalog when it debuted in 2015. The internal struggle of emotions within a young girl as depicted by personified entities didn’t strike me as a truly novel idea, but it turned out to be incredibly well executed. The story is essentially about depression, and yet I don’t think that word is ever uttered by a character in the film. It’s so careful and well-thought out making it a truly technical marvel. That it’s able to be so procedural while still maintaining the fun and spontaneity of it all is its real achievement. Joy is well-balanced by Sadness, and the supporting roles of the other emotions prove to be hilarious more often than not. And even though most of the movie is spent inside her head, we still learn a lot about Riley and come to care for her by the film’s end almost as if she were our kid too. I think my adoration for the character, and the film, influenced me down the road when my own daughter came into this world. Her name? Riley.

toy story 14. Toy Story (1995)Previous ranking:  6

The debut feature from Pixar is a tough one to top. Obviously, the studio has topped it since I’m ranking it fourth, but careful consideration is given to any film I intend to rank ahead of it. First of all, yes, the story is a bit derivative of the less popular Jim Henson production The Christmas Toy, but Toy Story takes the concept of toys having their own world in which they live in so far ahead of that production that it barely warrants a mention. I do it only because a lot of the concepts are the same, though I question how original it is to begin with. Who didn’t wonder if their toys came to life when no one was around when they were kids? Anyway, Toy Story was an incredible technical achievement in 1995, but it’s also so much more. Like Disney was able to do way back in the 1930s with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pixar was able to convince an audience that a computer-generated character could make us cry. This one doesn’t go nearly as far as its sequels would in that regard as Toy Story’s tears, if it produces any, are via celebration as opposed to sadness. I still get chills when I watch this one today when Woody and Buzz take flight and head for Andy’s car. It’s a wonderful moment of elevation to cap the film’s climax cementing this film as one of Pixar, and Disney’s, all-time greatest achievements.

nemo and marlin3. Finding Nemo (2003)Previous ranking:  2

Moving down a notch from my 2013 rankings is Finding Nemo. Unlike WALL-E and Up, this one simply moved because a new film was released since then to push it back a spot. That’s no slight against Finding Nemo, a movie I’ve seen more times than I can count over the years because it remains my wife’s favorite film. If I had to offer up one piece of criticism towards it, it would be that the film is perhaps a bit too long (it didn’t really need that sequence with the net after Marlin and Nemo’s reunion), but otherwise there’s nothing I’d change about. The undersea world of Finding Nemo remains beautiful more than a decade removed from release, and the story of a father searching for his son against hopeless odds will never not resonate with audiences. When I find myself feeling a bit fatigued with this one, I just stop and remember how charming some of the smaller details are such as Bruce and his boys and the seagulls that just say “Mine!” over and over. A beautiful film with a beautiful story, I won’t blame you if you think Pixar has yet to top it.

TOY STORY 32. Toy Story 3 (2010)Previous ranking:  4

This is the biggest culprit in moving some of the other films down a few notches. Every time I revisit Toy Story 3 I’m blown away all over again. First of all, its visuals are miles ahead of the two preceding films and it’s one of Pixar’s greatest technical achievements. The world the toys inhabit is so much more alive than it was before and the little details are amazing. Yeah, the toys somehow get lost again, and yes, Buzz also is reverted to his old form yet again, but the journey is just so much more engrossing than before. Woody’s devotion to Andy remains strong and serves as the film’s emotional core, but also there is Woody’s devotion to his fellow toys. He’s a true leader here unwilling to let anything happen to the friends he’s shared a playroom with. We caught a glimpse of this in Toy Story 2 when he helped out poor Wheezy, but we really see it on display here when he not only risks life and limb to save the others, but also in how he chooses to finally say goodbye to Andy. If that moment in Bonnie’s yard doesn’t choke you up then you have no soul. What an incredible, brave, ending that also proved smart since it setup for future television specials and even a fourth film no one saw coming. Had this been the last we saw of Woody and the gang I think everyone would have been fine with it, because the ending is so perfectly bittersweet. Hug your toys, if you still have them, people.

coco proud corazon1. Coco (2017)Previous ranking:  NA

Of all the films on this list, I don’t think I’ve seen any other more times over these past six years than I have Coco. I figured this film would be plenty good, because it’s Pixar, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how great it was going to be. Coco is an easy choice as Pixar’s best film for me because it does everything well that Pixar is known for. It looks amazing, its characters are well-formed and endearing, it depicts a new, fantastic world in the Land of the Dead, and it packs an emotional wallop to boot. Oh boy, is that emotional hook a big one. I was prepared for Ernesto to not be related to Miguel in the end, and I even saw Hector’s reveal coming, and yet I still was not prepared for Miguel’s emotional performance of “Remember Me” to his grandmother, Coco. So much of the film’s heart should be credited to Anthony Gonzalez, the young man hired to provide the scratch track for Miguel who was so good in the role he was made the starring voice of the film. His performance is incredible, whether speaking lines or singing one of the film’s many songs. Coco is also the closest thing to a musical Pixar has produced, though the songs all work within the confines of the film as opposed to being something that breaks-up the flow of the plot. And the music is so wonderful! “Remember Me” is its most famous track, though it might be my least favorite song in the film. It’s supremely versatile though, as the song takes on a whole new meaning depending on the performance. In the hands of de la Cruz, it’s an up-tempo, playful, track, but when performed by Hector it’s a sweet and somber tune. I’m torn on if my favorite song is “Un Poco Loco” or “Proud Corazon.” The visuals at the end of the film when “Proud Corazon” is playing probably seals it for me as Miguel is warmly embraced by his family that once shunned music, and the spirit of his ancestor Hector takes the “ghost guitar” from him to play along which is the perfect touch for the scene. I’m welling up just recalling it. Coco is just a perfect film filled with wonder and excitement and plenty of humor while also containing an emotional backing no film in Pixar’s library can match. It surprised me to become a favorite of my children as well, who happily sing and dance along with the film and sit enthralled with its exciting, closing, moments. They don’t fully understand it, because they’re so young, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to it as they get older. I hope one day that Pixar can top this film, but there’s a part of me that doubts the studio ever can.


Toy Story 4

 

toy-story-4 poster

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Is there a better tetralogy of films than the recently completed (?) Toy Story franchise? It’s a question I didn’t immediately ponder upon viewing Toy Story 4, but in the days that followed it’s something I’ve started to consider. I’m not sure what the most famous tetralogy is, but my mind first went to the Indiana Jones franchise. While that one is quite good, I think most would agree the fourth film is okay at best. After that, and it gets murky for me. There’s a lot of trilogy franchises that were turned into four films like The Hunger Games and Twilight. I’ve seen The Hunger Games, I’ve never bothered with Twilight, but I don’t think many would argue for either as being great. There’s also Avengers, but that feels like another beast entirely given how interconnected it is with other Marvel films. And then there are a bunch of former trilogies turned into long-running franchises like Star Wars that took themselves beyond four films.

I’m surely missing out on some and there’s probably a good tetralogy or two I’m spacing on, but I’m having a hard time finding a worthy contender to what Pixar has done with its Toy Story franchise. It’s surprising how successful it has been considering Pixar never even envisioned doing a sequel. Disney all but mandated Toy Story 2 be a thing because of how successful the original was. It even started as a direct-to-video feature that earned a theatrical release and, for many, is the most beloved entry in the series. Toy Story 3 surprised and delighted movie-goers in 2010 and seemed to put a bow on the franchise as it dealt with the toys moving on from their beloved owner, Andy. A few TV specials have emerged since and it seemed like that’s where Toy Story was destined to reside. Then the world was surprised in 2014 when Toy Story 4 was officially confirmed as in development.

Toy Story 4 had probably the most treacherous development cycle (though most treacherous moment still belongs to Toy Story 2 when that film was accidentally deleted) of any of the films in the series thus far. A lot of writers came and went and the picture was delayed a year not once, but twice. John Lasseter was unceremoniously dumped by Disney and Pixar following some allegations of inappropriate conduct which was made worse when actress/writer Rashida Jones left the picture citing a disagreement on where the story was heading and renewing concerns that Pixar was not a great place for women creators. Given the turmoil behind the scenes, and the already high bar set by the previous films, it would not have been at all surprising if Toy Story 4 turned out to be a bust in the end. Pixar has a tremendous track record, but a similarly troubled picture like The Good Dinosaur wasn’t able to overcome development hell.

bo peeps outlook

Bo Peep is back and she has a whole new outlook on what it means to be a toy that Woody has to come to grips with.

Unlike The Good Dinosaur, this is Toy Story. This is the franchise that essentially made Pixar was it is today and it’s these characters that the company will be most identified by for as long as humans are around and talking about movies. There was likely a different kind of focus behind the scenes and a determination by those involved to make sure that this movie did not harm the reputation of the studio and the franchise as a whole. A lot of credit seems to be going to Andrew Stanton who has helmed several Pixar projects and director Josh Cooley, who was selected by Lasseter to helm his first feature-length project. Further credit should also go to these wonderful characters created by Pixar who quite simply refuse to stop being so damn charming and interesting despite appearing in now four films where the plot is nearly the same in all four with just slight variations on the setup.

Several years ago I ranked Pixar’s 10 best features and selected Toy Story 3 as my favorite in the Toy Story trilogy. It’s still my favorite, but following it I also had no idea how the franchise could go on. Well, that’s not entirely true. Pixar could have easily just stitched together another adventure only now instead of Andy in the background it’s Bonnie. After all, at their core all four films are just the toys getting lost and having to find their way back. That, however, isn’t really Pixar’s philosophy. Their features have purpose, and for Toy Story 4 the concept of self-identity and self worth are its purpose and main story. And the vehicle for that story is Woody (Tom Hanks), who was once the favorite toy of Andy but is now a cast-off in the eyes of Bonnie. He’s going to be paired up with newcomer Forky (Tony Hale), a spork turned into a toy via Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) who has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he’s no longer a discarded utensil but an actual toy.

Bonnie takes an immediate liking to Forky, and at least for the duration of the film, Forky is her new favorite toy. Forky though considers himself trash and all he wants is to be thrown away. It’s up to Woody to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a task Woody gives himself because he has no other purpose at the moment and he’s not even willing to share the responsibility of safeguarding Forky, which becomes quite a problem when the family hits the road for a good old fashioned RV vacation.

woody introduces forky

Woody introducing Forky to the rest of the gang.

The film opens with a flashback revealing what happened to Woody’s old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the porcelain doll who adorned a lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly. She disappeared between Toy Story 2 and 3, and in Toy Story 4 she is reintroduced as a lost toy. During an attempted escape from the RV by Forky, Woody and he end up on their own in search of the RV. During that time they happen across an antiques store where Woody recognizes Bo Peep’s lamp in the window, but without Bo Peep. He’ll eventually find her, and the film turns into a story about Woody and Bo Peep that’s essentially a G-rated rom-com.

Along the way, new toys will be introduced like Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom, a dare devil motorcycle toy with confidence issues, and the comedic duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele voice Ducky and Bunny, a pair of carnival prizes looking for an owner of their own. Old favorites like Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) are here as well, but they play very minor roles compared with past films. Really, only Buzz has a substantial role as the others are mostly left waiting on the RV absent from the adventure being experienced by Woody. It’s something that does not read well in a review, or at least it wouldn’t had I read any reviews going into seeing this film, but I honestly did not miss those characters even if I mostly adored them in the prior films. That’s a testament to the engrossing nature of the film’s main plot, the questions it asks, and the stakes it creates.

clucky and bunny

Your old favorites are here, but there’s also new characters to introduce and, more importantly, merchandize.

Those stakes are partially created by outside forces. There’s a sense of finality going into this film, as there was with Toy Story 3, which makes it feel like almost anything could happen. And then there was also the impossible to avoid press on the film (even by someone like me who does his best to avoid such) in which Tim Allen and Tom Hanks openly talked about the emotional ending to the film. That had people speculating wildly on what could happen, and it was in the back of my mind while viewing the film. Even so, probably around the one-hour mark in the movie I could see where the picture was headed. That did not diminish my enjoyment of the film, though it probably contributed to my finding of the film’s resolution less emotional than its predecessor.

Toy Story 3 is a film that hit me right in the feels, so Toy Story 4 not matching that level of emotion is hardly a negative. It would have been hard to pull that off, but what Toy Story 4 did manage to do in terms of topping the prior films is up the comedy. This is, especially in the first half of the film, the funniest Toy Story movie yet. A lot of that comes from Forky who is basically suicidal, in a sense. I was quite skeptical of the character going into this one, but he absolutely won me over and he basically steals every scene he’s involved with. Ducky and Bunny also lend a certain level ludicrousness to this one that wasn’t found in past installments, or really in any Pixar film I can think of. I’m curious how much, if any, ad-libbing Key and Peel were allowed to do for their characters as it feels like their brand of humor certainly had an influence on their parts. Reeves is more charming than truly funny as Duke Caboom and Kristen Schaal’s Trixie is also good for a chuckle when she’s around.

toy story 4 scary

Your little ones may find some of the scenes in this picture a bit intense.

Toy Story 4 is not only the funniest film in the series, it might also be the scariest. While there is no moment where all of the toys look like they’re going to perish in a fire as there was in Toy Story 3, there’s some pretty scary imagery that may freak out the younger members of the audience. In particular is the army of old school ventriloquist dummies which occupy space in the antiques store. Those puppets, like clowns, are never not scary so when they’re trying to be terrifying it works. The film’s villain, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), is quietly unsettling as well and I always felt a feeling of discomfort when she was around, similar to Lotso from Toy Story 3.

The scary and the funny moments are just entertainment beats along the way to telling the story of Woody and Bo Peep. They have quite the adventure in this picture not unlike the past ones and everything looks quite spectacular along the way. The leap in terms of visuals from Toy Story 3 to 4 isn’t as impressive as what we saw in going from 2 to 3, but it’s still noticeable and this is a high point for Pixar. Whether it’s the toys or the few humans on display, this picture is marvelous to look at. The action pieces are thrilling and the novelty of viewing a world through the eyes of a toy has yet to grow stale. While I do think some liberties were taken in this picture in terms of the actions of the toys going unseen by the humans they share space with, it never diminished my enjoyment of the film.

I have heard there’s some disappointment amongst the fanbase in how this film resolves itself and some of the plot points it took to get there, but I can’t say I share them. Is this the story I would have told had I been given the keys to the franchise? Probably not, but I also would never be put in that position, and with good reason. I never desired to find out what happened to Bo Peep, just as I don’t really care what happened to Weezy or that shark who momentarily wore Woody’s hat in the first film, but Pixar created a story and a film centered on Bo Peep and it works. She is everything Woody fears as she’s a lost toy who is beholden to no owner, and Woody has to struggle to understand that world view. I get a sense some are disappointed to see that Bonnie has also essentially discarded the cowboy she appeared to love in Toy Story 3. To those I say how many of you continued to love every toy you received as a four-year-old? It would be more improbable for that four-year-old girl to continue to adore an old cowboy as opposed to finding something new (and in this it’s clearly established that she prefers Jessie to Woody). And while it’s unlikely any child would continue to love and adore a plastic spork turned into a toy, it’s totally probable in the short-term. I know my own kids have professed to love a Happy Meal toy or something similar for a few days or a week at most only for it to wind up under a bed or in a toy box for months on end (and then when I go to get rid of it they suddenly love it all over again).

woody bo rooftop

I never would have expected a rom-com from Toy Story, and yet that’s what we got and it works.

As it is, I find nothing improbable about the film’s overall plot, aside from it being about sentient toys. I accept the story for what it is, and found the film delightfully entertaining for its entire duration. There are parts that made me a touch uncomfortable with where these characters were going, but good films and stories should do that. They should challenge the viewer and take them out of their comfort zone at times, otherwise what’s the point?

Naturally, folks will debate what is the best movie in this franchise. It’s perhaps too soon to tell, but I do think Toy Story 4 is probably going to be the least liked film in the series, and yet it’s still going to be held up as another Pixar masterpiece. That says less about the movie than it does about the franchise as a whole, which has been remarkably consistent. It brings me back to my original question when I started this review:  what is the best tetralogy in film history? I’m not qualified to answer that definitively, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a series of four films better than what Pixar has given us with Toy Story. These are four delightful films populated by interesting and wondrous characters who have already managed to stand the test of time for nearly 25 years. Toy Story 4 is probably the end for these characters, though if you asked me I would have said the same after Toy Story 3. It’s always possible another movie comes along, and additional shorts will probably happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on Toy Story 5. If this is indeed the end then it’s a wonderful way to go out. Maybe it didn’t answer all of the questions fans had been asking (Who was Andy’s dad? Did Andy’s mom once own Jessie?),  but it kept the focus on the toys and it gave us a pretty full look at what it means to be a toy. It made us laugh and it made us cry and it probably also caused more than a few viewers to feel a little guilty about all of those toys we left behind ourselves, but mostly it captivated us and showed us a new way to enjoy animation. Toy Story is a franchise with an amazing and unforgettable legacy attached to it, and Toy Story 4 adds to it and is yet another film that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike to infinity and beyond.


Disney and Lego – What Happened?!

lego logoNearly three years ago The Lego Company released just its third ever line of mini figures based on a licensed property. Following two waves of figures based on The Simpsons, Lego turned to an old friend:  Disney. The Disney wave of mini figures contained 18 characters that covered some of Disney’s classic characters like Mickey and Donald, as well as film stars and even a few Pixar characters. A few months later, the wave was supplemented with the unveiling of the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. The 4,000 piece set was pricey, but also quite impressive. It, along with the other figures, now adorn the mantle over my front door declaring that my home is indeed a Disney home.

I thought we were in for more Disney from Lego, but following that the Disney brand went away. Given that The Simpsons received two waves and two construction sets, I assumed Disney would get the same treatment. Instead, Lego pivoted to showcasing its movies with mini figure waves based on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie along with waves of generic figures. Disney is an expensive brand, I assume, with characters that necessitate unique sculpts so I’m sure it’s pricier than a lot of other properties Lego could focus on, but I bet it’s also a big seller. Those Disney blind-bagged figures disappeared pretty fast from shelves wherever I saw them. The only place that seemed to maintain stock around me was a local comic shop that sold them for almost twice as much as The Lego Store or big box retailers. As for the castle, I have no idea how that did. It retailed for $350, but a lot of Disney enthusiasts are used to paying top dollar for anything Disney related. It’s still available at Lego’s webstore, so either it didn’t sell out or it’s still being produced. Aside from that, the only other readily available Disney products from Lego include Duplo, Lego Junior, and Lego Friends sets mostly based around Cars, Mickey, and the various Disney princesses.

lego cinderella

Pricey yes, but I would wager most who bought Lego’s take on Cinderella’s Castle from The Magic Kingdom were pretty happy with the end result.

Maybe Disney doesn’t perform as well for Lego as other properties. It would seem the company mostly caters to adolescent males with lots of Marvel and Star Wars sets. It’s possible that crowd looks down on Disney as being too kiddie or something. Whatever the reason, the lack of product feels like a mixed opportunity. Many characters were left out of that initial wave of mini figures and there are so many more landmarks and attractions from Disney parks that would look lovely in Lego form.

In terms of mini figures, the biggest omission from the first wave was Goofy. Goofy is one of Disney’s oldest characters along with Mickey and Minnie. Daisy Duck was likely included in that initial wave as a complement to Donald (and to reuse some of the duck parts), though Disney fans would certainly find Goofy more deserving of inclusion. The Mickey, Donald, and Goofy trio anchored many a cartoon short, and he would have been the most obvious inclusion in a wave two. In addition to Goofy, Pluto went missing as well. He’d look a little odd if done like a bipedal character, but Lego should have found a way to get him in even if it meant just doing a dog figure and single packing him. For The Simpsons, Lego made the pets accessories which also would have sufficed.

duplo goofy

If you want a Lego version of Goofy this is presently your best, and only, choice.

Goofy and Pluto are the only classic characters who went missing, but there were plenty of opportunities for complementary figures to what was released in the first series. Jafar would have made sense given the presence of Aladdin and Genie, and Woody and Jessie made sense given Buzz and the Alien were also included. Want more of The Incredibles? Elastigirl and the kids could have been featured and even Frozone. More classic movies could have also been explored. How about Pinocchio with Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto with Figaro and Cleo? The Beast would be a fun inclusion as would a pairing of Mowgli and Baloo. If they really wanted to go deep, while also reusing some sculpts, the Three Caballeros would certainly get my attention and another easy redo would be another Mickey but in his sorcerer’s attire or in black and white. Lastly, how about some Disney Afternoon figures? Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad, Darkwing Duck, the nephews – all would be welcomed and Lego really could have saved a few bucks if it released three separate figures for the nephews that are essentially just repaints of each other.

A second wave of mini figures would be easy to fill. If anything, there would likely still be characters missing, but things would feel more complete than they are now. As for new sets, oh there would be many contenders, but the most obvious is Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It would have to be relatively in-scale with Cinderella’s Castle so it would be a smaller set, and thus probably cheaper. The same loving detail would need to go into it though making sure the front of the structure is essentially picture-perfect with rooms around the back stuffed with nods to classic films. Given what was present in Cinderella’s Castle, this one could naturally spotlight other films. Aurora’s room would make sense and maybe a workshop resembling Gepetto’s. A bedroom with little beds in a nod to the Dwarfs’ cottage would be cute, though seven beds would probably be impossible. The only challenge would be not doubling-up on some of the references in the prior set, but that’s a nice problem to have. Cinderella’s Castle came with five mini figures, one of which (Tinker Belle) was exclusive. For this set, repaints of Mickey, Donald, Minnie and Goofy could be included with the exclusive being a dragon to resemble Maleficent.

spaceship earth

Disney’s secret best park would make for an attractive Lego set.

The most obvious set after that would be Spaceship Earth from Epcot. A version of which appears on the Lego Ideas site, but it doesn’t go far enough as a display piece (though I’m still backing it regardless). The designer attempted to build the actual ride, and in order to do so, didn’t create an outside for the spaceship similar to Lego’s take on the Death Star. I think to do it right, half of the set should be covered and textured like the actual Spaceship Earth, with the other hemisphere being uncovered to show the ride. That side could even be relatively flat as it would likely be impossible to make the ride truly resemble the real one. As for an exclusive character to include? None other than Epcot’s original mascot Figment, of course.

Spaceship Earth would be ambitious and probably as expensive as Cinderella’s castle. There are plenty of smaller exhibits from Disney parks that are just as iconic and popular with fans. Space Mountain is certainly unique looking and has been a park fixture for decades now. Splash Mountain would also be unique and fun and the characters associated with the ride would make for obvious mini figure tie-ins. Less ambitious, but no less iconic, would be Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Such a set would be small and probably quite cheap compared with the larger sets, but because of that and its status, it would probably sell quite well. The Haunted Mansion would be another fun one and would present an opportunity to possibly create mini figures based on The Nightmare Before Christmas since those characters are associated with the ride and are a lot better than the ghosts from that awful Eddie Murphy movie based on the attraction.

The only issue with embarking on such a path for Lego would be the demand for more. If they started making multiple sets based on attractions from Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom then fans would probably want more to essentially create a Lego version of the treasured parks. Imagine a Lego Main Street USA with the train station or the fire house with Walt Disney’s apartment over it. Disney enthusiasts would probably devote large portions of their homes to their displays as they layout the main entrance to the park leading to one of the castles in the center. Toon Town, The Matterhorn, The Mad Tea Party – these would be all things fans would suddenly want and Lego would be free to try and meet the demand, or not. Demand is a great problem to have for a manufacturer.

lego toy story 4

Well, at least we have Toy Story 4 sets to look forward to.

Lego and Disney obviously have a relationship and it certainly seems like it’s still pretty strong. It’s possible that Disney is hard to deal with when it comes to their classic characters and attractions. Maybe Disney made a lot of demands of Lego in regards to its take on Cinderella’s Castle. Square-Enix, makers of the Kingdom Hearts games, can certainly attest to how tough it can be to get Disney to approve things as it relates to its characters, Mickey in particular. And there is more Disney to come from the company, just no hint at anything like what I just laid out. Toy Story 4 sets will be arriving this spring which will include reissues of the Buzz Lightyear mini figure from 2016. He’ll be joined by Woody and others so fans who have the old mini figures will be able to at least add to them. And last year there were sets based on The Incredibles 2 so it was possible to add to them as well. Sadly, any sets based on Frozen 2 will likely be in the Lego Friends style, which is fine if that’s what you or your kids like, but they don’t pair all that well with traditional sets and mini figures. I suppose it’s always possible something like Sleeping Beauty Castle could be announced and maybe if there’s a break in Lego movie releases the opportunity for another Disney wave could present itself, but that seems unlikely at this point. For now, fans will have to try to supplement what they have with smaller releases related to new films while hoping something comes through the Lego Ideas contest and dream about what could have been.

UPDATE:  Of course, not long after this post went live Lego announced a new set that, while not from based on a Disney park, is in my wheelhouse:  Steamboat Willie. I considered taking this post in the direction of classic Disney shorts, but wanted to keep it focused on just Disney parks. A Steamboat Willie set is definitely something I’m interested in and I would love more sets based on classic shorts like “Mickey’s Trailer” or “Lonesome Ghosts.” I am guessing more won’t follow as Steamboat Willie is a tie-in with Mickey’s 90th birthday from last fall and that particular short is obviously quite famous and appropriate as a celebratory item. Where as the general public probably doesn’t care about a Mickey set featuring a camper.

UPDATE #2!:  Hot on the heels of the Steamboat Willie announcement comes the surprising announcement of Wave 2 for Disney minifigures! It contains some obvious inclusions like bagged releases of the black and white Minnie and Mickey that will be included with the steamboat. There’s also a Jafar as well as Uncle Scrooge and the nephews. They’re even doing princesses this time as Jasmine, Elsa, and Anna will see release too. Thankfully, they’re skipping out on Toy Story characters since they’ll be coming with the sets for Toy Story 4 this spring. Unfortunately, there is one rather large omission:  WHERE’S GOOFY?!


Disney gets the Lego Treatment

maxresdefault-3Lego is one of the most popular toy manufacturers on the planet. They’ve become known for their building block style toys that come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and can be combined to form castles, pirate ships, space crafts, and other fantastic designs. They also have struck gold with their mini figures, simplistic action figures that embody the Lego design and make great pilots, captains, and heroes to pair with the various sets. It used to be you had to buy a construction set to get a figure or two, but for several years now Lego has capitalized on the appeal of its mini figures by releasing them individually in blind bag assortments. Even more recently, Lego has decided to apply a popular license for these blind bag releases. For the past two years, that license was The Simpsons. I was rather fond of this decision and really it got me back into Lego after not buying a set since I was a kid. The Simpsons I feel still had legs and a series three would have been welcomed by me, but Lego has apparently killed that line and decided to go with a new license:  Disney.

Theming a line of figures on the Disney license is almost as broad as creating a line of “People” figures. The Walt Disney Company has been putting out animated and live action films for nearly a century. The company has its own television station full of original programming, plus it owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and ABC to name a few. And since Lego already makes Star Wars and Marvel sets, it stands to reason that their Disney themed wave of mini figures could include those franchises if it wanted to. What it really means for Lego is that its first wave of Disney mini figures is an amalgamation of a few popular Disney properties. The first set of 18 Disney figures contains popular Disney creations like Mickey Mouse and Donald, characters from classic animated films like Aladdin and Peter Pan, and also a few Pixar figures to round things out. There are likely fans out there who would have preferred it if Lego stuck to the classic animated films, or maybe even just the Mickey and friends line, but Lego opted to try to please a wide consumer base.

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A motley crew of Disney plastic.

As someone who likes Disney and is married to a woman who LOVES Disney, it meant i had to collect this line with the same vigor as I did with The Simpsons. The wave hit retail on May 1st, though a few lucky individuals probably found them earlier. Like other mini figure waves, this series is released in blind bags so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re buying, unless they’re willing to sit and prod at each bag to feel the figure out. As Lego did with The Simpsons, they’ve chosen to make custom head sculpts for a lot of the Disney characters, basically all of the non-humanoid ones. That means finding Mickey and Minnie when groping a plastic bag is actually pretty easy, same for Sticth as well as the ducks, Donald and Daisy. I actually found the entire wave pretty easy to feel out and went a perfect 18 for 18 with my purchases. Now, if only I had better luck at finding the figures at big box retailers. Stores like Target and Toys R Us sell each figure for 3.99 a piece, but I got stuck hitting up specialty shops that charged 6.99. The things I do for love.

 

Unlike The Simpsons, these Disney figures are not released alongside any standard Lego sets, which is a bummer. Lego does have a line of Disney centric Lego Friends sets which focus on the various princess characters. The Friends line is Lego’s girl line, because apparently girls can’t handle traditional mini figures and bricks, and it’s clear Lego avoided duplicating characters it had already released as part of that line. The set of 18 is mostly free of the princess characters, with the exception of a mermaid Ariel. Alice from Alice in Wonderland is also included, but I don’t think she’s ever been considered a “princess.” From the Mickey and Friends collection, we have Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. Any Disney fan immediately sees that list and says “Where’s Goofy?!” He’s missing in action here. The four who are included look pretty good though. Donald and Daisy even have a little duck “butt” piece which is pretty funny but also pragmatic. Mickey is kind of dull though as he comes with no unique pieces or accessories. He doesn’t even have a tail! That’s a problem I’ll address later as it’s a recurring problem. Not the tail, but the lack of accessories to go along with these figures.

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Ursula’s got it going on.

From the Disney animated classics group of films, there’s the following:  Alice, Cheshire Cat, Maleficent, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Stitch, Ursula, Ariel, Aladdin, and the Genie. All are done fairly well, though characters like Aladdin and Pan suffer from being a bit too conventional and kind of boring in appearance. Genie suffers a little in that he’s fairly unique, but the efforts made to convey that don’t work so well. Instead of getting a more unique sculpt, he’s actually a standard mini figure with add-on pieces to round out his look. He does have a “ghost” lower body which is kind of neat, but he still doesn’t really look all that much like the Genie from Aladdin. Plus Lego got really cheap with his gold cuffs and only painted half of his wrist. Maleficent is unique in that she doesn’t have legs, but a triangular block for a base to simulate her robes. It works pretty well as a visual, though it’s probably not fun for kids to play with. Ursula is definitely the cream of the crop as she gets a uniquely sculpted lower body that looks great. Ariel does as well, but her tail is rather blocky and unappealing to look at. I get that Lego is supposed to be blocky, but there’s just something off with Ariel’s look.

 

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The piece Lego fanatics have been waiting years for:  duck butt.

Pixar is also featured, albeit in a minor way. There aren’t many Pixar characters that would work as Lego mini figures, but Lego did pick some suitable ones. From Toy Story, there’s Buzz Lightyear and the Alien, and from The Incredibles we have Mr. Incredible and his foe Syndrome. Buzz is the star of the four. While he doesn’t quite look like the Buzz we know and love, the unique pieces included give him a lot of personality. The Alien gets a unique head sculpt and looks fine, while Mr. Incredible and Syndrome look about as good as they can, though they’re a little boring. I don’t dislike any of the four, and actually really like Buzz, but I am left wishing Lego had stuck with more conventional Disney properties and gave Pixar its own wave.

 

With any release like this, it’s easy to zero in on what’s missing. Properties like Pinnochio, Snow White, and The Lion King are synonymous with Disney but not represented here. There’s also a lack of quality accessories that’s kind of disappointing. Mickey comes with none, when he should come with Pluto. He could have come with some clothing type accessories like his sorcerer’s hat, something which is better than nothing. Ursula comes with King Triton’s trident but not his crown, and Ariel comes with an oyster shell with a pink jewel in it. Maybe I need to watch The Little Mermaid again because I don’t remember that amongst her many treasures. I’d rather she come with a fork, I mean, dinglehopper, though a Flounder would have been better. Stitch, Cheshire Cat, and the Alien all come with no accessories, and Aladdin and the Genie both come with the same lamp. Couldn’t Aladdin at least have come with a black Jafar’s lamp? These figures aren’t really all that cheap, the least Lego could do is make sure each character has at least one appropriate accessory to round them out.

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Pan looks kind of bloodthirsty, not that Hook looks like any less of a maniac.

Criticisms aside, I do think this is a pretty solid wave of mini figures and a nice start for the Disney line. I assume there will at least be a wave two and I’m hopeful Lego will explore some Disney sets, especially if they’re based on Disney World or Disneyland. As far as a potential wave 2 is concerned, I would assume some characters are no-brainers. Goofy, Woody, and Jessie seem like locks. Near locks would include Mrs. Incredible, Frozone, and Jafar. If Lego really wants to stick with the films its already touched upon, then characters like King Triton and the Queen of Hearts certainly have a shot as well. I’m hopeful that Pinnochio and Jiminy Cricket get a look, and a Beast and Gaston would be pretty awesome. It’ll probably be nearly a year before we know what’s to come, but until then it will be fun to speculate.

UPDATE:  Well it took Lego a few months to unveil it, they did indeed confirm a Lego version of Disney World’s iconic Cinderella Castle is coming this September. It will retail for $350 (ouch!) and total over 4,000 pieces and come bundled with 5 mini figures. Making her traditional Lego debut will be Tinker Belle and she’s joined by a tuxedo-clad Mickey, a red polka-dot version of Minnie, a pink version of Daisy, and Donald, who appears to be identical to his previously released figure. It looks pretty slick, and it’s hard to argue with the character choices. The castle interior looks like it will be full of easter eggs, and possibly hints for future mini figures, and the only initial piece of criticism I could offer is the depth of the castle looks shallow. It likely would have benefitted from a hinged design to make the base at least appear bigger. Aside from that, it’s a nice piece of eye candy and something I’m going to have to buy for my Disney-obsessed wife.LEGO_71040_fi

 


The Best of Pixar

DownloadedFile-22In honor of the recently released to theaters Monsters University, I thought it would be fun to look back on the feature-length films put out by Pixar Animation Studios (in conjunction with Disney) and come up with a top 10.  This proved to be a pretty difficult task and I consider this list, especially the top 5, to be quite fluid.  Pixar has really eclipsed Disney as the premier creator of animated films.  It could be argued that before it, Japan’s Studio Ghibli had knocked Disney off the top of the mountain but Pixar now stands tall over all.  And while their output has dwindled in quality just a tad bit lately, it seems like the studio is likely to maintain that status for at least a few more years.  This list is not going to give each film the space it deserves, or else it would run into the tens of thousands of words.  I also want to add that I do not think Pixar has made a bad film yet, though I also have not seen Cars 2 which has been the worst reviewed film put out by the studio.  I didn’t see it because I didn’t really care for the original, though I didn’t hate it or anything.  I also did see Monsters University this weekend, and while I don’t think it makes their top 10, it was enjoyable entertainment.

10. Brave

Brave is hindered by that fact that it’s one of the more recent films put out by Pixar so it hasn’t had as long of a time to leave a lasting impression (and as you can imagine, nostalgia points count).  Brave is a refreshing take on the princess genre and Merida is a very likable and easy to root for character.  The visuals are splendid and the conflict unique, though the setting and style is perhaps a bit too similar to the previously released Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon.  This is a film I plan to revisit and I expect my appreciation for it will only grow from here.

9. The Incredibles

Perhaps a controversial selection as I know The Incredibles is a favorite for many.  For me, I absolutely love the concept of a super hero family and this was probably my most eagerly anticipated work from Pixar.  Perhaps it was the weight of expectations that resulted in my initial disappointment.  It just didn’t resonate with me the way I thought it would.  I very much enjoyed the Mr. Incredible character, but the rest of the family didn’t appeal to me as much.  The film is also a little overstuffed and could have used some trimming.  Every time I re-watch it I wonder if this is the viewing that will make me fall in love with it, but so far that hasn’t happened.  Despite that, I still look forward to the eventual sequel and will continue to enjoy the in-jokes thrown at comic book fans.

8. Toy Story 2

Toy Story was such a smashing success that it made sense for a sequel to follow.  Because these films take so long, Pixar first released A Bug’s Life before getting to Toy Story 2.  Serving as director for all three feature-length films was John Lasseter, who wisely realized he couldn’t expect to continue to direct everything put out by the studio.  Toy Story 2 is an excellent sequel that contains enough of what made the original so memorable without feeling like a re-tread.  Visually, it is far superior to the first.  Some people seem to prefer it to the original, but for me I enjoyed the plot from the first one more and found the end chase more thrilling than the sequence that closes out this one.  This one is still great though, and Jessie’s song is really well done, making Toy Story one of the best franchises in recent memory.

7.  Ratatouille

Remy is one of Pixar's best creations.

Remy is one of Pixar’s best creations.

This where the list starts getting hard for me.  I didn’t have much trouble ranking the first three, but now we’re getting into the films I truly love.  Ratatouille is a clever tale about a rat named Remy, who is one of the most well-crafted of any of Pixar’s leads.  He’s interesting, flawed, likable, and well-acted by the animators and voice actor Patton Oswalt.  This one isn’t as emotionally heavy as some of Pixar’s other films, but it is so much fun and it’s still a treat to experience all of Remy’s highs and lows.  I feel like I could watch this film every day and not get sick of it.

6.  Toy Story

The one that started it all.  Toy Story was a marvel when it was first released in 1995.  At that time, no one really thought computer generated images could captivate in the same way as hand-drawn animation and we were all proved wrong.  While I will always prefer more traditional animation, I both love and appreciate what today’s artists are capable of with CGi.  Toy Story doesn’t look as good now as it did back then (especially the dog and human characters), but that doesn’t detract from the wonderful and clever story about what goes on in the toy box when kids aren’t around.  It’s an easy to grasp concept and one that offers so many possibilities for visual gags and story potential.  The Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) rivalry is played up so well that it’s a shame it’s not as heated in the sequels.  Toy Story is a modern classic that is sure to delight and captivate audiences for generations to come.

5.  Wall-E

Wall-E is a rather bold film when one considers its audience.  The first act is absent of any dialogue as we explore a ruined earth with only a mute little robot to guide us.  It’s thru director Andrew Stanton and the supremely talented animators at Pixar that we’re able to connect and care about this little robot.  Wall-E, despite being a robot, is able to convey so many human emotions thru just the movement of his telescope-like eyes and limited vocalizations.  The film’s only weakness is how effective these early scenes are in comparison to the easier to follow scenes in space where humans dwell.  Some thumb their noses at the conservationist tone taken by the film, but I found it to be good satire and consider Wall-E a true treasure amongst american animation.

4.  Toy Story 3

I can’t say I was all that excited for another sequel for Toy Story, even though I very much enjoyed the first two.  I was so wrong when I finally sat down and watched Toy Story 3 and found myself completely blown away.  I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see the world of these toys explored with better technology over what was available for the first two.  The world popped and is an absolute feast for the eyes.  That wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the fact that the film had a plot that appealed to me even more than the first two is what truly shocked me.  I fell in love on the first viewing, and the additions of Michael Keaton and Ned Beatty to the all ready stellar cast was the cherry on top.

3.  Monsters Inc.

We have officially entered the splitting hairs section of my list.  1-7 was hard, 1-5 was harder still, and 1-3 feels almost pointless.  On any given day, any of these next three could be cited as my favorite from Pixar, but I’ve settled on this order for today.  Monsters Inc. was the first of the Pixar feature-length films to not be directed by Lasseter.  Pete Docter oversaw this one and would establish an ability to really make an emotional connection with the audience.  Monsters Inc. is kind of like a buddy comedy with leads Mike and Sully (portrayed by Billy Crystal and John Goodman), only in a fantastic setting.  The world of the monsters is fully realized and more than just a little clever.  This is the first CGi film I can recall where so much hair, or fur, was included and the results are spectacular.  It’s the addition of the Boo character though, that puts it over the top and gives it the weight I mentioned earlier.  This film’s ending is so perfect, it gets me every time.  I’m not sure if it’s not my favorite ending to any movie ever.  I love it!

2.  Finding Nemo

A lot of these films were all conceived around the same time.  I get the sense that the powers that be at Pixar decided on a bunch of worlds they wanted to see animated and went off of that.  Finding Nemo is Pixar’s undersea adventure and the results are breathtaking.  The world is so simple yet so complex, it is probably the film that benefitted most in the switch from DVD to Blu Ray of any other I’ve seen.  All of Pixar’s films are incredible looking, but Finding Nemo contains one of the more heart-warming father-son stories contained in any piece of entertainment.  And outside of that plot, the characters encountered along the way are amongst Pixar’s most memorable.  Whether it’s the possessive seagulls, laid-back Crush, or the unforgettable Dory, there’s something amazing in every scene.  I’m so glad that Pixar has chosen to revisit this world, even if it has no chance of matching up to the original.  Though Pixar has proved me wrong before.

1.  Up

The odd paring of the aged Carl with the youthful Russell paid off for Pixar.

The odd paring of the aged Carl with the youthful Russell paid off for Pixar.

If Wall-E was considered a bold move for a family movie, then what does that make Up with its octogenarian for a lead?  I suppose the marketing and merchandising department was disappointed when it found out that Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) action figures weren’t likely to generate the kind of revenue Disney is used to, but I like to think they were okay with that once they saw the film.  Up is a wonderful piece of animation, and if Pete Doctor’s previous directorial effort Monsters Inc. is considered weighty, Up is a virtual anvil.  The montage that takes place at the beginning of the film which sums up the life of Carl and Ellie is wonderfully moving, and like Wall-E, done so without any dialogue.  The sequence is masterfully done, and if viewers found it a bit too sad then I hope the rest of the film makes up for it.  The main plot pairs up Carl with the youthfully exuberant Russell.  This odd-couple pairing can be forgiven for being too obvious because it’s executed so well. The emotional response generated by this film seems so authentic, and it’s the rare animated film I can honestly recommend to viewers of all tastes.  And then there’s Dug.  Dug, who resembles no dog from the real world and yet makes me think of every dog I’ve ever met (any nice dog, anyways).  His mannerisms and thoughts are so spot-on it makes it seem like an easy thing to so faithfully convey a dog’s emotions, but it’s really not.  Up is absolutely wonderful, and not just among my favorites put out by Pixar or Disney, but one of my favorite movies of any I’ve seen.  It will take a lot from Pixar to top it, but I hope they like a good challenge.


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