Tag Archives: toy story

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).

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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.

IMG_0257

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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