For years, Pixar earned a reputation for the unique way it spun its animated stories – they were adult films masquerading as children’s entertainment. Start with a cute, child-friendly concept (toys come to life; monsters in the closet; a family of superheroes) and then use it as a platform to explore deep and thoughtful questions about life, relationships, and maturity. These films lured audiences in with the promise of a fun day at the movies, but gave so much more than they advertised.
While indexing all my film reviews into a comprehensive archive last month, I came to a perturbing realization – my penchant for film reviews had taken a hit. The last movie I gave a full review to was Onward back in early April – and even that was partly motivated by the need to continue my trend of reviewing each new Disney/Pixar film as it’s released.
I’ve been reviewing movies for Critically Touched for a few years, giving my thoughts on films both old and new. And now you can finally access all these reviews from one page! (Reviews are for individual films unless otherwise noted.)
It’s not easy being Pixar.
Sure, you get all the glory. Your films have grossed billions of dollars worldwide. You score countless glowing reviews from critics and audiences. You’ve won more than half the Best Animated Feature Oscars since the category was first created.
Note: The following review avoids major spoilers, but it does discuss characters and plot elements. For those who haven’t seen it, I’d recommend going into this film knowing as little as possible.
The structure of the whodunnit is among the most rigid in the annals of literature. A crime – most habitually a murder – is committed, and the detectives are called to the scene. We meet the suspects, each with their own quirks and foibles, and the mystery is afoot. Some clues glitter the path, a few red herrings maintain the tension, at least one final curveball and the perp is unmasked. Explanations are given, plaudits awarded, final credits rolled.
There was a time – quite recently, in fact – when sequels were anathematic to the Disney brand, banished to the six-month shelf life of DVD and home video markets. Even as Pixar began collecting riches and accolades from Toy Story sequels, the Mouse House chose to keep its animated brand relegated to originals only.
I cannot say for certain whether toys come to life when their owners leave the room. Science tells me that molded plastic and cotton-filled plush cannot function the way human organs do, and even the most advanced neural equipment likely won’t detect a spark of brain activity within a GI Joe or Barbie doll. But despite this, asking whether toys come to life when humans are away is like asking the age-old questions about the tree, the forest, and the lack of anyone to hear a sound: We can never truly say for sure.
One of the unspoken laws of animation, stretching back to the days of Felix the Cat and Gertie the Dinosaur, is that cartoon characters do not age. Sure, they may change to fit the times, and incorporate new technologies as they become available (iPhones are now a regular sight on The Simpsons), but they are not meant to grow up in real time. It’s an obvious benefit over live-action stories, and one we gladly accept – do we really want to see Shaggy and Velma fighting crime as senior citizens? (Poor Scoob would’ve been in doggy heaven by 1980.)
As a kid, my favorite Disney film was Aladdin.
Looking back, it’s not surprising. Aladdin courts more of a male audience than a lot of the other Disney films of the era. It leans heavily on action, comedy, and razzmatazz animation. It has colorful characters and catchy songs and a generally upbeat tone.
(The following review contains minor spoilers.)
The trailer for Captain Marvel came equipped with an emboldened tagline: “Discover What Makes a Hero.” It’s a generic line, as easily applied to most of the three dozen or so superhero origin films we’ve seen in the past decade. But there’s a catch – as displayed in the trailer, the words “A Hero” first appeared as “Her” before the other letters faded into view – underscoring how, after twenty films with men at the center, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was finally focusing one of its adventures on a woman.
Where does Glass go wrong?
Not in ticket sales, certainly. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is thus far the highest-grossing American film of 2019. But despite the money it’s raking in, the film has generated a mixed reception – it currently stands at 37% of Rotten Tomatoes, with some reviews calling it one of the director’s biggest disappointments. And having now caught up with the film, I can understand why.
I can state without unwarranted cynicism that the idea for producing a “Lego Movie” probably did not stem from the need for artistic fulfillment. As with many cartoons that feature cute, kid-friendly, endlessly marketable leads, it was greenlit by a studio that wanted to sell toys. But it was thanks to the perfect team of thinkers and dreamers – led by the writing/directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller – that 2014’s The Lego Movie turned out to be as excellent as it was, featuring terrific laughs and exploring poignant themes about imagination and growing up.
It’s no secret that I love a good Disney discussion, and the Internet offers no shortage of opportunities. Yet despite the multiple debates about the studio’s animated adventures, some films are unfairly downplayed or even ignored. When discussing the new wave of great Disney Animation films, for instance, fans are quick to champion the virtues of subversive princess stories like Tangled and Frozen, or other genre-bending adventures like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. All fine films, to be sure, and all deserving of their accolades. But few seem to mention the film which arguably kicked off the current “Disney Revival.”
In the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics, past Thor’s hammer, behind Cap’s shield, and just to the left of Wolverine’s adamantium claws, sits the great Spider-Man vault. In it are contained the thousands of stories – both print and screen – centered on everyone’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Spidey has starred in countless comic books, a dozen TV shows, and has had kicked off three different film franchises since the dawn of the new century. Forget market saturation – he’s webbed up the market like one of his arachnidan equivalents, and refuses to set it free.
The Internet is a fascinating and endlessly engrossing compendium of knowledge, allowing anyone to receive any sort of information at any time. There is no limit to the amount of eye-opening facts one can learn from surfing the web, and…
Wait. That’s not right.
I can say with some degree of certainty that Venom is not the worst Marvel film of the decade.
Located in the deepest recesses of the Warner Bros. vault are ninety years’ worth of animated entertainment, just ripe for the plucking, the cherishing, and the repurposing. The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. The Hanna-Barbera TV library. Too many DC Comics adaptations to name. Outside of Disney, perhaps no corporation has as wide and diverse an array of animation as Warner does.
Teen films aren’t as popular as they used to be. The high school genre had its heyday once upon a time, with a renaissance kicked off by the infectiously enjoyable Clueless. Amy Heckerling’s witty comedy (which I reviewed a while back) set off a wave of teen-centered cinema that sparked turn-of-the-century films like Bring It On and 10 Things I Hate About You, before things climaxed in the genre-bending Mean Girls. But in the years since, widely-released teen films have fallen by the wayside, with only the occasional exception (Easy A, The Duff) to shake things up.
To the average blockbuster franchise, longevity is often viewed as anathema. Too many times have we seen a film debut to widespread critical and audience acclaim, then get bogged down by increasingly weaker sequels, each more desperate to ride the coattails of the original’s success than the last. The original Superman films, The Pink Panther, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ice Age – all unfortunate examples of what happens when you let a good thing last too long.
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Incredibles 2. Proceed with care.
Pixar sequels usually spend a long time in gestation. It was 11 years between the release of the second and third Toy Story films. Then it was 12 years between Monsters Inc. and Monsters University. Then we waited 13 years between Nemo and Dory. And now the studio has broken its record yet again, with a 14-year gap between The Incredibles and Incredibles 2.
I was born the same year that Jurassic Park was released in theaters. It was a strange time, or so my mother tells me. Dinosaurs were everywhere – on shirts, mugs, window decals, and Weird Al covers. I was lucky enough to escape the prehistoric merchandising onslaught – my parents never forced me to wear a T-Rex onesie, and none of my plush toys were modeled from the Mesozoic. (Unless you count Barney. But I don’t, nor will I ever, count Barney.)
My first experience with acapella music came early in my tween years, when I dug up some old tapes labeled “non-instrumental.” Running them through the recorder, I at first didn’t believe it – those background voices sounded too similar to standard-issue drums and bass guitars. But I quickly caught on to the beatboxing and legato vocals that accompanied each song, and became fascinated by the concept – an entire orchestra composed of nothing but the collective human voice.
Ocean’s 8 is a Hollywood executive’s dream of a summer movie. It’s modestly-budgeted, eschewing the grand-scale action and VFX-plosions which pepper the traditional action blockbuster – yet it’s also light, fun, and breezy, in the way that only summertime films are allowed to be.
Note: What follows is an extended and spoiler-free discussion of Solo: A Star Wars Story, followed by a spoiler-filled section where I delve into the finer details. I’ll let you know when we reach that second part.
Hollywood’s not in the best of states lately. It seems like every day brings forth a new accusation, and a new revelation that one of our favorite actors is in fact a sleazy scumbag. (To use the family-friendly terms.) The industry seems rattled like never before, and we’re all left wondering where all the chaos will lead.
But in the meantime, it can be healthy to ignore the chaos in the film industry, and focus instead on… um, the film industry.
Judging by the box-office returns, I’m guessing that some of you went to see The Last Jedi this past weekend. I’ve got some thoughts on the film, and will divulge them in a moment – although know that they come with FULL SPOILERS for the entire film. You’ve been warned…
In the vast and intertangled web of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor often feels like the family’s unloved stepchild. And it’s not very hard to see why. While Captain America and Iron Man represent different ideals of the American Dream (one personifying it, the other living it), Thor both figuratively and literally exists on a whole other world. His story is rooted in Norse mythology, and dabbles heavily in the realm of gods and goddesses. It’s hardly the sort of fodder one would expect from a superhero, particularly one who helms a blockbuster franchise.
Upon first hearing the premise of Coco, my mind immediately responded: “That sounds a lot like The Book of Life.”
It was a snap judgment, but not an entirely groundless one. Pixar’s latest animated film shares a number of elements in common with Life, which was still relatively fresh in my mind (the film was released in 2014) when I saw the first Coco trailer. The perceived lack of originality concerned me, as Coco is one of the few non-sequel films in the current Pixar cycle. (We’ve just come off Finding Dory and Cars 3; next up will be The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4.)
When it comes to children’s entertainment, merchandise is king. How successful your movie is depends largely on how well it can sell toys. Warner Animation neglected this fact in the late ‘90s when they produced Quest for Camelot and The Iron Giant. Neither film was marketed very well, and neither had a very compelling toy line. Unsurprisingly, both bombed at the box office. Nowadays, Warner Animation makes most of their animated films about Lego characters. Lesson learned.