Toy Story 4

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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.

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Toy Story 3

ToyStory3

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.)

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“Aladdin” Was the Most Genial Disney Film of the ’90s

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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.

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“Captain Marvel” is the Okayest Film in the MCU

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(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.

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The Cracks in “Glass”

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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.

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“The Lego Movie 2”: Blocks Fit Together, But Never Quite Click

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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.

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How “Bolt” Revitalized the Disney Formula

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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.”

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the Best Animated Film of the Year

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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.

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“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is a Sweet, Self-Mocking Success

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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.

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“Smallfoot” is a Fake News Allegory, with Snow Monsters

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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.

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“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is the Best Teen Film in Years

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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.

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All the “Mission: Impossible” Films, Reviewed

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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.

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“Incredibles 2”, Though More Ambitious, Never Quite Matches the Original

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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.

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The “Jurassic Park” Trilogy Didn’t Know When to Go Extinct

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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.)

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The “Pitch Perfect” Trilogy Gave Acapella a Much-Deserved Spotlight

Pitch Perfect

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.

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The 10 Best Films of 2017

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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.

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“The Last Jedi” is the Best Star Wars Film Since 1980

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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…

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The “Thor” Trilogy is Eventually Worthy

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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.

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“Coco” Review: Music in the Bones

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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.)

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Was the “Cars” Trilogy Just a Six-Hour Toy Commercial?

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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.

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The “Planet of the Apes” Trilogy is a Remake Done Right

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I usually like to post TV or film retrospectives on major anniversaries, but sometimes I get impatient. The fiftieth anniversary of Planet of the Apes won’t be celebrated until early next year, but I’m too giddy to keep my damn dirty paws off this franchise until then. Besides, the post here doesn’t directly deal with the original Planet of the Apes; instead, I’m using it to discuss a remarkable film trilogy which drew to a close earlier this year.

But let’s start at the beginning. The original Planet of the Apes hit theaters in February 1968. Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs and cowritten by the great Rod Serling, the film introduced viewers to a barbaric planet populated by (what else?) apes, and the unfortunate astronauts who crash-landed on its surface.

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“Happy Death Day” Review: Die, Die Again

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Before the story even starts, Happy Death Day has let its viewers in on the joke.

The movie opens with the familiar orbiting globe of Universal, the studio which distributed the film. Then it abruptly resets, and begins displaying the globe again. Then another reset, and we finally get the complete logo.

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Reviewing All the Spider-Man Films

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[Posted by Jeremy Grayson]

In the fifty-five years since his debut, Spider-Man has been both insider and outsider. He is Marvel Comics’ most recognizable superhero, yet he is largely disconnected from the publisher’s greater Universe. Outside of the Marvel Team-Up series (which paired him with other heroes in every issue), he has mostly worked as a loner, web-slinging his way through a more earthbound sector of comics than the Avengers or the X-Men.
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Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2

[Review by Jeremy Grayson]

[Writer: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Dug Chamberlin, Chris Webb (Screenplay); John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Ash Brannon, Andrew Stanton (Story) | Director: John Lasseter | Released: 11/24/1999 ]

“But they forget you.” – Jessie

It’s hard to remember in an age where every popular film must be repeated (or remade, or rebooted, or reinterpreted), but there was a time when animated sequels were never all that special. Following the commercial fizzling of The Rescuers Down Under, Disney decided that audiences weren’t all that interested seeing what happens after “happily ever after.” A few years later, they found an outlet for follow-up films in home media, and began producing direct-to-video sequels and threequels to films ranging from Aladdin to Tarzan to Beauty and the Beast. Some of these films weren’t bad (Cinderella III, for example, is among the most entertaining animated Disney films of the 2000s), but most were made on the cheap, with lackluster writing and animation, designed to catch the eye of the excitable child and soothe the mind of the exhausted parent.

When Pixar broke into the feature-film arena, it was very much the underdog to Disney’s mighty Mouse. But Toy Story proved to be a hit with audiences and critics, and gave the CG studio ample opportunity to grow and develop their ideas. Their next attempt, A Bug’s Life, was competent but unremarkable, and a few cynical minds began to wonder if Pixar hadn’t simply gotten lucky in its first time out of the gate. These fears were not quelled when Pixar announced that its next theatrical film would be… a sequel to Toy Story.
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