Monday, May 31, 2010

"Congratulations to you, Mickey!"


Release Date: 13 November 1940

Director: James Alger, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handey, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen

It's no secret that both Walt Disney and his wife, Lillian, were big fans of classic music and the arts. Anyone who has ever lived in LA the last few years can tell you about the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the LA Philharmonic play. The Disney Consert Hall gets it's name from the original contribution Lillian Disney made as a gift to the arts and Los Angeles, two things both of the Disney held fondly in their hearts. It comes as no surprise then at first glance that Walt would make a film like "Fantasia." But, upon review of the history of the film, one would discover that it was not love of classical music that originally was the genesis behind "Fantasia," but rather another one of Walt's great loves: Mickey Mouse.

Get into the late 1930's, the Mickey Mouse shorts were loosing popularity and it seemed more of Walt's audience wanted Donald Duck shorts instead. But Walt didn't want to give up on his most famous character and devised an idea for what was to be Mickey's big come back. Walt started work on a short for Mickey based on the 1797 poem by Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling, better known in English as The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with the music based on the L'apprenti sorcier, which was scored by Paul Dukas and based also on the original poem by Goethe. The animators really got into it and even had a little bit of fun at the bosses expense, naming the sorcerer Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards). But after the extra long, nine minute short was made for the extremely large amount of $125,000, a very expense price tag for a short at the time, Disney was worried about actually releasing it by itself. It was a suggestion by conductor for the short Leopold Stokowski (who Disney had met early in 1938 while the short was being made, and graciously accepted the job of conducting, and doing it for free no less) to instead of releasing as a single short, add other segments and turn it into a full blown film. As a result, a new kind of animated film was formed, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice was joined by Fugue in D Minor, The Nutcracker Suite, The Rite of Spring, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours, and last but not least, Night on Bald Mountain/ Ava Maria.

As production of The Sorcere's Aprentas turned into "Fantasia," Walt's vision for the project started to change. This was not meant to be a simple animated film like "Snow White" or the at that time in production "Pinocchio" was, but a place where animation, classic music, and pure art met to create what Walt called "The Concert Feature." As a result, he treated it like a fancy concert, complete with reserved seating in the theaters in the theaters that showed it, as well as expectations of fancy dress to those who attended, a program featuring production pictures, credits and synopsis for each segment and dedications by both Stokowski and Disney, an intermission and live action host (Deems Taylor) who would come out and provide introduction before each piece. Taylor's segments would also be the first time (of many) that live action would be used in one of the Disney Animated Masterpieces. Walt also commissioned the creation of a new, multi-channel sound system known as "Fantasound" in every theater playing "Fantasia." "Fantasound" would turn out to be a form of stereophonic sound, making "Fantasia" the first commercial film to use such technology.

Despite the hard work and innovative approaches, upon it's original release, "Fantasia" would be a box office bomb, partly as was the case with "Pinocchio" because of the loss of the European and Asian markets due to World war II, and part because audiences in the US and other markets that did see a release just couldn't get into a "Concert Feature" at that time. This, as well as the box office failure of "Pinocchio," left Disney in a lurch and made sure that Disney's original idea for the film, of being re-released each year with a mix of old and new segments, just like a classic music concert, would not happen. Ultimately, while not the original idea totally, it would spawn a squeal in "Fantasia 2000" some 60 years after it's original release. Despite the original set backs, and a few harsh criticisms over the years, most critics would go on to praise "Fantasia" and it was able to make the original money lost and some through it's various re-releases in theaters over the years and finally home video and DVD.

My Reaction:
Blame it on my ADHD if you wish, or just say that I'm just not "cultured enough" to appreciate it, but I just don't get into "Fantasia" that much. That is not to say that I don't find myself enjoying classical music at all, as in fact as I've grown older I find that from time to time it is very soothing to my soul. But, I have to be in the right mood to enjoy it, other wise it's wasted on me. The same goes for "Fantasia." Upon watching the film again, I discovered this is still the case.

But that said, I find I can easily watch by itself The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain segments just about anytime. This may be in part due to the fact that both segments are easily the most accessible and well made shorts in the film and have had many Disney Channel showing over the years.
The historical significance is never lost on me, as is the case for what the film did to the animation medium period. As a die hard fan of animation, that is never lost on me. Upon watching this film again, I discovered that when in the right mood of course, "Fantasia" can be a very satisfying film. But if watched when not in the right mood, it will bore you to death like no other!

My Wife's Reaction: She got board at times it seemed, but over all seemed to enjoy it.

My Final Grade: (B-) I have to be honest, while I enjoy one or two of the segments, this is not one of my favorite Disney animated films. It's also however not my least favorite either. While I enjoyed the format update found in "Fantasia 2000" a lot more, I can still appreciate the leaps and bounds of what Walt was doing to the animation format with this film. He may have originally meant to save Mickey's career, but what he ended up doing was showing that animation didn't have to always be gags and funny stories, that sometimes it could truly be an establish, respected art form in the style of classical music and paintings.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"What does an actor want with a conscience, anyway? "

Film: "Pinocchio"

Release Date: 9 February 1940

Director: Ben Shappsteen, Hamilton Luske, Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts

After the success of "Snow White," Walt Disney was ready to follow it up with more animated films. The first of these would be "Pinocchio," based on the Italian story by Carlo Collodi. It went through some very heavy changes when it was originally being worked on as Walt felt it need a different approach them the one that was being used for the film at the time. Some of the biggest changes were to the leading characters of Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. For Pinocchio, Walt felt that the direction that was being used, making him more of a sarcastic wise guy, like the original story, wouldn't work and liked the idea of him being played more as an innocent character with a deep sense of wonder and amazement about the World. In the case of Jiminy Cricket, his role was expanded to what it is now in the film with him take a less "insect" look and more of a "human" look.

While "Pinocchio" has gained the love and admiration of countless fans and film critics and historians over the years, it was originally a failure at the box office. Part of that was due to World War Two, which saw the film get a delayed release in the valuable international markets of Asia and Europe. But thanks to it's myriad of re-releases over the years and VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray sales, it has more then made up it's original box office losses. It was the first animated film to win a serious Oscar at the Academy Awards, winning for both Best Song (When You Wish Upon a Star) and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In 1994, it was added to the United States National Film Registry and has made all manner of top ten lists over the years.

My Reaction: I had just seen "Pinocchio" a few moths ago with my then fiance (now wife), so it was still fresh in my mind. But what I have noticed is how the older I get, the more I enjoy this one. There is something about the story of the wooden boy who wants to be a real boy that does a very good job of capturing my attention. The grand adventures young Pinocchio has are epic and deep. Each adventure leads to some great life lesson that Pinocchio learns that leave a lot of deep emotional impact on it's audience. I actually feel sorry for him when he discovers instead of a life of ease as an actor, he is nothing more then a slave to Stromboli, who has sights on exploiting our hero and then turning him into firewood when his use is dried up.

While Walt got and still get praise for his landmark film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," I have to say especially after watching both back-to-back, that in my mind "Pinocchio" is the stronger film. Pinocchio as a character is more three-dimensional then Snow White and the over all canvas is deeper. The whole "Pleasure Island" scene was just inspired. I remember as a young boy it scared me so much I don't remediable disobeying my parents for many weeks after. Even now it leaves an impact and is an interesting moment of growth for our hero.

The music was perfectly written for the film, both songs and score and add a lot of further depth to the picture. I have always loved the song "When You Wish Upon a Star" and very much can understand why it has become one of the most recognizable Disney tunes. I think while it may not have been originally, this film is quickly becoming one of my faves.

My Wife's Reaction: She once again seemed to enjoy it. Of the very few Disney film she originally owned before marring me, this one was one of the ones she had, and would watch.

My Final Grade: (A+) This film maybe the finest film Walt Disney ever made. Defiantly of the first 5 that were released before his "package film era" it is the best. While the other four on that list (Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi, and Dumb) are still good and each have something to offer in the over all Disney cannon, "Pinocchio" is the better told story with richer characters and with maybe the greatest song to ever come out of a Disney film. In every way, this film was enjoyable to watch and of all the earliest work, the one that maybe stands the test of time the best. They just don't make films like this one anymore.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

"A fine bunch of water lilies you turned out to be. I'd like to see anybody make me wash, if I didn't wanna."

Film: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

Release Date: 21 December 1937 (premier), 4 February 1938 (theatrical)

Director: David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen

Much has already been said about this film, so there may not be much of significance that could possibly be said to add to what has already been said. But, that said, it's a good reminder for people that have already heard about the big historical significance this film has had and still has even today, and maybe even the first time for some to have heard any of this film illustrious history. Back in 1934, the Disney Studios (who at that time strictly made cartoon shorts) had gained a strong reputation for their Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons. But Walt wanted to push the envelope, he wanted to do more, so he sets his sights on a full-length motion picture.

June 1934, Walt announced his plains officially in the Time magazine and instantly faced dificulties. Makeing "Snow White" would cost ten times what it would cost to make one of his shorts and in fact in order to make the film, he had to mortgage his house to get the money to make it. meaning that if the film was a flop, that would most likely be the end of the Disney Studio and Walt and his family would end up poor and homeless. Adding to that, Walt's wife, Lillian, was against the idea of making the film, as was Walt's brother and business partner Roy, and both of them tried to talk him out of it. As well, the Hollywood community started making fun of Walt's ambitions by calling the film "Disney's Folly."

Still, Walt kept his head up and got to work later in 1934, trying to form ideas for how the story would shape up and look. Ideas for names of the Dwarf's started, which included Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy. The final seven names were decided by a process of elimination. Still, Sneezy and Dopey were not yet part of the at that time, final group. They would come a while later. The original story had more gag found throughout the film and even Walt himself offered $5 for every gag that was thought up. But ultimately, Disney was worried that too much of a comical approach would damage the film and was especially worried about the Queen. But by late 1935 and a number of re-writes, the film progressed more in the direction that we know of it today. The biggest change after that was the decision to make the film more about the relationship Snow White has with the Queen, and less about the Dwarfs. This led to a few sequences with the Dwarfs left on the cutting room table, the most famous of these being the soup eating scene that was mostly animated.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was finally debuted in Hollywood on 21 December 1937 at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles, CA and received a standing ovations from a packed crowd that included many of the big Hollywood celebrities of the day. It went on the be the most successful film at the Box Office until 1941 when "Gone With the Wind" came out. Despite that, it still has won all kinds of awards and made many top ten lists. The most prestigious awards though may have been the special Academy Award given to Walt Disney for the making of the film (that included 7 small statues to accompany the main big one) and making the list of films to be included in the United States National Film Registry in 1989. Fun and often little know facts include how legendary voice actor Pinto Colvig, best known to film audiances as the oiginal voice of Goofy, was also the voice for Grumpy and Sleepy. Also, the original Brother's Grimm tale was one of Walt's favorite stories growing up and the biggest reason why it was the story picked for Disney's first animated film. The other of Walt's favorite childhood stories that would later become a Disney Animated film was "Peter Pan."

My Reaction: Like many people, I grew up with the notion that "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the first animated film in history. And why not with Disney always showcasing the films as such. Turns out though that after learning more about animation history, Argentine film "El Apostol," made in 1917, was the first. But that said, "Snow White" was still a number of firsts, each and everyone came back to me as I was watching this latest time. It was the first to use Cel-Animation, it was the first animated film in the US or English speaking world for that matter, a swell as the first produced in color and the first made by the Walt Disney. It also started off what is known as "The Walt Disney Animated Classic" cannon and was the first film, live action or animated, to have it's soundtrack released and sold commercially.

With all those firsts, I kind of get taken back every time I watch the film, I mean it is a very big piece of not just Disney or animation history, but American history as well! But, once I let all of that slip my mind and watch the film, I find myself not just transported back into the fantasy land of Snow White, but also the 1930's. The last few years I've had the chance to watch more classic films from the 1930's and after watching those, I can say this film very much is a product of it's time period.

I could not help myself wondering if this film had not been made in the 30's and some other story was the first Disney film and instead, "Snow White" was made today, how different would it be? For starters, I don't think any of the reading found in the original film would be used for a more modern make. I think the over all feel would be different, more animated, hip, with as my wife put it, "More potty humor." Snow White would most likely be more of a "modern woman" which basically means less naive, less "damsel in distress" and more confident in her actions. The Dwarfs would be more goofy then they originally are and the Queen would probably be creepier. But thoughts of how it would look had it been made today aside, while I liked it, it just wasn't as enjoy able to me as some of Walt's other films were or a number of the more modern Disney films. That said, I'm very happy I own it and that I can share it with my kids once I stat having them.

My Wife's Reaction: I have never seen my wife make fun of a cartoon as much as she made fun of this one. Specifically, she thought it was funny to mock Snow White's voice and singing. But honestly, I can't say as that I blame her. That said, she mostly seemed to like it and either way, this film hold new personal attachments as it was at the Snow White wishing well at Disneyland that I originally proposed to my wife. So the film has some new meaning for both of us.

My Final Grade:
(B+) Considering how many top ten list this film has made over the years and how many critics consider this the finest animated film ever made, it may seem to some almost blasphemous that I grade this film as low as I do. But these grades are how I feel about these film, not how others see them. While I like the film and will always respect it for the history it has made, it just was not one of my favorites. While the story was ok, I didn't feel it was as strong as other Disney film, and the characters with the most depth and that you care about the most are the dwarfs, NOT Snow White. In fact, I dare say Snow White is the weakest of the Disney Princesses. But, that said, there is a kind of respect that one must show still for this timeless film.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"I was hiding under your porch because I love you."

Film: "Up"

Release Date: 29 May 2009

Director: Pete Doctor, Bob Peterson

History: After nine films, all Hollywood success stories, Pixar's tenth film would come from the imagination of it's director, Pete Doctor. Doctor imagined escaping life when it gets to be too much with a flying house. From there, he took his idea and crafted the story for the film with writers Thomas McCarthy and Pixar's Bob Peterson. Doctor based the hero Carl Fredrickson on legendary actors Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau as he felt they were grumpy old guys, but yet sweet, the way he wanted Carl to be. He also based the name of the villain, Charles Muntz, on the name of the old cartoon producer Charles Mintz, who is famous in Disney lore for stealing Walt Disney's original cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, forcing Walt to ultimately create Mickey Mouse.

"Up" was released in the summer of 2009 and was the best reviewed film that year. It went on to be Pixar's second most profitable film after "Finding Nemo." It was also the first Pixar film to be released in Disney Digital 3D. It went on to win a number of prestigious awards, but maybe it's greatest honor was being the second ever animated film, and first Pixar animated film, to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year.

My Reaction: With the Pixar side of this marathon basically over for now (as of the moment this is being published, "Toy Story 3" is less then a month from being released.) I can say watching these films as strung together as I did has been a real treat and one that sometime down the road I hope to do again. I have defiantly seen growth in Pixar animation, characters and story telling going from film to film. And yet I have also seen Pixar still using tried and true principles in every film they have made as well as try new things. Some of these new ideas have be good and found success, some have not been as favored, but it's been a fun ride so far. It has made me stop being a Pixar fan boy long enough to search my true feelings for each of their films. In doing so I have had to be very honest in my likes and dis-likes which has lead to some interesting discoveries.

I think that Pixar's first four film were amazing, their fifth and sixth were ok, their seventh was really good, and their eighth and ninth were also just ok. Which leads us to their tenth and currently (until "Toy Story 3" comes out) latest film, "Up." After watching it this latest time, I realized that I really liked it and that it may be on par with their first four films. In many ways it was the most daring. Unlike many of their past films, it was hard to give a brief explanation for what the film is about. But I think in seriously thinking about it, the reason I love it is also what Pete Doctor said it was about: realizing how precious the people in our lives are, because once they are gone, they are gone.

Carl loved his wife, but when she died, he had such a hard time letting her go. We all have moments are will have moment like Carl were someone important in our lives will pass away, push us to let go of the past and move on with the future. But at the same time, still honoring the memory of that fallen person. The film is about enjoy the many adventures life puts in our way. While Carl looses his wife, he in time gains a new relationship with Russel, who while he does not replace the memory of Carl's wife, reflects the brave decision Carl makes to blaze new trails of adventures in life in the new chapters that are unfolding. I think I can find common ground with how Carl feels and the growth he builds on from start to finish in the film. Life is change, it is a huge part of being human, but it is still very hard, harder at some times then others. It is hard to watch family and friends pass away in time or fade away from your life and hard to deal with a change in life situations and surroundings. But with continuous courage, we can embrace the changes of our lives and enjoy each moment as they pass by. Carl shows us the way.

My Wife's Reaction: After watching the first ten Pixar films, it turns out that this is easily my wives favorite Pixar film. She says she is not sure why, that she just likes it the best, but I noticed she really liked Dug.

My Final Grade: (A) This was an amazing film. I loved the lush locations, the imagination found in the story and settings (I mean flying in a house tied to a zillion balloons? How cool is that?!) and the internal story facing our hero, Carl. This film earned being the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. It was in my mind, Pixar's best in a while.

All images copyright Disney/ Pixar. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Time for lunch... in a cup!"

Film: "Wall-E"

Release Date:
27 June 2008

Director: Andrew Stanton

Pixar's ninth film, "Wall-E" came to theaters summer of 2008. The last of the ideas from the famed lunch back in 1994 that a number of Pixar gurus had to come up with idea for films after "Toy Story," it was originally taken up and conceived by Andrew Stanton and Pete Doctor. Doctor left it in favor of directing "Monster's Inc." and left Stanton to hash it out by himself. Stanton left it alone for a while to work on "Finding Nemo," but then came back to it in 2002 after work on "Nemo" finished.

It went through a number of re-writes and story ideas before finally ending up with what became the finished film. The biggest idea was for EVE to be sent by aliens called Gels. The Gels were off-shoots of human and basically all that was left of humanity after 700 years in space. Slowly Stanton changed their appearance to be more human like till he arrived at the large, baby-like human beings that are in the final film. "Wall-E" also ended up being one of the most ambitious Pixar films to date with 125,000 story boards and complex space scenes. It featured sound effects including the voice of it;s title character from legendary sound artist Ben Burtt, who may be best known for being the "voice" of R2-D2 in "Star Wars" as well as creating the humm sound of the light sabers and the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.

It went on to win a number of awards, most notably the Academy Award for Best Animated Film as well as making Time Magazines' list for "Best Movies of the Decade." While not the highest grossing Pixar film, it made more then the previous year's Pixar film 'Ratatouille" and ended up with over $200 million at the Box Office in the US. Considering it was sandwiched between high grossing film "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones 4" and "The Dark Knight" and with it's very heavy social commentary, it did very well.

My Reaction:
Ok, so there is no getting past it, "Wall-E" is very politically charged and certainly the biggest social commentary for a Pixar film. Rather then sweep it under the rug, it's best to get into it a little bit (which is really all I'm doing as you could easily write whole papers, and many have, on the themes and topics of this film).

I don't think there is much mistake, 'Wall-E" is many things to many people and maybe the first Pixar film that is so widely "you either love it or hate it, there is no middle ground." "Wall-E" is to capitalism what George Orwell's novel "1984" was to socialism/ communism. While "1984" illustrated the possible negative side effects of a socialist government, "Wall-E" shows us what capitalism can do left unchecked. The biggest and most profound example of this is how the fictional mega corporation Buy N Large essentially ends up becoming not just the government for the United States, but the whole world.

Under the leadership of Buy N Large, without anyone to stand in their way and in fact with most of, if not all the World population buying in to the Buy N Large way of life, the Earth becomes so polluted that humanity can't live on Earth anymore and our beautiful planet becomes nothing more then a giant landfill. In every way, this large part of the film challenges the audiences' way of life and raises the question about a number or somewhat sensitive, yet important topics in how we live our lives as a society. The first image I thought of after watching this this most recent time is the current British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite complaints about how the Obama Administration is or is not dealing with the crisis, the film left me wondering how different it would be if BP or another like-minded company WAS the government. It scares me to think about such a fate and how close we seem to be getting to one like the film depicts. I've heard many in conservative side of the debate express fears of a government out of control, but for me personally, I think they forget that there is always another side to every coin, and a mega corporation out of control can be just as bad and frightening. "Wall-E" does a good job of exploring this side of the debate. Either form of "government" can be bad if left unchecked.

Beyond the comments on capitalism and environmental issues lies questions about man's relationship to technology. While the film makes were not trying to show it to be bad, they were raising questions about how much we rely on it in our day-to-day lives. In Wall-E's world, human beings can't seem to do anything for themselves and need robots for everything. The film raises many question about this relationship and what it does to our humanity. There have also been Christian and mythological themes associated with the film.

Slightly less heavy themes or nods found would the Pixar teams love of musicals and classic tv shows and movies, with the most obvious being "Hello Dolly! I think my mind gets worked every time I see this film and it really is fascinating to me how much it seems to get discussion going amongst people with different World-views. I think out side of all of that, I find I get bored at times with "Wall-E." While I wasn't against the heavy themes or the pantomime found in much of the film, it just didn't do it for me like Pixar normally does. In fact I'd dare say Pixar the last few years has really been dragging. But it seems so silly in many ways as their version of "dragging" is most other studio's mega success. But I really loved the main characters of Wall-E and EVE and hope they get used for possible short subject cartoons later. I also thought it odd the live action scenes found in the film. Some may have liked them or seen they as "visionary," I didn't though.

My Wife's Reaction: She thought the cockroach was possibly the world first and only "cute" cockroach on the planet and found it fitting that it took Pixar to pull that off.

My Final Grade: (B-) Yes, I very much enjoy the philosophical debates the film brings up and the characters of Wall-E and EVE are some of the best Pixar has given us, but for whatever reason, it just didn't do it for me the way "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2" or "Cars" did. But still a fine film.

All images copyright Disney/ Pixar. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that? "

Film: "Ratatouille"

Release Date: 29 June 2007

Director: Brad Bird. Jan Pinkava

History: "Ratatouille" had an interesting history. Originally the brain child of "Geri's Game" (Pixar's award winning short from 1998) director Jan Pinkava in the early 2000's. He created the core story and ideas for the key characters, sets, and style for the film. It was meant to be the first Pixar film with a European flair about it as well as Pinkava's film debut as director. But then in 2005, the studio lacked confidence in his direction and approach and called in "The Incredibles" director Brad Bird to take over as head director. Pinkava stayed with Pixar a while more to finish up a few duties at the studio, and then left, being very tight lipped about his feelings or story of what happen. Bird came in a re-wrote the story by giving Skinner and Colette larger roles and killing off Gusteau as well as making the rats more rat like and less anthropomorphic in appearance.

"Ratatouille" was also meant to be the first Pixar film free from commitments from Disney. After tension between Pixar CEO Steve Jobs and then Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, about the terms of the contract between the two companies, 'Cars" was originally set to be the last Disney distributed Pixar film (as it was the fifth film in the five picture deal they had signed, with Disney not counting "Toy Story 2" because it was a sequel) and "Ratatouille" would be the first Pixar film distributed by another studio. Much of this came beside the feud over "Toy Story 2" also over the fact that Pixar felt that even though their film were making millions of dollars (their first five films grossed over $2.5 billion) that Disney was enjoy the fast majority of the profits even though all Disney did was market and distribute their films. There was further contention was the fact that Pixar had no copy rights on their own films and characters, Disney did. Meaning Disney could make films with Pixar characters without Pixar. This lead to "Toy Story 3" originally being a Disney only film. More on that in the review for that film, but after some shake ups at Disney in 2005 that lead to Eisner stepping down at Disney, and new talks with Pixar by new Disney CEO Bob Iger that lead to Disney merging with Pixar, "Cars" became the first film under the new Disney-Pixar banner with "Ratatouille" suddenly the second.

While a soft box office opening for Pixar in the US (still coming in number one for it's opening weekend, but with $47 million instead of the higher numbers Pixar film normally get) but became the highest grossing animated film in France, where the film takes place. It was also a critical darling despite the fact that's it's main villain was a critic. It went on to win a number of awards including the Academy Award for best Animated Film.

My Reaction: "Ratatouille" came out during a very busy Summer Movie season, at least for me it was. "Spider-Man 3" and "Fantastic Four 2" both came out that summer as well as the third film in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and "Stardust." Add to that in the animation world during or just prior to "Ratatouille's" release the third "Shrek" film, "Meet the Robinsons," and "Surfs Up." Of course with both the second "National Treasure" and "Enchanted" both coming out later in the year, there were many films that caught my attention in 2007 and I'll be the first to admit, if "Ratatouille" had not been a Pixar film, I most likely would have skipped it with so many other movies that I shelled out the big bucks to see.

But after seeing it again, it reminded me that while not my favorite Pixar film, I'm still happy I saw it and even happy I own it. Some of the nuts and bolts about cooking, while happy they were there to show the proper flavor the film was going for (no pun intended), I found bored me at times. But one thing I very much was in awe by way how organic they made made the food look in the film, even though it was made by computers. Clearly the medium is reaching new heights these days. I also enjoyed similar to "Mulan" how one person, or in this case rat, can make a difference.

My Wife's Reaction: She, like most women I've ran across with this film, seemed grossed out by the rats at times. But she very much appreciated much of the story and that the rats sanitize themselves before cooking at the end.

My Final Grade:
(B+) While not amongst the list of my favs from Pixar, still a good film. I enjoyed the lessons from the film and the determination Remy had in living his dream and not letting others stand in his way.

All images copyright Disney/ Pixar. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"I create feelings in others that they themselves don't understand. "

Film: "Cars"

Release Date: 9 June 2006Director: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft

"Cars" was some more Pixar "firsts" and some "returns" for Pixar. It was the first Pixar film to use real life locations in it's story (Route 66) and the first Pixar film to have a large collection of main stream musicians behind the music for the film (very much so more then "Toy Story 2"). But it was the return of John Lasseter to the director's chair (the last time he has donned that chair to date) and Randy Newman scoring the music (his last go at it before this summer's "Toy Story 3"). It was also didn't receive the critical praise that seemed to get better and better for each Pixar film up to that point, nor did it earn the big bucks at the box office the same past Pixar films did.

But it wasn't all gloom and doom for "Cars." It won the first ever Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film as well as the Best Animated Feature Annie Awards. It also made up for any box office it may have lost for what by 2006 was expected for a Pixar film to make with posibly the biggest merchandise campaign for any Pixar film. "Cars" also kicked off the new normal for Pixar releases in the Summer as opposed to the Holiday Movie Season as well as since "Cars" came out in 2006, Pixar has released a film every year with two planed in 2012. "Cars" is also the first Pixar film announced to have a sequel after "Toy Story."

According to what is now Pixar lore, "Cars" was the brain child of Lasseter after taking a much needed family summer vacation back in 2000 that took him, his wife and five sons cross country. It also was further based upon his childhood growing up in Southern California when he first developed not just a love for all things animated, but also all things automotive as well as his dad's work as a parts manager at a So Cal Chevrolet dealership.

"Cars" was also a number of farewells for some talented individuals. Long time Pixar story man Joe Ranft passed away tragically after of all ironies a car crash during production of the film. In fact the film is dedicated to him at the end. It was also the last non-documentary film for legendary actor Paul Newman, which also turned out to be his highest grossing film at the box office. It was also the second-to-last film and certainly last major film for legendary comedian George Carlin.

My Reaction: Why "Cars" sometimes get slammed, I may never know. At the time of it's release it got some of the lowest critical reviews of any Pixar film and many see it as the end of Pixar's string of hits. And yet, even if that is true, it just goes to show how amazing Pixar truly is as most other Hollywood Studios would most likely take Pixar's failures over their own successes any day. And yet, in hind sight, it may be the biggest Pixar film since "Toy Story" when it comes to characters and audience acceptance. What it may have lacked in story (which still again would be just about any other studios major hit) it more then made up for in characters. The characters of Lightning and Mater especially seems to have really taken off with many people the World over.

While I was not so much a fan of the flashy moments connected to Lightning vivid imagination and the sometimes over-the-top racing scenes, I fully appreciate their necessity to balance out the lush, cozy, simple moments in Radiator Springs.
Those were defiantly my favorite moments in the film. Pixar did in my mind, a great job of showing us the beauty of the natural world and the wonders found in simplistic settings. McQueen's transformation from a punk rookie hot-shot out to show the world how cool he is to the more mature, thoughtful racing star he is by films end really wowed me. I also loved the loving nods his name comes from with Lightning (think "Buzz" from "Toy Story" which also gave him his number "95" which was the year "Toy Story" came out) McQueen (for legendary actor and racing buff, Steve McQueen). The last connection is especially cool for me on a personal level as I have an uncle who got to know the real McQueen from his time racing in Las Vegas, NV.

Watching it again and so close to the Pixar film before, I actually started to see what I think is the distinctive styles of John Lasseter from Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird. Not that the other directors don't strive for this, but Lasseter seems to have it down better when it comes to the balance between character and story. I have noticed that Lasseter's films seem to be my more favorite Pixar films thus far with maybe Pete Doctor's after that (wait for my review of "Up" later.

What Lasseter wanted to do with "Cars" I think he achieved. It truly is the mother of all love notes to the automotive world. It does a great job of paying homage and giving winks and nods to every part of that world while still giving us a wide world of fun characters to get to know (and showing us why we would want to know them, much less spend time with them in the first place) as well as a well told tale to enjoy.

My Wife's Reaction: She really seemed to like Mater and it felt tome like she laughed more at the jokes in this film then maybe all the other Pixar films we have watched so far.

My Final Grade: (A-) I really enjoyed this film and unlike (sadly hate to admit this) the last two Pixar films, never once got board with this one. It was smart, cute and clever all at the same time. Unlike the "Monster's Inc." sequel planned in 2012 (that I worry about, go see my thought on my review for that film), I was very much ok with the sequel planned for this one next year in 2011. So long as they don't do a bad job with it, it could be a very enjoyable visiting Radiator Springs again. The original was wonderful, it begged it's audience to come visit again.

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