The Films of Pixar: “The Incredibles” (2004)

Towards the end of The Incredibles, a little boy on a bike proclaims, “That was totally wicked!” referring to a big battle he’s just witnessed between the villain and the superhero family at the center of this film. The same sentiment could be shared by one that has just finished watching The Incredibles.

Brad Bird’s second film follows the Parr family, a family of superheroes made up of Bob (Craig T. Nelson), or Mr. Incredible; Helen (Holly Hunter), or Elastigirl; Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews), who seems to not have any superpowers at the start of the film. Several years before most of the action of the film, superheroes were forced to go into hiding due to mounting public anger and lawsuits against superheroes, notably Mr. Incredible. But in the time of the film, Bob is working at an insurance company, still trying to save people by finding ways to help them get around the system and listening to the police scanner with his buddy, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). After Bob is fired from his insurance job, he is pulled back into the superhero world after receiving a message from Mirage (Elizabeth Peña), which results in a visit to Edna Mode (Brad Bird. Yes, Brad Bird.) for a repair to his old suit and a new suit. Helen eventually gets suspicious and Bob finds out that the person he’s helping is a former fanboy, turned villain, Syndrome (Jason Lee). In order to save the world, the family has to band together.

The major thing about The Incredibles is that it was the first Pixar film where a the entire main cast was made up of humans. As a result, we see how the animation of hair, fabric, character expressions, and the facial structure of humans has changed for the animation studio. For this film characters run, jump, float, swim, all of which has some effect on how they’re animated. We see how realistically the hair of the characters reacts when someone goes underwater. Violet’s black hair is animated so we see portions that have a blue tint to it. Syndrome’s hair that resembles a flame moves slightly with his head, although staying fairly stationary like a well spiked head of hair. With fabric the details of suits and the reflection and fit of the fabrics is figured terrifically, allowing the characters to look more human.

But there’s more than just the animation that makes this such an awesome movie. There’s the struggle the characters face between their nature and what the world forces them to be. This is no different from the Iron Giant’s struggle to be a weapon or to be Superman, or Remy’s struggle between being a garbage picking rat or a chef. What makes this struggle interesting is how the characters deal with this. Bob is constantly trying to save people, which makes it understandable as to why he is pulled back into the life of a superhero. From what we see, Frozone—whose real name is Lucius—is only drawn to saving people because of Bob’s pressure until the end of the film when a large threat attacks the city. Helen seems to have retired from saving the world and is only drawn back in because she wants to see what her husband is doing—although Edna creating matching outfits for the family might have helped. As for the children, they’re aware of their powers and use them to pull pranks, hide from a boy they like, or make family dinner really interesting. They know they’re not normal, but they’ve never had to deal with the life of being a superhero because of the supers being forced into hiding.

But then there’s the villain, Syndrome. He’s always wanted to be a superhero but is rejected as a sidekick for Mr. Incredible who says, “I work alone.” To achieve being a super, he creates gadgets such as rocket boots and a cuff that does numerous tasks. To become what he once idolized he has to become evil, a concept that does not escape Syndrome.

The final aspect that ties this film together is Michael Giacchino’s score that is filled with an almost James Bond feel to it. There’s something that is simultaneously classic, fresh and exhilarating to his score that is filled with trumpets, horns and saxophones.

If you haven’t seen The Incredibles, you must. There’s something for everyone. Action, romance, marital problems, betrayal, kids being awesome and helping save the day. But like most Pixar films and all Brad Bird films, there’s a fascinating display of how people behave in situations and the internal struggles we face.

The Films of Pixar: “Monsters, Inc.” (2001)

The monster in the closet is a perpetual tormenter of the sleep of little children. What if the monsters were actually real? Pixar’s third film, Monsters, Inc., gives us a world inhabited entirely by monsters who walk through doors to scare human children that are the source of power and fear for the monsters.

Mike Wazowski (Billy Chrystal) and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) live together in Monstropolis, a city entirely populated by monsters, where they both work at Monsters, Inc.. Sulley works for the company as scarer, a monster who goes through a door into the bedroom of a human child to scare them. The screams of the children are then harvested into a canister and used to power the city. At the company, Sulley’s rival is a chameleon-like monster named Randall (Steve Buscemi) another top scarer, no doubt because he can blend in with his surroundings. But the company, run by Henry J. Waternoose III (James Coburn) has fallen on hard times and is struggling to power the city because children aren’t as easy to scare. One evening, Sulley has to go back to the screamfloor to pick up Mike’s paper work when he discovers that there’s an activated door on the floor after work is over. He opens the door, checks for a scarer, closes the door, and hears his tail being dropped. A child has been let into the monster’s world, a problem since monsters are taught that children are toxic and “one touch could kill you.” Sulley does everything possible to put the girl back into her room, including putting her in a bag to toss her into the room, only to find Randall coming out of the door, which is sent up. Sulley then crashes Mike’s date with a co-worker, the child is set loose in a restaurant causing panic throughout Monstropolis. But is it possible that the child, who is named “Boo” by Sulley, not as awful as they’ve been led to believe?

Somehow, Monsters, Inc. manages to have the perfect mix of humor and emotion that makes it such a good film. The film features lots of slapstick humor, mostly provided by Mike, and other amusing moments such as the dialogue between Sulley and Mike. But there’s still a deep emotional connection we feel for Mike, Sulley and Boo throughout the film because of how complex they seem. Yes, they’re monsters to different worlds but their emotions defy the concept. Boo can be a cuddly and sweet human while also being upset or amused. Sulley is a top scarer for Monsters, Inc. but is the most compassionate character in the film. Both of the monsters feel betrayed at various points in the film. One of the wonderful things about Monsters, Inc., as well as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, is that characters that aren’t humans feel very realistic because of how they feel and act throughout the movie. They panic, scheme, lie, protect those they care about and do what it takes to overcome the bad guys.

Oddly, Monsters, Inc. is the first of Pixar’s films prior to The Incredibles that has a plot that moves along quickly, never slowing down. The film never feels rushed but rather seems to go at exactly the right pace that makes a climactic door chase scene more thrilling. The film also shows even more of a progress with the detail of characters because of how detailed Boo’s shirt is as she moves and every movement of the hairs on Sulley, a turquoise and purple furry monster. The other monsters have horns, numerous eyes moving, scales and even snakes as hair that all move flawlessly and in an utterly realistic manner. And while this film still used famous actors for voiceovers that sound like the actors normally sound, the voices seem to fit the characters, giving a sense that John Goodman’s voice was perfect for the character of Sulley, whose demeanor does not match his profession.

While Toy Story is the crown jewel for Pixar at this particular point in their filmography, Monsters, Inc. is an utterly charming film that showcases the advancements made in CGI animation in the years between Toy Story 2 and this film. The joy and creativity that resonates throughout Monsters, Inc. is what makes it a thoroughly enjoyable film on multiple viewings.

The Films of Pixar: “Finding Nemo” (2003)

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!These posts were supposed to be in chronological order after I wrote about Ratatouille, but due to an error with Netflix, I’m writing about Finding Nemo before Monsters, Inc..

Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo was the fifth film from Pixar and broke records for the box office. In many ways, it’s the perfect family film with the wacky sidekick, the heroic journey and the relatable kid who is different in some way but triumphs in the end. Finding Nemo is a beautiful film, but I find that I have problems with the film.

The film follows a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) who has had to raise his son Nemo (Alexander Gould) on his own after his wife, Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), was tragically killed. While Nemo is on his way to school, he swims away to be captured by a diver while Marlin looks on, horrified. His father follows the boat, only to lose it and meet a Pacific Regal Blue Tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). The two then meet three sharks attempting to convert to vegetarianism, Bruce (Barry Humphries), Anchor (Eric Bana) and Chum (Bruce Spence). Then they find a mask that dropped from the boat and discover an address in Syndey. They then meet up with a school of fish (John Ratzenberger), clash with jellyfish, and meet up with a group of sea turtles led by Crush (Stanton). Meanwhile, Nemo has found himself in a dentist’s fish tank, surrounded by a group of neurotic fish led by Gill (William Dafoe).

My main problem with Finding Nemo is the character of Dory. Dory serves as a great method to push Marlin, but at a certain point her short-term memory borders on being annoying. I remember when the film came out that everyone talked about Dory and Crush—I actually thought the movie was about them rather than Marlin searching for his son—so her comedy in the role worked at engaging with the kids. There is the problem that if you cut out the character of Dory, Marlin probably wouldn’t grow as a character. It’s more like a character trait that eventually becomes schtick that is no longer fresh after a certain point. But in the end, her short term memory does help save the day, so is she really that bad?

There are two things that do make Finding Nemo a wonderful film. One is the ability to see the journey of both Marlin and Nemo as characters, how they grow as a result of having to go outside of their reef. In some ways, I expect Marlin to grow and not be so insecure, but to see Nemo grow as a result of being separated from his clingy father was nice. But the beautiful thing about the film is its animation. From what I remember of the animation in Monsters, Inc.—prior to starting this series, it was one of the films I had watched most recently—the animation in this movie is vastly better. Water would seem to be an incredibly difficult setting to animate, but Pixar manages to make it look uncannily realistic. With this film, we also start to see the humans look a little more realistic in jawlines and hair colors. Although, for some reason, Pixar presents yet another creepy child with braces in this film. While the headgear on this child, Darla, makes her look more menacing than Sid, it does seem odd as to why the genuinely scary children in Pixar films have braces.

Yes, I’m conflicted about this film and that’s resulting in this being my shortest post. But what this comes down to is that a lot of people like this movie and for the most part it is a good movie. At the very least, it’s an incredibly imaginative film which makes it all the more enjoyable.

The Films of Pixar: “Toy Story 2″ (1999)

"When She Loved Me" was robbed of an Oscar.Toy Story created history by becoming the first film completely done with computer generated images and featured a cheerful, heartwarming story with terrific lines. While Toy Story 2 is an improvement after A Bug’s Life, this sequel fails to match its predecessor due to an overcrowding of antagonists and rehashed plot ideas while still having an incredibly moving scene. Even with the what works in Toy Story 2, I can only be left to say that Toy Story 2 was okay.

The film starts off with a scene that shows Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) flying through space before landing on a planet he believes to hold the stronghold of his archenemy, Emperor Zurg (Andrew Stanton). This sequence ends and it’s revealed that Rex (Wallace Shawn) was playing a Buzz Lightyear video game, but this sets up a subplot involving Buzz and a Zurg action figure that happens in the film. Meanwhile, Woody (Tom Hanks) is being played with by his owner, Andy (John Morris), when a seam rips. Woody is placed on a shelf with other forgotten toys, including Wheezy the Penguin (Joe Ranft). One day, Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) collects toys for a yard sale and takes Wheezy, prompting Woody to go after the penguin toy and land himself in the yard sale. There, Al (Wayne Knight) spots Woody and steals him after being told Woody is not for sale. Buzz decides to save his friend and is joined by Rex, Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky (Jim Varney) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles). Woody arrives at Al’s condo and meets three other western-themed toys: Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) and Bullseye. From these toys, Woody finds out that he was the star of a show called “Woody’s Roundup,” something more than just Andy’s toy. Meanwhile Buzz runs into another Buzz at Al’s Toy Barn while the toys try to rescue their friend.

To some extent, this film has a strong plot, or at least a very promising plot. What causes Toy Story 2 to be okay is that the plot is overstuffed with antagonists, resulting in Too Many Antagonists Syndrome. In the main plot, there are two villains—Al and Stinky Pete—while the subplot also involves Zurg, who seems as though he was possibly thrown in to help introduce viewers to him before Disney aired their traditionally animated Buzz Lightyear of Star Command television series. Unfortunately, the plot of this seems to primarily serve as a method to include obligatory space references such as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the “I am your father” line. Does it give the characters any emotional depth? No. If anything, it holds up the plot and is the one thing that would make the film so much better if it was eliminated. It’s completely unnecessary, especially since Zurg is never mentioned again in the films. The other problem with the film would be the lack of real danger for the toys. Yes, Woody might be sent off to Japan and never see Andy again, but that’s not as bad as being strapped to a rocket by a psychopathic child or what the toys face in the climactic scene of Toy Story 3. The only time any of the toys seem to be in danger is when Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Mr. Potato Head and Slinky are crossing a busy street to get to Al’s Toy Barn. None of the antagonists are particularly terrifying either. In Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Ratatouille all of the antagonists are terrifying in various ways, be it their appearance, their actions or how they seem as though they would stop at nothing to bring down the protagonist. Although Toy Story 2 has three antagonists, none of them are particularly terrifying and they don’t seem bent on insuring that the toys, or other toys, fail.

Thankfully there is a plot in the film that gives the characters some depth and that is the main plot. The main plot even started what would eventually become a signature of Pixar films: scenes that cause adults—myself included—to cry. This occurs during a scene where Jessie informs Woody of her owner, Emily who abandoned her. The moments shared between Jessie and Emily are shown in a flashback while a song entitled “When She Loved Me” is sung, showing how the girl grew up, replaced her favorite cowgirl with nailpolish and make-up before finding the toy under her bed one day and taking Jessie to a donation box. In some ways, the toys in the Toy Story films feel more like people than the humans do because of their emotions. While watching a toy be forgotten, only to be discovered again, feel as though she’s finally close to her owner again only to be dumped in a box you can’t help but feel sorry for Jessie. In one scene, her anger towards Woody as he goes on about Andy and how wonderful things will be once he’s reunited is completely explained. That one scene is what redeems Toy Story 2 because while one plot does nothing to add depth to the characters one scene makes Jessie a more likable and believable character as well as change Woody’s outlook on things, causing him to realize that he won’t always be Andy’s toy.

With Toy Story 2, the animation starts to show some improvement in detail. While the humans still look very cartoonish and not as detailed as they would eventually become, we begin to see larger scenes such as the luggage belts of an international airport and details on even the fake hair of characters, such as Jessie’s red yarn-like hair. What is truly impressive about this is how the animation seems to jump between A Bug’s Life and this film, but that might be related to the different locations the toys have to move to throughout the film.

No, Toy Story 2 was not better than its predecessor. It even could have learned some things from the first Toy Story film, such as simplicity of plot and the value of having a good antagonist. But thanks to emotion being found in a sometimes unfocused film, it still is worth a watch every now and then.

The Films of Pixar: “A Bug’s Life” (1998)

Bug is a klutz. Bug screws up and is sent on a perceived suicide mission to find bugs to help colony defend themselves agains evil grasshoppers. Bug finds what he thinks are warriors. Bug returns to colony and is hailed a hero. Bug finds out that the warriors are actually circus bugs.

In the first paragraph, I’ve summarized the plot of Pixar’s second film, A Bug’s Life, which was made after the success of Toy Story. Toy Story had an interesting concept behind it, the idea of what toys do when we aren’t watching. A Bug’s Life has the premise of a bunch of ants rebelling against evil grasshoppers. Even though Woody was incredibly insecure, he was still likable, while Flik (Dave Foley) isn’t a really likable character. In the early minutes of the film, we see that his ideas are meant to make things easier for the colony, only he makes things harder by destroying the harvest that must be given to Hopper (Kevin Spacey) and his grasshopper colony. He then suggests that rather than trying to get more of a harvest, that it would be a great idea to find bigger bugs to fight Hopper and his posse, which leads him to the big city. There he discovers a ragtag team of circus bugs that includes a male ladybug named Francis (Denis Leary), a stick insect (David Hyde Pierce), a caterpillar that’s an extreme German stereotype (Joe Ranft), a praying mantis (Jonathan Harris), a butterfly (Madeline Kahn), a beetle (Brad Garrett), a Black Widow (Bonnie Hunt) and two Woodlice (Mike McShane). Convinced they are warriors because of a skit they put on in a bar, he decides to bring them back to the colony. There he finds out that the circus performers, who thought he was a talent scout, aren’t actually warriors, but the attention is nice, so let’s keep lying to the Queen (Phyllis Diller) and Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Meanwhile, the grasshoppers dance and sing to “La Cucaracha.”

The problem with A Bug’s Life is that lacks charm to amuse intelligent children and adults. There are jokes that will amuse adults and jokes that will amuse children, but none of them have the same maturity as the ones found in Toy Story or another ant-related CGI film released that year, Antz. What is more aggravating is that the plot drags on for a bit partly because Flik doesn’t ever come across as that engaging of a character. Maybe if the film had been told from the perspective of Princess Atta or even Hopper, it could have been more interesting. It also suffers from the problem of having several characters that seem more like caricatures than characters, including Heimlich the caterpillar, who could be the most annoying character in an animated film if Terk wasn’t in Tarzan.

A Bug’s Life could have been a great follow-up to Toy Story. It features a stellar cast and has great animation, but still trudges along as we set up to the point where the grasshoppers come back for the colony. And when the film gets to its ending, it all happens so quickly that it feels a bit rushed, yet at the same time you find yourself waiting for the plot to wrap up and get to the point where the ants are victorious and the grasshoppers are gone.

Yet somehow A Bug’s Life manages to redeem itself from being the worst film released by Pixar. The benefit of having a terrific group of actors to provide the voices is that they actually play the characters, not themselves. A Bug’s Life isn’t as long as some of Pixar’s other films, which does help prevent the plot from seeming too drawn out. And at the end, it’s satisfying because the good guys triumph thanks to the other ants finally finding their courage. Although this is predicted by Hopper at one point, it still is nice to see that the film doesn’t entirely rely on Flik and the circus bugs to save the colony.

Yes, maybe the ants accepting they no longer have to deal with the status quo is what makes the film somewhat enjoyable. Even in the midst of a movie that seems content to be just another family film, a resolution worth cheering for was still found.

The Films of Pixar: “Toy Story” (1995)

Come fly away...The bond between a child and their favorite toy and what happens when the humans aren’t near their toys is what propels Pixar’s first animated feature-film, Toy Story.

The 1995 film focuses on Woody (Tom Hanks) who is the favorite toy of Andy (John Morris). At Andy’s birthday party, he receives a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) toy and immediately becomes fond of it. Buzz, after all, is made of plastic, has buttons that play recorded phrases, a laser, and wings that fold out. Wouldn’t that be the coolest toy ever? Woody begins to feel unloved and becomes jealous of Buzz. When Andy’s family goes out to Pizza Planet, Woody and Buzz become separated thanks to Buzz thinking he is actually a space hero, only to be taken by the vicious Sid (Erik von Detten), who mutilates and tortures toys. Meanwhile the two toys have to find a way to get back home before Andy’s family moves.

Toy Story was the first animated film to made entirely with CGI, shattering conventions of animation that would eventually result in almost every animated film eventually being made with CGI. If you compare the animation of Toy Story to Ratatouille, the animation isn’t nearly as breathtaking, particularly with the creation of the humans and their expressiveness and hair. But considering that it was the first film to be completely computer animated, it is incredibly impressive. It’s even more impressive if you compare the animation in this to the animation in Meet the Robinsons or Chicken Little, both of which were made by Disney. There is an immense amount of detail in things such as asphalt on a road, a battered up car or toy, or the residence of the film’s antagonist. Between the hideous wallpaper and carpet and the dim lighting in every scene that occurs in Sid’s bedroom, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me now that I was unable to sit through all scenes with Sid when the film came out in theaters because of how terrified I was.

Yet the entire film feels like something fresh from 90s animation. All of the major characters are complex, Woody being a seemingly confident yet insecure toy while Buzz is the hot shot who suffers disappointment when he comes to terms with reality. These don’t merely feel like plot devices, they feel like genuine emotions coming from toys. The script also shows a maturity that seems abnormal in comparison to other films of that time period, such as dealing with character’s fears and making adult comments that aren’t crass, such as Rex (Wallace Shawn) telling Buzz, “And I’m from Mattel. Well, I’m not really from Mattel. I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased in a leverage buyout.” Among those things is Sid’s treatment of toys, a stark contrast to that of Andy who loves all of his, but usually finds a favorite. Sid, on the other hand, mutilates toys for fun, using large tools one would find in a workspace. He straps toys to explosive devices, also for fun. Simply because of what he does, Sid is easily one of the most terrifying villans from an animated film released in the 90s, without considering his menacing looking braces.

Furthermore, the film did something else that seemed abnormal for major animated films of that time period: it tossed aside the formula. While Randy Newman’s songs, including the now well-known “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” are there, they provide more of a feel for a scene—there are also only three songs performed by Newman, unlike the five songs written and performed by Phil Collins for Tarzan with mostly the same effect. And absent in this film is the cute funny sidekick. Buzz and Woody are more like a comedy duo, Woody being the straight man. As far as I can tell, this would be the first major film to do that, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and Warner Brothers’ The Iron Giant to later do the same.

When I wrote about The Prince of Egypt, I had questioned whether or not Dreamworks would be as successful as they with animation had that film been so good. The same can be asked about Pixar. Their debut full-length film shattered the conventions of animation utilizing something that would eventually become seemingly standard in American animated films. The film manages to have a sweet story with just enough of a darkness to make it realistic without overpowering the film. Somehow, this simple yet strong and clever film manages to hold up with time and remind a viewer why Pixar is one of the best known animation studios out there.

The Best of the 365 Project

For the past year, I’ve been doing a 365 project of pictures, which required me to take a picture everyday for a year. Or at least try to take a picture for everyday of the year, although I sometimes fell behind by a day, mostly during October where I spent almost the entire month sick. But I still managed to take 365 photos over the course of a year and some of these photographs were okay, while others amazed me that I was able to take those pictures—especially with the camera on my phone.

So from 365 photographs, here are what I considered to be the 24 best photographs. All of the photographs are linked to Flickr because I was having problems with directly uploading the pictures from iPhoto. Continue Reading