Posts Tagged ‘Pixar’

‘Plane’ and Simple

August 8, 2013

Planes_Altitude

An Active3D movie review

Movie: Planes

Rating: **½ (out of 5)

This poor wee project has been in the incubator for years. First it was a Pixar project, and then we heard that Pixar dropped the option – which made punters nervous. Then we heard that Disney animation was picking it up, and then still, that it was being passed on to DisneyToons – which understandably made us quake yet again, as this is the Disney division that creates content destined largely for straight-to-disc (or the occasional theatrical exposure – think the dire Tinkerbell movies). It appears to have been a pet project of John Lasseter’s, who, despite his involvement in Pixar, kept his oar in as some kind of executive producer.

Applying anthropomorphic qualities to animals is relatively easy, and we’ve never quibbled with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck’s arms and hands; and the way these semi-human appendages enhance these creatures’ performances. When we get to mechanical devices such as cars, however, the animators’ creative toolbox is severely restricted; particularly seeing as the artists at Disney decided not to give them little arms and hands. And this is one of the main reasons, I believe, for Pixar’s Cars movies falling below par. As for Cars 2… let’s just say that the scriptwriters should’ve put away their James Bond fantasies, and concentrated on making a Pixar movie.

Planes is all about a little crop-dusting aeroplane with ambitions of competing in an international air race, so it’s essentially a ‘Little Engine That Could’ movie, with wings. The intercontinental nature of the featured air race gives the studio the opportunity to introduce a multinational voice cast, which includes Bollywood beauty Priyanka Chopra and everybody’s favourite Brit, John Cleese (who will soon, I expect, start snap,-crackle-and-popping up in breakfast cereal commercials). This tale of undaunted determination will possibly inspire young children by informing them that no one should clip his or her wings according to the expectations of others. But *sigh*, it brings nothing new to the table.

On the plus side – and this should be stressed, as a tribute to the animators – the mechanical denizens of this world are quite endearing, despite their physical limitations. This is, I believe, largely due to the incredible range of emotion reflected in the characters’ eyes. So, kudos to the animators, who gave the story its soul, despite its so-so subject matter.

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I have my reservations…

September 28, 2012

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An Active3D review: Hotel Transylvania
Rating: *½

Genndy Tartakovsky built his reputation – such as it is – by churning out cheaply-assembled Cartoon Network series such as Powerpuff Girls. Which means that he’s qualified to make a 3-D animated feature, right? Well, not in my eyes.

Count Dracula, we learn, has built a hotel exclusively for the use of monsters. Cue the Mummy, a mis-named Frankenstein’s monster (remember that “Frankenstein” was the guy who made the monster), Quasimodo, and various other folk who would be deemed misfits outside of the hotel’s rarefied atmosphere. Into their milieu stumbles a young skateboarder from the regular human world , and romance blossoms between him and Dracula’s daughter – an issue of concern to Dracula (and to audiences now wearied of Romeo and Juliet rehashes).

But never mind; something might still have been rescued from the paper-thin plot. It isn’t, however. Instead of investing their energy in characterisation and the plot arc (both strong suits over at Pixar), the filmmakers are constantly distracted by any opportunity for a quick gag – and most of these gags are lame, sad to say.

What’s also lamentable is that Tartakovsky’s wasted a strong voice cast; try Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi and Jon Lovitz (the latter two being two fave character actors of mine). In the lead voice role is Adam Sandler, cloning Steve Carell’s vocal performance in Despicable Me.

There’s little here to tickle – or maintain – one’s interest.

Partially successful; Pixar’s ‘Brave’ new departure

July 29, 2012
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‘Arrow ‘arrow – what’s goin’ on ‘ere?

An Active 3-D review: Brave

Rating: ***½ (out of 5)

This Disney/Pixar adventure is such a departure from what we’ve been seeing from Pixar, that it knocked me completely off-guard. For starters, gone are the smooth, clean, plastic shapes, and clearly delineated edges, of characters such as those in Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Here, it’s gritty and rough – and the setting is grand, sweeping and mountainous. We even have a female director running the show, so this is fresh turf on so many levels.

The story’s set in Scotland during those far-off agrarian times when each of the various clans held sway over its region. Our heroine, the young Princess Merida, whose bountiful, tousled mop of red hair is – I dare guess – a motif for her fiery, independent spirit, lives with her parents (King Fergus and Queen Elinor) and her little triplet brothers. Merida’s voiced – quite appropriately – by Glasgow-born Kelly Macdonald.

Our olden-day-yet-new-age princess discovers early in the tale that she’s about to be married off. It’s tradition, so there’s little room for discussion. Merida’s a self-possessed lass – and, incidentally, a dab hand with a bow and arrow – and she’s not about to be farmed out to the first kilted hopeful who comes along. Therein lies our drama.

Although the Scottish accents have obviously been reigned in, they’re still a tad tough to follow at times, and I’ve always thought that I had quite an ear for Britain’s range of linguistic quirks. (Which led me to wonder how our American cousins have coped…)

I found Brave to be a relentlessly loud film – although that may well be because we previewed the movie at Montecasino’s Il Grande cinema – where the lads were eager to show off their new Dolby Digital 7.1 sound system.

It should be noted that the Disney tag doesn’t automatically mean that the film’s appropriate for the littlies. It has elements that I found to be startlingly dramatic, such as a great big grizzly bear that crops up in the film much as the crocodile had done in the Disney classic, Peter Pan. It could be argued that my formative years established unreasonable expectations within me, but, if I see a bear in a Disney movie, I expect it to be cuddlesome. Yet, by my oath, there’s nothing huggable about this bear (even if one’s embrace could indeed encompass its furry girth). Again, this is quite possibly the ‘fault’ of the wonderful Il Grande cinema, which now boasts an even larger, post-revamp screen. So big screen, big sound, big bear; it definitely doesn’t add up to entertainment for the wee ones, who are bound to be terrified.

For the adults, there’s enough to relish, including the top-notch voice cast, from Billy Connolly (voicing Merida’s mountainous but loveable dad) and Emma Thompson (as the mom, Elinor), to Robbie Coltrane to John Ratzenberger (whose talented tones appear to have become a staple in Pixar productions). Having said that, the film’s feminism is a touch on the strident side, and the disarming charm of the bulk of Pixar’s earlier features is largely absent. I suppose that we can’t always expect Pixar to tick all of the boxes. I believe that this beloved animation studio let the side down with the Cars movies (yes; both of them), and this film, too. It’s undoubtedly entertaining, but it doesn’t punch through as one of the studio’s greats.

In fact, the highlight, for me, was the delightful, European-style Pixar cartoon, La Luna that precedes the feature.

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You’ll Warm to This: Ice Age 4

June 27, 2012

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An Active3D Review: Ice Age 4 3-D: Continental Drift
Rating: **** (out of 5)

The guys at Fox Animation are really giving Dreamworks’ animators a good run for their money, with a franchise to run neck-and-neck with the Madagascar movies. The Pixar team should also be looking over their shoulders, even though the Ice Age series fails to deliver the emotional meat of most Pixar movies (and here I exclude Pixar’s Cars films, which I believe come in well below that studio’s standards).

Prepare yourself for dramatic continental drift, avalanches, and rising and falling land masses, as the continents as we know them today are formed before our very eyes. (How the process is triggered, I shan’t reveal.) Through all of this geographical upheaval, a group of animals struggles to keep together and stay alive. Cue heaps of comic action, thrown in with some inter-‘personal’ dynamics (i.e. a daddy mammoth who’s having difficulty accepting the fact that his daughter has grown into a young lady, plus the unrequited love of a furry little burrowing creature).

Then we have the crowd favourite, Scrat, who is, as always, in the pathetic pursuit of the ultimate acorn high. Into this crazily uneven mix, the creators of this wild adventure have also tossed a bizarre helping of Greek mythology, which is bound to thrill the academics… and possibly puzzle those who haven’t stopped over at Greek mythology 101. Those amongst us whose cultural references are somewhat more lowbrow, can look forward to an amusing little homage to that overrated, kilt-infested Mel Gibson epic, Braveheart.

The prehistoric escapades are rounded off with a tragicomic moral fable that left me quite stunned – impressive and surprisingly dramatic; though I’m not quite sure how it sits with the accompanying insanity. (But I’m not giving anything away!)

Special mention needs to be given to Wanda Sykes for her lively and endearing vocal performance of a granny sloth who becomes the prima buffo of the piece. She finds herself in the company of other fine actors, such as Peter Dinklage, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, and John Leguizamo.

Ice Age 4’s overall entertainment value and likeable ensemble cast largely override its somewhat patchy conceptualisation. Really; it’s a fun ride.

AND HERE’S A BONUS: the film is preceded by a hilarious and heart-warming 3-D Simpsons cartoon, which stars a largely overlooked character; Maggie, the youngest member of that celebrated TV family. This pre-feature surprise is worth the price of admission alone!

Three Toy Stories – in Three Dimensions

May 20, 2012

[My review that appeared in Johannesburg’s Saturday Star newspaper:]

3-D Nirvana for Toy Story fans!

Disney has recently been converting selected favourites of the last two decades into 3-D, with varying success. When Toy Story 3 was opened in 3-D, it was decided to release its predecessors (now in 3-D!) as a run-up; hence what we’re examining today. Beauty and the Beast and Lion King were combinations of traditional 2-D animation and computer-generated backgrounds, so their conversion to 3-D yielded predictably mixed results. All of the Toy Story movies, however, were entirely created within a three dimensional virtual world, so the process was easier for the techies – and more impressive for the viewer. The films are all separately available in two-disc sets (which include 2-D versions and bonus features). It’s a treat for stereoptiphiles (which is fancy-speak for 3-D fans).

Toy Story (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) *****

A pioneer; the first entirely computer-animated feature film, and an astonishing feat which rapidly has us empathising with the challenges and joys of being a child’s toy. It also establishes an ensemble of lovable, quirky characters headed up by Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) the intergalactic cop.

The bonus features offer interesting insights into the development of the lead characters, and how the guys at Disney came to accept the relative autonomy of the newly-formed Pixar team. There are some fun anecdotal shorts, but most the fascinating aspect for me was seeing how much the story’s look-and feel changed from the early days to the completed product.

Toy Story 2 (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) ****

As ‘middle child’ of the trilogy, it lacks the originality of the first film and the emotional ‘end of an era’ feeling of the last. It does, however, expand the toys’ social circle by throwing a sassy cowgirl, Jessie (Joan Cusack), and sinister prospector, Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) into the mix. And let’s not forget Al, the sinister toy collector, voiced with aplomb by Wayne Knight (perhaps best known for being Jerry Seinfeld’s nemesis, Newman).

Bonus features include a profile on Pixar head honcho John Lasseter, and a moving tribute to the beloved Pixar staffer Joe Ranft. There are also heaps of other extras, too numerous to detail here, but, if you’re interested in behind the scenes info, the extras packed with first two Toy Story movies won’t leave you wanting!

Toy Story 3 (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) *****

This closing chapter asks what any toy would do, had it the sentience to contemplate such existential issues: “What will become of us now that ‘our child’ has grown up?” In doing so, it speaks to the issues of moving forward into adulthood and deserting the magic of our childhood fantasies as much as it addresses the issues of looking back; and of loyalty. Cloaked in grand adventure, it’s actually a five-tissue tear-jerker!
Bonus features are lean in this package, seeing as Pixar’s process has already been so well explained in the earlier discs. They’ve thrown in the Oscar-nominated cartoon, Day & Night, that accompanied the film on its theatrical release, but a big let-down is that it isn’t the original 3-D version.

This one should’ve stayed in the garage…

July 8, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: Cars 2 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

At least we beat Germany's release date by almost two months...

My reservations here are largely with the concept at the ground level of this franchise, more than anything else. Somehow I can swallow it when animals are anthropomorphisized – give me a mouse, duck, monkey, or bear that speaks, sings, dances and does pretty much what any human can do, and I’ll say, “Sure; what of it?” But cars? I can just barely cope with them speaking, but when they start picking things up using their tyres as hands, or start performing acts of James Bond-style derring-do, then my suspension of disbelief simply snaps like on old radiator belt.

And yes, much as we men are alleged to have “relationships” with our cars and often even name them affectionately, I think that few of us can imagine – even after the wildest night out – our cars being involved in international crime syndicates, or that there are good-guy cars and bad-guy cars. Or at least I can’t. Some folk have suggested that I’m not the target market here. Funny that, as I understand that I’ve been part of the target market for every other Pixar movie. As I understand it, their target market stretches from six to 106. (And, after that, if you’re still keen, they’ll make an exception…)

To my (possibly jaded) eyes, the film’s highlights are the animators’ interpretations of London, Paris, rural Italy and Pontecorvo. Here, they’ve captured the essence of these largely iconic spots whilst incorporating automobile motifs into the architecture; very nifty indeed! The aerial shots of Pontecorvo – which, on their own, are worth the price of the movie ticket – are enough to prompt one to book ’plane tickets to Italy before the show’s even over.

For all that directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, and their talented voice cast and superb animators lend to the affair, this is the lowest point of Pixar’s stellar career arc. Let’s not mess about, now: the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Monsters Inc.’, the sublime ‘Up’… are you catching my drift, here?

‘Up’ Due to Land in SA

September 3, 2009

up-3d stillI’ve just seen Disney/Pixar’s ‘Up’ in 3-D (it opens in SA on September 11th). Bearing in mind that it’s easy to be disappointed with anything that’s seen this much hype, I was absolutely blown away.

Pixar has hit us with all the goods: we have high adventure, dastardly villains, cliffhanging suspense (often quite literally so), frantic comedy – and, most importantly, moments of drama that are so moving that only the coldest of hearts will fail to be moved.

The 3-D effects are interestingly quite underplayed – to the degree that I frequently forgot that I was watching a 3-D movie. Undoubtedly, the 3-D brings with it the underlying psychological effect of added realism – without resorting to showy, in-your-face effects.

The scriptwriters dealt with subjects – such as death – that aren’t frequently visited in Disney movies. As such, its one of the more “adult” family movies on the block.

I might be shot down by my peers for calling it “uplifting“, but it’s just that – one of the most sublime cinematic experiences you’ll have this year!

‘Up’ Falls Flat on its Disc

August 19, 2009

Up 3D posterThe Disney/Pixar 3-D family movie Up opened in the States on May 29th, but local audiences are going to have to… well… hang in there, until September 11th. (Apparently, it’s well worth the wait!)

Walt Disney’s home entertainment unit has announced that, when they release the movie on disc (which, in the States, will be on November 10th), it will only be available in 2-D. Bolt, Disney’s recent computer-animated 3-D hit, was also released in flat ol’ 2-D only.

Disney doesn’t seem sure which way to turn when it comes to 3-D releases on DVD/Blu-ray. Other recent Disney 3-D theatrical releases such as Miley Cyrus: Best of Both World’s Concert and The Jonas Brothers 3-D Concert Experience gave the public the opportunity of seeing the films in 3-D at home. The easiest way to achieve this on the average TV set, however, is to use the anaglyph system (such as we’ll be using in our Active 3-D Galleries). This uses those glasses with the coloured lenses – not the most satisfactory solution, but the cheapest and most accessible to all consumers. And at least you’re getting your 3-D kicks!

Yes, many critics and consumers have expressed their dissatisfaction the anaglyph system, but the 3-D discs which Disney released always contained the 2-D option as well (for the more churlish family members!). In fact, I remember that the Miley Cyrus movie was also available in a 2-D-only pack. But at least consumers were offered the choice. Now, it’s a flat nada…

Of course, there are higher-quality 3-D systems being mooted for the Blu-ray format, so maybe Disney is waiting for those to be finalised. They’re probably hoping that we’ll buy the 2-D versions of these films, and then, when the Blu-ray 3-D versions are finally released, we’ll buy those as well. Talk about lessons in retail recycling of the same title…