When I first saw that a special movie for 'Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear was on its way out, I couldn't help but feel curious as to what it would entail. I kind of figured that it might involve Buzz being separated from the rest of the gang and having to do his own crazy adventure to get home (as the general 'Toy Story' formula entails). Instead, Pixar decided to introduce us to the film that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy that Andy loves so much. It even says "this is that movie" right before everything starts.
We meet Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) of Star Command, along with his commanding officer, best friend, and a rather progressive character, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). In exploring the habitable planet of T'Kani Prime with their rookie recruit, Featheringhamstan (Bill Hader), they find hostile lifeforms. In an effort to escape, along with a crew for colonization, the ship ends up malfunctioning and crashing, marooning them. After a year of working together, a colony lives with the basics under a protective dome while Buzz volunteers to test hyperspace fuel - a key element in their escape from the planet.
Upon the first four-minute test of the hyperspace fuel, Buzz finds himself back on T'Kani Prime four years after his launch due to time dilation. Buzz, feeling ultimately responsible for their being there, tests the fuel again and again with the research help of his robotic cat, SOX (Peter Sohn). Eventually, the testing brings Buzz a whole 62 years into the future, and fuel testing is soon scrapped on the orders of Buzz's new commanding officer, Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). The catch - SOX only just perfected the fuel, so of course, Buzz sneaks away to actually succeed in the test and return a whole 22 years later.
I know it sounds a lot like I'm going through the whole movie, but that's really all just the setup. To be perfectly honest, I think I liked this first act the most. It's reminiscent of 'Interstellar' where the time dilation means missing so much, and it does manage to get a little emotional with it. It's almost like watching a kid-friendly episode of 'Black Mirror'. Anyway, once we get to this 22 years later deal, we find that the planet has been all but taken over by "Zyclops" (an army of robots who serve the evil Emperor Zurg). Thankfully the protective dome still holds, but it's up to Buzz to get them to stop attacking altogether.
With the help of a scrappy team of three colony defence soldiers; Izzy (Keke Palmer), Alisha's granddaughter; Darby Steel (Dale Soules), a recently paroled senior; and Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), a naive, perpetual rookie, the team plans to pull a 'Star Wars' and attack Zurg's ship in order to make the Zyclops' malfunction so they can be taken out. That's about as far into spoiler territory as I'm willing to get, but the rest of the story has a decent surprise or two up its sleeve - only just decent though, not necessarily good or surprising. All in all, once Buzz comes back after the 22 years things do end up getting pretty simple, and it's just an average space adventure.
That being said, my only real criticisms lie in the basic plot points and Zurg seemingly having not much of a real motivation for what he's doing other than mining fuel. That brings me to my next criticism being that I can't totally buy that this is Andy's favourite movie. I'm not saying it can't be, but it does seem like a lot for a pre-adolescent kid to understand. However, having no kids of my own and only going by personal experience 30+ years ago, I admit that I could be way off here. I'd frankly be most curious to hear what kids have to say about this more than adults.
Personally speaking, I find it extremely middle-ground. It's much weaker than any of the actual 'Toy Story' movies, but I can say with confidence that there are worse Pixar titles out there. For me, this is on the level of something like 'Cars 3' - it's definitely a fun time, but I can see where people are coming from with their criticisms. Although I will say that Chris Evans doing the voice of Buzz doesn't exactly hurt my feelings like it is with so many. I see him as voicing the live-action actor within the 'Toy Story' universe who's portraying Buzz rather than Buzz, himself. But hey, purists are purists. Anyway, it's a good time, but only really necessary if you wanna see Buzz Lightyear's origin story.
For all of Pixar's glorious library, I have to admit that this is one I'm kind of trying to wrap my head around in its overall popularity. Not to take anyone's enjoyment away from it, of course. I'm just not entirely sure I "get" this one. To be perfectly clear, I had no real problems with it. I just don't think it's replacing anything on my Pixar Top 10 list.
This one, much like 'Luca', was a Disney+ Original as well, without a limited theatrical release like 'Soul' had. So, also like 'Luca', I give this a bit of leeway being a streaming release as opposed to a theatrical one. Even the intro to it feels a bit more like an after-school cartoon series - and honestly, this could make for a really fun series with the right crew behind the scenes. Back to the film, however, we have a sort of period piece here, taking place in 2002; somehow 20 years ago. Funny story, 2002 was also actually a Pixar-free year, between 'Monsters Inc.' and 'Finding Nemo'.
Anyway, on with the plot where we meet a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Mei (Rosalie Chiang) living in Toronto - also home to the director, Domee Shi, and the closest big city to yours truly. So, spoiler alert, the Rogers Center is the SkyDome in this, and it's a really nice call-back for us Southern Ontarians. Mei helps her mother, Ming (Sandra Oh) with taking care of their family temple. Ming is just a tad on the overprotective side though, so a lot of Mei's interests have to stay hidden - namely her love for the boy band "4*Town". Yes, Ming is THAT strict. But it doesn't stop her from sharing her mutual love of the band with her best friends, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park).
Eventually, Ming discovers that Mei has a crush on a local store clerk, and proceeds to embarrass her in front of several onlookers - one of which is a personal bully of hers named Tyler (Tristan Allerick Chen). This all seemingly leads to a stress-related problem in which Mei transforms into a giant red panda. Think of the most adorable version of The Incredible Hulk you can imagine. She tries very hard to keep it under control by calming down but between 4*Town coming to... town, her overprotective mom, and the pressure from her friends to get to that concert, she doesn't exactly have an easy time of it.
I don't really want to get into much more detail than that, as I feel like it's a lot of spoiler territory for those going in blind. There's something I really appreciated in particular that I'd rather not reveal here. It's not even that big a deal, but it's a route the filmmakers took in telling the story that I enjoyed. I can further appreciate that this is very much a mother-daughter movie, in that while Mei is the main character, Ming still has a lot to learn about what it means to be a good mother. Once again, despite a lot of the film's cartoonish atmosphere, it doesn't dumb itself down for us adults, and we can still find a little takeaway from it.
Again, I have no true criticisms about this one, but I do feel like it wasn't entirely up my alley. I didn't quite get that deep feeling of awe that I did with movies like 'Soul' or 'WALL-E', but it's not like it was a disappointment either. There was a lot I did like about this, such as some of the animation choices, and the character of Abby in particular - a little pistol of a girl who's very clearly the primary comedy relief. She gave me a few genuine laughs, even though one of them was a straight rip-off of 'Despicable Me'. The film does carry a certain charm to it though, so please don't let me sway you one way or another. Check it out for yourself, as I seem to be in a minority here. It's cute, it's fun, but it's not the peak of Pixar quality.
Let me start by saying that I can't help but appreciate the that between this and 'Soul', Disney Plus has actually offered new Pixar titles for free with the subscription as opposed to the unnecessary $35 for titles like 'Mulan' or 'Raya'. This works out well for someone like me who would choose probably choose Disney/Pixar over straight Disney any day. Both have great titles under their belts, but there's a special something about Pixar - they have a tendency to get real about things, and make things easily relatable. There's most likely a Pixar flick out there for everyone, and their focus on multiculturalism lately only helps that.
'Luca' here is no exception; this time, taking place in Italy, and directed by Italian Pixar newcomer, Enrico Casarosa. This is a great follow-up to names like Kemp Powers co-directing 'Soul', and Adrian Molina co-directing 'Coco', giving someone a chance to tell a story about their culture without it having to go to certain extremities. While movies like 'Soul' cover urban living and jazz music, 'Luca' gives us an appreciation for Italian life by showing us things like kids playing soccer, a love for amazing food, cycling, and an incredibly inviting atmosphere. If I were to take a vacation in any real-world Pixar setting, it might very well be this one (the Land of the Dead from 'Coco' is still my favourite place).
The story deals with Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) - a young sea monster who dwells with his overprotective parents, Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, respectively) off the coast of the fictional town of Portorosso (not to be confused with Ghibli's 'Porco Rosso'), Italy. Luca lives a farm life down in the sea, herding goatfish, and gets pretty bored with routine. It doesn't help that while he remains curious about what's beyond the water's surface, his parents insist that it's incredibly dangerous to check out due to human fear and misunderstanding of what they are. One day, he finds some trinkets scattered on the ocean floor. It turns out, these things are being collected by another sea monster named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who shows Luca that if they go to the surface, they can turn human.
The film then does a great job of suggesting what wows the pair of friends when their ultimate goal becomes getting their hands on a Vespa. This is driven by their desire to get away and see the world - Luca, because his parents are trying to send him away with his weird Uncle and Alberto seemingly just because he's a runaway and he can. They soon learn of the Portorosso Cup Race when they meet the likes of the cocky and irritating Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) and new friend who they team up with, Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman). Together, Luca, Alberto and Giulia train for the race, determined to not only put Ercole in his place, but to win the prize money that will ultimately get Luca and Alberto their Vespa.
In true Pixar fashion, of course, there gets to be more than meets the eye here, and a simple mission to get a Vespa turns into something else along the way. Meanwhile, a funny side story unfolds as Luca's parents go looking for him, and their interactions with the humans are pretty hilarious. As far as Pixar movies go, this is one I sort of meet in the middle. I can't deny that there was a bit of predictability here, and I saw the film taking from certain things like 'The Little Mermaid' when it came to trinkets and whatever the mystery world above was all about - furthermore, changing human when on the surface. But with that said, the film still offers some good lessons in friendships, teamwork, and accepting what we don't understand.
All in all, I enjoyed the film, but it didn't quite strike the deep chord movies like 'Soul', 'Up' or 'WALL-E' did. It didn't leave me with that feeling of "I need to go take a walk and ponder life". However, this is still really good in a whole different way, and I'd sooner compare it to 'Coco' in that it's a good dose of a particular culture while telling a good story. I think there are better, but there are definitely worse. I still had a lot of fun with this, and that included a few laugh out loud moments, a few tugs at the heartstrings as Pixar knows how to do so well, and my desire to visit Italy cranking up to about 11. They even put the credits in Italian. The atmosphere is just so inviting here, and I wanted to crawl into the screen and lounge on one of the patios. I can't help but be curious, and look forward to what part of the world Pixar will cover next! I may be giving this a 3, but trust me when I say it's a very high 3.
And now we have come full circle - all the way back around to the film I reviewed last December, which was the inspiration for this whole Pixar Point page. I wanted to see what deep-level stuff I could find in each Pixar film, and for the most part, I was successful. I would say that at least more than half of the Pixar library managed to get me in the feels in some way. When I first reviewed 'Soul', however, I mentioned how it may very well be my new favourite Pixar movie. That's a bold statement, but does it still ring true?
My reasons for enjoying this so much are really just the same reasons I hold so many of these titles close to my heart. I find that so many of these movies are able to speak to me on a personal level, but perhaps none of it did a better job than 'Soul'. I see a lot of my personality throughout the film. I enjoy jazz music for writing purposes (as I write this I'm listening to some), I relate to many concepts through the film, and I feel like I have an appreciation for subtle things we often take for granted. Take, for example, the beauty of the world on a bright, warm sunny, day. Anyone who follows my on Instagram could probably attest to a lot of my photography - nature is one of my biggest subjects.
'Soul' centers on a music teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who has a fondness for jazz music, and has some magic fingers when he tickles the ivories. He loves getting his students interested in the music, and playing takes him to a pretty special place. The idea ends up being that this is another, sort of meditative plane of existence or just "the zone". It's where we go when we get deep into something we're passionate about. Joe's mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), disapproves of his lifestyle, and just wants him to find good, honest, steady work. She has her reasons, and Joe understands, but his dreams are important enough to keep going behind her back with it.
He gets wind from his former student, Curley (Questlove) that jazz legend Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) has an opening in her band. Joe auditions with them, impresses them all with his skills, and in his excitement eventually falls down a manhole to his near-death. Things fade to black, and Joe finds himself as a soul on his way to The Great Beyond. Both afraid, and with the realization his life was only just getting good, he struggles against the current, and falls into the intriguing concept of The Great Before, where new, unborn souls come from. Here, various counsellors named Jerry (Alice Braga/Richard Ayoade) prepare the souls for life on Earth. Knowing he's not supposed to be there, he poses as a mentor and is given the infamous soul #22 (Tina Fey); a soul that has made all of their instructors give up on them. While 22 is voice acted by Fey, the soul is mentioned as a non-gender concept, so we'll be going with pronouns here.
22 sees no point in living on Earth. They show Joe a set of badges on their chest, much like one would earn in Scouts. It's a series of traits given to each soul, but what's missing is the "Spark", which will allow souls to begin life on Earth. Not caring about Earth, however, 22 makes a deal with Joe that upon earning the badge, it'll go to Joe instead, so he can get back into his body and get the big break he was so close to getting. Things go without progress for 22, and eventually they meet a sign twirler named Moonwind (Graham Norton) in The Zone (the place I described earlier) who reveals to them that Joe is actually in a coma, and not quite dead. Excited, Joe leaps down towards his body, but in the confusion, 22 comes with. 22 then ends up in Joe's body, and Joe in a therapy cat.
This is pretty much where I feel the movie really gets going, and as things unfold, once again Pixar makes us appreciate so much. 22 is apprehensive about experiencing life on Earth at first, but soon picks up on a lot of stuff we, as people, take for granted in day-to-day life (as mentioned before). Director Pete Docter is easily my favourite Pixar director because of things like that. He knows how to appreciate the little things in life, and understand the bigger picture all the same. 'Up', 'Inside Out', 'WALL-E' and 'Monsters Inc.' are the other films he's credited for directing, along with the stories behind the first two 'Toy Story' films. I find each of these movies are great for kids as well as adults, as there's so much to appreciate in each of them on a deeper level. But that brings me to the question I was asked most upon first seeing this - would kids like it/get much out of it?
I think if the film has one problem, it's the use of big words and existential topics that children may not quite understand. But in a way, I'm not entirely sure kids are the target audience for this movie despite the fact that it's animated. Pixar has a knack for being a little more adult with its material, and in some regards, I might suggest this leans more towards the teens and up. That's not to say children can't get anything out of it, I just think this is an odd case where an adult might get more. In a big way, it speaks to those who are stuck in some sort of rut. There's a thing they do here with "lost souls" where the repetitive thoughts and anxieties of day-to-day life have them is a bit of a trap. This can come from negativity, like someone with depression (best illustrated near the end of the film), or it can come from being stuck in a loop of some sort.
Anyway, before I find myself a lost soul with this review (there's still a bunch I'd love to touch on), I have to admit that I still feel like this could be my favourite stand-alone Pixar movie. There's just so much to appreciate about it from my perspective. This is a movie that really makes me appreciate life, and it makes the suggestion that life is an opportunity not to take for granted. It's interesting to note that while 'WALL-E' managed to get me out walking more, 'Soul' almost seemed to pick up on the appreciation I was getting from these walks. I might say that it's a sort of "next step" for Pixar, but I wonder how much deeper they can get with things than this. 'Soul' had three Oscar nominations, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, by the way) and Best Sound, winning the first two and giving Pixar Oscar #11 for Best Animated Feature. But even without that awar, this one's very close to my heart, and that's not gonna change any time soon.
Here in Ontario, Canada, the pandemic really started for us around March, 2020. For many, 'Onward' was the last movie they barely managed to see in theatres, but for many more like myself, this was one of the first titles of the year to embrace the idea of simultaneous theatrical and home release (for a price, of course). So, once again, Pixar acted as a pioneer for a whole new concept. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this might have been the first movie to catch on, with a theatrical date of March 6 and a home release of March 20. 'Trolls: World Tour' has the first absolute for both releases, on April 10.
On with the plot in question, things take place in a fantasy world where magic used to exist, and be used by many, but relatively hard for anyone to master. Eventually, technology comes along, ironically making things much easier for people. The first example we see is the light bulb as opposed to having to conjure a light spell. Technology takes over, and these fantasy societies end up adapting to a present-day real-world scenario. I actually love that this movie suggests that magic might often be useless with the way things are now. Technology provides convenience, and that's pretty heavily illustrated in the beginning.
Our main focus is on two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) who is celebrating his 16th birthday, and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), who is obsessed with RPG games that are based on the accurate history of their world. So think of 'Dungeons & Dragons' as though it was based on accurate medieval history. Together, they live with their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who was widowed after the boys' father, Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer) passed away before Ian was born. On Ian's birthday, he comes of the appropriate age for his mother to give the boys a very special gift left to the boys by their Dad - a real wizard staff, and a spell that will allow them to bring their father back to life for a full day.
After a few failed attempts from Barley, Ian learns later that night that he actually has the magic within him to make the spell work. However, unable to keep the spell under control, Ian botches it. The only thing that managed to appear as the boys' father is a set of legs. In the process, Ian shatters the rare "phoenix gem" (which comes with the staff, and is necessary for such an advanced spell). This sets Ian and Barley on a road trip to find another phoenix gem, using Barley's knowledge of their history to help guide them. But they have to do it within 24 hours, or else they won't be able to complete the spell and see their father. For Ian, it's a big deal because he never got a chance to meet him, and as for barley, he only really carries a few memories of him.
As far as Pixar movies go, I wouldn't consider the the best, but it's still totally solid. However, I might also suggest that this was largely aimed at a certain audience. I'd say that if you've ever been into RPG games, things might mean a bit more to you when watching it. On the other hand, it is also about two very different brothers on a mission to see their Dad one last time. Having an older brother and experiencing the same kind of loss, this does hit me on a personal level as well. I wouldn't say it totally hits me in the feels, but it's not without a few moments here and there that remind me of the relationship I have with my brother. I mean that in all the best ways - like if I was ever scared to do something (as Ian tends to be), my brother might be found on the side lines, encouraging me (much like Barley does here and there throughout the film). They give each other a hard time, but there's definitely love there.
The film was Oscar-nominated under the Best Animated Feature category, but lost to 'Soul', meaning Pixar won anyway. The same thing happened at the Golden Globes, but that certainly doesn't mean that this isn't any good. I remember when it first came out and people didn't seem altogether sure what to think about it. For me, I basically thought Pixar had done it again with a lot of the ideas they had here. But perhaps its that it didn't feel like it spoke to the masses as opposed to geek culture with all of its mythical references. Still though, there's a little spark to this movie that I like. It parallels 'Ratatouille' or 'Cars' in that sense. It's a good time, but it doesn't quite reach me on every level.
When I think back to seeing the first 'Toy Story 4' trailer, I remember feeling disappointed. I felt like Pixar was just doing the sequel thing again, and 'Toy Story' just plain didn't need a fourth title. I felt like the way 'Toy Story 3' ended was the perfect way to end a long-lived trilogy, and this felt like Pixar running out of original ideas. I'll admit, I pretty much just rolled my eyes at the idea. Along would come a second trailer that gave us a bit more, and I decided that if Pixar had ever taught me one thing, I probably shouldn't judge this book by its cover. There had to be something more to it than I was seeing. Thankfully, I was right to think that.
'Toy Story 4' continues Woody's (Tom Hanks) story under Bonnie's (Madeleine McGraw) new ownership. Woody and the gang are all in their element with Bonnie, and have all become friends with Bonnie's other toys; among Bonnie's mainstays are a triceratops named Trixie (Kristen Schaal), a unicorn named Buttercup (Jeff Garlin), an elegant porcupine named Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and and the aptly named Dolly (Bonnie Hunt). Taking a moment to rewind to 'Toy Story 3', I appreciate the fact that Bonnie owned a Totoro, who sadly doesn't come up here. But I'll tell you who does show up - Bonnie's toys she leaves in the closet; Carl Reineroceros (Carl Reiner), Bitey White (Betty White), Chairol Burnett (Carol Burnett), Melephant Brooks (Mel Brooks) and Old Timer (Alan Oppenheimer). Also, two fluffy carnival prize animals, Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele). I still don't even know if I've covered all the great voicework, but we must move forward.
The plot of the film starts with Bonnie's Kindergarten orientation. She's scared, so being the comforting toy Woody is, he sneaks into her backpack to keep an eye on her. Bonnie sits alone, not really knowing where to start on a class project. Instead, she finds some materials Woody tossed on her table without her knowing, and creates Forky (Tony Hale). I find this shines a light on a question I never thought of with these movies - if a kid creates a toy, is it alive. The answer turns out to be "yes", but Forky thinks he belongs in the trash, being that he basically came from there. Woody tries to convince him otherwise, and that he's potentially Bonnie's new favourite toy. Forky brought her joy when she was feeling sad and scared. I have to appreciate the analogy that sometimes we can consider ourselves useless and/or pointless, but there's someone on the side lines trying to steer us in the right direction, reminding us we're loved.
After Bonnie gets through her first day of Kindergarten, the family (Lori Alan and Jay Hernandez as the parents) decides to go on a road trip, allowing Bonnie to bring along all of her toys. During the trip, Forky jumps out and Woody goes after him, promising to meet at the RV park they were headed for. On their way over, Woody and Forky happen upon an antique shop where Woody recognizes Bo Peep's (Annie Potts) lamp. They go to explore, only to find themselves amid creepy ventriloquist dummies (Steve Purcell) and a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who needs a new voice box if she ever wants to be enjoyed by a child - even if it means taking Woody's. As for Bo Peep, they do manage to eventually find each other after Woody escapes his situation, leaving Forky behind.
Bo Peep, along with stunt driving Canadian, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and a "Polly Pocket"-like character named Giggles McDimples (Ally Maki) help Woody try to get Forky back to Bonnie. As the plot unfolds, so does Woody's character development. While he remains used to the idea of playtime and loyalty to Bonnie (and once, Andy) he remains somewhat freaked out by the idea of being a lost toy. Bo Peep, on the other hand, tries to convince him that perhaps being lost isn't so bad. Her story is an interesting call-back to 'Toy Story 3' when Bo Peep is mentioned as a lost toy. Somehow, with the way Woody puts things in the scene, we all knew there was some untold story behind Bo Peep's disappearance. This movie fills in the blanks, namely with the opening scene.
I always found that each of these movies speaks to a certain aspect of the life of a toy, which is very interesting. The first deals with going missing, and having to deal with that cynical kid we all knew who loved destroying toys. The second one deals with being stolen as a collector's item, and finding out you're part of a set. It further deals with the idea of being grown out of, and what will happen. This is all answered with the third film, showing Andy having grown out of his toys, and moving on to college. It deals with being donated, and whatever the next step in a toy's life might be, which brings Bonnie into the picture. Finally this film deals with the idea of a toy she creates, and Woody taking care of him. He also wants to take care of Bonnie, as he's loyal, but for once the film asks why he doesn't take care of himself. So while they all have to do with escape/break-out, they all have very different stories going on through the escape/break-out.
'Toy Story 4' would go on to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, earning Pixar Golden Statue #10 for the category. I have to say that speaking for myself, it was probably my favourite animated film that year, and above all else, a very pleasant surprise. I remember leaving the theatre, wondering how the hell they pulled things off so well. It even gets kind of deep in a way we might not ever expect. In all honesty, I was kind of surprised by the way it all ended. With a very solid four titles under its belt, all being pleasant surprises for their time, the 'Toy Story' franchise may very well be the best series (including all sequels) in the Pixar library. One way or another, my generation has grown up with these movies. For me, it started when I was 13, and ended before the, shall we say, terror of 2020. There's a lot of nostalgia here, and I'm happy to have these films to refer to when I need the boost.
For a while, Pixar was releasing some sequels that, though decent, were always overshadowing the one Pixar movie it made the most sense to sequel. Finally, with Pixar's gap of a whole fourteen years, we did finally got what we were once teased at the end of the original film. That said, the movie takes place immediately after the events of the first film, when the family works to stop the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Although the first film ends with the thought of a whole new superhero uprising, the fact remains that superhero work is still just as outlawed as it always was. After the battle, the Incredible family is relocated.
In comes a wealthy businessman named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) who run a telecommunications company called DevTech. In an effort to regain the trust of the general populous, they propose that the heroes work secret missions, a bit more on the spy level, and record their actions through a hidden camera. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is chosen to represent the family, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) at home to care for his kids. Eventually the path that Elastigirl is on leads her to a new villain known as The Screenslaver (mystery voice) who is using television broadcasts to get a sort of "Q-Anon"-type message out to the public, discrediting supers while DevTech is working hard on trying to give them a newfound respect.
Meanwhile, at home, Mr. Incredible (or just Bob) adds the sense of humour to the story as a new stay-at-home parent. This is what adds a lot of the heart to the movie in the different ways he has to care for his kids. Violet (Sarah Vowell) is experiencing some boy problems, after her romantic interest has his memory erased; Dash (Huck Milner) is having a lot of trouble with his math homework; and last but not least, baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is experiencing a whole new array of potentially dangerous superpowers that Bob can seemingly only keep under control with the promise of cookies. Along the way, he eventually seeks help from return characters Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Brad Bird), so if you end up missing those characters at all, they each make a generous comeback for the fans.
It's interesting to note that after so long, the timing of the story was pretty solid, as it puts Elastigirl in the driver seat. It brings her character out into the open a bit more, and shows she not only has what it takes, but can be a total badass while doing it. This is a film that does the "girl power" thing, but the execution is nice and organic and not so in your face. If anything, I just feel like this gives a generous balance to the first one, flipping the hero/parent roles around. At no point did this feel like a major female empowerment title, but it does just enough of what it needs to in order to fall under the category. It's cool that it's not really a matter of her fighting and having to prove herself so much as she's already established as a badass, and we just wanna see her do her thing.
Of all the Pixar sequels out there, this is just ahead of 'Finding Dory' with the biggest gap between films. It was pretty frustrating to see Pixar cranking out so many sequels while this just sort of dangled, but in the end, I finally understood why this really was. Perhaps it was 'Cars 2' that really did it, but Pixar has discovered (and seems to stick by) the idea that first, they need a good story that will appeal to not only fans, but a general audience who may be unfamiliar. The timing of 'Incredibles 2' with its focus on the established female superhero does seem a bit better placed in 2018 than it might have in, say, 2006 or so. That's not to say it wouldn't have worked at all, but I might suggest that it works better for society's presently "woke" culture than it would have back then.
As far as those Oscars go, this got its nomination, and everyone at the time probably thought it was going to collect. However, it was bumped off by, of all things, another superhero movie; 'Into the Spider-Verse'. For as much as I enjoyed this movie, I remember being very happy about that on several levels. Not only did it add to the groundwork of superhero movies finally earning Oscars (although they had a few times before this), but it went to show that sometimes even the Pixar shoe-in doesn't quite make it. Once again, however, it's all a matter of how much the audience likes it as opposed to these awards I've been keeping track of through these reviews. Having said that, 'The Incredibles 2' was a actually a great sequel, and well worth the long wait.
We all know how I felt about 'Inside Out', but I also recognize that not everyone is on the same page as I am with it. For those of you who wouldn't necessarily consider 'Inside Out' to be Pixar's resurrection, might I direct your attention to 'Coco'; a Pixar take on Mexican culture, complete with a nice, authentic cast and overall respect for the culture. This film, in particular, focuses on the traditions of Día de Muertos; The Day of the Dead. Before this movie came along, all I really knew about the Day of the Dead was the whole candy skull thing - nothing about them, just that they existed.
With narration from our lead, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), the story begins with a paper cut-out animation, telling of his family's backstory. Miguel's great-great-grandmother, Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was once married to a man whose passion for music made him leave her and their daughter (Miguel's great-grandmother) Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía) to pursue a career. As a result, all forms of music were banned from the family, and a totally non-musical shoemaking tradition was established instead. The tradition has carried through the generations right down to Miguel, but he actually has a passion for music, idolizing the great Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and has to play in secret.
On the Day of the Dead, Miguel accidentally knocks over a photo from the family ofrenda (an "offering" consisting of an altar with family photos and other objects for deceased loved ones) representing his great-great-grandmother and great-grandmother alongside a mysterious man with his face ripped from the photo. When he picks it up, he realizes the man is holding de la Cruz's guitar and concludes that he must be related to his idol, and his passion for music over shoemaking suddenly made sense. Against his family's wishes, he runs off to the town square to take part in a talent show - that is until his grandmother finds him and smashes his guitar.
Desperate, Miguel breaks into de la Cruz's mausoleum and steals the guitar to use in the show. However, in doing that disrespectful move, Miguel suddenly finds himself invisible to humanity but perfectly visible to people's dead relatives who have come to visit; their photos on their family ofrendas allowing them passage. He locates his dead relatives right away who take him over a bridge to the Land of the Dead in order to figure out how to break this curse. All it takes is a blessing from a relative, but the conditions would remain that he wouldn't be allowed to play music. Frustrated, Miguel stays and seeks out de la Cruz, knowing that his blessing will allow him to play. He has to do it before sunrise though, or else remain in the land of the dead with the rest of his skeletal relatives (skelatives?)
Helping Miguel out along the way are a faithful stray dog named Dante, and a mystery man named Héctor (Gael García Bernal) who seeks his help in return so he can cross the bridge to visit his daughter. His family didn't put his picture on their ofrenda, so he's denied passage, and through him we learn what happens to the dead once they become forgotten. In many ways, if you were missing that deep-level Pixar mood, this movie has a generous proportion of it. The film does carry a good sense of humour with it, but what I really appreciated about it was how deep it actually got. I really like the idea that the "forgotten" fade away to somewhere the dead have no answer for, equating it to the fact that in life, we don't know what happens when we die.
On top of a cool story, you have a really, really cool setting. If I ever had to pick a favourite Pixar backdrop, it would have to go to the Land of the Dead. If I had to put it in words, I might describe it as a vibrant cityscape that almost looks like a series of treehouses. The whole time Miguel spends in this world is so incredibly dream-like to me that if the film ever brings us back to the real world, it's almost like waking up from a dream. It probably helps that this whole world is loaded with bright, vivid lights and neon-coloured spirit animals that are always very fantastical - Pepita is one badass looking creature. Of course, the film has a lot of heart as well, and much like with 'Up', you'd be hard-pressed not to get a little misty-eyed in the end.
'Coco' would earn Pixar its ninth Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and the film's music would give it one more for the song 'Remember Me'. One might suggest that in the animated category, its competition wasn't the toughest. But with that said, considering the setting, the animation and the look at Mexican culture and traditions alone, this was definitely my favourite animated title of the year and if I had my own award show, there wouldn't have been a contest. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most beautifully made films in Pixar's library.
When Pixar was about to release 'Cars 3', I found myself teetering on my opinion of Pixar sequels altogether. This was yet another case when I wondered why 'The Incredibles' still hadn't earned a sequel, and they seemed to be milking the 'Cars' universe for more than it was worth. However, I did learn my lesson about jumping to conclusions with 'Finding Dory' and still decided to give it a shot. At the time, I hadn't seen 'Cars 2' yet, but considering most of the call-back in this has to do with the first film, I was okay, and actually pleasantly surprised.
Plot-wise, the film sees the return of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) as the main focus. He's still running his races, winning most, if not all of them, and pretty much at the top of his game. McQueen seems to have found his "happily ever after", and lived a good life alongside Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and the rest of his old friends from Radiator Springs, including good old Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). The fans and various crews still respect and admire his skill, but soon enough, a threat comes along in the form of a rookie racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer); a cocky, decked out car with all the bells and whistles. In many ways, McQueen is now challenged by the Lightning McQueen personality we knew from the first film.
With Storm comes a whole new set of Piston Cup Racers that have been decked out and customized, representing a next generation. Meanwhile, McQueen starts to lose his touch and, at one point, even wrecks himself on the track. But while his fellow racers and acquaintances from the track are starting to pack it in and retire, McQueen isn't quite ready to call it quits. He calls his sponsors at Rusteze, who bring him in to train on some of the new state of the art equipment the up-and-comers have been using. Eventually, he's introduced to his new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who tries to get McQueen back on his feet. But when McQueen jumps the gun to try to use an advanced simulator, he breaks it, and the new Rusteze owner, Sterling (Nathan Fillion), tries to get him to retire and make way for the new generation.
McQueen, refusing to be beaten, decides to get away and practice his skills, bringing Cruz along. It's right around here when the viewer starts to see the story getting altered and becoming something you didn't quite expect, but to be fair, the way things end up are fairly predictable. Sometimes, however, predictable isn't necessarily bad. Even though you see things coming from a mile away, the execution is well done, and it really does make things feel like a wrapped-up trilogy. I don't know the plans for the future of this franchise, but it works a lot like 'Toy Story' in that, even if they do continue things, you can still choose to see things as a trilogy. Personally, I think things end on a pretty high note, at least as far as these films go. It's a vast improvement from 'Cars 2', and its an interesting take on "passing the torch", so to speak.
The basic story here is the idea that something new comes along to push the old out, and there's not much one can do about it; like how talkies once replaced silent film. So, in my opinion, this is a more than worthy sequel to the first film, and I might treat the second film as more of a completely separate adventure for Mater fans. Once again, the Academy Award situation that year overlooked one film entirely only to award another Pixar film the Oscar (which happened in 2016 when 'Inside Out' won while 'The Good Dinosaur' was overlooked). Despite that though, I do find this one somewhat underrated. As much as I'm lukewarm towards the 'Cars' franchise, I really like the way this film ends on an inspirational note that suggests that sometimes an end can just be seen as a new beginning.
'Cars 3' doesn't entirely carry that Pixar magic with it, but I do appreciate its message despite perhaps being an odd one out with it. I understand how predictable it can get, and I understand why it's not the strongest Pixar title in the library. But as far as reaching me on a personal level, it does succeed in some ways. It's a lot like the first 'Cars' in that sense. All in all the movie is okay, and doesn't really tug on any heartstrings like may Pixar films do. But at the same time, you get what the movie is trying to say, and it's a message anyone can appreciate. I'd probably still consider the first 'Cars' my favourite of the bunch, but this does (at least to me) feel pretty on-par with it. It's not a favourite, but I can see revisiting it just for a bit of inspiration.
Pixar had this point in time where they got a little sequel-happy, despite the odd original title. Sometimes it seemed like a cash-in, but most of the time these sequels had something a little new to say. 'Finding Dory' ultimately ended up being the Pixar sequel no one really seemed to know they wanted until it actually became a thing - a whole thirteen years after its predecessor, making it the biggest gap between Pixar sequels at the time (prior to the fourteen-year gap of the 'Incredibles' films).
It's interesting to note how beloved a film 'Finding Nemo' was. It earned Pixar its first Best Animated Feature Oscar, it was experimental with its variety of animation, and it was a fun adventure story one could easily recommend as a family flick. The thing was, speaking for myself, I always considered it a sort of one-off, and the idea of 'Finding Dory' actually frustrated me. Why? Because there was still no hint of an 'Incredibles II' quite yet, and I strongly considered 'The Incredibles' to be the Pixar title most worthy of a sequel (save for perhaps the 'Toy Story' series). Nevertheless, I decided to check it out, and was actually pleasantly surprised. While this takes the concept of 'Cars 2' of all things (in as much as the comedy relief from first film being the sequel's lead), this actually did something with it, and takes a good, broad look at what it's like to live with a mental health issue. Of course, in Dory's case, we all know it as her short-term memory loss.
The same short-term memory loss that made us laugh in 'Finding Nemo', however, is actually played on a somewhat more serious level here. The film begins with a young Dory (Sloane Murray) and her parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton) dealing with her short-term memory loss in a very loving, caring way. One day, however, Dory finds herself separated from her parents. With that comes a pretty sad opening sequence where Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) literally grows up looking for her parents. Eventually, she bumps into Marlin (Albert Brooks), and they begin the events of the first film. In 'Finding Nemo', Dory mentions her family, says "hm, where are they?...", and the audience laughs because it's played as a gag. Here, we're even reminded of that gag, and things suddenly take a whole new spin; in my opinion, one of the most clever Pixar call-backs I've seen yet.
Anyway, 'Finding Dory' takes place a year after 'Finding Nemo'. At this point, Dory has pretty much forgotten all about her parents, and has a whole new life with Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). One day, during a school field trip, Dory is helping out when something suddenly jogs her memory about looking for her parents. She implores Marlin and Nemo to help her out with it, especially since she has her memory loss, and with that, they almost too easily head to California by way of riding the current with Crush (Andrew Stanton) from the previous film. Here, they are lead to a public Aquarium where Sigourney Weaver's voice (playing herself) is the guide for visitors. It turns out, this is where Dory is from, but in her excitement she gets separated from Marlin and Nemo
Eventually, Dory does get help from an octopus named Hank (Ed O'Neill) who makes a deal with her, a whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) who remembers her, and Destiny's neighbouring beluga whale, Bailey (Ty Burrell). With Dory's adventure, it shows that even at our worst when it comes to whatever mental health problem we're dealing with, we can persevere. There's actually a few moments here when we see her cope with things rather than have it be an element of humour. That said, I wouldn't suggest that 'Finding Nemo' was ever really making fun of things so much as suggesting there's a bit of a hidden side to Dory. Speaking for myself, she actually turns out to be that Pixar character I've always wanted to hear the story on, but, as mentioned before, didn't realize it. One could even say I forgot about it, which is pretty interesting to think about.
Personally, I tend to appreciate 'Nemo' a bit more, mostly due to the variety of animation techniques of the time, along with a solid story and likable characters. However, I would definitely consider this a very worthy sequel, and might recommend a back-to-back viewing to newcomers. This one wasn't up for any Oscars, ultimately losing out to 'Zootopia', but when I look at the films in that category that year, it was a challenge - 2016 was a very good year for animation! I would still recommend this pretty strongly to 'Finding Nemo' fans who haven't checked it out yet. This is Pixar taking the humour from the first film and turning it on its head while maintaining its own somewhat different sense of humour. I don't know that I'd say it's Pixar being brilliant, but it's certainly Pixar being clever with things they had to work with.
Writers and Directors