March Madness 5: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 1

Bracket

Up vs. Toy Story

Up is the story of an old man who tries to go on one last adventure to honor his wife and unexpectedly and reluctantly teams up with a small boy. He gets more adventure than he could have possibly expected. The first couple of minutes of Up are done largely with very little dialogue and it is one of the most touching scenes in cinema history. In the future, the opening sequence of Up will be used by Blade Runners to root out replicants. That portion sets the scene for the rest of the movie and it ended up being a very emotional movie for me. It also had some real genuine laughs. Ed Asner plays the lead character, Carl, and his weary, grumpy demeanor hides a depth and heart that gradually is revealed. He is joined by a small kid, Russel, who is a very accurate portrayal of a kid. Unknown Jordan Nagai plays the role naive, energetic, kind of dumb, but it is hard not to like him. Finally, we have Dug, the talking dog who is played by director Pete Docter similar to a kindergartener who unconditionally loves everybody. The combination of all three bring a lot of laughs but they also bring a lot of heart. The movie has a mix of nostalgia for the pulp adventure films of the first half of the 20th century but also some new ground.

Toy Story is the tale of a bunch of sentient toys led by a cowboy toy named Woody. He is threatened by the arrival of a brand new spaceman toy. This is Pixar’s first feature film and it had a monumental effect on the animation industry as it revolutionized both animation technology and storytelling in family films. Pixar took a fresh new approach to things and that rising tide caused the ships in the harbor to rise or sink. Woody was voiced by the always likable Tom Hanks who for once got to be less likable. He is joined by Tim Allen who is a perfectly reasonable straight man and also very likable. The rest of the cast is played by brilliant character actors such as Jim Varney, Jon Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, R. Lee Ermey, and Annie Potts. Their dialogue always immediately shows instead of tells of the long history the toys have had with each other and creates an imaginative backstory without hitting us over the head with it. Woody and Buzz’ tale is familiar in so many ways. As an older brother, I experienced the fear that my younger brothers would usurp me. As a friend, I was worried that my friend’s girlfriends would push me away and cause me to be forgotten. Everybody has experienced that moment of being hot and then fearing they are suddenly not.

Main Character: Carl Fredrickson is a much more rounded and flawed character than Woody’s jealous panic.

Supporting Characters: Russell was an absolute gem of a character and the offbeat comedy of Dug was amazing. Still, they just barely beat Buzz and a cast of some of the best character actors as toys.

Villain: Arguably, Woody is also the villain of the movie and he is a far better villain than Charles Muntz.

Music: Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is probably the best thing he ever wrote but the score of Up beats the score of Toy Story.

Story: The story of laying your wife rest while learning to continue on with life beats the tale of learning that friendship is more important than fame.

Animation: This is not really fair as Toy Story was so early in CGI animation but it blew me away at the time but Up is years in the future and obviously better.

Winner: Up

Coco vs. Toy Story 3

Coco is the tale of a young boy in Mexico who finds himself as a living person stuck in the afterlife during the Day of the Dead festival. Instead of worrying, he decides to use this false death as an opportunity to connect with his ancestors and explore his family history. It is also the tale of musicians and how they connect with music and history. Pixar always does its research and they did a great job exploring the traditions and lore of the Day of the Dead and used that to create an impressive world beyond the veil. They also did a lot of research with actual musicians and they were able to animated fingers on guitar strings in a way that it is clear that the characters are actually playing music. The movie also does a lot to talk about memory and legacy and how important that is and the different ways that it is important to people. Young Anthony Gonzalez plays the lead role, Miguel, and he plays him with both rebelliousness and heart. He is joined by both Benjamin Bratt and Gael Garcia Bernal as his guides through the afterlife. They both do a great job and contrast each other in the best ways, each teaching important lessons. It would be a crime not to mention a beautiful performance from Alanna Ubach as the deceased matriarch of Miguel’s family. She has such power to her personality when she is on screen and she is mirrored by Renee Victor in the living world.

Toy Story 3 is the story of a bunch of toys worrying about the loss of their owner who is about to leave for college, finally officially outgrowing his old friends. Yearning to be played with again by actual kids, they go on an adventure to find their new place in the world. This was the movie that Pixar was not originally going to make but Disney forced their hand when they were prepared to continue the franchise alone. The Pixar crew dug deep and tried to figure out where they could take the story next after two outings. To their credit, they figured out a beautiful way to end a trilogy but also how to open up the story for future opportunities. They made the story fresh again by tweaking the previous formula once again and adding bigger stakes. They also added a real villain with a full backstory for the first time in the franchise and that added a new dimension of conflict into the movie. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen returned to once again portray Woody and Buzz Lightyear, now old friends instead of rivals. They are once again joined by great character actors Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Estelle Harris. Joan Cusack returns from Toy Story 2 and helps to breathe new life into an old franchise. Helping with that, we have a villain in Ned Beatty and there are also newcomers Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, and Jodi Benson. This makes it possibly the most star-studded movie in Pixar (and possibly Disney) history.

Main Character: While it is a bit unfair to have Woody and Buzz gang up on Miguel, the young boy has so much more going on than the two old friends.

Supporting Characters: Although Toy Story 3 has an all-star cast full of likable and fun characters, Coco wins with relative unknowns who have a lot of more subtle charm.

Villain: Ernesto is insidious and spineless and he is a much better villain than Lotso who is probably the franchise’s first real villain.

Music: Hands down the beautiful sounds of the Mexican guitar top a traditional score with the usual contribution from Randy Newman.

Story: A story of family, love, and redemption definitely beats what is basically the same themes being explored as the previous two movies (albeit with new twists).

Animation: Although the two movies are not far removed when it comes to release dates, the art direction of Coco is absolutely stunning and leagues ahead of the more mundane world of Toy Story.

Winner: Coco

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