Posts Tagged ‘Quarterfinals’

March Madness 6: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 2

August 4, 2018

Bracket

Ratatouille vs. Inside Out

Ratatouille is the story of a young, foodie rat who joins up with a human in order to realize both of their dreams of cooking and love. Fundamentally, it is a story about being out of place and then finding a new place that accepts you for who you are. I never felt that way with my family like Remy but I did feel like that in high school. I watched this movie after I had found a new tribe among the theater people in college. It was the first time I had felt somewhat accepted but even then I still felt a little out of sync. The highlight of the movie is Remy the Rat played by Patton Oswalt. Oswalt, like me, was born a geek and knows a lot about being out of place and then finding your tribe. He really embodies the ennui and frustration of dealing with a family that does not understand him. He also uses his well-honed skills to be as likable as possible which is difficult when you’re dealing with rats animated to actually look like rats. His main co-star is Lou Romano who is not only an actor but also a member of Pixar’s production art team. He is lovably awkward but unfortunately largely forgettable. As are many of the other supporting characters who are performed by great actors like Brad Garrett, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O’Toole, Will Arnett, and Ian Holm. The animation was a great leap forward and the art style was stylized to be more French and different from the humans in the earlier Incredibles.

Inside Out is the story of a little girl and the swirling emotions inside of her. While we do get to know the little girl, the main characters are the embodiments of her Joy and Sadness. All of Riley’s emotions just want the best for her but Joy also wants her to be happy all of the time. At its heart, the movie is about finding emotional balance during the hard times. Joy and Sadness go on an adventure through Riley’s mind and begin to learn what their connection is. I watched this one in theaters early on a rainy Saturday morning and it was perfect for that. The animation is great as there are two different art styles. One is as we watch Riley and her parents interact and the other is inside Riley’s brain which is far more fluid and delightfully weird. Joy is played by Amy Poehler who brought happiness to the role but also determination. Phyllis Smith played Sadness and brought to the role a sadness it was hard not to feel sympathy for but also some intelligence. They are supported by Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling who play Anger, Fear, and Disgust respectively. Riley’s imaginary friend is played by Richard Kind and he is so engaging. Kaitlyn Dias, Kyle MacLachlan, and Diane Lane play Riley and her parents and I loved spending time with all three of them. Like most Pixar movies, there were so many grown-up moments among the fun silliness but this one especially was relatable.

Main Character: The creation of a true partnership between Joy and Sadness was fun and engaging to watch which topped Remy’s journey for a place in the world.

Supporting Characters: The supporting cast of Inside Out is more engaging and likable than Ratatouille. The humans in Inside Out are also way more interesting than the humans in Ratatouille.

Villain: Because Inside Out really did not have a villain, the villain of Ratatouille wins here.

Music: I thought that the French-styled music in Ratatouille was better than the respectable mood music from Inside Out.

Story: I felt like the story and experiences in Inside Out were more fundamental to the human experience and therefore had more impact. It was also just more fun.

Animation: The animation and dual art styles of Inside Out were naturally more superior as the technology and creative process had evolved.

Winner: Inside Out

Monsters Inc. vs. The Incredibles

Monsters Inc. is a story about monsters (of the under the bed or closet varieties) who discover that their world is not quite what they have been told it is. Mike and Sully are a partnership, a true friendship that must deal with the biggest crisis their world has ever seen. At its heart, the movie is about both overcoming prejudice and also corporate culture. The two heroes must rise above their blue-collar background and challenge the very system they have relied on for their entire lives. I saw this one four years after it was released while working for a summer camp and I felt sad that I had missed it for so long. Mike is played by Billy Crystal and he is the brains of the operation but also the more anxious character. Sully is played by John Goodman and he is the warm, generous one of the pair. They are opposed by James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, and Frank Oz with a slimy corporate air. They are supported by Jennifer Tilly, John Ratzenberger, and Bob Peterson (another memorable Pixar woman played by a man). The animation is very good and a lot of credit goes to the art team for creating such unique and varied monsters to populate their world. The worldbuilding is a lot of fun and they created a lot of interest in how that world worked (which is why they made the prequel).

The Incredibles is a story about a man looking back at his youth and being somewhat dissatisfied with where his life has gone. He took joy in his life with his kids and his wife but something is missing. That thing that is missing is his superhero career. At its core, the movie is about figuring out that the future can be better than the past if you work to make it that way. I watched this one on DVD well after it came out. Arguably the main character, Bob Parr, is played by Craig T. Nelson who had experience playing a dad and brought a real middle-aged gravity to the role. His wife is played by Holly Hunter and she is so good that many wanted her to be the main character. They are supported by Wallace Shawn, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, and Elizabeth Pena. Brad Bird is particularly hilarious and charismatic as the fashion maven Edna Mode. The villainous Syndrome is played by Jason Lee and he is so hatable. The animation is absolutely beautiful and much of it styled like what live-action superhero movies would soon look like when Marvel really got going. One of my favorite things about the movie is the way the characters move and this is the first 3D animated movie that really nailed human beings in a way that kept away from the uncanny valley.

Main Character: The Parr Family are much like most families I have met and are a little more relatable than working stiffs Mike and Sully.

Supporting Characters: The supporting characters of Monsters Inc. are a little forgettable while the supporting characters in The Incredibles are given some of the best lines and more personality.

Villain: The toxic masculinity and toxic fanboy nature of Syndrome is so relevant to our world and is way better than the fairly bland corporate villains of Monsters, Inc.

Music: I prefer the dramatic full orchestral score of The Incredibles over the simpler Monsters, Inc.

Story: I feel like the story of a family learning to be on the same page while literally defeating the ghosts of the past is better than uncovering corporate lies.

Animation: These two are actually pretty comparable but the slight edge goes to the cinematic camera angles and composition of The Incredibles.

Winner: The Incredibles

March Madness 5: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 1

July 2, 2018

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

March Madness 3: The Disney Quarterfinals Pt. 1

June 2, 2018

Once again, the opinions are mine and all four of these movies are excellent.  As we get into the nitty-gritty, I found myself needing to write more to justify my choices.  They were not easy choices.

Bracket

Lion King vs. The Princess and the Frog

As I have said before, The Lion King is an epic Shakespearean story about a son having to figure out how he can fit in his father’s footsteps. It is basically a take on Hamlet mixed with some African-styled folklore thrown in. Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick play the main character as he goes from childhood to adulthood and tries to figure things out. The highlight of the film is the music by Hans Zimmer and Elton John, the latter of which departed a bit from his on-stage style to create a mix of musical-style songs, easy listening, and one big epic song. The animation is beautiful and colorful and definitely inspired legions of other animated projects as well as a brilliantly-staged musical. A tip of the hat must also go to the memorable comic relief roles of Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, and Whoopi Goldberg. When it comes to villains, it is hard to beat Jeremy Irons as Scar. However, the story is a little too simple to win this fight as Simba does not really go on much of a journey on screen. He spends years not growing up and then rides to the rescue in the third act. I love the movie but it wraps up a little too neatly. It also tends to treat female characters more like props.

The Princess and the Frog is a lovable romp through the jazz-infused swamps and city of New Orleans. As I mentioned in the first part, there is a song by Jazz legend Dr. John. The rest of the music explores different niches of genre as it touches on different cultures in the Louisiana area. Overall, I like more songs out of this movie more. The funny thing is that they were all written by Randy Newman of all people who really stepped up his game on this one, I guess. It also felt like Princess had more story and more character development. The movie is about working hard for the good things in your life but it is also about opening your heart and letting other people help. It is about creating a good work/life balance. Tiana is such a good character that Anikka Noni Rose brings to life. She is an easy protagonist to connect to and empathize for but also realize that she is not seeing the whole picture. Many people feel that her choice at the end goes against feminist principles but it is not a weakness to accept help to get you that last bit across the finish line. On top of that, there is a great villain in Dr. Facillier who uses interesting applications of magic to do all sorts of things. He also felt a little more of a rounded character than Scar.

Lead Character: Simba’s fear turned to courage at the midnight hour loses to Princess Tiana’s journey of self-discovery

Supporting Characters: The Lion King’s goofy (but lovable) side characters lose to Princess’ hopes and dreams of their own who are also fun in their own right.

Music: Elton John did a really great job but ultimately he loses out to Dr. John and Randy Newman’s jazz/blues sampler platter.

Story: A voodoo magic plot that also involves class warfare wins over a simpler version of Hamlet with lions.

Animation: After rewatching some scenes Princess is a clear winner here as the movie actually uses several different 2D animation styles for different sequences.

Winner: The Princess and the Frog

Tangled vs. Moana

Tangled is a girl-positive version of the Rapunzel tale. Instead of depicting a story where a man must climb a tower to save a poor girl held captive, we instead get the story of a woman who uses that intervention to escape on her own. A sheltered girl goes out in the world to discover what it might hold for her. The way that Rapunzel is depicted is similar to Kimmy Schmidt as she uses her optimism as her armor in life. This is one of the earliest movies that I can remember that flipped the paradigm of the damsel in distress well. The male lead is charming and capable but Rapunzel’s skills and personality are more suited for the tasks they face. The villain is one of Disney’s most insidious villains as she tends to use psychological techniques even more than magic. It is kind of refreshing to have a villain who the main character loves even until the end of the movie. Sadly, there are not a lot of secondary characters since the two sidekicks are non-talking animals but there are some fun comic relief thugs at one point. Since they were able to hire Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, they also got a fairly accomplished pop star and subsequently went for a poppy feel for some of the music and then went with standard musical stuff for the rest. The animation is very fluid and I especially like how Rapunzel’s hair acts.

Moana is the runaway sensation about a young girl’s obsession with the sea that leads to her trying to save her people. This was Disney’s third real attempt at depicting a culture beyond something vaguely European or modern American. They failed with Pocahontas but they succeeded with Mulan. Now they decided to try and tackle a combination of various island cultures (Hawaiian, Samoan, New Zealand, etc.) that all share a common link. They were able to create a story that required the main character to fix the world both physically and emotionally. The movie is literally and figuratively a journey for everyone involved and there is so much character growth to be had. Of course, the heart of the film is newcomer Auli’i Cravalho whose voice is full of so much soul and spirit. Combined with the animator’s skills, she brought that character to life. Her journey is very emotional and easy to cheer on especially because there is no love story to distract from it. Of course, the big story here is that Lin-Manuel Miranda composed and wrote a lot of the music but he it is not often publicized that he was joined by Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The songs flow so well and the composed score adds to every moment. Finally, the secondary characters are all great. Chief among them is Dwayne Johnson doing what may be one of his most charming performances. There is also a whole cast of characters, each of which is a rounded character. The journey in Moana is just stronger as proved by the fact that I almost cry every time I hear “There You Are’.

Lead Character: This is a close one. Both Moana and Rapunzel are positive people who are trying to follow their dream. Moana wins by having a clear goal and I just love her determination and charm more.

Supporting Characters: Eugene is a fun thief but he, Maximus, Pascal, and the bar patrons lose to Maui, Grandma, Hei Hei, Grandma, and Tamatoa.

Music: Lin-Manuel and his crew win by making me cry even though Mandy Moore has a really good voice.

Story: Moana’s journey of self-discovery and world-saving happens without a love story which beats a very good but very simple adventure story.

Animation: Both are done with beautiful 3D animation but Moana is a little more fluid. It is also literally more fluid with some of the best-animated water that I have ever seen.

Winner: Moana


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