The Grinch (2018)

With Benedict Cumberbatch voicing The Grinch in his attempts to ruin festivities for the Who’s of Whoville, this story is an amalgamation of all that came before, with a couple of new ideas sprinkled in. Much like the 2000 adaptation, this Grinch has a tragic backstory, however instead of being raised by lesbians and hating Christmas from the start, he was an orphan whose orphanage stopped celebrating the holiday. Whilst the former opts to keep his Christmas hatred a mystery, amplified by a traumatic childhood event, the latter robs him of mystery entirely. He doesn’t hate Christmas, really, he hates being alone. It robs him of that unfathomable maliciousness that makes the character so great. It isn’t helped by the narration keeping the classic line “The Grinch hated Christmas, The whole Christmas season. Now please, don’t ask why, No-one quite knows the reason.”

His overall attitude is softer too. Near the beginning of the film, he ventures into town to stock up on food and whilst there is treated by the script and the Who’s as a grumpy old curmudgeon. He does some mean things, like knocking over a child’s snowman, but the child merely seems disgruntled, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. In previous iterations, the Grinch either hasn’t met the Who’s (1996) or has his name mentioned in hushed whispers (20000) but here, he seems fairly well known and not disliked. His neighbour Mr Bicklebaum always greets him with a smile and an attempted hug. He’s less of a villain and more of a Town Kook. He also treats his dog Max with much more respect, as a best friend rather than an overly-faithful companion. The plot adds a subplot where The Grinch finds a reindeer named Fred to pull his sleigh and allows him to stay with them. This is clearly meant to set up a rivalry between Fred and Max (a la Feathers and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers) but the Grinch never acts like he has any intention to replace his friend. He continues to use Max as his assistant regardless with the only real moment of tension being Fred making The Grinch’s morning coffee. Fred leaves shortly before the big heist so that Max still has to pull the sleigh, but returns at the film’s end to help prevent the sleigh from plummeting over the top of Mount Crumpitt.

The other big change is Cindy Lou Who, who used to be no older than two. Here she is 5 or 6 years old, like her live-action counterpart, and one of 3 children, like both her previous iterations. However, she is now the child of a single mother and wants to capture Santa to ask for his help in making her mother’s life easier. It’s a cute subplot but often feels like it distracts from the main plot. In The Grinch (2000), Cindy Lou is researching The Grinch’s past to solve her own ‘yuletide doubts’ (in her own words), thus acting as both an insight into his character and into the mentality of the Whos. Here, she is on her own journey, completely separate from The Grinch, with the meeting of the two coming across as more of a coincidence. It’s not that her plot is irrelevant, it’s actually perfectly in keeping with the morals of Dr. Seuss, rather that it pads out an already padded movie. It feels like there are two films here, but neither one is being given the time that they deserve.

The final act of padding comes in the form of narration from musician Tyler, The Creator. Being based on a short children’s book, and given previous adaptations of said books, it makes sense that there would be narration. However, instead of using all the lines from the original source material, the script adapts them and adds to them. Both previous adaptations had used every word, so to replace them here feels utterly absurd. Seuss’ work survives, in part because his writing’s so tight and to change even a single line feels close to sacrilege. Then there’s the remix of You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch, which provides an update to something classic despite it not needing updated, as well as being tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.

The main issue The Grinch (2018) has is that it is the third adaptation of this tale but that it doesn’t add anything to the mythos. The original 1966 adaptation brought in music and colour whilst the 2000 adaptation was a misinterpreted mockery of capitalism and send-up to classic action movies. The 2019 adaptation seeks only to entertain, which it does but is ultimately inferior when compared to its predecessors. This comparison is the root issue that any adaptation will have to overcome and it’s not something that the Illumination team was able to overcome.

The message of the original (that Christmas is about being with the people we love) is there, and rises to the surface regardless of what gets thrown on top of it., but this feels like it only happens because that original message is so strong. The Grinch is like any other Illumination picture in that it’s very pretty to look at but therein lies perhaps the biggest problem. This is just like any Illumination film and The Grinch shouldn’t be done that way. If you’re looking for a child-friendly take on this story then the old adage is true:

There’s nothing like the original.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

PIXAR DVD Shorts

Unlike the PIXAR Theatrical Shorts which were made to accompany the feature length films when they were released to cinemas, the DVD Shorts were made to be bonus features on the DVD releases of those film. These were not about pushing the boundaries of animation but were instead about pushing the boundaries of their worldbuilding. Each one occurs within the world of a PIXAR motion picture and, occasionally, within the plot itself. With the release of the streaming service Disney+ it is unknown if they will continue to make these Feature-Related Shorts for DVD releases or for Disney+ directly, though I sense it may be the latter. That’s a real shame because they were always a highlight of DVD releases.

Mike’s New Car (2002)

I love this short because you get exactly what the title tells you you’re going to get. Having got rid of his old red sports car that Sully wouldn’t let him drive to work in Monster’s Inc, Mike has bought himself a new 6-wheeled automobile equipped with all the gizmos. Attempting to demonstrate the capabilities, Mike is beaten, battered and bruised by the vehicle in a slapstick-fest. Violence does the talking and it’s wonderful.

Jack-Jack Attack (2005)

My absolute favourite DVD Short that PIXAR has ever made and another vehicle for slapstick. It tells the tale of Kari’s eventful night babysitting young Jack-Jack Parr who has decided to suddenly explore his many superpowers. This was the first time pre-Incredibles 2 that we saw anywhere close to the full range of his capabilities like teleportation and laser eyes. I’ve always felt bad for poor Kari because babysitting can be hard as it is but she got a super baby but it is nice to get some closure on her part of the story. Also possible that the Mozart-Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major sparked my interest in classical music.

Mr Incredible and Pals (2005)

This is the most absurd of these Shorts that you will ever lay your eyes upon. It’s an early 1960’s serial of the show Mr Incredible and Pals featuring Mr Incredible, Frozone and their bunny sidekick Mr Skipadoo as they fight the villainous Lady Lightbug. All the bad serial effects are here from still images of the landscape to the actors real mouths inserted over the characters’ to the blatant message of democracy. It is probably the dumbest thing that PIXAR has ever created and I love it with every ounce of my big, nerdy heart. I’d take a whole show.

Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)

I’ve made no secret about how I’m not the biggest fan of Mater so seeing him be the butt of the joke is kind of cathartic. After playing numerous pranks on the cars of Radiator Springs, they decide to get their own back by telling him the story of The Ghostlight and leaving him to traverse home in the dead of night by himself. When the Ghostlight finally appears, you know that this is also a prank but there’s a good message in here about receiving a taste of your own medicine.

Your Friend the Rat (2007)

Not content with Ratatouille being one of the finest PIXAR films there is, they decided that a fun history lesson was also necessary. Hosted by Remy and his brother Emille, we are taught the history of the rat from the Roman Empire, through the Black Death to today. This short is particularly interesting because of it’s combining of animation styles like 3D, 2D and even a musical number to close. At 11 minutes, it’s longer than usual byut not a second of that time is wasted.

BURN-E (2008)

Taking place during the events of Wall-E, a Basic Utility Repair Nano Engineer (BURN-E) attempts to repair a running light on The Axiom after it is hit by a meteorite (accidentally caused by Wall-E). Much like the movie it takes place during, there is no dialogue but it still manages to be compelling. You’ll really believe that this little robot is losing his mind and it’s really funny to re-watch Wall-E with this short in mind. I’m sure there’s a lesson about the Butterfly Effect in here somewhere.

Dug’s Special Mission (2009)

Taking place during the events near the beginning of Up, it shows how Dug came to be sat on the exact spot that would lead to him meeting Carl and Russell. Dug is probably the most likable character from Up and seeing him try his best at the behest of the other dogs just warms my heart, There is so much innocence to this character and this short adds even more sympathy to his backstory.

George and A.J. (2009)

The only one of these shorts to be animated in 2D and it prospers for it, giving it the look of a storybook. Shady Acres employees attempt to collect more people for the retirement home but must survive a pensioner uprising cause by Carl. It’s a really neat look at the ramifications of a story like Up, even if those ramifications are utterly bombastic and fantastical.

The Legend of Mor’du (2012)

Another one that does what is says on the tin. In case you wanted to hear the tragic tale of Mor’du the Bear from Brave it is told here through 2D animation and a glorious narration by Julie Walters. Is Julie Walters telling a fairytale enough motivation to watch this? I think so.

Party Central (2013)

A rare Short from PIXAR as it wasn’t attached to a PIXAR film and was only released on DVD as part of The PIXAR Shorts Collection: Volume 3. Instead, this short was attached to the Disney film Muppets: Most Wanted and features the frat of Oozma Kampa, after the events of Monsters Uni, as they attempt to throw the biggest party on campus. Just utterly ridiculous fun to be had here but is also notable as a posthumous role for the late, great Joe Ranft.

Riley’s First Date? (2015)

Following the events of Inside Out, this almost acts as a small sequel of sorts. Having closed out the film by speaking to a boy, we see how Riley’s parents react to him visiting the house to pick her up and it makes her parents look every bit as embarrassing as she already thinks they are. This is less about the emotions and more about the characters themselves, which is appreciated.

Marine Life Interviews (2016)

I grew up watching the Aaardman show Creature Comforts and it was all I could think about when watching this short, which is possibly the shortest of the shorts. It contains interviews with the animals who interacted with Dory during Finding Dory and paints her character in the most positive of lights. I particularly like that they made the footage look sepia-toned like an old-style documentary. I love attention to detail.

Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool (2017)

If you weren’t aware of how badly acted/choreographed local television advertisements can be then there is a whole level of subtext here you are missing out on. This short is literally an advertisement for Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool, clearly organised by Miss Fritter herself and includes a few of her demolition derby friends. Seeing the homemade angle to this really brings back warm memories of my own time in front of a camera for school projects.

Auntie Edna (2018)

This is just Jack-Jack Attacks but with set during the course of Incredibles 2 with Edna Mode as the babysitter and I am more than okay with that. It is clear from this short that Jack-Jacks powers have multiplied and become more terrifying over time and it’s a little amusing to watch Edna – a superhero aficionado – struggle just as much as Kari did. I already loved Edna as a character but her relationship with Jack-Jack is really the icing on the cake. Shout out to the continued use of the Third Movement of the Mozart-Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major.

Lamp Life (2020)

The first of these Shorts not to be released on DVD but instead to be uploaded to the streaming service Disney+. I’ve mentioned here because I think it’s worth noting as the service becomes bigger and contains more original content with each passing day. The story is that of Bo Peep, as she recounts her life between leaving Toy Story and Toy Story 4, which is a tale I think most of us were curios about and this short delivers. Special mention to Jim Hanks who continues to be the best Tom Hanks impersonator.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

PIXAR Theatrical Shorts

I have been a fan of PIXAR Animation Studios for as long as I can remember, and one of my favourite elements continues to be the theatrical short films released before their full length motion pictures. The tradition started before PIXAR Studios even existed, while the founding fathers were still working for Lucasfilm, and was a way for them to test the limits of 3D computer animation. The first 5 of these tests would be screened at the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) in Minnesota and would push the boundaries of their field, while the rest would accompany their theatrical features. While these full length films were important, they were primarily a way for PIXAR Studios to make money while they focused on innovation and advancing the art of 3D animation. Instead of ranking them in quality, I have opted to go through them in release order, because as far as I’m concerned, they are all as important as each other.

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. (1984)

Created by the animators, led by John Lasseter, who would later found PIXAR Studios while still working for Lucasfilm, this short film is a mere 2 minutes and length but tells a complete story. The titular Andre has awoken from his nap to find the bumblebee Wally B inches from his face, and flees the scene before he is caught off screen as Wally floats back through the frame with a crooked stinger. At the time, it was revolutionary with its use of 3D tear drops, dotted tree leaves, motion blur and manipulatable shapes. The charm is completed by a classical music composition.

Luxo Jr. (1986)

Perhaps the most famous of all the PIXAR Shorts, and the first to be made at the studio, this short is also two minutes long. It features a large desk lamp watching a small desk lamp as they play with and eventually puncture a ball, which is then replaced by a larger ball. Without dialogue or faces, the short manages to provide both lamps with personality and emotion, which was groundbreaking at the time. John Lassester would later tell how he expected questions about the shadowing algorithm (which is superb) but was asked about the gender of the lamps. They have none. The film was rendered on the Pixar Image Computer which gave the company its name.

Red’s Dream (1987)

Clocking in at 4 minutes, this was the biggest project PIXAR Studios had developed so far. It tells the story of a discounted unicycle in a bike shop as he dreams of being in a circus act with a juggling clown. It was a character driven piece with a gloomy undertone and John Lasseter would later refer to it as PIXAR’s Blue Period. The impressive technical aspects are in the juggling, the rain and the price tag that hangs from Red. Of all the shorts, this one seems to be mostly forgotten but it is just as good, and as much of a testament to the company, as the rest of them.

Tin Toy (1988)

Created at a time when the Pixar Imaging Computer wasn’t selling so well, this needed to be monumental- and it was. It was this very short that would gain the attention of the Walt Disney Company, who would provide the funding for PIXAR Studios to create Toy Story. Clocking in at a staggering 5 minutes, this tells the story of a Tin Toy Soldier as he attempts to avoid being picked up by a baby named Billy. This one has possibly aged the most as it features the first 3D animated person, and the living room is noticeably scarce, but that gives it a certain charm. Of particular note are the PIXAR logo on the gift bag and the photo in the photo frame, which is clearly just a genuine photo that has been imported. Despite how it has aged, this is still a marvel of animation and one of my favourites.

Knick Knack (1989)

You most likely haven’t seen the original render of this short, because it was only ever sold to the public via the VHS and Laserdisc copies of Tiny Toy Stories. What you are familiar with is the 2003 re-render that was released to theatres. Either way, it’s a lot of fun. It follows a snowman in a snowglobe as he attempts to break out to be with an attractive woman who is part of the “Sunny Miami” ornament. The slapstick in this short and the simplistic designs really help this one to stand the test of time, and the score is one of the catchiest things I’ve ever heard. The original is available online, should you choose to go looking for it, but be aware it involves larger female appendages than the 2003 re-render.

Geri’s Game (1997)

I know this is the one I’ve seen the most, but it holds a very special place in my heart because of that. It tells of a pensioner in the park playing a dramatic game of chess with himself. It’s particularly noteworthy as the first short to be released in a theatre and the first with the current PIXAR Studios logo. It also marks the second short with a human character, although this one holds up considerably better than Billy. Lastly is the personality of Geri himself who might be one of the most likable characters ever created, despite never saying a word. If you’re a theatre student, or just a fan of acting in general, I feel like you could learn a lot from Geri’s performance.

For the Birds (2000)

We have reached the point where none of these shorts age because of the choice in animation style. Here we find a group of small birds sitting on a phone line before they are joined by a large bird that they dislike. What stands out the most are the details on the birds, like their individual feathers and the scratches on their beaks, and the annoyance in their eyes. Also, the sound effects in this one are just fantastic and the squeaks of the birds themselves may sound familiar to fans of Toy Story.

Boundin’ (2003)

Another major achievement for PIXAR Animation Studios and another one of my favourites. A sheep who adores his coat enough to dance about in it, is is shorn leaving him to be mocked by all the other sheep. Through a great American Jackalope, he is taught the benefits that come with being lighter like being able to bound high. This is the first short with dialogue and it was chosen to be a musical number that teaches a great message about self acceptance.

One Man Band (2005)

The first short to feature multiple human characters, with two men competing musically for an old woman’s coin. The background in this one is especially beautiful and is only topped by the musical score. There’s joy, determination, rage and fear, which are all demonstrated in the sublime facial expressions and the beautiful music. It’s perhaps at its best in the quiet moment near the end, and in the comedy contained therein.

Lifted (2006)

This is the only time that PIXAR Studios have done aliens, and that only amplifies the uniqueness of this short. A young alien in training attempts to abduct a human from their house using a control board with hundreds of switches and chaos ensues. I love how simple it is, using only what it needs to in order to tell its story. It also has some stellar use of motion blur, demonstrating just how far animation has come

Presto (2008)

As somebody who grew up with Tom & Jerry, The Looney Tunes, and Knick Knack, the tone of this short is super familiar to me. The often energetic animation, the comedic timing and the slapstick would be right at home with those classic cartoons. It tells of a magicians rabbit who makes the magician’s show difficult because he won’t give him a carrot. Unlike other shorts, there is no score throughout as many of the audio is sound effects. I love this one.

Partly Cloudy (2009)

Now that PIXAR Studios is well established and has an excellent grasp of animation, they’re really starting to experiment through their shorts. Here we focus on a cloud who creates ferocious baby animals for a living and the exhausted stork who has to deliver them. There is so much going on, like the fluffiness of the clouds, the feathers on the storks, the lightning effects and the fading sunlight. It also happens to accompany a wonderfully simple story.

Day & Night (2010)

This is another one of my favourites. It features the characters of Night and Day who each have a centre that acts as a window into their namesakes. It progresses as they demonstrate the advantages of each timezone from fireflies to sunbathing women. All the sounds are ones that you would organically find in nature like ducks, wolves, and frogs while the score is a mixture of classical music and an original jazz composition. Particularly interesting is how the short uses 2D for the characters of Night and Day while their centres are 3D.

La Luna (2011)

This is, by far, the most adorable of the PIXAR Theatrical Shorts. A small boy, his father, and his grandfather sweep shooting stars across the surface of the moon to change the shape of its glow. The father and grandfather are both different from each other, and the boy isn’t sure who he wants to be like, before deciding just to be himself. The entire story is told through facial expressions and vocal noises and the haunting score but its the stylistic animation that sets it apart.

The Blue Umbrella (2013)

A blue umbrella falls in love with a red umbrella and the foundations and buildings of the city work to bring them back together. It is the very first story centred on romance in this collection and that makes it special, which is helped by the lovely score. The biggest achievement is the animation, which is darn close to realistic and really set the course for PIXAR Studio’s animation going forward.

Lava (2014)

Another tale of romance but, this time, between two volcanoes modelled on Hawaiin singers Kuana Torres Kahele and Nāpua Greig who provided their voices. This is the second use of dialogue in one of these shorts, and once again it is used to provide a stellar song that tugs at the heart strings. This is also the most story based, choosing not to focus primarily on the animation, but it is still worth every second of its 7 minute runtime

Sanjay’s Super Team (2015)

The mostly true story of Sanjay is an important one the history of PIXAR’s diversity and follows the titular child as he daydreams about the Hindu Gods while bored during his father’s prayer. During his daydream, he perceives them as the superheroes in his favourite show and uses this as a way to bond with his father. The daydream itself also has a really nice, comic book style look to it but it’s how much this story means to the real life Sanjay, and the millions of other Hindus, that really make it important.

Piper (2016)

A reluctant baby bird traverses the dangers of the beach for the first time in search of food in a story that is just as adorable as it sounds. All of this would have been impossible for a computer to do 20 years prior but now the particles of sand and texture of the water seem like an absolute breeze. The score and sound design match perfectly while Piper herself is filled with infectious enthusiasm.

Lou (2017)

An amalgamation of Lost and Found items in a school playground known as Lou encounters and befriends a young bully who eventually helps return all the items in the box. The way that all these items interact with one and other is fascinating to watch and the story is as delightful as you would expect.

Bao (2018)

This would sadly be the last of the theatrical shorts, but it would also be one of their best. A Chinese-Canadian mother makes a steamed bun that comes to life and she decides to raise as her child. The eventual plot twist is an emotional gut punch that was worthy of the Academy Award it won, as is the animation and score. If it wasn’t already clear, diversity and representation is something that matters to the folks over at PIXAR Studios and we can only hope they are all as beautifully told as Bao

PIXAR Animation Studios would cease the creation of Theatrical Shorts with the release of Bao in 2018 but this does not mean that the PIXAR Shorts are no more. It was felt that instead of giving limiting the Studio to working on one short at a time, they would be better having multiple shorts on the go at once. These PIXAR Shorts have always been led by a sole creator who was relatively new to the company and that continues to be the case today with the Sparkshots Programme. These shorts would be released on the PIXAR Studios YouTube channel before migrating to the streaming service Disney+. They are continuing a long standing tradition and are definitely worth a look.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Soul

I have seen several film critics talking about PIXAR’s Soul and how philosophical its message is, and how much of an impact that message had on them. This is great, and I’m pleased that a film could resonate so deeply with so many people, because that is what this medium can do at its best… but it just didn’t hit me like that. Watching the reviews flooding in, it was difficult to not feel like I was somehow watching Soul wrong. Connecting with a film has never been difficult for me, especially when it comes to PIXAR Animation Studios who have a one way road straight to my heart. The message of Soul is that the best way to live life is to go out and live it, instead of worrying that you may never achieve your goals, and that is an important message to convey. I was having trouble comprehending why this wasn’t affecting me as much as I thought it, should and I came to the conclusion that it may have something to do with the film’s ending. To discuss this, I think context is important so I’m about to go through the entire plot which means that if you still have not seen it, this is your last chance to go in completely unspoiled.

The plot follows music teacher Joe Gardener as he finally lands a gig with a popular jazz singer, shortly before he falls through a manhole and dies. Instead of committing to death, Joe (now a soul) manages to fall into The Great Before – where souls are given their traits and their ‘spark’. Having been mistaken for a ‘mentor’ by the Archetypes of this realm (known as Jerrys) Joe is matched with the troublesome Soul 22, and they find themselves falling through a portal to Earth. Whilst 22 ends up in Joe’s body, Joe ends up in the body of a cat and the story follows them as they attempt to return to their rightful places- 22 in The Great Before and Joe in his own body at The Big Gig. Hijinks and heartfelt moments ensue, with 22 developing a spark for life before being thrust back into The Great Before and becoming a Lost Soul, while Joe returns to his body but finds that he still feels empty after his gig. Joe returns to The Great Before, saves 22’s lost soul and embraces his fate. Thus far I have been enjoying the story, which I found to be equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. 22 is seemingly being a better Joe than Joe, which has given her a lust for life that she has been lacking forever. Meanwhile, Joe feels like he has accomplished nothing in life but, in death, has accomplished something that is bigger than himself. It took dying for Joe to realise how he should have lived, but he finally gets to die feeling fulfilled.

And then he doesn’t die.

Joe has accepted his fate and is ready for The Great Beyond, but before that can happen, he is approached by the head Jerry who allows him the chance to return to Earth and keep on living. He accepts this offer, but given the way the film has been portraying its message thus far, I don’t think he should have. I understand that Soul needs a happy ending, and I don’t resent the decision to end the story like this, but I think it would have worked better if Joe had really died. I’m all for happy endings, but sometimes one that is bittersweet can work better. Sometimes we might only become satisfied with life through dying, and (depending on religion) there are no second chances. That really sucks, but that is life so you need to make the most of it while you still can.

There are so many things about Soul that are worth paying attention to and discussing, like how it is the first PIXAR Studios film centring on a Black protagonist and how their culture is represented. It’s also worth noting that Joe’s body spends the majority of its time inhabited by somebody who sounds like a middle aged white woman, but as a white girl, I don’t feel it’s my place to lead those discussions. What I can do is discuss aspects surrounding the release of the film and the ramifications of that.

Soul was release on Christmas Day 2020 directly to the streaming platform Disney+ for free (provided you already pay the monthly subscription fee). This is not the first major film to go to Disney+, with that honour going to the Live Action remake of Mulan several months prior, but it is the first to be ‘free’. Disney had caused quite the controversy when it announced that Mulan would be locked behind a $25 (£18) paywall, because while that was a reasonable price if the platform was being used by a family, it was not so fair on those who were the ‘soul’ proprietors (harhar) of their accounts. For whatever reason, it was decided that Soul would not suffer the same fate and, personally, I think that is a good thing. This along with the Warner Bros streaming service HBO Max announcing it would have same day releasing for the platform and cinemas (much to the chagrin of everybody in the industry) has led to discussions of the viability of this type of release going forward. It’s worth noting that there are pros and cons to on-demand streaming, but the bigger question the industry seems to be taking away from all of this is ‘will it kill cinemas?’. It’s also worth noting that as I publish this, the vaccine for COVID-19 is starting to slowly be rolled out across the globe, and that as a result, cinema trips won’t be a viable option for some time to come. Many are beginning to wonder if, given streaming, cinemas even should re-open as it doesn’t seem to be harming the pockets of big film companies thus far. Personally, I think that the entire conversation is an over-reaction to the current situation and that movie theatres will be just fine. After all, television did not kill the radio.

The one thing that Soul made clear to me was just how well tailored the feature length motion picture is to the big screen. There are so many shots in here that are either a vast expanse of darkness or of light, and I know that those are the kinds of shot that would envelop a cinema crowd. I miss that kind of experience on a level that may be difficult to explain to some people, and I feel that movies like Soul demonstrate why. This film is not perfect. but it really deserved a larger screen.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Onward

*Dedicated to my brother, whose continued enthusiasm in all he does continues to inspire me to be the best older sibling I can be*

I’ve been a cinema attendee for as long as I can remember and I’ve been watching movies for longer than that. There’s just something special to me about watching something in a cinema, regardless of the time of day. I’ve done morning shows, matinees, evenings, midnight premieres, repeat viewings and every single one is different. There’s a certain comradery when you watch something with a group of people, or indeed just one other person, and I don’t think I’ve ever taken that for granted. The cinema has always been there and I have always loved it. Then came 2020, a global pandemic and that escape from reality suddenly wasn’t an option anymore. A lot will be said about COVID-19 in the years to come and in the history books looking back but for those of us who have had to live through it, we will each have a different thing we missed. This is such a first world problem and a personal one but being without the cinema has really sucked. Watching something brand new for the first time on a 40inch screen just hits differently and the first of many experiences like that was the PIXAR film Onward.

The plot follows Elf brothers Ian and Barley as they embark on a quest to find a magical stone that will resurrect their dead father for 24 hours. Unfortunately for them, this quest comes with a time limit because they have already used up one stone to bring back his legs. As a Lord of the Rings fan, I was instantly onboard with a magical quest and the quest itself does not disappoint. Each of the mythical monsters that Ian and Barley encounter, even the ones that they don’t, are based on their respective counterparts in the RPG Dungeons & Dragons. The game manual’s publisher Wizards of the West Coast are given their due thanks during Onward‘s end credits. Not only is this dedication to the source material a neat nod for fans of the game but it could even be what sparks a new players interest in the game, as it did for me. It also leads to a brilliant running gag about The Gelatinous Cube, which might be my favourite in the entire film.

Onward‘s biggest strength is the bond between it’s two main characters and their individual relationships with their father. The eldest brother Barley was was a child when his father passed away so has very few memories of him. In contrast is Ian who had just been born so has no memories of him at all. This really is the crux of the film because if you have any experiences like this in your own life then it’s going to make the characters and their internal struggles more relatable. For me, it mirrors the relationship that me and my sister have with my Grandpa who passed away when I was 13 and she was only 6. We were both so very lucky to have been able to spend any time with him but I have so many more memories of him than she does. This is to say nothing of my brother who was born a couple of years later and never got to meet him, which hurts more than I can put into words. The other through-line is the brother’s relationship to each other, which again will hit differently depending on your life experience. As the eldest of 3 children I got to play a huge part in raising my siblings, though the age gap between us was larger than Ian and Barley’s. It’s difficult for me not to see my siblings in Ian and myself in Barley so by the time Onward is reaching it’s conclusion, I’m having all of the emotions. However the way in which the film reaches it’s emotional climax feels a little cheap to me, with too much of a focus on the Buddy Comedy plot structure. Our main characters have to fall out in order to realise how much they need/miss each other, which is fine when done well but Onward places their disagreement near the end of the film and resolves it 5 minutes later. It feels like that plot thread is only there because the creative team felt like it had to be and, for me, it’s the only real issue.

According to some people, there is a much bigger issue with the film and that is the setting/design. Onward takes place in a realm where magic exists but was forgotten by technology, meaning that their world functions like ours and some say that if this is the case then the film should have just featured regular people instead of fantasy creatures. Now I see where this criticism is coming from however I think that aesthetic is a perfectly viable reason for this choice. This fantasy world has brighter colours than our own and allows for some small design aspects like turrets on top of skyscrapers, not to mention all of the fantasy-based puns. The only genuine critique that I can take in this area is the designs of the characters themselves which, despite looking good, look like they were made by PIXAR. Early PIXAR films didn’t have a particular “style” and instead were more focussed on how they could push the boundaries of animation with possibly the best example being Monsters Inc. Their animation is still top notch but it feels like they’ve settled and aren’t really pushing boundaries anymore, although I hope that some day they will again.

At the end of the day, I still really like Onward and, had it not been for the global pandemic, i feel like it could have been a big hitter for the studio. Instead it is relegated to the second lowest grossing film, beaten only by The Good Dinosaur, although it seems to have done well on streaming sites and VOD services. I hope that this one isn’t forgotten and I’m glad to see that this has marked the next phase of original ideas from PIXAR Studios after their slate of sequels. If this is how that phase is starting, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Toy Story 4

In my opinion, the original Toy Story trilogy is one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. All 3 instalments of that trilogy are entertaining, heart-warming and a brilliant demonstration of the progress in computer animation. At their core, they are all about growing up and grappling with the world around you, which is perfectly bookended in Toy Story 3 when Andy leaves for college and passes his toys on to the new child, Bonnie. As somebody who has grown up alongside these films and was 13 when Toy Story 3 came out, I straight up cried watching it. I struggle upon every re-watch not to tear up. It is one of very few cases that I can think of where people found the third film in a trilogy to end that trilogy perfectly (in a list that includes such hits as Back to the Future Part 3 and Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi). So you can imagine my surprise when PIXAR Studios announced that it would be entering production on Toy Story 4, a mere 9 years later. Over the course of those 9 years, there were short films which returned us to Bonnie and the rest of the toys, and this seemed to be all we would ever get, which was and is absolutely fine, but apparently PIXAR had a bigger story that they needed to tell.

The plot follows Woody as he attempts to look after Bonnie’s new favourite toy- a spork named Forky- whilst on a family roadtrip. Along the way, Woody loses track of him in an antique store and is re-acquainted with his former one true love Bo Peep, who is existing as a Lost Toy. Together they embark on a mission to rescue Forky from the clutches of an antique doll named Gabby Gabby, who has a broken voice box and wants Woody’s as a replacement. The first thing you may notice about this plot description is that I have not mentioned the rest of the toys. Rex, Slinky, Jessie, The Potato Heads and all the rest have gone unmentioned, because whilst this is a Toy Story movie it might be more accurate to call it Woody: A Toy Story, which is not inherently a bad thing. Woody is a hugely entertaining and lovable character, but if PIXAR was just going to focus on him instead of the group I think the title should have reflected that. The other toys do have a subplot, but sadly it doesn’t have much to do with the main plot and it is a little sad to see these terrific characters sidelined. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Buzz Lightyear.

Over the course of the Toy Story trilogy, Buzz has undergone some major character development. He’s gone from a deluded Space Ranger to accepting his place as a toy to being a great leader for the rest of the toys with his own moral compass. He is as much a fleshed out character as Woody is, but Toy Story 4 relegates him to being a punchline. His subplot is that he thinks his audio files (activated by the buttons on his chestplate) are his conscience, and that doesn’t track as character progression to me. That being said, when the film isn’t doing that he gets to have some genuinely good interactions with the rest of the cast, in particular the new plush toys Ducky and Bunny. These two characters are voiced by the always hilarious duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who bounce off of Buzz’s dialogue with ease, providing a really fun relationship. On top of this we have newcomer Duke Kaboom: Canada’s Greatest Stuntman who is a wind-up motorcyclist voiced by the soothing tones of Keanu Reeves. I actually had a similar toy during my childhood, so I can personally attest to how fun these toys can be- and how heartbreaking Duke’s story is. All behind the scenes information will tell you that this was supposed to be a small role, that supposedly Keanu had concocted so much backstory for that PIXAR fleshed out the role. I have nothing to say about this and this was purely an excuse to remind you all of how wonderful Keanu Reeves is.

The real stand out performances for me are the female leads Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby voiced by the effervescent Annie Potts and Christina Hendricks. Both characters have clearly decided what they want from life but have to amend their way of thinking. Bo is a Lost Toy who clearly enjoys living without an owner, and has concluded that this freedom is the best thing for all toys. She only helps to rescue Forky because she loves Woody, but in doing so she comes to realise that a child’s needs are just as important as her own. Gabby Gabby on the other hand wants nothing but to be played with by one girl named Harmony. When this does not go as she expected, she realises that she doesn’t need the love of one particular child but of whichever child chooses to love her. In essence, both Bo Peep and Gabby Gabby come to the conclusion that they can be played with and loved by anyone, but Gabby is willing to stay in one place for longer than Bo. Both characters are more similar to each other than they would admit, and so they start off disdainful of each other before their relationship progresses naturally. Again, Toy Story 4 only focusses on a few characters, but these stories are handled with real care and have as much heart as was present in any of the 3 previous films.

While we’re on the topic of “things that are present across the quadrilogy” it’s time to talk about composer Randy Newman. I really like his music and I think that it suits this franchise beautifully. You’ve Got a Friend in Me is so globally recognisable that I’m surprised that PIXAR haven’t made it their official theme like Disney with When You Wish Upon a Star. I’m also incredibly grateful that they haven’t, because it would completely alter that songs context and limit the way that PIXAR films can open (like the subtle Incredibles 2 opening). However there is a noticeable difference to me between the score for Toy Story 4 compared to the former trilogy and that is the amount of re-used music present. I am all for continuing musical motifs, and it is one of my favourite aspects of film scoring, but the blatant use of it here is really jarring to me. Operation Pull Toy and Buzz’s Flight are particularly guilty of this, but on the other hand the new pieces of score are as good as anything that he has previously composed. My personal favourites are School Daze and A Spork in the Road which hit all the right emotions.

Finally, I couldn’t do a PIXAR film without talking about the animation. I think that if you want an accurate timeline for this company’s progression in computer animation then the Toy Story quadrilogy provides 4 perfect snapshots. Toy Story in 1995 was their first full length feature film demonstrating where PIXAR started from. By the time Toy Story 2 was released in 200 the technology had improved so much that they had to rebuild the character models from the ground up. By Toy Story 3 in 2010 their human characters finally looked closer to humans than clones of Andy, and in Toy Story 4 you can see Woody’s stitching. I don’t think that this progress will ever cease to amaze me, and I hope that I never take any of this progress for granted.

Ultimately, the world did not need Toy Story 4. It was probably ever going to serve as the epilogue to an already close to perfect trilogy, but despite its flaws, it still has the heart that made this franchise great. Toy Story 4 was unnecessary but, frankly, I don’t think that matters. I don’t think it ever matters because while some people might not like it, we are always going to get sequels, prequels and reboots for as long as the cinema industry continues to exist. All we can hope for is that we enjoy them, and in the case of Toy Story 4, I did. It still made me feel emotions, and I would absolutely watch it again. As far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough to exist.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Incredibles 2

In 2004, PIXAR Studios released what I consider to be the best representation of the Fantastic 4 ever put on the big screen with The Incredibles. At the time, it was probably my favourite of the 6 films they had released and I was ecstatic to hear that the story was to be continued as a video game. Having played the video game adaptation of The Incredibles on my home computer I was soon playing it’s sequel on the Playstation 2 – The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer. The game allows you to switch between controlling Mr Incredible and Frozone as you make your way through the Underminer’s tunnels and into his lair where you must defeat him. It’s been a long time since I played it, but I remember it being a heck of a lot of fun, primarily because I thought that Frozone was just the coolest. For years, this would be the only sequel that The Incredibles got until it was finally announced that an official movie sequel was underway in 2014, to be released in 2018. It was not an adaptation of Rise of the Underminer.

The plot follows Helen Parr (aka Elastigirl) as she is approached by a business tycoon who wants to help make superheroes legal again. As she attempts to defeat a new supervillain called The Screenslaver, her husband Bob (aka Mr Incredible) faces the challenge of being a stay-at-home dad with his teenage daughter Violet, son Dash and baby Jack-Jack. All of this is made infinitely more difficult when Jack-Jack begins to develop a seemingly endless number of superpowers. These new superpowers were a massive selling point for Incredibles 2, even being the first piece of completed animation shown to the general public, so you might think that it forms the bulk of the plot but this isn’t really the case. I find that the issues facing Bob and Helen balance pretty equally.

Of course, this is not the first time that Jack-Jacks powers have been seen on screen as he used several of them to escape Syndrome’s grasp in The Incredibles and to torment Kari the babysitter in the short film Jack-Jack Attack. However he has gained more powers since the original 13 and this is the first time that anybody apart from Syndrome and Kari have known about them so this is where the real fun begins. On top of this, Violet is gearing up for her first date with Tony Rydinger who, having seen her in her supersuit without a mask, has had her erased from his mind under Bob’s orders. Violet has always been my favourite member of the Parr family and seeing her rebel against them in a way that I never would have felt comfortable enough doing is kind of cathartic. On top of that is Dash’s constant issues with his mathematics homework. Ever since I was in Secondary Education, I have had issues with how the education system is structured and how lessons are taught. It is incredibly rigid and doesn’t really allow for outside-the-box thinking and, in the case of maths, will punish you for reason a conclusion in the wrong way. I feel Bob’s frustration when he exclaims “math is math” because he’s right. The main point here is that these issues (dating, maths, baby) are regular and relatable issues which makes us sympathise with them more. They aren’t a Superhero Family, they’re a family who just so happen to have superpowers.

Meanwhile, Helen’s mission to stop The Screenslaver and to help make superheroes legal again is excellently crafted. I think that the comparisons to The Fantastic 4 are a given but I feel like this sequel more closely resembles the original X-Men film trilogy. The X-Men comics had always been a metaphor for oppressed minorities but the films in particular leaned more specifically into the struggles of the LGBT+ Community. Whilst Incredibles 2 is a children’s film, it refuses to shy away from an important conversation about laws and policies and what to do if they prove to be unjust. The solution seems to be the formulation of new laws but in order to prove that would be worthwhile, the previous laws need to be broken. Society is constantly changing and, provided it is becoming more accepting of people who have been considered “different”, that’s probably a good thing. We, as a society, need to acknowledge when we have done wrong and we need to be open to healthy, positive, inclusive change. That should not be a controversial statement.

On the topic of the X-Men, I think it’s worth noting the difference between the superhero movies of yore and those of today. 2004 and 2018 and two very different years when it comes to superhero films and the public perception of them which means that The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 end up feeling tonally different from each other. In 2004, these films were a light-hearted affair that wasn’t taken seriously as a genre by the public at large. Titles like Daredevil and Catwoman had seemingly demonstrated that superhero films were a lost cause and, apart from franchises like X-Men and Spider-Man, were worth moving on from. 4 years later Iron Man launched what would become the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only proving that this genre was worth paying attention to, but that it could be hugely profitable. This led to 2018, when Avengers: Infinity War hit our screens and quickly became the highest grossing film of all time. Both Incredibles films are reflective of these different eras with the first being fun, with a punchy score and vibrant colour palette while the second was more of an action blockbuster with a slightly muted palette. Had the first instalment not existed, I wonder if the second would have had Michael Giacchino’s brass score which evokes the Golden Age of superheroes and Richard Donner’s Superman.

There is no denying that Incredibles 2 occupies a different space than it’s predecessor. Superhero films have become a respected, and profitable, genre in their own right but I don’t feel like any of the original’s fun has been lost in this sequel. I don’t want to say this film feels more mature but it is different in much the same way that Superman: The Movie and Man of Steel are different, without losing what made The Incredibles so good. I said at the top of this piece that The Incredibles was, at the time, my favourite of all the PIXAR films and that hasn’t really changed. I still adore that film and I still love this genre, although the old ones really do excite me in a more child-like manner. At that time, Disney sequels were released directly to video but films like Incredibles 2 kind of make me glad that PIXAR never has. This deserved to be on the big screen.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Coco

In 2014, 20th Century Fox released the animated children’s film The Book of Life. It follows a young man named Manolo, who having sacrificed himself to save his one true love, attempts to return to the land of the living with the help of his ancestors. The heartfelt story and the animation, which is possibly the closest thing to storyboard art I’ve ever seen, and the influence of Guillmero Del Toro, make it worth the watch. Despite what people at the time may have had you believe, it has nothing to to with PIXAR’s 2017 film Coco. It shares minor plot elements like the Day of the Dead, a mission to return home and a vibrant colour palette, but this does not make one a knock-off of the other. To delve any further than that will require delving into the plot, so let’s just jump into it.

Coco follows a young boy named Miguel who dreams of being a musician, but whose family have banned all music from their lives. After a bizarre incident on the Day of the Dead featuring the guitar of Miguel’s idol Ernesto de la Cruz, he finds himself in the land of the dead and needing to receive the blessing of an ancestor to return home. The plot here has several fundamental differences from The Book of Life, starting with the setting. Whilst both films take place in a small Mexican town, Coco takes place in a town where music feels like it has practically been outlawed by the influence of Miguel’s grandmother. If anything, it reminds me of the legendary 1984 film Footloose starring Kevin Bacon. The second deviance concerns the death of our main characters, because, unlike Manolo, Miguel isn’t actually dead. Manolo made a deal with death which required him to die and so his attempted escape from the land of the dead is something he technically shouldn’t be attempting. Miguel on the other hand ends up in the land of the dead purely by accident, and can leave whenever he wants. His ancestors are more than willing to provide the blessing he needs to go home, but only if he gives up music, which is where the conflict arises. To leave on his own terms, Miguel runs away to find De la Cruz, who he believes to be his great grandfather. Whilst The Book of Life‘s plot is fuelled by love, Coco‘s plot is fuelled by selfishness. I feel like claiming one film to be just like the other prevents either film from thriving on its own. They are both worth watching, and thanks to the Fox/Disney merger, you can find both on Disney+.

A really interesting aspect of Coco is what it has to say about songwriting credits. Over the course of the plot, Miguel meets and befriends Hector, who claims to be friends with De la Cruz but as we reach the film’s climax, the truth presents itself. It transpires that Hector was De la Cruz’s musical partner in life, and that he wrote all of De la Cruz’s songs- including his biggest hit Remember Me, which Hector had actually written for his daughter. To make matters worse, it is revealed that De la Cruz poisoned Hector, because he was planning on returning home before they had managed to make it in the industry. I’m not aware of anything quite like this happening in real life, but the discussion surrounding songwriting credits dates back quite a while. It isn’t something that I’m even remotely qualified to dive into, but I find the use of this discussion in Coco to be really interesting. Ernesto de la Cruz became one of the world’s biggest stars, to the point where he is still left tributes by his adoring fans, whilst Hector who is responsible for his success, was murdered and forgotten. The film definitely comes down on Hector’s side, and therefore, the side of the songwriter. But songwriting credits aren’t just about legacy.

Songwriting credits are vastly important because it determines which people become popular, famous and perhaps most importantly wealthy. It is exceedingly ironic that this message is present in a film being distributed by the Walt Disney Company, whose first feature length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves made them millions, but had no voice actor credits. The opening credits to the film only feature the production staff, as was common practice at the time, but nobody that provided their voice had there name attached to anything, including the promotional material. The voice actress for Snow White was named Adriana Caselotti, and she passed away on January 18, 1997 at the age of 80, having never made as much money as she should have for such an important role. There are still no voice acting credits in any re-releases of Snow White either. Fast forward to today, and even PIXAR itself is guilty of overlooking people. Mama Coco is based on a real person (María de la Salud Ramírez Caballer) from a real town (Santa Fe de la Laguna) in Mexico, and whilst many people know this now, providing a small tourism boost to the town, she has never been properly acknowledged by PIXAR. As a result of her involvement and the team’s trip to see her, Coco is saturated with Mexican culture. The colours and the designs make this movie pop, and that is amplified by the stunning soundtrack, which has both English and Mexican dubs of its songs. To me, this feels like it is to PIXAR what The Emperor’s New Groove was to Disney, although Coco has proved to be more successful. Which hurts just a little bit.

It’s a common complaint these days that the film industry is all sequels, prequels and remakes, and for the span of a few years, PIXAR wasn’t immune to this ‘trend’. However Coco is slotted quite nicely in between all that, and is perhaps one of the most original films the company has produced in a while. I have to confess that I nearly forgot to review Coco. In my list of PIXAR releases, my eyes somehow glazed over the title, but I’m thankful that I noticed my mistake. It’s worthy of being noticed.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Cars 3

The Cars trilogy is a bit of an odd one. I found the first film to be delightful enough, and a decent dive into the “find yourself” trope, while the second was a mostly entertaining spy/action flick. This brings us to the third instalment, which returns to the “find yourself” trope in what, I think, might end up being the best in the series. There has been a noticeable amount of change in the 6 years between Cars 2 and 3, and so it is perhaps no surprise that the series chose to return to its character-centred roots. With the upgrade in technology and the once new animators taking on more senior roles within the company, there was clearly a passing of the torch on the horizon. That’s what Cars 3 has always felt like to me – a company with its eyes on the future.

We follow star racecar Lighning McQueen as his career faces a massive upheaval with the rise of more technological cars like Jackson Storm. As the last of the old guard and recovering from a severe crash, Lightning is determined to be better than ever, leading him to a new training regime under the eyes of Cruz Ramirez. If you are familiar with the sentimentality of PIXAR and the way in which they tell stories, then you can probably guess how this is all going to end, but that doesn’t make the journey any less powerful. This, like the original Cars, is an Unwilling Mentor story, with Cruz being the unknowing trainee. For the majority of the plot it feels like Lightning might still be in with a fighting chance, he isn’t that rookie filled with unwarranted bravado anymore, he’s a veteran of the sport who is in a great deal of denial and fear- which are perhaps the greatest motivators. The parallels between the original Doc/Lightning dynamic and the Lightning/Cruz dynamic are a given, but Cars 3 spends a little more time on the former than you might think.

Sadly, the world of Cars lost one of its primary voices when the voice of Doc Hudson – the late Paul Newman- passed away. Whilst there are moments in Cars 2 that feel made to honour him and his legacy, this film practically feels like a love letter. There is no denying how heavily his loss is felt during this film, and how much he was loved by all involved. Thanks to un-used and re-used audio, he receives one last turn as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, but never once does it feel cheap. Whilst Cars 2 was also affected, there never seemed to be a quiet enough spot to properly acknowledge the impact that Paul Newman had. Cars 3 could not have done that job more beautifully.

Whilst the returning cast members are all wonderful in their roles, there is plenty of time dedicated to the talents of the newcomers. Some of these newcomers are already veteran actors themselves, with the likes of Nathan Fillion, Chris Copper and Arnie Hammer providing their voices. By this point, PIXAR has a solid enough reputation that it can call in major actors like these for minor roles, and it feels like a turning point for the company. While it was noticeable in prior films (see Sigourney Weaver in Finding Dory) you now practically expect to hear an A-List star. This isn’t a small studio anymore, it is a multimillion dollar company and a household name. New animators are being hired and trained at the “PIXAR University” all the time, which means that they are now capable of releasing two films per year instead of one film every two years. PIXAR releasing a new film used to feel like a major event, and while it is still A Moment, it doesn’t feel like that gravitas is really there anymore. It has become part of the machine, as it were. I suppose in the same way that Cars 3 is a thank you to the days of yore, my review has become a thank you to PIXAR of yore.

This is now the 18th PIXAR review that I have written and I often feel like I am repeating myself. By now, you know that I find the animation to be first rate, the score outstanding and the voice acting brilliant. I never tire of saying those things, and I have been saying them for quite some time. I know I’m only 23, but watching Cars 3 was a reminder that I’m not some doe-eyed child anymore, and that it’s been more than a decade since I was. I watch this film and I relate more to Lightning and the other racing veterans than I do the newcomers like Cruz. I suppose being blessed with two siblings makes me pine more for nostalgia than I would otherwise. My sister was 2 when the first Cars film was released, and it was one of the first films she ever saw. Cars 2 was released the year before my brother was born and he has now surpassed the age that I was when my sister came along. It’s really odd to me that I have become emotionally connected to the Cars franchise, but that is the situation in which I find myself.

Cars 3 is a film about life. It’s about feeling lucky to live the one you have, and trying not to mourn what has been. It’s about the march of time and the rise of technology and about moving forward. It’s about how sheltered some children might be compared to others, and about whether or not that is for their betterment. Bob Dylan once wrote that “the times, they are a-changin” and movies about life, like Cars 3, make me feel that deep within my soul. Make the most of the time you have with the people you love and the places around you. Appreciate what you can while you can because life’s a beach… and then you drive.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Finding Dory

In 2003, PIXAR Studios released their classic heartwarming tale Finding Nemo. It told the story of a widowed Clownfish (Marlin) as he crosses the ocean with a forgetful Blue Tang (Dory) in an attempt to find his fishnapped son (Nemo). There were calls for a sequel in the years that followed, but aside from Toy Story 2 & 3, PIXAR was primarily focused on producing new ideas like Wall-E and Ratatouille. However, as is the way with all film companies, the allure of guaranteed sequel profit proved to be too good, and in 2016 Finding Dory was released. This is, of course, a more cynical view of the movie’s conception, but I like to think that they believed in the story they were telling. PIXAR has always said that they only animate scripts that they deem to be a decent continuation of a previous story.

Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo, and follows Dory as she travels to the Marine Life Institute in California to find her parents, with Marlin and Nemo following closely behind. This is a story that, for lack of better phrasing, makes sense to tell. We really don’t know all that much about Dory, and as she discovers more about herself, so do we. Her Short Term Memory Loss is a key plot device here, and it almost never feels like the butt of a joke. I’ll continue to commend the film for that, so it’s quite disappointing that the same respect is not paid to her friends Destiny and Bailey. The former is a Whale Shark who has restricted vision whilst the latter is a Beluga Whale who is faking the loss of his echolocation. And then there is poor little Becky. She is a Loon Bird who carries Marlin and Nemo into the Marine Life Institute in a bucket and is portrayed has having a mental disability. (Because she’s a Loon. Get it?) This makes for a great deal of misunderstanding between her and the other characters, which leads to a great amount of hilarity. From the studio that handled mental illness so well in Inside Out, this is a bit of disappointment.

As with many sequels, you are better off watching the original film first. However, I feel like a truly terrific sequel can still stand on it’s own (see Terminator 2) and Finding Dory almost comes close. If you did watch Finding Nemo first then this film carries more of an emotional impact, but if you haven’t seen it then you don’t need to worry, because you can pick up the plot of Finding Nemo from this. Of course, I have no idea why you wouldn’t watch Finding Nemo first… but assuming you did, then the possibility of Dory leaving Marlin and Nemo to be with her parents is Finding Dory‘s biggest emotional thread. The film never shies away from the possibility that this is the outcome, and that something like that can be emotionally devastating, but it never follows through on that totally. This is still a PIXAR film so of course everybody stays together at the end. This is all fine, but where it becomes an issue is in the film’s conclusion where it flip-flops between this being, and then not being, the resolution, before it finally does become the resolution. It really makes the final act of Finding Dory feel like a mental challenge to keep up with.

Where the film really shines is in the animation and the score, which have both come a long way in the 14 years since Finding Nemo. This is PIXAR’s 17th feature film, and the 2nd to be set primarily in water, and WOW you can tell. Water used to be one of the most difficult aspects of animation (maybe it still is) but the animation here borders on realistic. The way that you can see particles floating through the water, the way that the animals are reflected on the surface from underneath it, and the way that it clings to the animals making them continuously moist, is downright astounding. The realism felt a little off in The Good Dinosaur where it was only on the scenery, and the characters didn’t fit that aesthetic. In Finding Dory, there is a perfect balance. If I had to recommend this film for any reason, it would be the animation. The score coming in as a close second. PIXAR brought in composer Thomas Newman, who had previously worked on Finding Nemo, and brings back that ethereal feel for the ocean as well as a fun, quirky vibe when it’s needed. The soundtrack also features a Bondesque rendition of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable by Sia.

I find that there is more to like about Finding Dory than there is to dislike. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it looks and sounds stunning, while the importance of having the main character voiced by an out lesbian can’t be understated (even if it is Ellen). Also, Sigourney Weaver is here and you’d better believe that they get as much use out of her voice as possible. To me, this is a worthwhile sequel to a beloved classic.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer