Ranked: The PIXAR Collection

*DISCLAIMER: This list is based purely off my own opinion*

When it comes time to write these rankings, I usually already know roughly where a film will sit. Having grown up with both the Star Wars and Middle Earth sagas, I was already fully aware how each one of those films made me feel. The PIXAR Collection is another beast entirely. Not only is the list comprised of 23 individual films (a far cry from the 9 and 6 I had already done) but each film is a different type of film. Star Wars is all space opera and the Middle Earth instalments are all heroic fantasy but PIXAR films range from comedy to action to romance to fantasy. This was no easy task, and let me assure you before reading that you will almost definitely disagree, but this is my list. As far as I’m concerned, even the “worst” film on this list is only mediocre and numbers 9 through 4 are practically interchangeable to me. The top 3 however, will most likely continue to hold their positions.

23. Cars

If you were wondering what the early 2000s country music scene was like then look no further. Cars has proved to be the most dated of PIXAR’s films, but the only real flaw it has is how childish it is. Yes, it’s a children’s film but so is every other film here and they seem to have more decorum. To be fair, I was oversaturated with this one because it was my sister’s favourite so I’m probably a little biased.

22. The Good Dinosaur

This is what many consider to be PIXAR’s lowest moment, and I think that’s a little harsh. The animation is stunningly realistic in places and, although the plot meanders, that’s not a bad thing. I think that pacing is probably the worst aspect of The Good Dinosaur but considering the hell it went through to get made, it’s perfectly a reasonable result.

21. Cars 2

With a more Mater focussed plot, you’d think this would be my least favourite Cars instalment, but no. It gets credit from me for being a spy film in the same campy vain as Pierce Brosnan’s Bond with a stellar performance by Sir Michael Caine. Any film that is willing to go so ham with its plot is always a positive for me.

20. Toy Story 4

The original Toy Story trilogy is near perfect, as far as I’m concerned, however all the friendships and character development of those 3 films feel relatively absent here. I’m fine with having a solo Woody adventure but I kind of wish the film had allowed itself to do that instead of clinging to characters it practically ignores. I still get swept up in this one, just not as much as I would like.

19. Soul

The most recent addition to the PIXAR portfolio is good, but I feel like the ending lets it down. I’m also not convinced that there was enough jazz or time spent with Joe before he falls into The Great Before. Soul isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really hit me like that.

18. Onward

I’m a sucker for fantasy, world-building and stories centring on siblings so Onward was starting at an advantage. It’s a lot of fun, and has a lot of heart, but it feels the need to stick to the “buddy comedy” plot which I feel holds it back a little bit. Also, I really like the running gag about the Gelatinous Cube.

17. Finding Dory

Like Toy Story 4, Finding Dory chooses to focus on one character, but unlike Toy Story 4, it dedicates enough time to other characters too. Marlin and Nemo are never forgotten about or watered down as characters, but it allows so much more depth to Dory. Hank the octopus is also really well developed, with an understandably cynical edge, and they got Sigourney Weaver.

16. Brave

Braveheart is a fine film but when it and all the historical inaccuracies seem to be the primary representation for your home country, it starts to get a little boring. Luckily, Brave is an excellent depiction of Scotland with a suitably lore-heavy plot to boot. It doesn’t do for the country what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand but I think it should have.

15. Cars 3

I think I’m starting to get sentimental, because the latest Cars film focuses on older versions of the classic characters and it’s my favourite of the trilogy. It’s also a fairly simple plot, unlike Cars 2, and doesn’t have to burden itself with the introduction of a whole tow, like the first. It could also have something to do with the Demolition Derby.

14. Inside Out

As far as handling the depiction of depression for a child audience, I think Inside Out does a superb job. It also fills the story with likable characters, an abundance of imagination and plenty of colour. Despite being relatively new in the grand scheme of PIXAR, Bing Bong has become a favourite character of mine.

13. Monsters University

To date, this is PIXAR’s only prequel and that’s fascinating to me. In all honestly, that’s probably the only route they could have gone down with a follow up to Monsters Inc because a true sequel would have risked cheapening the ending of the original. As prequels go, this one is rather inventive and demonstrates how the “here’s how we all met” plot can be done well.

12. Coco

I don’t think there’s anything in Coco that isn’t beautiful. Between the animation, the plot, and the soundtrack there is so much to fall in love with.

11. Incredibles 2

I love The Incredibles, and I liked the video game sequel, but this really knocks it out of the park in terms of action. It is an excellent demonstration of the evolution of the superhero genre, but it never loses that familial element that made the original so good.

10. Finding Nemo

There is such scale in Finding Nemo, making the ocean look incredibly vast and seemingly empty at times, but when there is ocean life, it is beautiful. It also has what remains to this day the darkest opening to any of PIXAR’s films, and the impact of that opening is never lost, regardless of how funny Finding Nemo can be.

9. Ratatouille

Many people are of the opinion that this is PIXAR’s best film and some have even referred to it as their Magnum Opus, which may be true. Personally, I enjoy the following 8 films more, but we have now hit a point in the list where the numbers are kind of irrelevant. Objectively, Ratatouille is as well made as the rest and it has the added complication of our protagonists being unable to speak to each other, which is handled sublimely.

8. Up

The first of PIXAR’s films to be helmed by Pete Doctor and he absolutely nails it on his first try. A lot of emphasis is placed on those opening 8 minutes, as it should be, but the rest of the film is just as good. An old man, a young boy and a talking dog is an odd dynamic, but it works well here. The late Christopher Plummer is also oodles of fun as the villain.

7. Wall-E

“Actions speak louder than words” has never been as true as it is in the case of Wall-E. With our protagonist having a limited vocabulary and often nobody to speak to, the film relies on telling its story with his surroundings, and aces it. There is straight up no dialogue for around 15 minutes, which would turn people off if done poorly, but it was used to the films benefit by allowing us to soak in Wall-E’s surroundings . Truly spectacular.

6. Toy Story 3

This works as a standalone film, and as the conclusion to perhaps PIXAR’s most popular story; it is such a perfect bookend, down to the very last frame, and you can tell how much love went into making it. Toy Story now exists as a quadrilogy but there is no denying that 1-3 told a complete story, and having grown up with that story, I love the ending.

5. Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 is so good that it started development as a direct-to-video sequel which was upgraded to a proper theatrical release, and well deservedly. From the action to the character to the endless Star Wars references, I can only find enjoyment here. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that sequels are never as good as the original.

4. Monsters Inc

This film could be this high on the list for nothing more than how impressive the animation is. They had to write brand new codes to make some of the textures work, and it’s as good now as it was then. It just so happens to also have a fantastic plot, perfectly camp villain and excellent chemistry between the two leads.

3. A Bug’s Life

This film really sticks out to me because PIXAR have never really made anything similar. Everything else has a sequel or human characters but A Bug’s Life doesn’t, and that makes it really special to me. I also just love a good adventure story, and of all the films in this list, I think this one might be the funniest. The grasshoppers alone make this worth watching, as does the darkest ending I think PIXAR have ever done.

2. The Incredibles

I love superheroes, and the classic superhero aesthetic, and the grand sweeping theme songs. The Incredibles embodies all of that. It feels like a classic “comic book movie” in the very best sense of the term and that familial message really strengthens the story. It is pure unbridled superhero fun and I adore it as much now as I ever did.

1. Toy Story

Let’s be honest, it was only ever going to be Toy Story for the top spot. This isn’t an Objectively Best Movies list, it’s a list of my personal favourites and I’ve lost track of how often I’ve seen Toy Story. This film had an entire group of animators staking their career and, I think, as a result Toy Story feels like it was made from love. It’s witty and dark in all the right places and is a true testament to just how far the plucky little PIXAR Studios has come. I love it.

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

Disney Investor Day 2020

It’s that time of the year when Walt Disney Studios gather their investors together to display some of the projects that they have coming down the pipeline. As with previous years, we, the general public, were able to attend via livestream, although the majority of new footage was reserved purely for investors. With Disney’s intention to provide at least 100 new pieces of content each year, there was a lot of information to unpack, and that’s not what I’m here to do. If you’d like full rundowns of the information, they are readily available online from a variety of sources. Instead, I am going to go through the announcements that had me excited and/or intrigued, although if we are being honest I will end up watching most of what they create anyway.

Sunny

The first major piece of news for me was the confirmation that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has been given the go ahead for 4 more series. This pushes the total number of series up to 18 and makes it the longest running live-action sitcom in history – ahead of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet at 14 series. I can’t wait to spend more time with the horrible owners of Paddy’s Pub.

Kenobi

News of a series set around Star Wars legend Obi Wan Kenobi was announced at last year’s Disney Expo, but we now know that the limited series will pick up 10 years after Revenge of the Sith. This sets it 1 year after the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story and 5 years before the TV Series Rebels. The major news is that prequel star Hayden Christensen is set to reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker (now Darth Vader). I’m sold.

Visions

Star Wars Visions will be a series of short films brought to us by some of the finest Japanese anime creators. You read that right, we’re getting Anime Star Wars. No, I don’t feel like I need to explain further.

Rogue Squadron

With a title taken from the video games of the late 1990s, which were set between the events of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, I can only assume then is when this film takes place. The real news here is that it will be directed by the wonderful Patty Jenkins, who is fresh of the heels of the Wonder Woman films. This makes her the first woman to take charge of a Star Wars film and I can think of nothing more important or exciting for this franchise than that.

Wimpy Kid

The book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid has already been adapted into a set of live action films, but this next instalment is to be animated in the style of the original books’ illustrations. I’ve always felt the story would work better that way and it’s nice to see it finally happening.

Rescue Rangers

I did not expect to be excited by this news, but this will be a live action/animation hybrid featuring comedians John Mulaney and Andy Samberg. These are a few of my favourite things/people and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Tiana

It would appear that Disney+ Series are the new direct-to-video sequels, and we’re getting a few of them. Tiana is taking us back into the world of The Princess and the Frog which, I feel, may be one of the most underrated Disney productions.

Lightyear

I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to everything that PIXAR is developing, but this one is especially exciting. This film will be a Buzz Lightyear origin story that inspired the toy in the universe of Toy Story and I’ve kind of always wanted that. Plus they have Chris Evans onboard to voice the titular spaceman. Now we just need a TV Series of Woody’s Roundup.

Wandavison

This TV Series looks like it will be the most original concept that Marvel Studios has produced in a very long time. The aesthetic looks really interesting, and Elizabeth Olsen is more than good enough to carry a series of her own. I’m looking forward to perhaps seeing the full extent of Scarlet Witches’ powers.

Loki

I was probably going to watch this anyway because, Tom Hiddleston seems like he has a lot of fun in the role, but now I’ve seen footage of the show itself and it does look like fun. They also have Owen Wilson, and time travel, which is a combination I would very much like to have.

She Hulk

This is the closest thing we are going to get to a solo Hulk venture for quite a while, which is reason enough to be excited. It’s also going to be focused on her role as a lawyer, so according to Kevin Feige “there’s no telling who might show up”. This feels like a Daredevil tease, but what is confirmed is that Eli Roth will be returning as The Abomination, a character not seen since 2008.

What about the rest?

You’d think that with so many new pieces of media in the realm of both Star Wars and Marvel that I’d have more items on this list, and I’d have thought so too. The thing is that practically all of the other content they announced ties directly into something else, and I would really like some stand-alone content. The Mandalorian has been some of the best Star Wars content, I feel, because it can stand on its own. As for Marvel, I’m honestly a little burned out, as many people are, I think. With both franchises ending their major film plans last year, there was a lot of hype, and for some, a lot of disappointment. I love these franchises as much as anybody (heck, I’m going to keep watching and probably enjoying them regardless) but I think slowing down before speeding back up would have given everyone a little time to breathe. There’s something to be said for selective content.

Signed: Your hypocritical neighbourhood queer

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Motion Capture doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. It gets used in practically every summer blockbuster, and has been pivotal in creating costumes for the heroes of the MCU for over a decade. However there was a time when this technology was relatively new and its limits were being tested. Most people know of one of its earliest applications, creating the creature Gollum for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but few remember some of the following applications. The Polar Express was released in 2004 and was filmed entirely in Motion Capture, before being animated by computer, even being recognised as the first all digital motion capture film by Guinness Book of World Records. The film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, chose this method of production as it allowed for a grand scale on a small budget and would do the best job of representing the original storybook’s illustrations. These same decisions would lead Zemeckis’ to apply this same method of production to an adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol.

Released in 2009, Disney’s A Christmas Carol follows the money-grabbing Ebeneezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in an attempt to change his selfish ways before it is too late. Disney is no stranger to A Christmas Carol, having adapted it with Mickey Mouse in 1983 and The Muppets in 1992. The former of these is probably the best 26 minute summary you could ever hope for, with the latter being a personal favourite that has already been subject of a review. However, this take is unique in that it is probably the darkest adaption of the tale there is, which may have something to do with how accurate it is to the original novel. There are plot elements here that I had completely forgotten about, because I have not read the book in around a decade (but have watched The Muppet Christmas Carol every year since I was a child), Ebeneezer’s sister Fran makes an appearance, as well as two gaunt children clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present called Ignorance and Want. It’s much more of a tragedy than I remember it being, and it is nice to be reminded. A Christmas Carol is about a man who needs to be subjected to his deepest regrets and fears in order to change the course of his life.

I think it’s important to remember that when the original novel was published in 1843, ghostly apparitions were not viewed as a lighthearted subject of discussion. Today we are inundated with ghoulish tales from Scooby Doo to Ghostbusters to Casper, so seeing this take, especially in a children’s movie, is relatively refreshing. The colour palette matches the overall tone of the movie in that it is dark and dingy, but when it needs to be bright and cheery, it has no problems doing so. A perfect example of this, and often something that best exemplifies their respective iterations, is how the Ghost of Christmas Present is presented. Here, he sits upon a mountain of food and is only about twice the size of Scrooge whilst the walls are adorned with golden garlands in a room that has tripled in height. As the scene progresses, the room in which they sit seems to hover over the city, allowing them to see the goings on of the townsfolk, and the Ghost of Christmas Present grows older until he has become grey. By the scene’s end, the Ghost has become hostile towards Scrooge, and as they stand in a seemingly endless room, he unleashes the disturbing Ignorance and Want before literally turning to dust whilst laughing manically, in a moment that’s flat-out uncomfortable. It’s tense, getting more so as the film races towards its conclusion. That’s not to say this tension hasn’t been present since the beginning, we are often left in complete silence as if to signify how lonely Scrooge is, but when there is music it is often a joyful and triumphant arrangement of a Christmas carol. The score was composed by the excellent Alan Silvestri, who previously conducted the score for both The Polar Express, and the Back to the Future trilogy. It seems that if your film demands triumph, it demands Alan Silvestri.

So what of this grand scale that Zemeckis spoke of? As previously mentioned, there are the scenes featuring the Ghost of Christmas Present, but there is also the grimy city of London. There are several times that we find ourselves flying over the rooftops, and even from the ground, the buildings look as big and grand as they have ever been up close. This is amplified during the chase sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t feel like it should be here, but ends up being thrilling anyway. Both ghosts, along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, are voice by Jim Carrey, who also voices Scrooge, in a decision that potentially adds more depth to the tale. The ghosts have often been viewed as an extension of Scrooge’s thoughts, but with this choice they seem to become direct extensions of him. Carrey playing multiple voice roles was a focal point of the advertising, but if you didn’t know that (or forgot like me) you may not recognise that they’re all him. Of course, the rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman, and the late Bob Hopskins, are terrific, but there is a reason that Carrey got his name prioritised in the advertising.

The observant among you may notice that I have failed to talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past, but there is a reason for that. His design creeps me out… and… his Irish accents baffles me. I actually think that Dickens wrote a description that is extremely difficult to pull off. I mean, how would you design a being that is both old and young at the same time? As for the Irish accent, it continues to baffle me.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer