Everybody seems to be in agreement that PIXAR has a back catalogue that is pretty near perfect. It wouldn’t be until Cars 2 in 2011 that they would finally provide something that the general public would deem Not Up To Standard, but that’s 4 films from here. So where, I ask you, is the love for Ratatouille? Why was it held in such high esteem at the time but seems now to get much less recognition than the likes of Toy Story or Wall-E? I’m not sure I can’t answer that question, but I’m taking a look at it regardless.

We follow Remy the rat as he is separated from his family, and finds himself the assistant of a Parisian garbage boy as he becomes a successful chef. Once again, we find ourselves at the mercy of director Brad Bird and, once again, he delivers a solid film. Ratatouille doesn’t shy away from society’s views on rats, including it as a message throughout the film, including a rat killing store featuring dead rats. On top of this, the film opens with Remy being shot at, which immediately puts him on the back foot. Remy is constantly fighting to be appreciated, first by his father, then by his new human friend Alfredo Linguine, and eventually by the inhabitants of Paris. He is already considered strange in his family because he has a heightened sense of smell and taste, meaning he actually has an appreciation for the food he eats instead of the trash consumed by the rest of his family. It’s a unique premise, and one that isolates our tiny protagonist immediately, but this doesn’t mean that when he finally meets Linguine that he stops being alone. Linguine has his own issues to work through, and because he can’t speak rat, can’t fully appreciate what Remy is going through. For those moments when Remy is truly alone, he is joined by a figment of his imagination in the form of Paris’ (now deceased) top chef Auguste Gusteau. Not only does this stop Remy from having to talk to himself, but it also provides a fun dynamic and entertaining character.

Each character is unique, regardless of how large their role in the plot is. Linguine may be our main human character, but his eventual love interest Colette is just as, if not more, memorable. She is an extraordinarily passionate cook and one of the toughest women you’ll ever see on screen. Then there’s the kitchen staff including Horst, who supposedly once killed a man with his thumb, and Harousse, who is banned from several casinos in Las Vegas. Our main villain is Chef Skinner, who is now in charge of Gusteau’s restaurant and cares only about profit. He is the only person to figure out that Linguine is in cahoots with Remy but, since he can prove it, becomes increasingly frustrated. On top of this, he is vertically challenged and voiced by the wonderful Ian Holmes. Usually PIXAR villains are downright evil, but Skinner is just a man seeking money. As a result, I think most of the joy from watching him comes down to some schadenfreude. We take just a hint of joy from watching someone else suffer, especially if that person is seen as a villain, but on the other hand he is a capitalist so maybe he deserves it. My favourite character ends up being one of the “lesser” roles and Paris’ biggest food critic- Anton Ego. Gustaeu’s belief, and indeed the message of Ratatouille, is that anyone can cook. Ego wholeheartedly disagrees. He has this strong presence every time he enters the frame, and you couldn’t have found someone better to portray that than the legendary Peter O’Toole. Of course, in the end, he learns that anyone can cook, but only a few can be truly great. This leads to a beautifully delivered monologue about criticism, and the people who choose that as a career. It really drove home to me the very reason that Shakesqueer exists because while criticism is easy, it takes effort to focus on the positives.

Ratatouille may hold the designation of a children’s film but it really doesn’t treat itself like one. Not only does it have some rather dark moments, but it’s shot like a proper blockbuster movie. The cinematography is something truly special, and that is apparent from the very first frame. We open on a slow pan towards a cottage whilst the film’s title fades onto the screen. That is a shot that could have come straight from a period piece, but it’s here in Ratatouille. It doesn’t stop there, with the film making the most of its Parisian setting. The lighting and atmosphere throughout are perfect, demonstrating exactly why Brad Bird is one of the finest directors working today. That cinematography pairs wonderfully with the score, provided by Michael Giacchino who is also one of the best in his field. It has a very quaint and upbeat sound to it that I can only describe as “undoubtedly French”. My favourite aspect lies with how the score seems to scamper along as the rats do. It scurries, but it’s also mellow when it needs to be and is fanciful at times too. Perhaps all of this is why Ratatouille won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture in 2008, the 3rd PIXAR film to do so after Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. As the 8th film since the company’s inception, Ratatouille was proof that PIXAR was unstoppable. They were only getting bigger and better with every release. On its own, this is a unique experience with some highly entertaining characters. There may be moments when you forget this is “for children” because it is a wonderful reminder that we don’t need to speak down to them. To everyone involved…

Thank You.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Each child has something in particular that they get invested in, be it a sport, film, or television show. For my younger sister, that “something” was the PIXAR’s Cars, which was one of the first films she ever saw. As a result, when the DVD was released, it got a lot of airtime in our household. Some might say it got too much airtime, though I wouldn’t have at the time. Being a child I was still quite content watching an animated vehicular film, but now I am of the age where I can make several educated decisions for myself. Let me tell you, I have some thoughts.

The plot follows rookie race car Lightning McQueen as he competes against Chick Hicks and The King to win the coveted Piston Cup. When McQueen becomes separated from his transport truck Mack, on the way to a tie-breaker race, he finds himself in the quaint little town of Radiator Springs. Having accidentally obliterated their road upon his arrival, the mayor Doc Hudson orders him to re-pave it before he is allowed to leave. What follows is a tale of friendship and discovery. As the title may suggest, we are in a car-inhabited world and it is a true work of art to behold. There is not a single detail that feels off, from stadiums being fitted for cars down to the flies that are Volkswagen Beetles. PIXAR has done a fantastic job creating a world that feels like it has always been inhabited by vehicles, which is good because the thought of humans existing here is kind of horrifying when you really take a moment to think about it.

Growing up in a small island community, I see a lot of my hometown in Radiator Springs. Everyone gathering to dish the local gossip and the older cars dozing off when they think nobody can see are thing that I recognise. There’s a real community feel to Cars that PIXAR hadn’t really tried to capture before now. Perhaps that’s why the final act has always hit me so hard. The townsfolk coming to McQueen’s aide when he needs it most and McQueen, in turn, helping out The King, brings this over-whelming sense off togetherness. People caring for other people, or in this case cars caring for cars, is something that we seem to see less off as the years go by and I really miss it. We may have our differences, we may disagree and we may fight, but at the end of the day we are all one people. Throwing all of the negativity aside when someone needs us provides this sense of hope that maybe, one day, well all be alright. It’s that message that hits so hard and will probably hit people in the LGBT community just a little bit more. It certainly did for me.

Of the 6 movies that PIXAR has provided thus far, this one is the most childish. Now, that isn’t a bad thing, it just leads Cars to feel like more of a standard Disney flick than a PIXAR one. It’s possible that it may have something to do with Disney acquiring PIXAR in the same year as this film’s release, though of course there is no way to be certain. It’s certainly the most dated of their features, with references to Jay Leno and the then governor of California- Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “crude” humour shines through in the form of Mater the Tow Truck, voiced by the unique comedy of Larry the Cable Guy. He’s your average hillbilly/redneck stereotype and, if I’m being honest, I think that PIXAR is above that. It would also be the first of their films to feature a romantic subplot in the form of Sally. There have been romances before, but not as part of the plot and certainly not this cliche. If there was romance in previous films, it was between characters who already knew each other and had at least some form of relationship. Here, Sally is completely new to McQueen who only initially shows interest in her because she’s a Porsche. It’s a shame, because I think that Sally is a really fun and likeable character on her own.

With Cars being released in 2006 and being centred around Route 66 (the mother road of the USA) it was perhaps unavoidable that there would be a Country soundtrack. I actually think that not having that kind off soundtrack would have damaged the film by making it feel less “homey” but here’s the thing- it’s pop country. This isn’t the smooth voices and guitars that you would associate with the genre, it’s an entire band and auto-tuning. It’s not so much Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler as it is the soundtrack to the hit TV show Nashville, which is absolutely fine, if you like it. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of pop country, after all music changes and adapts, but I’d take classic country any day.

In the end, Cars is a good film, but I think it prevents itself from being among “The Greats” of PIXAR like Toy Story or Monsters Inc. The story and the aesthetic are beautiful, stunning in places, but it dates itself more than it needs to. Movies should not feel like they have to make current references in order to stay fresh because, at the end of the day, only history decides what will be remembered. When the writing in Cars focuses on the story and characters, it’s great, and ultimately there is a great film here. You just have to look past the “kids stuff” to get to it.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Incredibles

This is, by far, the bast Fantastic 4 film I have ever seen. The family have a relatable and realistic dynamic, the villain is entertainingly evil, and the score is astounding. Unfortunately it looks like they couldn’t manage a cameo from comic creator Stan Lee, but at least it has Samuel L Jackson in it. I guess that makes this the earliest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, I could continue this gag for the whole review but if we’re being honest, The Incredibles can survive on its own merits. With that said, Mr Incredible (Bob Parr) is The Thing, Elastagirl (Helen Parr) is Mr Fantastic, Violet Parr is the Invisible Woman, Dashiel “Dash” Parr is, for some reason, The Flash and Jack-Jack is…unique. Sure, The Flash may be from DC instead of Marvel, but they have Frozone (Lucius Best) as Iceman from X-Men, so it’s cool.

It has been 5 years since superheroes were forced into hiding by the government, but Bob longs for the glory days. We follow him as he begins moonlighting hero work for a mysterious figure, tracking down The Omnidroid- a walking, thinking, miniature Death Star. Eventually, his entire family gets roped in and they must work together to save their home town, without destroying their relationships. It would have been so easy for PIXAR to give us one of those stereotypical perfect families or even a super dysfunctional one, but that’s not what they do here. Sure, Helen is a stay-at-home mum and Bob is a working dad, but Helen will still call Bob out if she thinks he isn’t doing enough. They also argue but it isn’t consistent like some TV & Film couples. Their first argument is about whether or not they should allow Dash to compete in school sporting events. Helen thinks they shouldn’t because it might risk exposing his powers, while Bob thinks they should because it would be a good outlet for him, and it’s what he wants to do. It’s not arguing for the sake of arguing but purely out of love for their child. Sometimes parents argue, and sometimes it’s about what’s best for their child, but they still love each other. I think that is a super important message for children.

The writing for The Incredibles is just that- incredible. I often how mention how quotable PIXAR films are, but this was the first one I saw being meme’d and perhaps the one I hear the most. Bernie crying “Coincidence? I think NOT!” and Bobs frustrated “We’ll get there when we GET there” are iconic, but nobody spouts lines quite like Edna Mode. Voiced by the director himself Brad Bird, Edna designed costumes for superheroes, but now she is just a regular fashionista and her lines are said with a sort of manic glee such that it’s hard to feel anything but joy when she appears. The same can be said of the villain Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee. Yes, Dave from the Alvin an the Chipmunks quadrilogy. He is clearly having a blast here, giving a performance that’s enigmatic while remaining threatening. He proved that you can have fun as a villain while still being a real threat and I adore him. That’s The Incredibles in a nutshell really. It’s funny, downright hilarious at times, but it isn’t afraid to be dark and emotional when it wants. We literally see Mr Incredible prevent a mans suicide about 10 minutes in. Between that, the 21 deaths, and a police officer pointing a gun directly at Frozone, it’s no wonder this was PIXAR’s first PG rated film. It’s also the first to focus on people, which I think is rather impressive. PIXAR was already one of the most recognised and beloved entertainers before it made The Incredibles, and they managed that despite not making a film about people’s favourite subject- people.

I’ve saved perhaps the most important aspect for last- the music. This soundtrack is glorious. You’d expect a film set in the 1960’s to have music inspired by that era, but when you insert that into a superhero film, it’s pure magic. The composer, Michael Giacchino, would continue to work with PIXAR after this as well as working on the Mission Impossible franchise, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek trilogy and the MCU Spider-Man films. The score for The Incredibles was given that extra old-school feeling by recording on analogue tapes instead of digital, but it’s also a little James Bond-esque. I could listen to it all day (in fact I listened to it while writing this) but the Main Theme specifically is one of the coolest pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

The Incredibles is one of those films that I had on repeat throughout my childhood. The DVD would accompany on every sleepover at my Nanna’s. Had it been a VHS Tape, I probably would have worn it out. As I sit here, an adult, in 2020, I don’t think I’ll be slowing up on that anytime soon. In an age of so-called “superhero fatigue” do yourself a favour and reinvigorate that pure joy with a viewing of this absolute classic.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Finding Nemo

Film number five for PIXAR Animation Studios, and they show no sign of easing up on the heartstrings. This was the first of their works to win the Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature Film” and it would not be the last. PIXAR was on a roll, and there seemed to be no stopping them, but why? Of all five feature films, what was so special about Finding Nemo? To put it simply, it was brutal. The subject matter here is darker than anything that had come before it..

We follow Marlin the clown-fish as he searches for his only son, Nemo, coming across a fish with short-term memory loss, sharks and jellyfish. Meanwhile, Nemo finds himself in the fish-tank of an Australian dentist with a bizarre collection of new friends. Yes, PIXAR really did make a film with kidnapping so early in their existence. It’s really hefty stuff for a children’s film, handled with all the gravitas it deserves. At no point does it feel like the butt of a joke, but that doesn’t mean that Finding Nemo is without humour. A huge amount of that humour comes from Dory, the aforementioned fish with short-term memory loss. It isn’t the memory loss that’s funny here, it’s Dory as a character, portrayed with perfectly quick wit by LGBT icon Ellen DeGeneres. Her consistent optimism is infectious, and once you’ve heard Just Keep Swimming, you’ll be humming it all day. Marlin’s dry humour (ironic for a fish) contrasts her perfectly. This sarcastic comedy is a noticeable staple in PIXAR’s box of characteristics. Between Mr Potato Head, Slim the stick insect, Roz, and now Marlin, there’s enough sarcasm to shape a whole generation.

Nemo is never forgotten about, with the film returning us back to him and his new friends in the fish-tank regularly. There’s the bubble-obsessed Bubbles, the hygiene-obsessed Gurgle, the two-minded Deb, the easily irritated Bloat, the cynical Gill, and the voice of reason Peach. Each of them has a unique personality and has been affected by their “imprisonment” in different ways. Gill is voiced by the particular charisma of Willem Defoe, who is yet to disappoint me with a performance. This was my first role of his and was by no means the last. Gill’s determination to escape is re-invigorated by Nemo’s arrival, but is brought into question by the risks to Nemo’s life. Every member of the tank crew is drawn to him, and become determined to help him in any way they can. Everybody should have friends like that.

Something that Finding Nemo does phenomenally well is display just how vast the ocean is. Each frame is eclipsed by it and the story is driven by it. It takes Marlin and Dory almost the entire film to cross it and on their way they encounter no shortage of perils. There are sharks, jellyfish, crabs, pelicans, and an angler-fish. This sea-life was brought to life through a huge amount of dedication by the development team, who spent months researching aquatic life. It is astonishingly accurate, but apparently the accuracy wasn’t enough. Despite a message that all marine life should be treated with the care they need, many children took the message of all drains leading to the ocean much more seriously. There are many reports of children flushing their fish down the toilet in an attempt to return them home, but sadly none would make it. There are countless filtration systems and water treatment plants along the way. If you remember nothing else of this review, please remember this:

All drains may lead to the ocean, but that journey is fraught with peril.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Monsters Inc.

Each of PIXARs previous films had an element of friendship in them, be it Woody and Buzz in Toy Story or Flick and the Circus Troupe in A Bug’s Life. Monsters Inc takes that element and turns it into a defining factor of the story. It also focuses on themes of fear and, to an extent, control. To top it all off, it has one of the saddest endings to any of the PIXAR films that came before or since, yet one of the best.

We follow Mike and Sully, 2 monsters who work for a company that turns human children’s screams into power for the city of Monstropolis. Their world is catapulted upside down when a human child finds her way into their world with Monster Protection Services in hot pursuit. Slowly but surely, Mike and Sully find themselves caring for this girl, who they name Boo, and embark on a mission to get her home. So far, this is the most unique project that PIXAR has given us, shifting away from the inhabitants of our world- toys and insects- to the inhabitants of another. Yes, I believe that there may be a reality in which monsters exist, if not this one, because I live in perpetual hope. Our universe is vast and incredible and full of surprises. Monsters Inc is so unique that Sullys fur required an entirely new method of rendering for each of his 2,320,413 hairs. It allowed each hair to react independently to the environment around it, including casting shadows, and would be dubbed Fitz- short for physics tool. This went along with their brand new simulations department at their brand new studio in Emmeryville, California where they have been ever since. It would also be the first PIXAR film to be directed by Pete Docter instead of John Lasseter. His following films included the hard-hitting Up and the even harder-hitting Inside Out as well as the upcoming feature film Soul. Docter manages to give us one of the most iconic children’s films of all time in his first attempt. Randall is a wonderful villain as was my introduction to the beautifully manic acting skills of Steve Buscemi. Mike and Sully bounce of each other perfectly while still accepting each others differences and grievences. Mr Waternoose is cool and calculated until he isn’t, proving him to perhaps be the scariest monster of them all. Then there is the delightful Roz, whose dry delivery may have been part of the inspiration for my own sarcastic nature. There is a final charcter hidden within th foundation of Monsters Inc and that is the excellent score from Randy Newman. There are hints of jazz and blues and makes for a truely one of a kind symphony.

Each moment of this film is worth praising, be it the settings, characters, motivations, music or designs but what sticks most is the relationship between Boo and Sully. They each get a friend they never knew they wanted and care about each other more than they could ever have expected to. It’s so pure and wholesome and seeing them be ripped from each other at the films climax is heartbreaking. It teaches us to value our loved ones while we still can, which is a really important message that bares repeating. Even from the beginning, it’s clear that PIXAR wanted to convey messages that matter.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Toy Story 2

If Toy Story started a whole new art form and A Bug’s Life improved upon it, then Toy Story 2 is where you start to see that art form used to near perfection. The opening sequence wouldn’t be out of place in Star Wars, and the backgrounds have actual detail as opposed to blank space. It’s amazing the advancements that were made in the span of 4 years.

We follow Woody as he is stolen by a toy collector, and the rest of Andy’s toys embark on a mission to rescue him. Having spent the original film as a group, it’s nice to see how Woody and Buzz react when they’re separated. Woody, finding himself in a strange place with 3 toys he doesn’t know, is determined to get home to Andy, but as he gets to know these toys known as The Roundup Gang he must come to terms with Andy growing up. His lesson is the core of this film. People grow up and move on with their lives but that doesn’t mean that the time you spend with them until then is worthless. love who you can, while you can, because it might not last forever. This is such an important message for children, and a great reassurance to them as they grow older. Nowhere does it hit harder than during Jessie’s song When She Loved Me, which continues to pull at the heartstrings no matter how many times I watch it. Toy Story 2 also manages to convey that you should be careful with who you trust in the form of Stinky Pete- The Prospector. As far as I can tell, this is one of the first instances where a children’s animated villain masquerades as a friend. You can see why Disney would take this idea and eventually turn it into a trend.

Meanwhile, Buzz is clearly in his element being in charge of the toys’ rescue mission. Having his entire worldview shattered in Toy Story, he seems more than comfortable being a team leader here. It’s clear that he thrives on having something to do and cares about each of Andy’s toys. Thankfully, we aren’t lacking in deluded Buzz Lightyears because we gain another one in Al’s Toy Barn. He believes he is the real Buzz on his way to defeat the real Emperor Zurg and as it turns out, he isn’t totally wrong. Whilst escaping Al’s Toy Barn they accidentally unleash a Zurg action figure and face off with him in what might be one of the greatest homages to Darth Vader I’ve ever seen. There are many Star Wars references across the Toy Story catalogue, but none are more blatant or entertaining than this.

As with the original film, this sequel didn’t have the easiest of development periods. During a routine cleansing of computer files in 1998, the file upon which Toy Story 2 was founded was accidentally deleted. Luckily, technical director Gaylyn Susman had been working on a copy of the film from home while looking after her newborn child. These backup copies were retrieved and everything, bar the last several days of work, was restored. We’re lucky that Toy Story 2 was even released, and it really adds to my appreciation of it. I’ve often heard it said that a sequel is never as good as the original, but that’s simply not true. In my opinion, not only is this as good as its predecessor, it might actually be little bit better.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

A Bug’s Life

A Bug’s Life is a small-scale film, at least in terms of the size of its characters. In terms of scale, it manages to be as big as any adventure movie, and in terms of atmosphere it is much darker than Toy Story. This is the first film in PIXAR’s catalogue to feature a character death and they do not shy away from making him a character of pure evil.

We follow an ant named Flick as he attempts to help his colony, who are being ruled over by a swarm of grasshoppers led by the despicable Hopper. Along the way, he accidentally hires a group of circus performers, believing them to be heroes who can help in the ants’ time of need. Something that A Bug’s Life achieves particularly well is a sense of dread about the existence of these grasshoppers, which is impressive when you consider that they’re absent for a majority of the film. The first ten minutes of screentime is dedicated to the ants harvesting seeds for them in a state of fear, before heading into their anthill. We follow them, and it’s through their eyes that we experience the grasshoppers’ arrival. There is a brief moment of silence before they crash through the roof of the anthill and descend into the darkness. Once they leave, we don’t see them return until the film’s climax, bar a brief moment when we see them leaving their safe haven. The idea of the grasshoppers is portrayed as scarier than the grasshoppers themselves, which is a wonderful way to go about your villains. That is except for Hopper, who is genuinely scary and brings silence to every scene he enters. At no point are you meant to sympathise with him, because he is clearly a dictator who feels no remorse. That’s probably why nobody feels bad when he gets his comeuppance in the end. It’s still a really dark ending, but it’s followed by a joyful scene of the ants celebrating their freedom. Legendary animator Don Bluth supposedly once said that you can show anything to a child as long as it has a happy ending. After watching A Bug’s Life, I can’t help but agree.

I think what ends up pulling at the heartstrings most is the sense of community on display here. Flick is an outcast, illustrated though his uniquely blue colour and the fact that everybody wants him to leave the colony. When he leaves for his mission, the colony genuinely cheers in celebration but upon his return he is welcomed as a hero. Eventually the ants learn that it’s okay to be unique as long as they have each other. As long as you have belief in yourself and in others, you can overcome anything. This lesson also applies to the circus troupe who have been seen as failures for a long time. Their manager, PT Flea, has a minuscule role, but his entire concept remains hilarious to me. He is modelled on the infamous PT Barnum, whose story was immortalised in 2017 with The Greatest Showman but Barnum’s work doesn’t seem to be general knowledge, at least in the UK, so using his likeness in a children’s film in 1998 is odd. Maybe it’s just me that finds it amusing, but I enjoy the little things.

Finally, it’s worth noting the formation of a small animation company called Dreamworks in 1994. Their first film, Antz, would tell the tale of a strange male ant with who struggles to win a princess’s hand by saving their society. Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of Dreamworks Studios, was a former Disney employee and had “borrowed” the premise for A Bug’s Life for his own company. Antz opened two months before PIXAR could release their film but would take in $192 million less at the box office. As of May 2019, their films have made $15,019 billion worldwide, so I guess crime does pay.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer