In 1994, a collective troupe of imagineers under the Lucasfilm banner unveiled the first Pixar Image Computer. This has since paved the way for more than 24 feature films and about 40 shorts from the studio. Today, these groundbreaking animators have touched many hearts and connected us with hundreds of sympathetic characters by taking old formulas and adding a drop of their unique spin on them. But even though every dog has their day, they have also fallen short of their standards audiences would come to expect. Diving into the duds, the masterpieces and everything in-between, this is the first batch of Pixar films reviewed: Let’s get this show on the road!
TOY STORY (1995)
Right off the bat here, I didn’t grow up loving Toy Story and I don’t have much nostalgic feelings for it, so know that I’m not the biggest fan. With that, this film is a pretty enjoyable watch and stars Tom Hanks as a cowboy doll named Woody, who becomes envious of the affection directed towards new ‘space ranger’ toy Buzz Lightyear, an action figure that believes he is a genuine galactic guardian. One element I originally ignored but praise nowadays is the simple story, given its competitors are releasing ambitious cartoons with musical sequences and high-stake adventures. Honestly, some of my favorite types of movies are those that can have relatable and interesting characters just chill and chat with each other, and Toy Story has a healthy level of that.
But what placed this feature on the map as a rising filmmaking force was the technological advancements used for the very first time ever: a full-length theatrical CGI production. Sure, there were cutting-edge computer affects in Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgement Day that continue to gather acclaim, but a whole movie! Back then this was like nothing before it, which is why I believe it is so revolutionary and never fails to climb remarkably high on rankings of the company’s catalog. In my own opinion, minus the majority of the humans, it all still remains easy on the eyes, offering a nice platter of facial expressions and movements which accompany solid designs.
The ensemble of Andy’s playthings are probably what most folks recognize out of the other ingredients. Ranging from Buzz with his iconic smug grin, the wisecracking Hamm, the sarcastic and dry Mr. Potato Head, or the nervous Rex; all are remembered for their different outlines and equally separate personalities. However, Woody in this installment reminds me all like an antagonist, rather the protagonist he eventually became. This can get grading, since he possibly is the character with the most time on screen, but his blooming friendship with Buzz saves this definite concern from packing a terrible punch.
There’s no denying it, Toy Story has left quite the mark on film history. This classic implements wit, charming characters, a fresh perspective, impeccable animation and a lot of heart, while also showing Disney that the smaller-scale style still has the chops.
A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
After the sleeper success of Toy Story, the Pixar imagineers, and mainstream viewers as well, knew that they would have to pull a miraculous trick in order to top the revolutionary new player in the industry. Their offering was A Bug’s Life in 1998, which was inspired by the Aesop cable The Ant and the Grasshopper as well as mirroring the synopsis of Seven Samurai. It is about a colony of ants that are antagonized by a gang of grasshoppers led by the intimidating Hopper for a monthly food supply from them. After inadvertently losing Hopper’s supply, the inventive though clumsy outcast Flik suggests his colony recruit a team of warriors to fend off Hopper’s gang, and eventually employs the “warriors” he is looking for, whom are unbeknownst to him actually a circus troupe.
Now, Bug’s Life is definitely remembered for… um, being one of Pixar’s weakest films, I suppose. After actually rewatching the movie, I was a bit stumped on how this ended up ranking in the lower half constantly. It might’ve been that it was sandwiched between two of the studio’s best, Toy Story and Toy Story 2, perhaps the controversy involving the rivalry against John Lasseter of Bug’s Life and Jeffery Katzenberg of Antz, maybe they’re library was so remarkably well-recieved that the lesser sides had to just trail around in the shadows.
Why I really appreciate Bug’s Life is due to its characters, more specifically the villain Hopper and the circus bugs. Hopper may be one of the most under-recognized antagonist in not only animation but also film history for not only being dripping ooze as well as great the any colony like dirt but additionally having a menacing presence that steals every scene he’s in.
While the circus bugs aren’t show-stopping, they are remarkably likeable and rich in charm. By the film’s end, you may have wished the whole feature focused on them rather than the ants, because I certainly can’t deny I didn’t. If you remember this movie well enough, who was your favorite of the circus group? Mine would probably be the stick bug, Slim I think. Flik and the rest of the colony were nothing memorable but they were suitable enough, never becoming grading or such. That phrase I used to describe the ants, ‘not memorable’, pretty neatly sums up Bug’s Life, save some supporting elements. It was one of the few of Pixar’s films I indeed had to rewatch for this review and I honestly couldn’t tell if I’ve watched it before or not. Surreal.
It has quite the forgettable aftertaste, though Bug’s Life is still a very amusing experience throughout. Did Bug’s Life suffer from the close release of Antz? I wouldn’t say so, if anything Bug’s Life turned the tables on its competitor and was a more clever and quaint film overall with kudos to it’s uplifting, charismatic cast.
RATING: 6/10 “Definite Reccomend”
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Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 should’ve been a disaster. After Disney purchased the small-time company they pushed forward their desire for a sequel to the critical and commercial darling Toy Story. They pushed hard. The script had to be re-written myriads of times and kept teetering on whether it was to be released to cinemas or get dumped to DVD and video. But in 1999, the second installment finally hit theaters as well as a cinematic target that I doubt anybody was genuinely expecting.
But what’s this one about? Woody the cowboy doll inadvertently ends up in a yard sale and is stolen by the greedy toy collector Al and taken to Al’s toy store. In light of this, Buzz leads a rescue operation with the others to recover Woody. However, things take a turn when Woody discovers he was the star of a classic children’s television program called “Woody’s Roundup” and meets his co-stars as well; his horse Bullseye, Jessie the cowgirl and Stinky Pete the prospecter. Will the gang be able to convince Woody to return home?
In my reboot speculation, I noted a variety of incidents where continuations can be great. Well, what do you know, Toy Story 2 checks off all of them. John Lasseter and the Pixar team did what all the best sequels do by introducing new themes and building the world up while pulling off the same tone as its predecessor. You may not know that Toy Story 3 was my least favorite of the acclaimed quartet but it’s because of a dark shift in tone and borrowing many plot elements from the second. For example, the villains are both twists, they’re a more overweight fellow with a cane, they initially comfort are protagonists with love and repairs but show their true colors when they turn against his will. We’ll talk more about Toy Story 3 more on Vol. 3 so stay tuned.
There are also various little details that I adore within this flick, like 1) We have both a demented Buzz while also still enjoying our sane, loveable Buzz whilst Toy Story 3 attempted yet again with the concept and stumbled up 2) the emotional crux of the film and Woody’s internal struggle with wanting to stay with the Woody’s Roundup toys or Andy is really well-done, as is Jessie’s backstory sequence 3) The humor and heart of the story stays strong throughout, bringing some hilarious and earnest highs 4) the animation and stakes have been dialed up, the former particularly on the human characters. So on and so forth.
Shockingly enough, I stand by that Toy Story 2 was a better movie than the first. I definitely understand that many of people worldwide love the first and if so, good! We’re all people with varied opinions and I feel we should respect other people’s take on something. For me, the stakes were so high, the emotional elements too stable and the hilarity this top-notch and I feel it improved on the ideas of the first by stretching the world wider. It’s a masterpiece in my eyes and one of Pixar’s best offerings as of yet.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Woody and Buzz. Marlin and Dory. Carl and Russel. Miguel and Hector. What do they have in common? They’re some of Pixar’s best iconic protagonist duos would be my answer if something didn’t feel so… off. Like a missing piece of the puzzle, Mike and Sully are essential when talking about these duos and their feature debut came in the form of the workplace mystery comedy Monsters, Inc..
Inside the world of Monstropolis, all their electricity is powered by the screams of human children and the brave scarers over at Monsters, Incorporated do that job with pride. But also safety. In fact, according to professionals, humans are fatally toxic to them. Hastily, top scarer James P. “Sully” Sullivan and his one-eyed partner and roommate Mike Wazowski must return a young human girl back home after she enters the factory, leading to an adventure while also stumbling upon a darker secret hidden by the company.
Just the worldbuilding in this movie alone is stellar, setting up all the ideas and motives in the first third before kicking into high gear and having everything neatly pay off by the climax. Many critics have praised another Pixar film, Inside Out‘s, originality with the whole concept, which I don’t find true. The concept has been done before such as in the 90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head, that one episode of Spongebob Squarepants, and the Epcot attraction Cranium Command. However, Monsters, Inc.‘s concept is something that had never been done before, or even after. But like Inside Out, both of their small abstract ideas are creative flow at its finest.
The animation and textures are pleasing to the eye as always (what did I expect though, really?). The score is nice and very lively and snazzy, which is such a delight. I do have my fair share of issues with Monsters, Inc. like some of the humor is a little odd at times, though thankfully it never was bad humor; just didn’t quite hit the mark. And honestly, some of your disdain for the film hinges on how much you can stand Billy Crystal as Mike.
I don’t have much to say about Monsters, Inc. except the following; it’s an entertaining, high-energy romp with loads of hilarity and heart to spare as well. Unlike most animated family films, Monsters, Inc. is one of the rare occasions where the “family” tag is correct; I can see many adults finding themselves really having a good time on this one. What can I say, a classic.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Ah yes, the final feature for today: Finding Nemo. When it was released back in 2003 the buzz surrounding it was strong and constant, which, yes, was rather annoying. But we’re not talking about buzz, we’re digging into the grub. So let’s get started!
Marlin the clownfish is neurotic. In that, he’s incredibly overprotective and nervous about his son, Nemo. Sick of his father’s frame of mind, Nemo incidentally ends up taken by a human diver to a dentistry in Australia as an addition to their fish tank. To save his son, Marlin befriends a forgetting companion blue tank named Dory and travels through the vast ocean towards Australia, coming face to face with many underwater threats. Can Marlin overcome his nervousness and find Nemo?
The real question is ‘Can I tell you a fact you’ve heard many times before?’. Can I? Please? Thank you very much; anyway, Finding Nemo‘s “sea-scape” is absolutely stunning. I know, I know… But you can’t deny it’s true, can you? It honestly appears to be real water! So much so that when Marlin is repeatedly calling Nemo’s name and goes above water for a bit, I was offputed slightly by that talking, cartoon fish right in the middle of a realistic backdrop. The colors shine seamlessly across the gigantic subsided space.
Speaking of colors, the whole cast of deep-sea creatures are full of personality, convictions and as named, color. Even the most minor of characters you kinda understand what they’re all about. Nigel the pelican is friendly and helpful, Chum the Mako shark is hyperactive and the purple gamma fish Gurgle is pessimistic and a germaphobe; All of which were just some examples. After rewatching it just recently you also notice how many iconic and memorable scenes there are in this movie: “Fish are Friends, not Food”, “Just keep swimming”, the jellyfish, “Mine, mine, mine”, Crush, “He touched the butt”, “Shark bait, oo-ha-ha”. There’s so much!
In closing, Finding Nemo is a difficult movie to find flaws with. Full of engaging moments, unforgettable characters, classic scenes and Pixar’s usual charm and visuals, Finding Nemo proves itself a timeless treasure in the studio’s already crowd-pleasing pantheon.
We’ll be ranking each film as we go along…
- Toy Story 2
- Finding Nemo
- Monsters, Inc.
- Toy Story
- Bug’s Life
Stay tuned for Volume 2 of the Pixar reviews on July 16. Thank you guys for 52! Later.
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