Showing posts with label John Ratzenberger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Ratzenberger. Show all posts

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Spirited Away



Often regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time and Japan’s highest grossing film in history at the time of its release, Spirited Away is an animated adventure, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Ten year old Chihiro is travelling with her parents to their new house when her father takes a wrong turn that leads to what looks like an abandoned Amusement Park. Though scared, Chihiro follows her parents who find the Park deserted but discover food has been left out. As the parents begin to tuck in Chihiro looks around and discovers a Bath House where she meets Haku, a boy who tells her to get back across the river before sunset. As she returns to her parents she discovers they have been turned into pigs and she is stuck in a strange world of spirits where her kind is not welcome.

Spirited Away reminded me of some of the great children’s adventures such as The Goonies or Labyrinth but also features the kind of animation that reminded me of my childhood. The hand drawn style is reminiscent of classic Disney but also of the cartoons that I was bought up on in the late 80s and early 90s. It doesn’t appear to be pushing any boundaries but is deceptively deep and beautiful.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wall-E

Pixar’s 2008 Wall-E is set in the distant future; at a time when the human race has left Earth due to an unmanageable build up of waste. While humanity has grown fat and lazy aboard giant space craft the last remaining Wall-E robot is busy on Earth trying to clean up the mess. Wall-E is dedicated but na├»ve. He takes pride in his work but also has a collection of interesting objects and a passion for the 1969 film Hello Dolly! That film makes him long for company. That company arrives unexpectedly one day in the form of EVE. EVE is a robot sent to earth to search for plant life, something that Wall-E has recently found on the otherwise desolate planet. Wall-E falls instantly in love with EVE and follows her into deep space in an adventure which will impact both them and the remainder of the human race.

I’ll say straight away that I love this film. It is probably my favourite Pixar film which puts it pretty high up my all time list. The animation is extraordinary. In my opinion it is up there with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for the best looking computer animated film ever. The thing that stands out most is the way the film uses focus to such great effect. Backgrounds have the look of being in the background and it gives the film great depth of field. The focus also shifts from the foreground to background to give the film an incredibly realistic feel. This realism is heightened as live action is occasionally dropped in. The characters themselves are beautifully designed and animated. Wall-E looks exactly as you’d expect a trash compacting robot to look and has some lovely little details on him. He even has little scratches which look great. EVE looks much more futuristic than Wall-E but has a beautiful design. The man behind the design of the iPad, iPod and iPhone was consulted on her design and she looks as sleek and stylish as Apple’s products (though her battery lasts longer).

As neither Wall-E nor EVE really speaks much, the animators had to make sure they were able to give their characters expression through the use of body language. They well and truly succeeded with this task and both characters have great expression. Both characters use their eyes and the position of their bodies is very important. At no time was I in any doubt as to what the emotion was that a character was trying to convey and their personalities shone through, despite their lack of dialogue. I read that Wall-E was modelled partly on Buster Keaton who despite his stoic and expressionless face could convey great emotion in the silent era. You can see a lot of Keaton (one of my all time favourite film makers) in Wall-E.

The story has two main strands. The first is a sweet and timeless love story which is very charming. The second part of the story turns the camera on the audience and looks at the lifestyle of the West in the early part of the 21st century. It shows us a glimpse as to where we could be heading. There is only one giant corporation and people have become completely reliant on technology. They have also become so fat and lazy that they can no longer walk. The idea that we don’t appreciate what is around us is also hinted at. These themes fall into line with a lot of the messages from modern day ‘family films’ and can be considered a warning to us all. As well as the traditional Hollywood ‘left wing message’, there are also quite a lot of subtle Biblical messages in the film. EVE could be considered as a partner for the lonely Wall-E (Adam) and her guiding of the Axiom towards Earth has some parallels with the end of the Noah myth, I mean ‘story’. The corporation ‘BnL’ could also be seen as a sort of false prophet.

The whole film is incredibly sweet. It is lovely that all Wall-E wants from EVE is to hold her hand and it is touching to watch him attempt to do so. It almost bought a tear to my eye the first time I watched as Wall-E protected EVE from a storm while on Earth and the scene in which the two dance in space is one of the most magical I’ve seen. As well as being a lovely part of the story, it is also the best animated part and at times one of the funniest.


Wall-E is not the funniest of Pixar’s films but still has its funny moments. The character of a robot that follows Wall-E around, cleaning his track marks is very funny and with all Pixar films there are funny lines and incidents dotted throughout. The addition of the broken robots also created some laughs. It might not be Pixar’s funniest but I think that, with the possible exception of Toy Story 3 it is their most emotional and most endearing film to date. Your heart aches when Wall-E thinks he has lost EVE and again when the opposite is believed to be the case. It is testament to the strength of those two character’s love for one another that the fate of humanity plays second fiddle to their story. Wall-E is an absolutely fantastic film which is too good to be just considered as a children’s film. I believe that an adult would get more out of it than a child. It is touching, funny and sweet. And I love it.

10/10

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Toy Story 2

"Your not a collectors item... You're a toy!"

Toy Story 2 finds the hero of Toy Story kidnapped by a rare toy collector. Woody (Tom Hanks) is taken from his owner, Andy and kept in a Perspex box ready to be shipped to Japan where he will become an exhibit in a toy museum. In an attempt to rescue Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex, Slinky, Mr Potato Head and Hamm head out of the safety of Andy’s room and into the open world in order to rescue him. Woody meanwhile has discovered that he was a big hit in the 50s and had his own TV show. He has to decide if his place is back with Andy or with his new Roundup friends.

What started out as a direct to video movie became one of the best loved sequels of all time. I personally don’t think it is as good as the original but I only The Godfather Part II is a better sequel in my opinion. The story is much more sprawling than Toy Story and it encompasses many more locations. The plot is fun and exciting but isn’t as neat as the original film. I like that the plot touches upon how toys feel when they are no longer played with, a theme present in both Toy Story 1 & 2 and the main theme of the third instalment.  It is beefed up by the introduction of some new characters, including Buzz’s nemesis Zurg and Woody’s Roundup Gang; Jessie, Stinky Pete and Bullseye. I found Jessie a bit irritating but liked the additions on the whole. In addition characters from the first instalment are given greater depth, with Slinky’s rear end developing its own character and Rex becoming much more rounded and less one dimensional. While making the original film, Pixar were unable to secure the rights to use Barbie but after the success of that film, Barbie makes an appearance here with obvious product placement.

The animation isn’t notably different from the original but is perhaps more detailed. I don’t think the film is as funny as the original but there are still funny moments. The car chase scene stands out both in terms of humour and action. The addition of a second Buzz presented plenty of laughs and the references to Jurassic Park, Star Wars and James Bond are also enjoyable. The toy’s dreams and fears are explored in greater detail here, something that is seen early on when they panic about being sold in a yard sale.

Overall this is a very good film but is in my view the weakest of the trilogy. That being said, it is still funnier and more action packed than 90% of animations and doesn’t follow the tradition of lazy, cash-in sequel.   

8/10

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Toy Story

After watching Cars this morning and being disappointed, I thought I’d go back to where it all began and watch Toy Story. In Andy’s room, top toy Woody (Tom Hanks) is head honcho and garners the love and respect of his fellow toys with prime place on Andy’s bed. Woody’s world is upset though when Andy gets a new Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) for his birthday. Woody finds himself forgotten by Andy and plots to get rid of Buzz. Upon the realisation that what he has done is wrong, Woody sets out to rescue Buzz and bring him back to Andy’s room where they both belong while trying to avoid Andy’s toy murdering next door neighbour Sid in the process.

I have seen this film numerous times, until today the most recently being in 3D (which didn’t improve it). It was the first entirely computer animated feature film ever and spawned the now industry standard GCI cartoon. The animation remains very good but lacks the detail of the latest films. The characters also have a noticeable shine to them which is most apparent in the human characters. Nonetheless, the film’s animation and design stand up well after 17 years of frantic technological advancement.  

What stands the test of time even more successfully though are the wonderful characters and story. The film uses a mixture of toys which are recognisable to young and old and introduces its own to the story. Each toy is given a neat character which works without exception. Of course Little Bow Peep is a sexy blonde bombshell and why wouldn’t Mr. Potato Head be looking for a Mrs. Potato Head? Great care and attention has been given to each toy to give them a distinct and believable personality. Even after at least six or seven viewings I still find myself gripped by the story and find myself urging Buzz and Woody to get back to the safety of Andy’s arms. It is a lovely idea that is beautifully executed.

The film is fully of subtle comedy and details, some of which I only noticed on my latest viewing. Towards the beginning of the film, Woody is stood in front of a book case on which are books with titles that refer to Pixar’s earlier shorts such as Tin Toy and Red’s Dream. There is even a book called Ant & Bee go on vacation which seems like a Tarantinoesque nod to Pixar’s second feature, A Bug’s Life. The film is littered with subtle nuances and comedic touches which never fail to impress and are bold for a debut film.
Subtle background details
The script is fantastic and features clever word play to go along with the tremendous story and characters. It is smart and witty which helps the film appeal to both children and adults alike. I first saw the film when I was around ten and each time I see it I seem to appreciate it in different ways. Along with the funny script there are plenty of visual gags which will keep everyone entertained.

The film isn’t afraid to deal with more adult themes than its Disney predecessors. At the beginning of the film, Buzz doesn’t realise that he is a toy (which is very funny), but when he does he spirals into depression and no longer cares if he lives or dies. Depression isn’t the sort of thing you’d find in your average children’s film. It is also very dark in places. This is particularly the case when Woody and Buzz end up in Sid’s room. The film takes on a horror feel as the central characters are confronted with the sight of mangled and disfigured toys. Another adult theme is that of rejection and fear of being outdated. When Buzz arrives on the scene with his shiny plastic body and electric buttons, Woody feels unwanted and outdated. This could be seen as a comment on how parents themselves feel as their children grow and no longer need them as much. This theme was explored in greater detail and with emotional results in Toy Story 3.

Toy Story is a cinematic classic and will go down in history as one of the greatest animated films of all time. It appeals to people of all ages and has an endearing and timeless story. It will still be shown to the grandchildren of the first children to watch it back in 1995 and is responsible for changing the shape of animated films forever.  

10/10