Saturday, June 26, 2010

Toys United Against the Apocalypse

Through the hard work of a tireless creative team, Pixar has achieved a state among cinephiles almost impossible for a production company to reach: deification. The idea of their inability to make a bad film seems to be accepted far and wide, though it’s a position I certainly don’t hold. Their last two films, WALL-E and Up, while receiving massive accolades both professional and personal, didn’t rank very highly in my book. See, when Pixar gets it right, it’s scary how right it is. That said, when they miss the mark, even by a little, it’s so obvious as to stick out like a snail on Judgment Day. So, right at the point where they’re being praised for outdoing themselves, I’ve been lamenting a two-picture slide toward the merely ordinary. For my money, Pixar hadn’t put out a really good movie since Ratatouille in 2007, and I wasn’t anticipating Toy Story 3 breaking them out of that slump. Come on, didn’t you see Toy Story 2? What more of an ending did you really need? Why wait 11 years to make a third film? Why switch directors when John Lasseter clearly knows this territory better than anyone else? Then, as the release date rolled around, the usual stuff started happening. The rave reviews started coming in, people started gushing about how much they loved it, and I went the Monday after opening weekend to see for myself . . .

Friends, the dry streak is over. Toy Story 3 is rather wonderful. I felt this film more deeply than I have any other Pixar film I can think of.

The story’s fairly simple. Andy’s seventeen, going to college, and has to decide what to do with his long-forgotten toys, who’ve been patiently waiting for the day when they have the chance to be there for him again. Through happenstance, Woody, Buzz and the gang (minus a few principals. Come back, Wheezy!) end up at a day care center where things aren’t anything close to being what they seem. Now, they’ve got to figure out what to do, what their responsibility to Andy is, and how on earth they’re ever going to get out of the mess they’ve gotten into.

Some of the usual themes are explored, but with different implications. The toys have always known that Andy’s going to outgrow them, but now that moment’s actually arrived. Woody’s always been the clear leader of the group and their focus has always been on what’s best for Andy, but now Buzz and the others have to think of their own best interests in a way they’ve never had to before.

There are great things to be found here. I think Pixar’s best moments come in their incredibly skillful use of the montage, and that’s in evidence here. There’s a sequence that tells the story of a pink plush bear that’s one of the film’s best. The animation, not surprisingly, is fantastic. It’s wondrous how, even if I’ve been at times unconvinced by some of their narrative choices, each film represents a step forward for CG animated film. The narrative is surprisingly dark, with some remarkably sinister images that I think could prove frightening for the average kid. If you’ve ever lamented the fact that a lot of animated films tend to play it safe and wished that they’d try to be more like a so-called “real” movie (as if there was such a thing), Toy Story 3 represents a definite step outward, though I’m not sure if I'd consider it to be a step “forward.” There are some incredibly stark images here that are among the bleakest ever created for an animated film. Additionally, Toy Story 3 is wonderfully funny. Where the last few Pixar films at times seemed to rely on sight gags that were clever but not laugh-out-loud funny, this one commits, and I laughed and laughed. Two words: Spanish mode.

But there’s more to it than all that. When Toy Story 3 finished, I felt that my soul had been touched, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I’ve been trying to figure out what caused me to bond so closely with the film. Is it because it’s got an incredible story? No, I don’t really think that’s it. The story of the toys’ adventures in the day care center is one of a dozen different scenarios that could have been used for Toy Story 3. No, it’s not that.

What I’ve come to understand is this. I don’t think these films are about children and their toys at all. I think they’re about the relationship between parents and children, with the toys being the stand-in for the parents. The toys/parents want the child to always stay the same, continuously rely on them for love/support, and to receive as much love back as they give out. However, the inherent problem with this idea is that children can’t do any of these things. It’s a fundamental part of life that a child must not only grow up but also grow out. Certainly, there are exceptions to this, but children can’t help but move away from a place of dependency toward a position of independence and self reliance. What Toy Story 3, and, indeed, the whole series, does so brilliantly is illustrate this change in a tangible way. When the toys are left out of sight and out of mind in the chest, we almost take it personally. “Dagnabit, Andy! I don’t care if you ARE 17. Get in here and play with these toys. They deserve better than this!” As I’ve grown older, I’ve been forced to think long and hard about my relationships with my parents, the nature of the passage of time, and the direction of my own life. Toy Story 3 started my internal dialogue afresh.

I would not dream of telling you how the film ends and the ultimate fate of the toys. Know only that I found myself choked up, grateful for what is very nearly a perfect conclusion to the story of some bits of plastic and nylon that loved a young boy who became a young man and loved each other too.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Trails

Well folks, you may have noticed I've been a bit absent from the site lately, as has Christopher. The thing is, as much as we've loved writing for this blog we've found our time being sucked in other directions. We've been pushing our film, brainstorming new projects and generally trying to get more creativity started that might give us a film career instead of a film hobby plus a full time desk job.

So, we've decided we have to stop blogging here. I have so many other blogs I write on my own, and Christopher and I just started our own, and with all the balls we have in the air something had to go.

I am very sorry this is the thing that had to go, but I had to cut something and for me this was what I knew could keep going without me. Christopher made the same decision.

I've known Adam since before he wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be a director, so to get to be a part of this with him has been a pleasure. I can't wait to see who he gets to continue writing with him, and maybe someday I can pick up a keyboard again and guest on the blog, but for now this is my farewell.

I hope that any of you that have enjoyed the posts from Christopher or I will continue to follow our progress. I've listed our other links at the end of this post for you to explore if you see fit.

Thank you Adam, and dear readers for making this a great blogging experience for me. I hope I have left you with a little more love for that thing called cinema than you came in with.

Here's looking at you kids.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pocket Thoughts: Hobbits and Mad Hatters

  • A few days ago, it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro had stepped down from his position as the director of the two Hobbit films. Apparently, the delays in obtaining a start date for the shoot was adding on too much time to his already considerable commitment. He’d promised 3 years, but the project was starting to look like it would take double that to complete. I really can’t say that I blame him for moving on because we’re not exactly talking in days or months, are we? I’m sure that he’s undoubtedly got the next several years worth of projects lined up, which isn’t surprising, given Del Toro’s creative capacity. An extra 3 years just isn’t something that he’s willing to give, nor should it be.

    That said, I’m a bit apprehensive as to who’s going to take over the ship. GDT has agreed to take the next 6 months or so to finish the screenplays with Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, for which I’m grateful. That said, the future of the project seems to be doubt. From the start, I’ve always thought that Peter Jackson should be the one to do it, which isn’t exactly the most original thought, although it’s one that I still believe makes the most sense. He’s the single most experienced filmmaker in the world when it comes to how to make a movie in Middle-Earth. When he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in directing these films and GDT was announced as the primary creative wunderkind behind them, I was pleased. Sure, he wasn’t my first choice, but if Jackson wasn’t up for it, the guy who brought the terrifyingly wonderful world of Pan’s Labyrinth to life was the next best thing. Now, I can only hope that Peter Jackson decides to take the reigns himself. I’m not optimistic, but I’ll hope against hope that it happens until it’s set in stone that it’ll be someone else. If things aren’t resolved soon, I think we might be looking at the release dates being pushed back even further.

  • Is it just me, or has Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland made the quietest billion dollars a film’s ever made? Think about it. When Titanic, any of the Lord of the Rings films, The Dark Knight, or Avatar were headed for 9 zeroes, it was blatantly obvious that they were on track for big money, right? Usually, these types of movies have multiple weekends at #1, people won’t shut up about them, and folks go back to the theater time and time again for repeat viewings. Now, Alice in Wonderland did spend 3 weeks in the top spot, but last week when someone said, “did you know that Alice in Wonderland hit a billion dollars?” it just seemed like it wasn’t possible. I liked the movie well enough, even though I thought that the fairly standard fantasy action movie of the last 20 minutes or so didn’t fit with the wonderfully atmospheric first two acts.

    I may not the guru of all things moviemoneymagic, but the fifth highest-grossing film of all time? Really? How did this happen?