Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4

“Tell me a story.” Mission accomplished again by Pixar. Toy Story 4 shows that you can go to the sequel well over and over if you keep delivering compelling stories.

Oh, and it helps to have characters who are, by now, not just familiar but also beloved. Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) gets the main spotlight in TS4. He’s one of many toys in the closet of young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) and he is NOT one of her favorites. But he’s the one who is most concerned about Bonnie’s ability to cope with the pressures of kindergarten orientation.

A handmade toy that Bonnie assembles from a plastic spork and a pipe cleaner becomes her primary concern. “Forky” (Tony Hale) becomes a member of Bonnie’s toy menagerie but he has little self-respect. Woody steps in to help him focus.

Bonnie’s family takes an RV trip to a town with an antique store. The store and its wares provide an intriguing setting for toy adventures.

Woody reconnects with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and meets new characters Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reaves). The latter two are inspired by Mattel’s Chatty Cathy and the Evel Knievel motorcycle toy that never performed quite as well in real life as on the TV spot.

Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) keeps showing up and continues to push a button on his chest that generates a recorded soundbite. He considers this his “inner voice” and takes guidance from those brief gems.

Among the film’s most entertaining voice actors are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a pair of stuffed animals who escape from a carnival game prize wall.

Toy Story 4 is filled with delight and fun surprises from beginning to end. There are a couple of scary situations but the peril is less intense than that seen in Toy Story 3.

Pixar’s animation and tech skills have been a given for a quarter century. Other studios have also turned out impressive images and effects. But it is Pixar’s storytelling ability makes most of their films special.

Toy Story 4 is yet another Pixar winner.

(Note: In a change from the usual Pixar format, there is no animated short running before TS4.)

 

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Penguins

penguins movie

Penguins are my favorite non-human animal. I never get tired of watching penguins. So, yes, I love this movie. I would love Penguins even if it sucked but, happily, it does not suck.

Disney has, for decades, told animal stories by constructing narratives around the filmed actions of nature’s creatures. This storytelling involves giving certain animals names and relating some of their actions to human behavior. This format was a staple of the old Disney TV shows and now is reprised in Disneynature films.

In Penguins, the central figure is a penguin named Steve. He migrates across Antarctica to breeding grounds where he builds a nest out of rocks and finds a female partner named Adeline. They incubate eggs, birth chicks, feed the youngsters and introduce them to the world and its dangers.

Penguins is filled with glorious shots of penguins on land, on ice and in the water. The way they pop up out of water always tickles me whether I see it at Sea World, the St. Louis Zoo or in this film. Their almost circular leaps as they move through water (similar to those of dolphins) are also fascinating and something not observed when they are in captivity.

Ed Helms of The Office and The Hangover movies is the film’s narrator. Along with his straight reading of the script he provides several ad-libbed reaction sounds to on-screen events.

How did the filmmakers get so close to obtain this footage? Action shots of the crew run alongside the movie’s closing credits, showing the men and women and their equipment as they record the activities of the penguins and their predators.

Like many of the best movies for young kids, Penguins has a short run time: just under 80 minutes. It is a film that makes me happy.

Now if Disneynature would just make a film about my second favorite non-human animal, manatees, I would be even happier.

 

 

Superpower Dogs

Halo

Dogs are fun. Beloved members of the family. Most people ask little of their dogs beyond companionship.

The dogs featured in the new IMAX film Superpower Dogs are dogs who work. They are trained to rescue and to track.

As is the case with many IMAX films, Superpower Dogs has spectacular visuals. A dog is helicoptered in to find a skier trapped by an avalanche. A dog dives into the ocean to practice a water recovery. Bloodhounds track poachers. These segments have gorgeous aerial shots of the Canadian Rockies, the Mediterranean and the plains of Africa, respectively.

A California beach scene is the setting for a dog who surfs (!) and provides emotional support and delight to special needs children.

The development of Halo, a Dutch Shepherd, as a search and rescue dog begins with her selection in Michigan.  Her story continues throughout the film with her training in multiple locations and her testing in New York.

Superpower Dogs is one of the better recent IMAX films. Its pacing is brisk. Its stars are compelling and charming. Clever graphics illustrate such aspects as the underwater movement of a swimming dog and the internal receptors that give bloodhounds their special talent.

Director Daniel Ferguson has assembled a cinematic canine collection that will certainly please dog lovers and will likely amuse cat persons as well.  is narrated by Chris Evans.

 

 

 

 

Monsters University

Happy news! Pixar has made an excellent movie. Monsters University reclaims the magic. After the messy Cars 2 and the merely passable Brave, MU does what the best Pixar movies have always done: tell a great story in an entertaining way.

Does Monsters University break new ground? No. (Well, there are a few new monsters.) But two of Pixar’s most likeable characters, Sulley and Mike, return to the screen in a prequel (or, if you prefer, “origin story”) to 2002’s Monsters, Inc. Voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, respectively, the duo is revealed not to have been chums from the beginning. In fact, there were hard feelings and resentments between the two. But circumstances in the film dictate that they team up to reach a goal.

Both wash out of Scare School at the U (for different reasons) and seek redemption in the school’s annual Scare Games. They make a deal with the stern headmaster Miss Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that if their team wins the Scare Games, they’ll get back into Scare School.

The Scare Games are clever and entertaining. Will these underdogs and their fellow MU misfits make it through to the finals? Will they find the redemption they seek? Think you can guess what happens? Maybe not.

MU is a cute and funny film that will make you happy. Whereas Monsters, Inc. was a bit more about Sulley, Monsters University leans more toward Mike and his challenges. MU has a final act that takes them from the University all the way to the story that is told in Monsters Inc.

Regarding Pixar, Disney and branding: 2012 was confusing. Brave, a Pixar branded film looked like a Disney branded film whereas Wreck-It Ralph (officially a Disney film) had the story, look, voice-acting virtuosity and whimsy that have been Pixar trademarks. That branding may be further muddied later this summer when a Pixar-looking movie called Planes appears as a Disney nameplate movie. Disney, of course, owns Pixar.

Regarding John Goodman’s distinctive voice: My daughter was working at a busy retail establishment during last holiday season here in St. Louis. She said she heard Sulley’s voice and looked around. There was John Goodman standing in her checkout line.

At the end of every Pixar film, a list of babies born to production staff during the making of the movie is evidence of the time and effort that goes into making such a film. Sadly, at the screening I attended the film cut off before getting that far into the credits. That’s one reason to see it again. Another is that Pixar movies, for me, tend to improve with repeat viewings. Monsters University is rated G.