Jun 17, 2010

Oh, the Joys of Pixar

With Toy Story 3 coming around the bend, I thought it was that time again to look back at the one animated studio that never seems to produce an ounce of failure. Or at least, general consensus will have you believe.

What is weird is that like most kids in my generation, Toy Story was the right movie at the right time. We weren't aware that it was new technology or even who the hell Randy Newman was... but there was something like many movies before (for me: Big, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion King) that were forever loved because of attachment to our youth.
As The Pixar Story will have you believe, Toy Story was the first full length debut for the company as well as the first CGI flick. Oddly enough, for people like me, it wasn't just a movie, it was a phenomenon.
Cue the Disney Store, 1995. What do you see? You see the obvious Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald... but alongside these names was the new kids: Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Slinky, and the green aliens. Hell, even McDonalds had a line of toys and I'm sure at one point I had them all. I had the coloring books, the dolls (though to this date, I still haven't had a regular sized Buzz that talks).
There was something brilliant about being a kid at that moment. The marketing wrote itself and I sure as hell wanted to get to McDonalds, the Disney Store, even Toys R Us for my first dance with consumerism. Sure, I still held an affinity for Legos, but my toy chest had room for more.

Then, the movies continued and the marketing remained brilliant. I remember something from A Bug's Life which featured a Hopper door guard that would bark at you whenever you entered. I never had that, but I had a telescope, shaped like the leaf and dew drop. I had some of the toys and even the video game, which I played on and off for seven years (somehow, my skills as a gamer developed very slow).
Then Toy Story 2 confirmed my love and I added another group of toys to my collection. However, it confirmed my early cinematic obsession when I would do expansive research on the Woody's Roundup show just to find out that it wasn't real.

And so the movies continued...
Monster's, Inc.
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles

Somehow, I have had ups and downs with this studio, but they are quintessentially the birth of my childhood. They controlled my life basically for almost all of the 90's and practically effected how I grew up. Sure, I don't get how I developed cynicism out of it, but the creativity and belief that toys were actually alive kept me entertained for hours, trying to catch them in the act. I was even able to channel my inner child at a double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 last year in which I came out of the gate quoting every line to a just as enthused sister.
So, it's no wonder that more than ANY movie this summer, I am looking forward to Toy Story 3, which seems to be totally geared towards my audience as the themes are mostly dealt with the protagonist going to college. Two years in, I am sure I will totally get some aspects.
However, I thought I'd quickly go down the list and see how each Pixar movie has effected my life.

1. Toy Story

Do I even need to say how this movie impacted me? I was six, I had no idea what really good cinema was. In fact, I cannot recall seeing this on the big screen, but I know for a fact that I lived and breathed it for the most part. Even today, it brings me joy to pull it out and realize that I was fortunate to grow up in a time when children's movies were not dumbed down and featured numerous layers. There probably were some then, but they don't resonate with me AT.ALL. However, it's gems like this that make it hard for me to take this generation as seriously as mine. I've seen some beauties, and so far, the true saviors remain Pixar. I know I probably overrate this movie and call it a favorite, but it's because it was practically a life changing experience to a six year old, and not one that's embarrassing, which is a plus.

2. A Bug's Life

I remember seeing this one on the big screen in the back row of some theater. I really feel that this is the most under looked gem in Pixar's collection nowadays. I mean, I think this is better than Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and yes... Finding Nemo. True, it's totally The Three Amigos! for kids, but it made me adventurous and explored the great outdoors. It also gave me a weird obsession with bugs for a brief stint of time. I kind of miss seeing this one aired on TV every now and then as it did in the earlier years, but if this movie gave us one thing, it was the first genuinely unforgettable short that would grow to become a trademark for the company: Gerry's Game. Still is one of the best shorts I've ever seen.

3. Toy Story 2

Another classic. I don't remember crying to "Jessie's Song" that first time, but years later, I would revisit it and suddenly, it was almost depressing as "My Reflection" in Mulan. The adventure, excitement was there, and even the introduction of Zurg was an amazing addition that eventually lead to Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a show I devoured as a child, and the movie The Adventure Begins, I ate up even more. Still, I think it was Pixar that eventually lead to my lunacy thinking skills, thanks to an epic fight on top of an elevator, and the belief that Woody's Roundup was actually a real show. Still, the opening remains one of the best uses of a video game in movie history.

4. Monsters, Inc.

I found $5 in the street after seeing this movie. And no, that wasn't the most amazing part of it. True, it was probably the first real exposure of Billy Crystal to me, but once again, I had an affinity for the characters, and Boo remains one the best created by Pixar. I remember reading in Disney Adventures all about the characters. However, after seeing it in a theater, on an in-flight to Europe, and in my own home many times, the movie's depth manages to go beyond Crystal's schmaltzy Jewish quirks (so that's where I got it from!) and teach kids to like each other, because in truth, laughter manages to fuel more housing projects than screams. The fact that Pixar is making a sequel to this is already a sign that they aren't going anywhere any time soon.

5. Finding Nemo

Finally, an overrated film. I remember around that time, I got into reading the box office records, and for the time being, it was the highest grossing animated movie OF ALL TIME. I don't know that it's true now, but I just remember going on opening weekend with my grandmother and we had to buy tickets for the next showing... that's how busy it was. I think that was the first time it consciously ever happened to me. However, I thought the movie was... ok. I have to admit that some aspects of goofiness were charming on the first watch, but then the entire 7th grade class loved it and brought it in to watch whenever the chance was given (though in fairness, that was the only was I got to see The Ring) and it wasn't that strong. Sure, it was Albert Brooks, but the cutesy humor just didn't click right. Whether it was coincidentally contributed from my recent development into rebellion or something else, it remains one of my least favorite, and still has me on a quest to find why everyone else loved it.

6. The Incredibles

This is the sad story... this was the first one I skipped the big screen. In fact, I don't remember even renting it. I don't think I have even seen it in it's entirety on one consecutive view. I was officially beginning to burn out on Pixar after the failure I thought was Finding Nemo. Despite dynamite voices like Jason Lee and Sammy L. Jackson, I just didn't see the appeal. Even watching it now, I think it's good, but I'm having trouble calling it the amazing effort everyone else calls it. Though yes, director Brad Bird DID work on The Simpsons. I suppose this was the equivalence to the fad I just missed out on.

7. Cars

I don't think the world hates me for missing this one, either. It is common fact that I hate NASCAR (and the fact this movie's merchandise is still sold is baffling) and somehow talking cars just didn't make the hate damper any bit. I ended up seeing this movie in a math class, and unlike the previous effort the teacher had (March of the Penguins), I didn't get the appeal of Cars, which seemed very Finding Nemo in using cutesy humor to glorify idiocy. Also, this is probably the reason Larry the Cable Guy has any fans and any money... which is enough to piss anyone off.

8. Ratatouille

I began doing trailer checks around the time of this movie's release. Coincidentally enough, I snuck in to catch two minutes of it one time and it sure looked exciting. Exciting enough that I eventually got my dad, Gina, David, and Anna to come along to actually pay to see it. Oddly enough, it was the first time I ever drove longer than to the end of a block, so it was exciting. I was probably the reason we were late and missed the short (awww, it was a good one, too), but the movie was the beginning in restoring my faith in Pixar. While I think this one should be more overlooked than A Bug's Life (no offense), it's still good enough to keep me entertained, though it didn't exactly have the spice to fully restore faith. It did have Patton Oswalt, though, and as I grow older and listen to Spaced commentaries, I realize I like him more and more.


This one had the distinct curse of being the movie I saw directly after The Dark Knight on it's opening day. True, many claim WALL-E holds up on it's own, but I literally was going to boycott it if I didn't just sneak into it. I did, and this was only after I had been up for 26 hours (one of those rare cases where I couldn't sleep) and it wasn't a great movie. I got what it was going for, but overall, it felt like an acid trip in my condition and I overall think it's 2001: A Space Oddessey for children. I have tried rewatching it, but I still don't see where the love is. Could it be that it's too simple for me? Too complex? True, I will cite this movie in any case of how technology makes us lazy, but my God, I just didn't like it and don't understand how you cite it as one of the best animated movies, ever over Toy Story.

10. Up

It was a go-for-broke decision. I had been let down by Pixar 3/4 of the last few films. I decided to go with the reviews and an insatiable campaign involving Dug, another classic Pixar secondary character. I took the entire family to see it in 2D and while I don't believe it felt as impacting as I wanted, it still was the big moment when I realized Pixar was still a valuable source in my life. I didn't even feel ashamed buying it, even though I don't feel emotional during the opening scene, I have slowly began to find layers that make me appreciate this movie more, despite the annoying little boy scout. If I had to choose, it's the best since Monster's Inc.. Also, meeting Ed Asner really makes me love this film more. If anything, the title, Up, is a metaphor for Pixar that after a few years of mediocrity, things were finally turning around.

So, as Toy Story 3 comes to the theaters this weekend, I look back at those movies and some I have fond memories of, others not so much. However, the experiences of seeing them were all different and surprisingly some of the funner times, if just because I spent most of it with family or in a funny mental situation. True, I could watch any of these and say they are ok. Even the worst of Pixar to me (ok, maybe Cars and WALL-E excepted) is still a good time.

Rank 'Em:
1. Toy Story
2. Toy Story 2
3. Monster's Inc.
4. Up
5. A Bug's Life
6. The Incredibles
7. Ratatouille
8. Finding Nemo
10. Cars

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