Paddington Saves

Padd2I don’t know if its a sad indictment of where film-making is right now, but after the last several days watching so many bad films, I re-watched Paddington 2 the other night, and it was great (this time on 4K UHD so hey, prettier than ever). It’s a really good family film with genuinely great writing, direction, casting and performances. It reminded me of early Pixar films, the way they were planned to (near enough) perfection; you could just tell -and the Toy Story films are a fine example- that everything was thought out, worked out at the script and storyboard stage, so that it just works splendidly. Sure, opportunities of on-set, spur of the moment nature can be a boon, but it seems to me, considering how much planning must go into modern blockbusters regards CGI shots, stunts etc that so much of it seems so clumsy and ill-thought (perhaps formulaic). Paddington 2 is such a joy. Its funny, heartfelt and so little is wasted, every shot seems to have meaning or supports something that happens later, and it doesn’t seem like its telegraphing things too obviously either, which itself is a neat trick to pull off.  Basically, it was a fabulous script brilliantly executed, and so many other films should heed the lesson of the bear.

Also, Hugh Grant should be a sitcom star: who knew he was such a disarmingly brilliant comedy actor?

Recent Additions/ Capsule reviews

P1110251I’ve been weak, and succumbed to a few sale offers over the past several weeks, and there have also been a few disc releases of the films from last Autumn/Winter that I’d been waiting for.

Matrix Resurrections 4K UHD: A film of two halves, really, but my review can be found here.

Whiplash 4K UHD: I watched this on a rental a good while ago, when it absolutely terrified me. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this again, except that the 4K disc was in a sale and yeah, it seemed like a great film last time around. We’ll see what I think if/when I can muster the courage for another anxiety trip…

Cliffhanger 4K UHD: A guilty favourite, my review can be found here.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K UHD: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was in a sale, I used to love the Axel F single back in the day (I have the 12″ in storage somewhere), I’d seen the film on a VHS rental. Once. Actually I quite enjoyed this disc, there must be something of a nostalgic pull from anything 1980s just lately. There’s a scene in a bar where a Prince song I didn’t know was playing on the soundtrack and it bugged the heck out of me until I learned from the credits that it was a Vanity 6 song (so yeah, Prince in all but name) but it only intensified that whole 1980s ‘thing’ running through this film. The hairstyles! The fashions! That Glenn Frey song!

Eddie Murphy was actually bearable back then. There’s a story about Eddie Murphy and Jack Lemmon on the Paramount backlot which I’ve probably mentioned before, so I won’t go on with it here unless someone wants me too…

West Side Story (2021) 4K UHD: I watched this a few nights ago; quite magnificent, I thought, and easily Spielberg’s best film in twenty years. I actually think there is something in Spielberg’s style, like his slow camera crawls into actor’s reaction shots, how staged his set-ups tend to be, how much he leans on John William’s music scores, that is wholly suited to musicals. I hope to give this a proper review post sometime, but yeah, I thought it was brilliant. The staging, the use of the camera, the art direction, the casting… I could imagine it winning all sorts of Oscars in a non-Covid universe in which this film made any money (shame Oscar seems to ignore a dud). It goes without saying that the music is sublime, I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s original film and have seen the show on the stage once (albeit something provincial) so it was a given I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Spider Man: No Way Home 4K UHD: Dude! Dude! Dude! Oh dear, the writing in this film… what, described somewhere as the best comicbook movie ever made? What? I’ll write a proper post about this film someday, but just an observation: there were a few times in the Lee/Ditko/Romita era comics that Peter Parker was revealed to be Spider-Man but those guys usually managed to write an elegant and imaginative way of Peter outwitting people and fixing things and maintain his secret identity. But the film Peter Parker shown here is some kind of selfish idiot or the films writers lacked the imagination and wit of 1960s comic writers/artists, because this film… maybe its cleverly undermining traditional super-hero tropes and the films actual uber-villain is Tom Holland’s Spidey himself. Or maybe I’m giving them way too much credit…

The Shawshank Redemption 4K UHD: I wasn’t going to do it. Its one of my favourite films (I was one of the few who saw it in the cinema when it came out, so hey, kudos to me) but the Blu-ray was fine. But sales. Bloody sales.

Ratatouille 4K UHD: My favourite Pixar movie, and a lovely feel-good film that I probably need now more than ever. I don’t expect any great leap over the Blu-ray, but it does seem I’m upgrading too many of my favourite films to 4K UHD, especially when the sales make it seem a reasonable decision rather than inherently dumb, which it really probably is.

Backdraft 4K UHD: Sales. Sales. Sales. Actually, I watched it a few nights ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’d actually forgotten Robert De Niro was even in it, its been so long since I’d last watched this (probably on DVD). It takes a few too many liberties with my intelligence with some of its heart-tugging silliness “Look at him… that’s my brother goddammit!” but it does look awfully good in 4K. I seem to recall it was this film that made me dislike Hans Zimmer scores for years, my goodness he never did do subtle.

Death on the Nile 4K UHD: Watched this on Saturday. Its quite inferior to the previous Murder on the Orient Express, from the pretty woefully miscast cast to the strangely uninvolving plot… and I’m not sure the virtual sets nonsense worked at all. I guess it was a deliberate stylistic choice but it left it feeling very… distractingly artificial? I can accept that in a Star Wars prequel with George playing with his toybox but a period murder mystery that could have been shot on location?

Nineteen Eighty-Four Blu-ray/DVD: Ah, the Peter Cushing one, that I’ve never seen but always wanted to. I’m only irritated by the fact that since this arrived in the post, Amazon has been repeatedly reducing the price of this thing. I hate it when that happens, especially when I haven’t seen it yet. See also too many other discs currently unwatched to mention, but still, its the principle of the thing.

The Proposition 4K UHD: Saw this on Sunday. Lengthy fawning post to sometime follow. Quite breathtakingly brilliant. One of those times that I blind-buy a physical disc release of a film I’d previously missed somehow and discover something quite excellent. Does this qualify as a Christmas movie? Was John Hurt ever better?

Brute Force/ Naked City (Blu-ray): I watched Brute Force last night. Brilliant film. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. I shall catch up with Naked City sometime soon. This was another sale buy that had me wondering why I hadn’t succumbed to its charms before. Arrow’s double-bill package is well designed (lovely hardcase box) with a fine book to pour over, bountiful extras; another great example of why I still love buying physical releases of old films. But its gotten me ordering Jules Dassin’s Rififi on Blu-ray, further proof that it gets expensive sometimes as one film leads to another. Damn those trailers…

Recent Additions

P1110248 (2)Buying films on disc is still ‘A Thing’ but as you can see from the snap I’ve taken of my recent purchases, rather than new films my eye is in the rear view mirror and past films that I’ve seen before (and yes, bought before on previous formats). At least I’ve managed to resist the Indiana Jones set just recently released on 4K. No doubt its time will come eventually but one has to draw the line somewhere (sorry, Indy).

So anyway; I rationalised buying the Toy Story 4K box because I never bought Toy Story 4 on disc and this long-overdue box release is the most cost-effective way of going 4K on these Pixar classics. The Predator 4K box has just come back into stock at a reduced price (I missed the opportunity prior to Christmas) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is just one of those films… well, I bought it on R1 DVD so many moons ago and then again on Blu-Ray… maybe this is the last time (my wallet certainly hopes so). As a film lover some films just, well, they drive us crazy and we lose all common sense and go all Gollum (“I must have it, my precious!”). Lastly I managed to pick up Murder on the Orient Express on 4K for less than a tenner- its a film I saw on a rental that I really enjoyed, and at the time I was wondering how gorgeous it would look in 4K so I’ll find out soon enough. I just noticed that I watched that rental nearly three years ago!

And here’s a shocker- I’ve actually gone and bought two films on digital. I know, I know, shock, horror, that’s Hell freezing over, but I couldn’t resist testing the water with some bargains on Amazon. I bought well-regarded indie sci-fi Prospect for 99p in HD, and a HD copy of Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film that I’ve been curious about for just £1.99. I don’t think digital will ever be a Big Deal for me, I’ll always prefer films on disc but at those prices (must be the digital equivalent of the Bargain Bin), what’s not to like? If I watch something I absolutely adore I’ll just get the disc version and won’t have lost much financially. Mind, I still feel like I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

Soul (2020)

soulThis was a beautiful film. It looked beautiful (even for Pixar, this computer imagery is quite remarkable), it sounded beautiful (an interesting Jazz-infused score from Jon Batiste contrasting with electronic doodling from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) with a captivating script that felt refreshingly adult, not pandering to the young tykes in the audience as much as it might have. My favourite Pixar film remains the quite sublime Ratatouille but Soul runs it a very close second. I was quite taken by this one, and its really such a pity that it didn’t get the theatrical release it deserved, Covid forcing it to be premiered on Disney+ (quite fittingly, I suppose, on Christmas Day). 

Thankfully Disney don’t seem to have nixed physical releases just yet (perhaps seeing it as a way to recoup some of the losses of missing a theatrical distribution, or to get its greedy fingers into the pockets of those of us not yet enticed by its streaming platform) so through this 4K UHD release I’ve finally been able to watch it. I’m sure this is a film I will be watching many times in the future, its really quite wonderful. I’m not entirely sure it sticks the landing, the finale feeling a little ‘off’, but maybe a repeat viewing will dispel any doubts. 

Curiously, I only watched director Pete Docter’s previous Pixar film, Inside Out  once and never returned to it. I was quite surprised to read my old review of Inside Out and find that I really enjoyed it, because my recollection of the film remains pretty vague now (well, it has been five years and countless films under the bridge since), so I was perhaps unfairly a little cautious about Soul. Having seen Inside Out only once perhaps I should watch it again (if only I can find my Blu-ray; five years has a way of burying discs in the unlikeliest of places). Maybe I’ll be posting a re-review here when I manage to find it – at the minute it seems a job for Indiana Jones; I hope I’m not alone in discs disappearing without trace, but at times I can be searching for a film for weeks if not longer. Sometimes they never turn up, but they are in this house SOMEWHERE.

parentadvWhen the credits came up for Soul and I reflected on just how wonderful a film it was, I had the most curious train of thought. Maybe it was the Jon Batiste music score and the warm feeling that the film had infused in me, but I began to think how sad it was that Pixar never worked with Prince on a project. No doubt Prince with his track record (Parent Advisory stickers anyone?) would forever negate any possibility of him teaming up with an outfit as homely as Pixar or Disney, but that explicit content stuff dates pretty way back and Prince had moved on from that in his later years. I just considered what an amazing talent Prince was, and what he might have done musically if afforded an opportunity to work with creatives like those at Pixar or Disney. Or maybe I’m just wondering what might have been, had Prince not been so… Prince, in his later years. Because clearly few musical artists could amaze and frustrate his fans quite as much as Prince often would.

Its possibly because I’ve been reading Neal Karlen’s book about Prince ‘This Thing Called Life, Prince’s Life On and Off the Record’ (which is a very good book by the way) that I had Prince in my head at the time. Its the only explanation I can offer at why such a curious fancy struck me at that moment.

Thanks partly to the vacuum left by Prince’s untimely passing and the music from his vault released over the years since, some fresh perspective has been afforded regards Prince’s prodigious talent, strangeness and failings. I’m sometimes not at all convinced Prince was entirely human, he seemed to be on some other level, like a Da Vinci or a Mozart or a Einstein, and that judging him like the rest of us is unfair (or maybe that’s just a way of letting him off the hook for often being such a jerk).

Karlen’s book is very balanced, the guy certainly knew him as well as most could ever hope to- marvelling at Prince’s talent and rueing those disturbing failings, suggesting that the same talent that made Prince so great perhaps also destroyed him. Prince was a musical savant that was perhaps tortured by that same genius (the size of that vault of unreleased music gradually leaking out an indication of how obsessed he was, particularly in the 1980s with so much great music pouring out of him). There’s a few parts of the book in which Prince remarks about all the voices in his head, the endless creativity at his peak that stopped him getting much sleep… that’s a blessing and a curse, surely. Of course Prince wouldn’t be the only superstar whose success divorced him increasingly from normal life until he became an oddity, a contradiction and almost a self-parody of earlier heights. How can such a genius be such an asshole, is the same as asking how can such a genius NOT be such an asshole?

I don’t know, it was possibly an errant and unwarranted trail of thought, but I just wondered, like a what-if, regards all the disparate talents out there that if combined… like Lennon and McCartney being so greater together in The Beatles than they ever were once separated, or how great a film like Blade Runner became with the timely combination of Scott, Trumbull, Vangelis and all those other talented creatives at their peak at just that moment in time. I just thought how great a visual/musical experience a Pixar film might have been with Prince’s involvement, had he been able to work within a creative team rather than just on his own. It might have been a horrible disaster. But it might have been great.

Which is of course nothing at all do with Pixar’s Soul, so I’ll stop this stream of unwarranted consciousness from harassing your sensibilities any longer. If you haven’t yet seen it, do watch Soul, its a wonderful film.

A Triumph of the Familiar: Toy Story 4

TOY STORY 4Did we really need a Toy Story 4? Of course not. Or maybe we did: I must confess it really surprised me that I really, really enjoyed this film, and more so that Pixar somehow made the film feel necessary, too. That last point is the real game-changer for me. This was the first Toy Story film that I didn’t watch at the cinema and didn’t purchase on disc on home release: I really didn’t see the point of another Toy Story. In an industry that just seems endlessly reliant on sequels, reboots and remakes, Pixar making another Toy Story film just felt like a cynical, cash-grabbing exercise that lent further weight to the ‘Disney is Evil’ scenario so familiar on the Internet these days. It was a seductive scenario and I was suckered by it, more fool me.

That said, I’m still afraid that Disney will announce a Toy Story tv series for Disney+ sometime (and if they already have, I won’t be surprised). Its the endless battle between art and commerce I suppose. Films are made to make money, its a business, and films are product, not necessarily ‘art’. Its so easy for us film fans to become cynics.

At any rate, I was certainly a sceptic going into this, more curious regards the improvements in the animation and art tools the guys at Pixar are using now than how well the actual script would turn out, confident that it would quickly betray itself as the cash-cow it surely was. But you know, I was very pleasantly surprised. Maybe its the irresistible magic of the very first Toy Story, the concept and its wonderful characters: in hindsight,  how could it fail, how could they screw it up? Then again, it’s like wondering how anyone could screw up making a Star Wars movie and then being surprised by Lucasfilm ‘finding a way’. I suppose the secret to this film is that it doesn’t ‘break the world’ in quite the same way as The Last Jedi did, but also organically progresses things nevertheless (in ways that the JJ Abrams Star Wars films didn’t). At any rate, it would seem Pixar could teach the guys at Lucasfilm a thing or two, or maybe the cynic in me was just bewitched by the magic. Shock, Horror- maybe we need a Toy Story 5!

TOY STORY 4One thing is patently clear- this film certainly looked absolutely gorgeous. I think I need to put this films 4K UHD edition on my shopping list, because I’m pretty certain that must be a wonder to behold. Do they have a 4K boxset of all the Toy Story films? I shall have to have a look sometime. I can only imagine how beautiful this film must look in crisp 4K detail and with the extra ‘pop’ and sense of depth usually associated with HDR. Even in standard HD the later scenes in the nighttime fair looked so three-dimensional: the Pixar artists do this thing with keeping foreground objects/characters in focus and the backgrounds soft and blurred, almost abstract, its something we’re used to seeing in live-action but of course here its all inside the box, artificial.  Its a little bit like the opposite of the ‘uncanny valley’, something that fools us into thinking something is real when it is purely artifice. A part of this films success is how perfectly the subject matter, toys, always fits within the technology of the animation, the constraints its greatest asset: the original film was always dreamed up and designed within the parameters of the tech, and even after so many Pixar films, the Toy Story series feels the most natural and ideal combination of narrative and visual CG style.

 

 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

incred2There was a time when Pixar films were something really special. I suppose a part of that was the sheer joy and ‘newness’ of watching fully CG-animated movies, but beyond that, the films themselves were often so finely crafted they were almost, well, perfect. I often remarked in reviews that I truly wished that live-action films were given the level of craft and scrutiny that Pixar films were. Every shot, every paragraph of a script, every mannerism exhibited by the CG characters, the story arcs… I think the Pixar filmography reached its zenith with Ratatouille, which is my personal favourite.

But I really did like The Incredibles, which came out way back in 2004 and it has always surprised me that it didn’t get an immediate sequel – perhaps that should be applauded, that we didn’t get a cynical cash-in, but it does leave the weight of expectation for when this sequel eventually arrived rather high and really, a little unfair.

The Incredibles 2 is perfectly fine but I did think it rather inferior to the original. Maybe it’s just so hard to capture lightning in a bottle, maybe it’s that we just see so many CG-animated movies these days- it’s no longer just Pixar cranking these things out, sometimes it feels like everyone is doing it, and maybe it’s unfair but technically they all seem to look very similar. I suppose they are all using the same CG animation software, in just the same way as so much CGI in live-action films have tended to look very ‘samey’. The only way, perhaps, for Pixar to differentiate itself from the pack, so to speak, is for a Pixar film in theme and craft to distinguish itself by being something special and unique- but everyone else seems to have learned the Pixar game and the ensuing familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then perhaps something approaching weariness.

I am likely being unfair expecting Incredibles 2 to be something exciting and new, but it is surely not unfair for me to have hoped for something less familiar and predictable. Nothing surprised me here. Again, I realise it’s just a family animated movie and not something arthouse or leftfield but still, the lack of ambition here was disheartening. Ratatouille was such a breathless joy, the characters, the heart, the humour, the music, it was so perfect, and the original Incredibles movie was a close second to that film. It felt fresh and… well, maybe too many Marvel and DC superhero capers have put paid to that particular quality.

Incredibles 2 was not incredible. That’s the main issue I have. It was perfectly fine and polished but it wasn’t surprising or enthralling or indeed incredible. It felt almost like a rock groups contractoral second album mimicking their previous hit platter. Hardly surprising in itself but still, disappointing.

(That being said, I will qualify this post with a comment that I watched it on a HD stream that was inevitably lacking what a good blu-ray would look and sound like.  This was mostly because I originally intended to buy a 4K UHD version which Disney here in the UK seem to think we are unworthy of, and well, I decided to be stubborn and vote with my wallet so a cheap £1.99 rental is all Disney get out of me. Not the best way to enjoy this movie then and another strange turn in the story of physical media vs streaming/downloads. I really don’t know what Disney are thinking here, but a worrying sign of the times.)

The Secret Life Of Pets (2016)

pet12016.100: The Secret Life of Pets

There’s maybe too many of these cgi-animated films out there now. Okay- there simply ARE too many of them. Like with superhero films, it seems mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, because its getting to the point at which they all start to look the same or follow a familiar formula. There’s certainly reminders of earlier (and better)  films like Bolt here, or so many Pixar films like the Toy Story series. Its fun. Its even funny. But I wouldn’t dream of describing any of this as original or ground-breaking. Its okay, but it always feels rather generic.

It does, however, raise an issue that is starting to arise with these films, and some may well argue that its been here a long time already. It took them a few films to get there, but once Pixar established the formula for its family-comedy animated films with the ‘buddy-quest picture’ template, and continued to pursue it in successive films, it set a precedent and practically wrote a ‘how-to’ guidebook that so many studios have followed since. Unfortunately its so routine that the scripts for these films almost seem to have been all written by the same team, and viewers can predict every turn, to the degree that no matter the finesse in the animation or art design, the mold being used desperately needs to be broken. I guess Hollywood would argue, if it aint broke, why fix it, as the box-office returns on these films appears to be pretty reliable.

Its getting to the point though where even the character designs and mannerisms/animation is all starting to look the same. They almost look interchangeable between films, and the voice-work sounds pretty familiar too. At least in the old days you could tell a Disney film from any other animated film, and a Pixar film too, but the homogeneity of the cgi-animation behind these films is all making it more a general animated landscape of, well, conformity and over-familiarity.

Sadly, its rather like so many superhero films, in just the same way that Marvel have settled upon such a winning formula for making their films that DC have felt the need to adopt it with their own (and consequently impacted their BvS film, for example, by awkwardly putting in unnecessary seeds for later DC films in just the same way as Marvel has seeded their various superhero franchises in individual films).

The Secret Life of Pets isn’t a bad film. In fact it was something of a hit in my household, with my in-laws citing it as the best film they have seen over the Holidays. So it’s clearly doing something right. I’m perhaps being unfair to it, complaining it isn’t anything particularly new or demanding anything of its audience. It simply is what it it is. But there are too many films like this before it and no doubt many like it due in the future, and eventually, over-familiarity breeds contempt. It’d be a shame if it was a Pixar film that caught a hit over it, or maybe that would be poetic justice?

Minions (2015)

min12016.47: Minions (Blu-ray)

Minions is decidedly lightweight, even for a Despicable Me spin-off.  On the one hand it is simple, harmless fun, complete with a fair few laughs, and absolutely perfect for its infant target audience- indeed, it is quite relentless in how it targets that very young demographic.  Naturally there is the inevitable trade-off that, unlike, say, a Pixar film, while it keeps the young ‘uns thrilled this film can be considered rather lacking in its entertainment value for adults (but I quite enjoyed it, so I don’t know what that proves).

But that feels a bit like complaining about a Star Wars film having too many references to The Force or too many space dogfights. Minions is simply a kids movie- I’m cautious to describe the two Despicable Me films as sophisticated, but they were clearly family films aimed at both kids and adults alike (and even then, were hardly in the same league as Pixar). Minions aims a bit lower than that. It is what it is.

That said, it looks awfully pretty. The animation is smooth, bright and colourful and, yes, really quite gorgeous at times (some outdoor scenes in London are near-photo realistic), and it’s generally very impressive- indeed the image really ‘pops’ on blu-ray. The quality of the animation and detailing/lighting is such that its rather a shame that the film isn’t more sophisticated story-wise. There is some lovely art-direction and design work that makes the most of its 1960s aesthetic- its this stuff that will likely appeal most to adults as its no doubt utterly lost on the films target audience. And the jokes work. I mean, thats the whole point of a film like this. The script is largely predictable and formulaic, but its not trying to be anything else.

I sound like I’m apologising for the film, don’t I?

You see, there is an elephant in the room. And that is the box-office. I was just curious, after seeing the film, about how it did money-wise considering I know it had mixed reviews and is agreed to be the lesser of the Despicable Me films.  It did pretty good… well, a bit more than pretty good. In fact it earned $1,159,398,397 worldwide according to Box Office Mojo, which is much more than either of the (superior) Despicable Me films that preceded it. And rather more than the Batman vs Superman juggernaut managed earlier this year. Which just goes to show, on the basis of Minions performance, you can’t aim too low regards demographics. A lesson not lost on the film-makers or no doubt Hollywood, much to the chagrin of all those critical reviews. I guess we should be scared. Maybe films like this are more dangerous than they look.

 

Inside Out (2015)

2016.3: Inside Out (Blu-ray)

inside1Inside Out is without any doubt Pixar’s best film in years, breaking a run of what have been at best pretty average efforts. Of course its hardly fair for every Pixar film to equal Ratatouille (my own personal favourite) or The Incredibles but here the magic is clearly back again; you can sense that boundaries are being pushed again at last and the ready Pixar formula of making popular hits has been left to one side for (most) of the time to enable a few risks to be taken.

The story concerns what goes on in the mind of young Riley, a little girl living happily in Minnesota until her family moves to San Francisco. Emotions of Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust run a control room in Riley’s head, trying to help her lead a fulfilling life and keep her safe and happy but the move to San Francisco proves to be too much even for them. Losing her familiar home, school and friends, Riley increasingly falls into feelings of loneliness and despair, and the efforts of Joy and Sadness to return Riley to a contented state backfire when they are accidentally thrown out of the control room (leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust left to try manage things on their own with disastrous results).

Lost down where long-term memories are left behind and eventually even forgotten completely (memories contained as moving images within spheres of light reminiscent of Doug Trumbull’s Brainstorm), Joy and Sadness have to learn to work together to get back to the control room in another A-B trip/journey of self-discovery so familiar to Pixar fans. This last point perhaps betrays Pixar reverting to formula but there is so much imagination on display here it’s hard to fault. Its funny, its clever, it’s quite touching at times and has a powerful story within it about what makes us ‘us’ and the power of memories (and how we remember them).

inside2Its a great film and really quite magical. This is what Pixar does best when everything seems to just ‘click’ and the animated form manages something live-action couldn’t.  I cannot imagine what Walt Disney himself would have thought had he been able to watch films like this and see what animated features have become at their very best.

As usual I’m left wishing that live-action films could have so much care and craft be given to their scripts as the best Pixar films have. Thats the real magic afterall to these films- yes they look gorgeous but really its the characters and the scripts that are the real achievements.  And kudos to Michael Giacchino for providing the film with another great score; he really seems to have a special knack of supporting these animated features with the fun and pathos of music that intensifies and supports everything we see.

 

 

Brave (2012)

BravebluI’m constantly amazed at how finely crafted Pixar’s movies are. If God is in the details, then so is the TLC in every frame of their movies. Love or loathe ’em, you can’t help but notice the evidence of how acutely analysed and debated their films are during production- how much attention is given to every shot, every edit, every scene minutely storyboarded and discussed… and that’s all well before anything is actually animated and rendered (the details there hardly need considering, the proof is there in the gorgeous HD visuals). I often come away from viewing a Pixar movie wishing that traditional live-action movies could be given such evident attention. I’m not suggesting that Pixar movies are perfect, but you can see the labours of the film-makers in everything- the polish of the art direction and animation/rendering, the inch-perfect editing, the finely-chiselled, perfectly-paced script, elements of which tailored for both children and adults alike. The thought processes evident in every decision in the film-making process. Some films seem almost haphazardly thrown together (note the plot-holes in many a blockbuster such as Prometheus) but you cannot say that about a Pixar movie.

Not all Pixar films are equal of course- to be honest to expect that would be grossly unfair. Its like expecting Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg to nail it every time they make a movie. There are good Hitchcock films and great Hitchcock films, and I’d prefer watching a ‘good’ Hitchcock over many other directors ‘great’ films.  So I’ll be clear now and state that Brave is a good  Pixar movie rather than a great one. My personal Pixar favourite remains  Ratatouille, an utterly gorgeous romantic comedy that is so perfectly crafted its a joy to behold and hear- pure cinema in other words, and a perfect movie to my mind. Brave, released last year to a mixed response, may not reach such greatness, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless- its certainly fair superior to stuff like Cars 2 and I actually prefer it to perceived ‘classics’ like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc (I confess I actually loathed the latter and cannot believe we are to be inflicted by a sequel this year).

Brave might be perceived as being, well, somewhat slight compared to other Pixar films. But that’s like comparing different flavours of cheese- not every Pixar movie is going to be a laugh-riot or an ‘epic’. Brave is a different animal compared, say, to The Incredibles or Toy Story or Wall-E. Its more of a children’s fairytale (Pixar’s first?), a gentle adventure- maybe it is rather simple… dare I say, even European as opposed to Americanised Disney-fodder. It is what it is, and for what it attempts to be it largely succeeds. Its funny, its breathtaking to look at, the voice actors are excellent- and at something like 90 minutes in length it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. I thought it was great. I had it on Blu-ray at Christmas and only just got around to watching it, and I regret having waited so long. Look forward to watching it again in fact. On Blu-ray the image is consistently stunning, the animation frequently, yes, I’ll use that word again- breathtaking.

Oh, and the icing on the cake- the Pixar short La Luna, included on the disc as an extra, is an utterly charming and whimsical fantasy of such beauty and grace its worth the price of the disc on its own. It’s that good.