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Non-Review Review: Inside Out

Inside Out represents a glorious return to form for Pixar.

After several years of sequels and middling films, Inside Out feels like a breath of fresh air. Films like Cars 2 and Monsters University were very much safe bets for the company, a way to leverage return from existing (and well-loved) properties. Inside Out is something altogether stranger and more high-concept. It feels like the studio is getting back in touch with its original aesthetic. It is a concept that initially seems quite complex and esoteric, but quickly reveals itself to be a simple emotional fairytale.

Memories are made of this...

Memories are made of this…

Wall-E might have been a half-silent science-fiction film, but it was also a very effective love story. Up might have been a wacky adventure about a flying house, but it was also an insightful meditation on grief and loss. Finding Nemo was populated with colourful fish, but it was also about the experience of watching a child venture into the world. Pixar established and developed a reputation as a studio that could produce films that were accessible and exciting to children, but also packed a more weighty and substantial punch for the parents in the audience.

Inside Out is perhaps the most high of Pixar’s concepts, but it ultimately boils down a very organic and instinctive story meditating on the studio’s core themes of emotional development and family metaphors.

An emotional journey...

An emotional journey…

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Non-Review Review: Epic

Epic looks stunning. While it doesn’t necessarily push the envelope in terms of 3D rendering or animation, it’s often quite beautiful to watch. Even in 3D, the vibrant greens radiate off the screen, with the characters having a pleasant elasticity to them. The action sequences are well-staged and the choreography is generally impressive. However, despite this, Epic winds up feeling rather shallow. Perhaps it’s a result of the decision to develop the world as a priority, rather than the characters inhabiting it.

The story is more a collection of familiar tropes and set-pieces than a compelling narrative, and none of the lead characters are ever developed beyond basic archetypes. There’s the plucky heroine, the roguish hero, the gruff mentor, the free-spirited wise oracle, the drôle accented bad guy, the comic relief and even the kooky dad. None feel of any real substance, which is a problem when you’re executing a plot as straight-forward as this.

It's a slug's life...

It’s a slug’s life…

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Star Trek – Charlie X (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

It really is incredibly difficult to divorce Star Trek from the sixties. I know that this has become something of a (very obvious) theme in these daily reviews, but Charlie X is the kind of Star Trek episode that could only have been produced for television in the sixties. It isn’t necessarily the presence of a single factor, it’s more the package as a whole. While the general concept (“The Day Charlie Became God”, to quote Roddenberry’s succinct synopsis from his 1964 Star Trek Is… pitch) could easily be adapted for any of the spin-offs (and Hide & Q clearly plays on the same idea), the execution is so firmly anchored in the sixties that it’s very hard to separate and parse.

Part of it is the weird use of coloured lighting on the mostly grey Enterprise sets, something that Inside Star Trek suggests was down to the fact that NBC was owned at the time by RCA, a major manufacturer of colour television sets. Part of it is the somewhat confused sexuality that is a weird mix of liberated and outdated. Part of it is the fact that the show features an impromptu musical and dance number. The idea of Charlie X might be fairly simplistic, but the execution is very clearly and very distinctively Star Trek.

Screaming to the Evans...

Screaming to the Evans…

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Non-Review Review: Robot & Frank

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Robot & Frank is perhaps best described as a live-action Pixar film, a lost script or concept from that period only a few years ago when it seemed like the studio could do no wrong. The beauty of films like The Incredibles or Toy Story 3 was the way that these fantasies allowed us to engage with incredibly adult issues in a disarmingly wondrous way. Up could deal with the pain of loss in great detail, because it was really the story of a man flying his house to South America, right? Finding Nemo could play out the darkest fears lurking in a parent’s subconscious, because it was really about cute fish, correct?

And so Robot & Frank provides a wonderful vehicle for the exploration of what growing old really means, and how we cope with the challenges that it presents. Because, after all, it’s just a film with a cute-looking robot butler, right?

Frank'll test his metal...

Frank’ll test his metal…

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Look! Star Trek Reimagined in the Pixar Style!

The wonderful folks over at The Minion Factory have reimagined the classic Star Trek characters in the style of Pixar. It’s a fun collection of images (feel free to also check out the artist’s superhero gallery), and rendered with obvious affection for the show’s decidedly sixties aesthetic. I especially love the affection demonstrated in chosing the background images. Anyway, take a look and click to enlarge.

Non-Review Review: Wreck It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph is a charming animated film, and one with all manner of interesting ideas. It teases a fascinating take on the archetypal children’s movie narrative – the notion that perhaps roles in stories cannot be so easily devolved into “good guy” and “bad guy” stereotypes. It raises all manner of insightful possibilities, drawing on a diverse cast of characters to offer us what amounts to the story of two outcasts dealing with the fact that they don’t necessarily get to be part of narratives that might make them a hero.

Unfortunately, there’s only so far you can bend this sort of hero’s journey before it breaks – or snaps back in your face, if you’re watching a slapstick cartoon. Wreck It Ralph compromises a bit too much in its final act, undermining a lot of what had been its appeal in order to offer a staggeringly conventional ending. It’s a shame, because it’s willingness to subvert so many narrative norms is a large part of the appeal of the film.

Sometimes life isn't two-dimensional...

Sometimes life isn’t two-dimensional…

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Reckless Guardians: The Rise and Fall of Cinematic Responsibility…

I actually quite enjoyed The Rise of the Guardians. It is probably the most visually assured animation from Dreamworks to date, the cast are all having a great time and the plot is simple but effective. However, I just didn’t wind up feeling an emotional connection to the central character, Jack Frost. Jack is an embodiment of an abstract concept – a “guardian” appointed by “the Man in the Moon” (or “Manny” to his friends). The bulk of Rise of the Guardians is about Jack learning to embrace his new position and everything that comes with it – to swallow his insecurity and to accept that he has been chosen to do a kick-ass job.

Still, it remains quite difficult to connect with Jack Frost, and I wonder if it’s the same problem that made Pixar’s much-maligned Cars 2 so difficult to swallow. Rather than learning to temper his unreliable inconsistency, the movie asks an irresponsible character to effectively embrace the flaw completely.

Note: This article contains a few spoilers for Rise of the Guardians.

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Non-Review Review: Brave

Brave is certainly a significant improvement upon Cars 2, even if it doesn’t necessarily measure up the finest films in the Pixar stable. Part of the problem is the sense that, for the first time, the studio is telling a story that isn’t really their own. I know that particular films in the studio’s history owe a great deal to certain influences (The Incredibles to The Fantastic Four, for example), but Brave really feels like the studio is very much trying to put its own take on the conventional “Disney Princess” movie. While the results are certainly interesting, it never feels like Braveis entirely comfortable with itself. While the film is, technically speaking, quite impressive, it does feel like it never quite strikes the right balance.

The right to bear arms…

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Home of the Brave: Is Brave a Pixar Princess Movie?

I have to admit, I’m having a hard time getting too excited about Brave. To be honest, the notion of an original Pixar movie should be a breath of fresh air after the incredibly disappointing Cars 2. The studio is, after all, responsible for quite a few modern classics – those rare cinematic treats that the entire family can sit down and enjoy together. However, despite my deep-biding affection for classics like Wall-E, Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles or any of the Toy Story films, I can’t seem to be too concerned about the approaching release of the studio’s latest animated effort. I can’t help but feel that – despite the fact it’s their first film that isn’t a sequel in quite some time – we’ve seen this all before.

Is Brave just a Pixar “princess” movie, the spiritual successor to the long line of Disney “princess” movies?

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Non-Review Review: A Christmas Carol (2009)

I’m yet to be sold on the Robert Zemeckis school of “motion capture.” Don’t worry, I don’t hold a prejudice. I’m just waiting to be convinced, and I worry that Zemeckis – for all his championing of the technology – might not be the one to do it. For, as impressive as the technical merits of his technique might be, I think that Zemeckis has yet to find a story that truly needs to be told in that format, or at least a story that resonates in that format. Much as Pixar have somewhat validated computer-generated animation (a school of filmmaking that met with a ridiculous amount of cynicism in its early years), I think the key to proving the worth of this sort of approach lies in finding a story that connects with audiences, while demonstrating the strengths of the tool being used to tell it.

While it’s an enjoyable enough holiday film, A Christmas Carol simply is not that film.

Totally Scrooged...

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