I’ve just returned from an alien world. That’s what it feels like after seeing Avatar.
I’ve heard all the negative buzz: it’s Dances With Wolves in CG [really? You consider that a Bad Thing?]; some of the dialogue is clunky [I prefer blunt and to the point, but, well…]; it’s a crossover combining too many genres – a boy’s adventure; epic romance; action flick; a melding of both science fiction and fantasy; an eco-fable [someone forgot to mention that they are blended together seamlessly]; and on and on…
I don’t care.
Let me repeat that for you: I. don’t. care.
Avatar blew me through the back of my seat. And a quick check of the numbers at both rottentomatoes.com and MetaCritic.com overwhelmingly agree – James Cameron set out to make the biggest, baddest, entertainingest movie the world has ever seen, and he pretty much delivered.
The Toy Story films were among the earliest full-length features to be produced in CGI. While they were amazing to look at – seeming more like 3-D than traditional hand drawn and painted animation, they would have been a curiosity if not for two things: they featured engaging characters in simple but brilliant stories.
Now Toy Story and toy Story 2 are being re-released in 3-D for two weeks. Given that the films were originally produced through three-dimensional imaging in the PIXAR computers, it should come as no surprise that they were easily adapted to Disney’s Digital 3-D process. The result is good enough that I think I can safely say that, in this instance, at least, Roger Ebert is wrong. 3-D is not a fad.
When the Disney rep asked me what I thought of UP at the conclusion of the screening, my immediate response was, “Several million points out of ten!” Yeah, I know. Douglas Adams. Zaphod Beeblebrox. What can I say – I only steal from the best. The thing is, UP is going to make more top ten, top five and top three lists than almost any other film to be released this year. Why? Because it is Pixar’s biggest risk and most fully realized motion picture.
When WALL*E premiered, I described it as follows: “WALL*E is the best film of the year – let alone the summer – so far. Easily.” While that was before The Dark Knight and a number of amazing smaller films came out, this eco-fable/romance between the decidedly blue collar trash compacter on tank treads and the equally decidedly uptown seeker of life is still one of the year’s best films.
Looking like a Bizarro World hybrid of ET and Johnny 5, WALL*E may be the year’s most unlikely leading man, while sleek, shiny EVE should be far, far out of his league. For some reason, though, the duo have become a classic romantic duo – in spite of their differing backgrounds – and their story plays almost as well on a twenty-seven inch screen as in a theater.
The three-DVD set is almost overflowing with features: Disc One: Audio Commentary by Director Andrew Stanton; BURN*E, a new animated short featuring a peripheral character from the film; Presto, the animated short that accompanied WALL*E in theaters; Deleted Scenes [two, lasting over six minutes], Sneak Peek: WALL*E’s Tour of the Universe, and Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up – Legendary Sound Designer Ben Burtt Shares Secrets of Creating the Sounds of WALL*E.
Disc Two: The PIXAR Story, a ninety-minute documentary by Leslie Iwerks; Deleted Scenes [twelve more minutes – with optional introduction by the director]; Behind the Scenes Featurettes [The Imperfect Lens, Captain’s Log, Notes on a Score, Life of a shot: Deconstructing the PIXAR Process, Robo Everything, and WALL*E & EVE]; BnL Shorts [The History of Buy n Large; Operation cleanup; All Aboard the Axiom; Captaining the Axiom, and Meet the BnL Bots]; WALL*E’s Treasures and Trinkets; Lots of Bots [Interactive Storybook & Games].
Disc Three: Digital Copy [for uploading to other media]
Confession time. I did not see Madagascar. Nope. The trailer did nothing for me – and I was thoroughly penguined out, in any case. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when the trailer to Escape 2 Africa actually caught my attention. Further, you can probably imagine my surprise when I sat through the film and found myself laughing. Not uproariously, mind you, but laughing.
There’s probably no point in providing a plot description. Other reviewers will have covered that in enough detail that only the ending will be in doubt [though I’m not spoiling anything when I say it’s a happy one].
What you need to know is that Madagascar 2 is funny, frequently very much so. Also that the main characters – Alex the lion [Ben Stiller], Marty the zebra [Chris Rock], Melman the giraffe [David Schwimmer] and Gloria the hippo [Jada Pinkett-Smith] – are only half the story, laugh-wise. The second string – King Julian the lemur [an unrecognizable Sascha Baron Cohen], Mort the squirrel [Andy Richter] and head penguin Skipper [Tom McGrath], among others – more than hold up their end of the comedy tentpole.
There are some scenes that might scare younger kids [a toddler was taken, crying, from the theater when the villainous lion, Alec Baldwin’s Mukunga, was being particularly nasty], but as a whole, this is a film that will thrill kids while not boring parents. Fans of CG animation will also enjoy the film.
Now I’m going to have to rent the first film. Nuts!
Disney•Pixar’s Cars Toons, a new animated short series directed by Academy Award®-winner John Lasseter, and starring Lightning McQueen’s rusty but trusty friend Mater, will be presented on, Disney Channel, Toon Disney and ABC Family beginning Monday, October 27.
“Cars Toons” are directed by John Lasseter, (director on Cars, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story). Victor Navone (animator on Cars, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.) and Rob Gibbs (story artist on Cars, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2) are co-directors. Kori Rae (associate producer on The Incredibles and Monsters Inc.) is the producer.
The shorts premiere as follows on Toon Disney (all times ET/PT):
Monday, October 27 (6:56 p.m.)
“Rescue Squad Mater” — Mater is a fire truck that rescues Lightning McQueen from a burning building. When McQueen is rushed to the hospital, he discovers that Mater is a doctor, too.
Tuesday, October 28 (6:57 p.m.)
“Mater the Greater” — Mater is a famous daredevil who does all kinds of stunts. And Lightning McQueen becomes an unwilling participant in Mater’s greatest stunt ever.
Wednesday, October 29 (6:57 p.m.)
“El Materdor” — Mater is a famous bulldozer fighter in Spain. He’s so good, he’s able to fend off multiple bulldozers at once. Lightning McQueen joins Mater in this Tall Tale just as things are at their worst.
Disney Channel will present all three shorts throughout the day on Saturday, November 1. ABC Family will present the shorts beginning Tuesday, December 23 during the network’s annual “25 Days of Christmas” programming event
With an A-story that features the love story between WALL*E [Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class] and EVE [Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator], and a B-story that involves humanity’s possible return to a post-apocalyptic Earth, WALL*E is more than a bit of a gamble on PIXAR’s part.
Neither WALL*E nor EVE has a large vocabulary [at least, in terms of actual words – he has a number of R2D2-like sounds that clearly express what he’s feeling, and she has her own electronic vocabulary as well] – and neither has what you could call a real face [he’s a pair of binoculars on a box and she’s a floating egg with occasional arms & hands] – and yet we always know exactly what they are thinking and feeling.
Their romance is a classic one – and simultaneously poignant and hilarious – even though the film goes almost twenty minutes before a word of English is spoken.
The B-story features humans who have, in 700 years in space, become obese figures on floating couches/chairs. They live on a gigantic starship called the Axiom, where they are waited on, hand & foot, by robots of all sizes, shapes and functions [there’s more than a bit of eco-satire here, and it’s quite sharp].
The appearance of EVE [and WALL*E] with a fragile little plant from Earth should signal a return to Earth, but there are problems…
WALL*E does pay homage to various classic SF films [he resembles ET more than Johnny 5, and the ship’s autopilot, Otto, will certainly remind one of Hal from 2001], but homages are only cool if the film is worth seeing.
WALL*E is, quite frankly, dazzling. Purely from a cinematography perspective, almost every frame of the film is a perfect composition – and yet not predictable, or in any way sterile.
Some of the best moments include the realization that the deserted city we first see is only partly man-made [you’ll see what I mean…]; the lovely moment from the trailer when WALL*E trails his hand through asteroid dust like a little boy trailing his fingers through the water as a motorboat zips across a lake [see photo]; the beautiful skyscapes that open the film, and so many more [including the fact that WALL*E is hooked on Hello, Dolly – and has a cockroach as his only friend!].
WALL*E is the best film of the year – let alone the summer – so far. Easily. It may be too intense or hard to follow for younger children [the lady and four kids, ages about three to six, who were sitting next to me got up and left well before WALL*E reached the Axiom], so you should be aware of that.