Friday, June 18, 2010

Do you know where my Pixar?

I love Pixar.

No, no, wait...Maybe I'm not being clear. I LOVE PIXAR.

I mean, I'm so excited to see Toy Story 3 tonight, even if I know that by the time we reach the final reel, I'll be curled up in a fetal ball sobbing quietly to myself. I mean, I can't even read the damn reviews of this moving without wiping away a tear. Look at those reviews I linked to, 100% on the Tomatometer does not happen often, kids.

Pixar, once only a subsidiary of Lucasfilm, Ltd., has become, hands down, the most consistent studio in film. They have never made a bad feature. Never. Oh, sure, there's some films I like less than others, like A Bug's Life or Cars. Those films, however, can't be called "bad" in any stretch of the imagination. Anybody who tries to tell you they are is playing some sort of "I'm so hip I hate what everyone else loves" game.

Simply, there's a level of craftsmanship and care that the Pixar team lavishes on each and every project. A sense that it's more than just "pushing product," but a company-wide sense that every film, EVERY SINGLE FILM, ought to be the best they can put out. It's a work ethic and commitment to something more than commerce that all of Hollywood could learn from.

Pixar never, ever gives you the sense that the opening weekend box office is the end goal, but crafting an experience that kids and adults will still want to return to years down the road. Toy Story came out fourteen years ago, and it still plays brilliantly. Knowing what will happen takes away not one iota of the joy in watching it happen. Every. Single. Time.

So, In celebration of the opening of Toy Story 3, I offer my top five Pixar films.

5: Toy Story 2

While the first Toy Story is a winning romp about friendship and tolerance, it's really with the sequel that the makers found the magic, and depth, that could be mined from having your protagonists be playthings. The "buddy" relationship between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) is firmly established, and from there we get to really dig into what it means to be a toy. From the heart breaking abandonment of Jessie (Joan Cusack) by the little girl who owned her, to the idea that a toy kept sealed in it's package, never to be played with, is an abandonment in it's own way. The film tackles existential issues that many, more "adult," productions have stumbled and fumbled. This is all wrapped in a "rescue and escape" storyline that never fails to thrill and amuse.

4: Wal-E

It's Art, with a capital "A." The first half hour of this film is among the most beautiful and breathtaking sequences put on film, and without a single human voice. Wal-E really does mark the high point of Pixar's ability to use it's characters features, be they electronic, mechanical, or humanoid, in every manner of expression. The love story between Wal-E and EVE (both "voiced" by sound design genius Ben Burtt) is exquisite, and, even if the film moves more to the pedestrian in the second half, it's truly an effective comment on conservation and human self-sufficiency.

3: Ratatouille

There's a moment when I fell in love with Brad Bird's second Pixar work. Our hero, Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat who wants nothing more than to be a chef, takes a bite of food, and the "flavors" actually fly about him as multicolored swirls. It's a unbridled expression of sensory experience and creation, as Remy mixes ingredients, the flavors swirl and mix together. It's a wonderful, pure film sequence. The movie has such a pure and noble view of creation, and criticism. I will never forget Anton Ego's (Peter O'Toole) final monologue, it's a breathtaking statement of purpose, and something anyone who creates, or critiques, should listen to very, very carefully.

2: Up

I defy anyone, ANYONE, to watch the opening sequence of this film and not shed a tear. Yet again, the folks at Pixar use what's, ostensibly, a children's story to tell a deeply felt tale of aging and finding the strength within yourself to follow your dreams. Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner - amazing) starts out on his adventure for his late wife, but he finishes it for the best of all reasons, himself. His journey is a tribute to his beloved Ellie, but the greatest tribute is experiencing life to it's fullest, while she lives on in his heart.

1: The Incredibles

Yeah, yeah...I love superheroes. I love them with every fiber of my being. What Brad Bird does here is to pinpoint exactly why superheroes are important, and tie it back to our own fragile, human hearts. The superheroes of Bird's world are shackled and forced into hiding, because they remind the general populace of their own inferiority. Yet, what this film understands deep in it's soul, and as I've mentioned in previous blogs, is that superheroes, in all their greatness, stand as examples to us all. The best of them inspire, and encourage us to ask how much more we can do, how far can we push ourselves. What is the best we can be? Watch the moment when Dash (Spencer Fox) rushes out of the jungle and finds he can run so fast, he can run on water. It's joy, and pride, and excitement. He reaches the fullness of his potential in that moment, and the battle turns decisively in his direction from that moment forward. It's one of the greatest superhero moments ever put on film.

Add to all that the uber-cool, retro 60's James Bond design scheme. This movie just looks sleek and built for fun. It also never backs down from the peril on display, there's no softening "for the kids." The Parr family is in danger, and no one backs off from it. So wonderful, though, I admit, my own interests almost demand this be my favorite Pixar film.

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