Category Archives: Pixar

Review: Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’

[I said just yesterday that I felt incapable of writing a full review of the film, and would instead focus on various elements of it over the next two weeks. And while these are unlikely to be wordy (Some will be quite short indeed), I’ve decided that I need to try to learn how to write a review. And thus comes this exercise, against my own expectation.]

The Incredibles is one of my favourite films that Pixar has released…but I don’t know if you can classify it as a Pixar film. It is a wildly engaging superhero romp with a unique sense of character and family that doesn’t quite fit in with the comparatively simple tales of fish and toys and monsters within the studio’s other films. The personal style of writer/director Brad Bird is an extension of the Pixar brand: the same genius storytelling, but with a very different sense of style. Ratatouille, then, is an interesting monster: while the film was written and directed by Bird, it was initially conceived and developed under (now former) Pixar short director Jan Pinkava.

The result, like any good dish, is two ingredients coming together in an amazing fashion. The world and characters that Pinkava imagined are closer to what we expect from Pixar, but Bird infuses them with a sense of classic Disney comedy and his own brand of character-based storytelling to create something entirely new. The result is, in my view, the perfect combination of these two elements. Bird takes the usual Pixar formula, dusts it off, and turns in an astounding piece of filmmaking. By taking the most fantastic elements of ‘The Incredibles’ and bringing them to a more traditional story, Bird has created a combination that is hard to beat, and a film that is perhaps the studio’s most conceptually and artistically strong since Toy Story.

SPOILER WARNING: They will be light spoilers only, but there may be some spoilers involved. You’ve been warned.

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The Ten Reasons You Should See Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’: #9 – Wall-E

[Since writing a review has been hard (But I might well end up doing it), I’ve decided to instead feature the 10 reasons why I believe that everyone should see this movie. This is the second part of that series.]

Reason #9 – Wall-E

Before I left to go see Ratatouille in its Saturday Sneak Preview, I knew that the teaser trailer for Wall-E (Releasing from Pixar in 2008) had been released but decided against watching it online. As a result, when I saw it in the theatre it was my first time experiencing it. For the sake of allowing you the same opportunity, I will place all of my specific reasons why this simple minute and a half trailer is enough for me to suggest you see this movie after the break. But this teaser trailer is poignant, exciting, and promises great things for Pixar’s next film.

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The Ten Reasons Why You Should See Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’: #10 – The Story

I am hereby declaring the following decree that should be followed by all analysts, all critics, all viewers, and all bloggers like myself. In light of the fabulous Pixar creation ‘Ratatouille’, I want to make something incredibly clear:

From this point forward, the success of a Pixar film shall never be measured by its box office results, but rather by its quality. Both Variety (Noting it could be a harder sell) and The Hollywood Reporter (predicting it would struggle to meet box office receipts) prefaced their reviews with a statement proclaiming that this might finally be the Pixar film that doesn’t live up to the rest financially. And, well, I don’t give a rat’s ass (Oooh, I know, bad pun). The fact of the matter is that this is one of Pixar’s finest films, in a league of its own, and its box office results don’t particularly matter. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter agree with my assessment of the film’s quality, but this need to address the pessimists shouldn’t be necessary. Pixar is making great films, and until they stop doing so “The End of Pixar” will be the last thing that enters my mind.

With this said, I invite all of you to peruse the following review to discover why Ratatouille is worth sampling when it opens in two weeks time on June 29th…or, that is what I would say if I didn’t realize that I am quite unprepared to right a review at this stage of the game.

You see, Ratatouille is a film that I’m having a hard time criticizing. Every time I attempt to do so, I find myself writing sentences and sentences on one of its many fantastic elements. And so, over the next two weeks (Yep, I’m milking this one for all its worth), I intend on highlighting The Ten Reasons You Should See ‘Ratatouille’. Now, you might claim this to be some sort of viral marketing attempt, and it really isn’t. I might well be critical within these sections, but only in small quantities: admittedly, this is a film I loved and I am not afraid to say so.

However, in short, I will say this:

I believe that Ratatouille is perhaps the best example of a purely Pixar film since Toy Story. It is a film that engrosses itself in its setting, its characters, its universe more than any of their films in between. It has most of The Incredibles’ fantastic qualities (I want to marry Michael Giacchino right now), but does so within a more traditionally Pixar story…and that combination is hard to beat.

As the studio prepares to release a mostly silent film starring a trash compacting robot (Wall-E, 2008) and one about a park ranger and an old man fighting beasts and villains (Up, 2009), the time has come to appreciate Pixar just like you would any other movie studio: by the quality of their work. And this is a work of sheer quality.

And so, without further adieu, I introduce Reason #10 Why You Should See ‘Ratatouille’.

Reason #10 – The Story

SPOILER WARNING: While I will not ruin any of the best moments of the film, I am likely to allude to them in some shape or form, and this might not be in your interest. However, I will be as spoiler-free as physically possible.

The smallish theatre designated to this evening’s special sneak preview was pretty well to capacity, with nary a single seat left in the auditorium. The audience was varied: I attended with my parents, there was a twenty-something couple to one side of us, there was an older woman by herself to our right, and there were of course kids all around us. This was a diverse audience, which I presume will be a positive sign for the data collectors when they get this information. Because, even with an audience this diverse, they absolutely loved Ratatouille. And a lot of that has to do with its rich story. It is not number 10 because it is the least important, but simply because it is the one thing leaping out at me as I react to viewing the film for the first time.

The story isn’t original on paper, per se: a country rat ending up in the big city and having to come to terms with his two lives is treading on familiar territory. However, what needs to be made clear is that the story does not stop and end with that moment. Like Brad Bird’s other stories, such as The Incredibles, this is a multi-faceted, multi-layered story that spans species, generations, and professions to become something truly memorable.

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‘Up’ With Pixar – Studio’s 2009 Offering Skews Older…but it’s a good thing.

[Yes, while I have shifted to exclusively talking about television gradually over the past five months, I will be interluding with gems of information like this one.]

Pixar has been a studio that hasn’t taken a whole lot of risks with the subject matter of its films, even if technological and storytelling risks were certainly taken in the process. I say this because, technically, all of the films appealed to younger or established demographics. Toy Story was about toys, A Bug’s Life about cute bugs, Monsters Inc. about furry monsters, and The Incredibles about superheroes. Even Ratatouille, despite being very different story-wise from most animated films out there, remains firmly in the realm of the types of characters that can be made into furry stuffed animals if need be, or at the very least action figures.

However, news broke today that Pixar appears to be breaking out of this mold in a big way. With Disney’s own animation studio ramping up and beginning to deliver more films, and with Lasseter at the helm, Pixar is letting itself roam free…and roam ‘Up’.

From Variety:

Pixar is going a little older than its typical demo in 2009.

Toon studio revealed Monday that’s its release that year will be “Up,” about a 70-year-old man who teams up with a Wilderness ranger to fight a cadre of beasts and villains.

“Monsters Inc.” director Pete Docter is co-directing with Bob Peterson, an animation vet making his helming debut. Ronnie Del Carmen, a Pixar story supervisor, is writing the script.

This, my friends, is the best decision that Pixar has ever made. With Ratatouille I believe that the studio has its first chance at true box office disappointment, even with what looks like a fabulous film. With so many animated films flooding the market, oversaturation is going to keep Ratatouille from making as big of an impact as it might have years ago. The film will be a success, surely, but it won’t perhaps be a blockbuster. But, Pixar doesn’t need to make blockbusters, and that’s the whole point of their new development strategy.

Next year, Wall-E is a film with a lead character devoid of dialogue and who is a garbage collecting robot. And now, with Up, they’ve developed a film about a 70-year old man and a wilderness ranger teaming up to fight creatures of unknown origin. What we’re seeing is Pixar breaking free of its boundaries, free of the problems that plagued them when forced to develop Toy Story 2. While it is one of my favourite Pixar films, once can only wonder what original material they were cooking up…and now we don’t have to.

With Wall-E (Which will debut its teaser trailer in front of Ratatouille) and Up, Pixar is moving into a niche knowing that its name will carry with it some level of success. Fans of Pixar as a filmmaker, not just as a commercial enterprise, should be excited at this idea. No longer do action figure sales dictate the determined path of a film for the studio, and the result is two films that could return Pixar to its attempts to revolutionize computer animation in terms of its storytelling, its technology and perhaps even its audience. I don’t see toddlers getting a kick out of a senile old man cutting down demons…but I can’t wait.

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Cultural News Bytes – May 2nd, 2007

Why WordPress Rocks

First today, an extensive thank you to the good people at WordPress support for dealing with some technical difficulties in fantastic fashion. I posted last evening’s Tuesday Night TV Society, and then I kind of disappeared from the site. In fact, I was no longer an administrator, and had basically lost control of the blog. As it was late and I was heading to bed (I really shouldn’t have been up blogging in the first place), I sent off a quick message to support and somewhat expected to be dealing with it throughout the day today.

Alas, this was not the case; I had an email from Mark when I woke up this morning, and logged on to find that I once again had control of the site. This basically means that the blog was down for an entire five hours or so. Mark was extremely apologetic, but honestly: where else would tech support on a blog host going to get things done in five hours (And what is technically the middle of the night out here on the East Coast)? Many thanks to Mark and everyone at WordPress for creating such a fantastic environment. I tip my hat to you.

9 Minutes of Rat-a-too-ee

It’s Disney’s big hope for the mid-summer months, and it’s Pixar’s first film completed under complete Disney/Pixar partnership. Ratatouille began as a project under Jan Pinvaka, director of the Oscar-winning short Geri’s Game, but was radically revamped starting early last year when Brad Bird ended his vacation early to take over the project. The result was a complete story overhaul and likely a completely different film. That film, it seems, is coming along quite nicely. For those of you who watched American Idol last night (In both Canada and the US, since I also saw this), you saw an extended commercial for the film which taught you how to say its title, and sent you to Disney.com in order to watch a 9-Minute preview of the film.

This is an interesting strategy, considering that it is basically advertising their advertising campaign. However, it’s probably the right way to go in terms of getting the word out about this film. It is lacking a gimmick, an immediate appeal, outside of its Pixar quality. It is the first Pixar film since The Incredibles to really feature human characters and it lacks that film’s built-in superhero audience. Ratatouille has a confusing title, a rat as its lead character, Paris as its setting, and in many ways it’s an unmarketable film…but don’t tell that to the 9-Minute clip on Disney’s website.

For me, it’s everything Cars wasn’t. Cars was really very lifeless, if I had to lodge a single complaint in its direction. The landscapes were luscious, but the cars just didn’t convey emotion except within its supporting characters (Mater and Guido were the only ones who really stuck with me). Its action scenes were beautiful and impressive, but didn’t have the frenetic pace and energy we saw in The Incredibles…but it’s all here. There is emotion that is mature, understandable, touching. There is action that carries the story forward and seems exciting, meaningful, and beautifully animated. I now can’t help but be excited for this film’s release, much more so than any of the multitude of sequels which surround it.

Ratatouille opens on June 29th. I can now spell it without checking it; with any luck, millions more will be able to do the same soon.

The Fate of Scrubs

There’s usually a few hits a day on my post regarding the need for NBC to cancel Scrubs, and here’s a bit of an update. According to Variety, NBC aired commercials on Monday promoting the “final episodes” of Scrubs airing on Thursdays. Considering the show’s budget, and the multi-million dollar deal signed by Zach Braff, NBC really isn’t in any position to keep a show that, after losing its post-Office time slot to 30 Rock, was defeated by the Freshman drama in key demos and total viewers. On a basic level, Scrubs is not going to be on NBC in the fall (especially for the reason that we’ll discuss Re: The Office on Thursday).

However, considering that ABC signed Braff’s contract (They own, produce and distribute the show), all signs point to ABC picking it up. They’ve been looking for a comedy hit for ages, and with According to Jim and George Lopez on their last legs and with three failed comedies (Knights of Prosperity, In Case of Emergency, Notes from the Underbelly) this season, a known success would be key. Variety notes that it could still be too expensive, but ABC is in such a bad comedy state that they’ll spend the money just to be able to air the show’s final season.

So, fans of the show should be holding their breath for seeing another season of the show, but don’t bet on the peacock.

Spider-Man 3 Opens Strong Internationally

Watch today for initial opening-day results from its European tallies, but early word from Asia is that Spider-Man 3 will continue the franchise’s overseas success at the very least. It set records in Japan, Hong Kong and China, and is likely to do similar business across Europe. When it opens on Friday, it will be the widest opening ever…which basically means that its success is guaranteed. It’s funny, really: I can’t really get excited about this film, and yet it never had a chance to fail. It’s got nothing opening against it, this past weekend as an abysmal one for the domestic box office so there’s no holdover competition in the least, and there’s nothing opening on May 11th to challenge it. Basically, until Shrek 3, Spider-Man 3 can destroy the box office with no real competition. The really interesting opening will probably be Shrek 3, as I think it’s the least necessary sequel and stuck in the middle of Spidey and Sparrow (Pirates 3)…but who am I kidding? They’ll all make hundreds of millions of dollars.

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