Review: The Good Dinosaur (2015)

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The Good Dinosaur is the second Pixar film this year – a warm-hearted, if unmistakably flat adventure that imagines a world in which the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed Earth completely. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the focus, a small and timid Apatosaurus whose fear always holds him back. He’s forced to challenge himself, however, when a series of unfortunate events sees him washed up way down river, with only a wild cave boy – whom he names Spot – for help in returning home. Continue reading “Review: The Good Dinosaur (2015)”

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EIFF15 Review: Inside Out (2015)

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Returning after a year long absence, Pixar hit a home run with Inside Out, an enormously insightful and entertaining animation chock full of heart, humour and verve. Riley finds her life turned upside down when she moves to San Fransisco. Her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – do their best to see her through, which is easier said than done. Continue reading “EIFF15 Review: Inside Out (2015)”

Review: Frozen (2013)

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For a studio that, in its heyday, brought to the screens some of the most beloved animation films of our time, Disney have been struggling in recent years to emerge from the shadow Pixar, their powerhouse sibling, cast upon them. Their recent efforts, however, have displayed a huge amount of promise, with Tangled in particular worth honourable mention. But it’s their latest, the enchanting and extremely entertaining Frozen, that proves Disney’s classic formula can be adjusted to incorporate contemporary values. Continue reading “Review: Frozen (2013)”

Review: Turbo (2013)

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DreamWorks Animation have struggled in recent years. After reaping the rewards with successes such as Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek, the studio, who are often unfairly compared to Pixar, have lost their way somewhat. Their latest feature Turbo, a sort of Fast & Furious for kids, does nothing to buck that continuing trend, and marks what’s possibly the biggest disappointment for the studio. It’s not that it’s bad per se, more that there’s absolutely nothing here to set it apart from similar animated tales. Continue reading “Review: Turbo (2013)”

Review: Brave (2012)

Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a versed archer and princess to King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), lives a stable, yet somewhat imprisoned life within her family’s kingdom of DunBroch. When she becomes older and more free-spirited, she inadvertently defies an ancient custom her mother forces upon her. Finding herself banished due to her erratic behaviour, she visits a calamitous witch (Julie Walters) in a moment of sheer stupidity. Continue reading “Review: Brave (2012)”

Review: Arrietty (2010)

Synopsis: 14-year-old Arrietty and the rest of the Clock family live in peaceful anonymity as they make their own home from items “borrowed” from the house’s human inhabitants. However, life changes for the Clocks when a human boy discovers Arrietty.

Marking the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty – Studio Ghibli’s latest output – is a magical adaptation of Mary Norton’s much-loved British classic The Borrowers, and a personal project for esteemed Ghilbi co-founder and animator extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki.

The screenplay, co-written between Miyazaki and Isao Takahata some forty years ago, is distinctly respectful of Norton’s source material: so much so that it often personally references the books in a noticeably conscientious yet appropriately nuanced manner. Everything from Arrietty’s encounter with an aggressive feline, to her very first Borrowing mission with her father, and even her burgeoning relationship with Sho is played out at a charming pace. It almost feels eternal, which is sure to help in making Arrietty a well-remembered and adored Ghibli feature.

The abundant animation is – as is expected from a Ghibli film – absolutely sensational. Yonebayashi directs with such passion, delicacy and attention to detail that it’s hard not to feel enthralled by the magical world that created. What’s truly striking, however, is how lush and rustic the animation feels. During daylight hours, the delectable landscape is utterly lustrous yet by night it has a luminous and wondrously enchanting quality: a contrast that works tremendously, supplying excellent scope and lineage to the already dazzling canvas.

French musician – and regular Ghibli counterpart – Cecile Corbel’s score blends seamlessly with the action and animation, speaking volumes to the personal touch that all involved have painstakingly applied, ensuring that Arrietty is bestowed in a special old-fashioned finery. Its wistfully idyllic folk-vibe accentuates the animation style further, as though the two were destined to be played alongside one another. At times, the score is in danger of domineering the action, but it’s always pulled back before getting out of hand.

The only problem with Arrietty, and something that might deter older viewers, is that it’s very much a kids film. Aside from a few witty touches, it doesn’t stretch to accommodate adults in the way that Pixar and a number of past Ghibli productions have nailed. That said, it’s hardly something that can be condemned, and on many levels it benefits the film, keeping it grounded and simplistic, rather than trying to appeal to too many demographics and packing it silly with adult-appropriate references.

Arrietty may not hits the heights of Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, or a number of other well-respected Ghibli classics, but it has exuberant charm, illustrious animation and a high level of intimacy – basically everything you’ve come to expect from a Ghibli film, but on a smaller, more child-focused scale.

Review: Rango (2011)

Rango is a new computed animation film from the quintessential avant-guarde director Gore Verbinski.

The film centres on Rango, a chameleon and aspiring swashbuckling thespian, who finds himself in a Western town plagued by bandits and is forced to literally play the role in order to protect it.

John Logan’s script, while it deals with big issues, such as the lack of water in certain countries, works best as an intellectual character piece, and its through the compelling voice talent and extraordinary emotion capture that the film truly shows its grandeur.

The pacing is a delight, full of humour and fortitude, sometimes quiet and retrained, while others noisy and outlandish. It’s a film that, to its merit, dares to be in-your-face and to tell a very personal, sometimes restricted story.

The real accomplishment, though, is the visual style, which makes even the best animated 3D look feeble in comparison. Meticulous attention has clearly been paid to mise-en-scene, emotion detailing, and the inspired framing of individual shots. It’s truly fascinating to behold the surprises the filmmakers dispel throughout the film.

The voice cast, top-lined by an on-form Johnny Depp, each deliver inspired and witty performances. Isla Fisher, in particular, must be commended for her beguiling Western accent, much better than the Scottish accent attempted in last year’s disappointing Burke & Hare.

While the action can be violent, and the dialogue more intense than other animation films, Rango excels as an innovative, intelligent and witty piece of filmmaking. It may not be to everyone’s taste, or welcome a wide demographic, but it’s a feat to embrace, not discount.

The sheer imagination and heart is further accentuated by Hans Zimmer’s soaring score which, by reworking Ennio Morricone’s past scores, instills an exciting, sometimes comic aura that perfectly matches the tone of the film.

Rango is a quirky, delightfully unique and inspired piece of animation.

Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

After 10 critically and commercially successful animated films, Pixar have established themselves as one of the foremost animation studios in the world, only to be rivalled by the likes of Studio Ghibli and Dreamworks Animation. Not only do Pixar distribute world-renowned films, but they’re also able to find the perfect mix of adult and child humour to entertain all demographics, something which some live-action films fail to achieve.

Toy Story 3’s release comes 11 years after Toy Story 2 hit cinema screens back in 1999, and finds Andy, now 17-years-old, departing for college, with his toys finding themsevles shipped off to a daycare centre known as Sunnyside. Old favourites Woody, Buzz, et al return for the final film, with new character in the form of the play-things found at the Sunnyside daycare centre, headed up by Lots-o’-Huggin’-Bear. The new toys are a perfect addition to an already wondrous line-up of toys. How Pixar keep coming up with new and inventive ideas is beyond me, but they never fail to capture, as well as dazzle, audiences around the world with their imaginative creations.

Sunnyside, despite the utopian facade, isn’t the safe haven the toys had hoped for, and it’s up to Woody to devise a cunning plan to help them escape and return to Andy before he departs for college. What ensues it a perfect quick-beat escape montage, mad-cap action sequences and hilarious setups, one in particular featuring Mr Potato Head.

Despite the heavy marketing surrounding the new Ken toy, with Michael Keaton providing excellent comic-timing, stealing the film, all characters are given ample screen-time, with a send-off that will have you wishing you’d brought tissues. It’s another example of how cutting-edge Pixar is as an animation studio, pushing the boundaries of the genre, whilst making their films funny and appealing to people of all demographics. It’s especially important with Toy Story 3, which comes 15 years after these incredible characters were first introduced to audiences. That audience, as well as the film, have moved on, so it’s wonderful to be able to see that change and growth reflected in the films tone, plot, attention-to-detail and character relations.

I was a little worried when I first read they were going to make Toy Story 3, mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure if they’d be able to match the success of the first two but, it’s with wondrous delight to say it’s honestly everything I hoped for, and more. From the ingenious opening sequences, to the final send-off, Toy Story 3 is a fitting, touching, funny and honest way to end one of the most beloved, and inspiring, franchises of all time. To this day, with 11 feature films in the bag, I marvel at everything Pixar has ever produced. Even the short, Night & Day, shown before before the feature film, displays how far animation has come in the past 15 years, and takes a nod at both 2D, the technology of the past, as well as 3D, the technology that will push directors to achieve greater things in the days and years to come. Pixar, I salute you.

Toy Story 3 was everything I wanted, and more. Funny, touching and assuring; the perfect ending to a marvellous trilogy.