Film #250: Finding Dory (2016)

findingdorydirector: Andrew Stanton
language: English
length: 97 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 1/6)

I put off going to see this movie in the cinema last year when it came out, and I regretted that immediately, because after a week or two, only the Japanese dub was on wide release, and I no longer had the chance to see it. So it was actually one of my eagerly anticipated releases of last year, and I finally had the chance to see it on the plane on the way back to the UK in December.

The movie starts off strongly – it jumps in with wry observations on character archetypes with a married couple of fish, and I started laughing from the beginning. So the movie is at least in safe hands, and it was enjoyable to watch, but it had a much less universal appeal than Finding Nemo – a true modern classic. I found this one was much more aimed at children, and the inclusion of some characters, such as the turtles near the beginning of the film, seemed tokenistic, as if to please younger audiences.

Back when I wrote that last review of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory had been announced, and I wasn’t so excited about it. I still don’t really see why Dory has to have an origin story (although this movie explains why she can speak Whale, and read). I’m overall pleased with this result, actually, but the other main problem I had with it was it was trying to recreate the success of the earlier movie by doing the same thing again. Marlon, Nemo’s dad, has a particularly annoying lack of character development – he’s exactly the same ball of anxiety he had been at the beginning of the last movie, not seeming to have learned any lessons. In this movie, Nemo has to condescendingly talk down to him to get him to do anything.

The new characters are great. My favourite was the octopus, who’s actually a septapus (although I heard later that octopuses can regrow limbs), and the sarcastic British sea lions are great. A lot of the fish that Dory meets in the movie have some kind of disability or weirdness about them like that – there’s the dolphin who thinks he can’t echolocate (although he can, actually), and the blind whale shark who keeps bumping into things. I think the message behind this – that one can thrive despite such ailments – is a laudable one, definitely.

I also liked seeing the fish characters interact with the aquarium environment, there were a lot of jokes to be had there.

And despite what I said in my review of Finding Nemo about Ellen Degeneres playing Dory whinily, I’ve always somewhat looked up to Dory as a character. I saw her central happy-go-lucky message from that movie as the little song she sings, “Just keep swimming swimming swimming”, inspiring in a literal and metaphorical sense. My mother still reminds me sometimes that I used it as a mantra when my anxiety was really bad a few years ago. Thanks, Mum, I guess… In this movie, we find out the origin of the song, as well as the other points about Dory that I mentioned above – but again, I think I was happier not knowing for certain where it’s supposed to come from, and just accepting it as it is.

I’m very glad I could finally see this movie, and I’m glad it wasn’t a bad movie, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the absurdly high standards of its predecessor. That’d be very difficult. Rehashing similar plots rarely works, though.

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Film #165: Inside Out (2015)

p1307955201-3Director: Peter Docter & Ronnie del Carmen
Language: English
Length: 94 minutes
Watched: 23 Oct 2015

I watched this movie after hearing about it a lot in reviews and other places, and seeing a lot of gifs and other screencaps from it on the internet. A lot of people had been saying that it’s a return to form for Pixar, and it definitely seems to be the frontrunner in the race for the Oscars next month.

It’s an inventive idea, that each person’s head has in it a cast of emotions running the day-to-day happenings inside their brain. Without the stuff going on inside the head throughout the movie, the rest of the story isn’t particularly complicated: a girl called Riley and her family move across America from Wisconsin to San Francisco, and shortly thereafter, she reacts badly and gets very homesick.

Inside her head, the character of Joy (excellently performed by Amy Poehler) is trying desperately to keep control, and to keep Sadness locked away, but a spat between them leads to them getting thrown out of the control room – reflected in real life by Riley becoming numb with a kind of depression, and having her other emotions – Anger, Fear and Disgust – take over. Joy and Sadness then go through a series of antics to try and get back to the control room.

I think the movie was very well-balanced, and the comedic moments contrasted well with the relatability of the emotions that Riley goes through upon moving so far from her home. As such, I was affected quite strongly, as I can see some of the way she acts in my own life too.

It also has a simple message that to me, seems obvious, but has to be recognized, as it’s easy to forget: having a balance between joy and sadness in one’s life is necessary, and one shouldn’t try to repress sadness too much, as it’s an important part of the human experience.

I also loved looking into the other characters’ heads – we only get brief glimpses, mostly in the closing moments of the film during the credits, or during one particular scene with the parents, so ideally I’d like to see more!

Film #104: Brave (2012)

brave480Directors: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Language: English
Length: 93 minutes
Watched on: 26 December 2013

I kind of bypassed Brave a little bit when it came out, perhaps because I assumed there would be no subtitled version in the cinemas here. It took me a long time to realize that it was set in Scotland, actually – the information didn’t sink in straight away. Since I’ve been on a quest to catch up on Disney and other animated movies recently, I decided to watch it.

It’s perhaps a good thing that the information hadn’t really sunk in (even despite the fact that I did know it was set in Scotland) – I didn’t really know what the plot was or how it was going to play out. Like other Pixar movies, it’s an original story, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finally found out what the story was. I even feel like the big twist about halfway through was well-enough hidden from me (like, I haven’t even seen any spoilerish gifs on tumblr) that I shouldn’t reveal it now.

The main character in this is a sassy young princess called Merida. Her father, the boisterous king of a small clan in the highlands, is played by Billy Connolly. Her mother is the uptight queen, apparently played by Emma Thompson, concerned at all times with enforcing gender roles and bringing up Merida to be ladylike – she makes her daughter do humiliating things and there is a competition between the firstborns of all the neighbouring clans with Merida’s hand in marriage as the unwilling prize. Merida won’t go along with it, and runs off. She then finds a witch, and, um, antics ensue.

The story is simple and easy to follow, which has always been one of Pixar’s strengths, and there are plenty of comedic sections and serious sections mixed around. A major theme of the movie is gender equality, and the relationship between Merida and her mother is by far the most important (her father is a warrior type with a lot of physicality and an obsession with hunting a bear that attacked him during Merida’s childhood, and mostly lets her be, whereas her mother wants her to do ladylike things and is always meddling in her life). This is refreshing when you compare it to most Hollywood movies, overwhelmingly about father-son relationships, to the point where I’ve seen so many movies where the mother is completely absent. Perhaps a criticism could be that the focus on a princess fits the mold for straight-up Disney movies much better than Pixar movies (leading some to speculate that Disney and Pixar swapped scripts for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph in 2012), but if I remember correctly, there was an unaddressed gender imbalance in other Pixar movies, so it’s nice to see steps made in that area.

In terms of historical accuracy, Brave is not much better than something like Braveheart (in fact, the titles are even similar!), although to compare it to that would be heartless, as it’s a funny and well-made film. This is mainly because it mixes stone castles with warring dark age kingdoms and tartan… other than that it’s not too bad really. The accents are all mostly genuine, Emma Thompson being the main exception, and as a joke, one of the characters uses a strong Doric accent which no-one else can understand. Perhaps one of Brave’s strengths is that it makes me a little homesick and brings out the latent patriotism inside me, although a lot of that is because the arguments between Merida and her mother remind me of my childhood (either having those arguments or listening to them from my siblings), so not necessarily a good thing.

It would be imprudent of me to write this review and not mention Merida’s hair. I get the strong impression that this film was made in order to showcase the animators’ skill at showing such complex hair, just as Finding Nemo was presumably made to showcase water and Sully in Monsters, Inc. was made to showcase fur. This kind of sudden advance in animation technology happens with astonishing regularity with Pixar, so if anything I just wonder what the next advance will be. It happens so frequently that it literally makes other animation studios look terrible and out-of-date by comparison. Here’s to the next movie.

Film #90: Monsters, Inc. (2001)

MOnsters-inc1director: Peter Docter
length: 92 minutes
language: English
watched on: 26 July 2013

After watching Monsters University, I just wanted to see the first one again to see how each hangs up against the other. It’s been at least about 5 years since I watched this movie, and thus I’d actually forgotten a lot of the plot besides the basics. I’d forgotten, for instance, that Mike has a girlfriend in this movie, that Mike wasn’t actually a scarer, the whole scene with the Abominable Snowman, and a whole major plot point about Boo and Randall’s evil plans for her. So even though by my count this is at least the 4th time I’ve seen Monsters Inc, I was able to be pleasantly surprised by a few of the plot twists.

One other thing I never realised, or had forgotten, was how little actual scaring there is in this film. In Monsters University, we’re treated to extensive scenes involving scaring by different monsters using different techniques, but here we get only one introductory scene actually showing a scare, which turns out to be a practice drill and therefore not strictly real. I guess we’re expected to fill in the gaps ourselves, or something.

I generally, genuinely like this film a lot, and watching it again was a good experience. Seeing Boo again after watching the other film which didn’t have her in it was particularly good, as she’s one of the best parts.

The only other plot hole I found was wondering how Mike managed to get out of the Himalayas. It seems petty, but it bothered me. And I’m sure when they had the big scene with all the doors opening at once they ran into doors which didn’t open to closets, and I found it unrealistic that people didn’t start randomly walking through the doors. Then I found it strange that the monsters took so long to figure out that people aren’t actually poisonous – and how quickly Sully comes to the conclusion that this is false when he’s actually faced with a little girl in his own living room. On the other hand, I did enjoy little tidbits like the Japanese restaurant owners shouting whenever someone enters, or the side character that keeps ending up with a sock on his back and having to be sterilized.

In any case, it’s the fourth time I’ve watched the movie and I don’t think it’ll be the last. But perhaps I shouldn’t leave 5 years between rewatching films I like in future…

Film #89: Monsters University (2013)

s445-63pub-pub16-143-jpg_165824director: Dan Scanlon
length: 104 minutes
language: English
watched on: 16 July 2013

This film actually came out in the English version as well as Japanese here, which is more than I can say for Wreck-It Ralph, the last Disney movie I wanted to watch, so I could actually see this one in the cinemas. I wasn’t expecting great things from it; although it had the same characters as the first movie, as a prequel it is conspicuously missing Boo. I’d also heard a couple of reviews that were middling.

I did overall like it, particularly because I was giggling at the jokes most of the way through. But the basic storyline is one of American colleges and fraternity nonsense – I still don’t even get what fraternities are other than something I wouldn’t want to join in the first place – and a lot of it felt unrelatable. Also you kind of know where it’s going to end up, but there are enough twists near the end to keep this slightly unexpected.

The story concerns Mike and Sully, from the first movie, both enrolled in the scaring program at Monsters University, but kicked off when it turns out neither of them are very good at it. Then they enroll in a scaring contest, which they have to enter as part of a team of 6 (where the fraternity comes in), in order to win back their place on the program. The Dean in charge of said program (played excellently by Helen Mirren) was a great screen presence, but her interest in the contest seemed to me completely unnatural, as if university staff would actually care what kind of rubbish their students are getting up to. The main adversity is that the fraternity they join is the most squibbish and least scary of all the fraternities, and they have to turn this all around. So far so predictable.

Actually, I found all the fraternity characters worthy additions to the cast, and enjoyed that part a lot. And later in the plot it becomes less predictable as there are a couple of significant twists in your expectation of where the plot will go next near the end. There’s one sequence in particular (spoiler alert) set in the human world which I thought was very well-done, and seems to have been partly made to show off their water and reflection animation skills.

The biggest emotion I took away from the film, though, was the desire to watch the first movie again. And that’s just what I did. (up next)

Film #88: The Blue Umbrella (2013)

blue_umbrella_h_2013director: Saschka Unseld
length: 7 minutes
language: none
watched on: 16 July 2013 (bonus feature with Monsters University)

A short feature before Monsters University, which I saw last month, in the grand tradition of putting short films before Pixar features in the cinema. This film depicts a busy city street, where all the buildings and various pipes, mailboxes, floor vents and other inanimate objects are sentient, and communicate with simplistic facial expressions. The main character is a blue umbrella who falls in love-at-first-sight with a nearby red umbrella, but is blown away and gets battered up by cars.

It’s a silent film in the sense of no dialogue, and no human characters really appear aside from to put up a sea of umbrellas. The animation is photorealistic, except for the facial expressions of the various objects, to the point where I was genuinely surprised. Its story is very simple, of course, but still relatively moving. It’s not a big one, of course, but then it is just a pre-feature short. I’m mainly including it for completeness (and to commend the animation).

Film #79: Ratatouille (2007)

ratatouilledirector: Brad Bird
language: English and some French
length: 111 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013

The last of four films that I watched on the long journey back from the UK. I think I watched some truly terrible comedy afterwards just in the final hour or so, but I can’t even remember the name, just that it had Mark Heap and the kid from the Inbetweeners in it. Anyway, I was on a streak of Pixar and realised that this was the perfect opportunity to catch up on one of the few by them that I haven’t seen – apart from this, I think I’ve missed out on Cars, which I’ve heard isn’t very good by their standards. There’s probably at least one more. I don’t know.

Ratatouille is alright, not that great, especially compared to some of the other classics. It basically lived up to my expectations; one area in which it didn’t was that I was expecting a full-on talking rat, whereas here we see an intelligent rat but not one that can talk – he communicates with the boy by pulling his hair.

The concept of a rat pulling a boy’s hair to use him like a puppet is inherently comedic, but beyond that I didn’t think the movie does anything special with it. There’s a lot of slapstick humour, and a caricaturish villain in the head chef of the kitchen where the boy works. Nothing special.

Oh, one thing I remember was that it was a bit of a mess regarding accents: it’s set in Paris, but the main characters have American accents, while some other characters have put-on French accents. Annoying at best. And there was a tepid romance between the boy and a woman working in his restaurant, which was predictable and boring (actually, much of the plot was).

So I’d say it’s not bad but I’d rather watch most other Pixar movies over this one.

Film #78: Finding Nemo (2003)

woj-finding-nemo_-1080p-4directed by: Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
language: English
length: 100 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013 (for at least the sixth time though!)

I can’t remember what my site policy was about films I’ve seen before. But let’s see… I like this film, enough to have watched it, as I say, at least six times. It was one of the movies I selected on the plane when I was trying to get to sleep, but I ended up too interested in what’s happening to actually drop off.

It’s very good. But just to focus perhaps on some negatives, I do find Dory a bit annoying sometimes (this has become a talking point recently, I think), and Ellen Degeneres can be a bit whiny playing her. I kept coming up with negatives in terms of the credibility or realness of the way the fish move and things like that (eg, don’t sharks have to keep moving forwards?), and I had to remind myself a couple of times that I’m watching a film about talking fish. The details don’t really matter that much.

Anyway, I did hear more recently that there’s going to be a sequel called Finding Dory. I have to say, that sounds a bit dire. I guess I don’t really see what they can do without rehashing the existing story, and I think I sort of expect it to be a parade of characters we’ve already met in the first movie, which just won’t be interesting. So they’re going to have to come up with new and inventive characters if they’re going to impress me. But will I at least see it, whenever it comes out? Certainly.