Pixar’s Lamp | The Incredibles (2004) Review

Plot: In the golden age, superheroes were loved, admired and cherished by the masses. However, one lawsuit started a snowball effect that changed everything. Supers were suddenly vilified, and they had to go into hiding with government protection to avoid all of the backlash. Now living as normal, average citizens, Mr. Incredible and Elistigirl, also known as Bob and Helen Parr, try to raise their children, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack in a superpower-free world.

Bob is not content with his normal life and wants nothing more than to return to his good ol’ days of heroism. A mysterious message puts all the cogs in motion to grant his wish, but he forgot that with heroics comes danger – and danger means more when your family’s in the crossfire.

Breakdown: The year is 2004.

Marvel cinematic universe? Doesn’t exist.

DC actively trying? FEH!

This is an era where superhero movies are little more than a joke. People looked forward to them about as much as they looked forward to video game adaptations. They’d try and try again to make them work, and while they may be a box office success sometimes, they’d usually wane heavily in the critic department.

Pixar saw this as an opportunity. The Incredibles is not based on an existing comic book. It’s entire universe is built from the ground up on the silver screen. In addition, it’s animated – not live-action as a majority of superhero movies were at the time. In hindsight, this seems like a big gamble. Especially since the director, Brad Bird, was coming fresh off of his first venture into directing, which ended up being a box office disappointment.

But some people need to be reminded to keep the faith. After all, that box office disappointment….was The Iron Giant. The box office does not always reflect quality.

Let’s not keep beating around the bush. The Incredibles is……incredible. Yeah, I made that joke. Fight me.

From start to finish, the movie is filled with great humor, fantastic action, memorable characters and pokes at the superhero genre as a whole. This is a very realistic family in a, well, I can’t really say ‘unique scenario’ because the concept has been done before (In fact, when this first came out, this movie reminded me quite a bit of the short-lived, basically forgotten Nickelodeon series, The X’s.), but it is a very interesting and fun scenario.

Back in ‘the good ol’ days,’ superheroes were always hailed, respected and beloved, but you know that some jackass somewhere would ruin it by suing them. Granted, superheroes do make big messes and wrack up massive bills in damages, even the MCU addresses this, but I think whatever damage the enemy would do is almost always greater. And at least we’re lead to assume that the heroes aren’t piling up huge body counts during these battles….most of the time.

The heroes go into hiding, and there seems to be two sides to this coin. You have people like Bob (Mr. Incredible) and Dash who want to embrace their powers and be heroes. Because they’re not allowed to do so, Bob becomes very depressed and withdrawn, doing heroics in secret whenever he can with his buddy Frozone, and Dash acts out.

Helen (Elastigirl) and Violet, on the other hand, want to be normal. They still use their powers sometimes in private, but they want to fit in – Helen so she can protect the family and Violet because she wants to be a regular teenager.

In the end, they all find a middleground. Bob gets to be a hero more often, but he also comes to understand the importance of his family. Dash learns to tone it down, but he’s also now allowed to participate in school sports as long as he doesn’t play unfairly. Violet gets more self-confidence and embraces her powers. And Helen learns to not be ashamed of her life as a superhero while also encouraging that type of attitude in her kids.

It’s great that they chose to go down this route instead of having it black and white ‘this side is right, and you’re wrong.’

Helen and Bob have a great dynamic, and even Violet and Dash were really good together. I like how they eventually used their powers together. That hamster-ball idea was so cool.

Another thing to commend this movie on is, most of the time, they don’t pull any punches with the darker aspects. Helen even outright tells her children, basically telling the audience directly, that these bad guys aren’t like the ones you’d see on Saturday morning cartoon shows. They won’t show restraint on children. They will kill them without hesitation. That’s pretty heavy for an animated superhero movie in a world where kid deaths are typically taboo.

In addition to that, people attempt suicide, there’s hints of adultery and alcohol, some sexual-ish content and lots and lots of death.

Even though I said they don’t cause a lot of civilian deaths, there are a ton of bad-guy minion deaths – a good deal of which are caused by Bob and Dash. They don’t ‘directly’ cause these deaths. For instance, nearly all of the deaths caused by Dash are collisions caused by those pursuing him because he managed to out-maneuver them, but still…lots of bodies.

The ones they seem directly responsible for they kinda skirt around. For instance, Bob throws a huge tram car at two guys from a mile away and they specifically show them moving and groaning to assure the audience that Bob didn’t straight-up murder those guys.

Outside of that, we also have numerous depictions of heroes dying in that ‘NO CAPES!’ montage, including one of two instances where someone dies by getting sucked into a jet turbine. Yugh. And we have the harrowing fact that Syndrome essentially committed hero genocide, which I don’t think is given quite enough weight, but holy crap. Bob even finds the skeletal remains of one of the killed heroes and hides under his body to trick Syndrome into believing he’s dead. Wow.

Speaking of Syndrome, he’s a very effective and memorable villain. He’s very intimidating and is a serious threat. Lest we forget the hero genocide. His backstory is a little hokey, but not too bad. It’s understandable for someone who grew up in a world of supers and was basically a super fanboy to become jaded when given a massive tongue lashing by his favorite superhero. And he obviously did have value and talent, but Bob never wanted to give him a chance. He pulls off being both funny and threatening at the same time, which is very impressive. In any other movie, he’d be a complete joke, but he can be downright scary. It’s also a bit refreshing for the master plan to not be ‘take over the world’ again. Though, considering his normal job, maybe he already does, in a way. Hm.

His plan is fairly brilliant. Design a robot that is essentially perfect by having it learn and make changes to its design based on battles it endures with hundreds of various heroes. Kill the heroes, let the robot loose on the city, stop the robot and take the credit, making him the only and, by default, best hero in the world.

I will admit that the method of defeating the robot is a bit obvious, though. With all the weaknesses that have been exposed on this thing, Syndrome never thought to program it to not destroy itself? Especially when that’s exactly how Bob defeated it the first time? It has some sense of self-preservation, hence why it targeted the remote, but it’s still too stupid to not hit itself.

Some final things that I felt were a little negative in this movie:

I find Dash to be annoying 70% of the time.

While I really liked him, Frozone was mostly a superfluous character who barely did anything. I really wanted him to be given more to do.

I worry that, should they continue the series beyond the second movie, Jack-Jack will be too powerful. His main power seems to be shapeshifting, but from what I’ve heard he has many more powers that are revealed in the sequel (sadly haven’t gotten around to watching it quite yet, but very soon!)

His power is apparently that he’s a ‘jack of all trades,’ hence the name, but it’s also been suggested that, since Jack-Jack’s a baby, his power isn’t solidified and he has ‘unlimited potential,’ which is culminating in this mass array of powers. However, if that were true, that seems like it would be a normal part of a super’s life cycle. Dash and Violet would’ve had to have gone through the same thing as babies, which I doubt they did.

I dunno.

That’s about it on the negative side, though, and that’s not a significant mark on an otherwise exceptional movie. The Incredibles stands as one of my favorite movies and a testament to Pixar’s amazing talents as filmmakers. Even today in our saturated superhero movie market, I was very excited to rewatch this movie, and I’m jazzed to finally see the sequel.

Recommended Audience: It’s surprisingly dark when you get down to it, but a good chunk of the darkness is in the details. Still, there are some blatant darker aspects like the hero genocide, the suicide attempt and the implied infidelity. 10+


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Pixar’s Lamp – Finding Nemo (2003)

Rating: 9.5/10

Plot: A clown fish named Marlin had it all. The love of his life, Coral, a new home in the anemone and a clutch of fish eggs nearly ready to hatch. His perfect life comes to a grinding halt when a barracuda suddenly attacks. Coral, in an effort to rescue her babies, is killed and the eggs are eaten anyway. Marlin wakes up to find everything gone except for one lone egg that was damaged in the attack. He names the fish Nemo – a name chosen by Coral right before she died.

Some time passes, and Nemo has grown up enough to go to school. However, considering past events and the bad fin Nemo was left with as a result of the attack, Marlin has become an incredibly overbearing and protective father. It takes nearly everything he has just to let him go to school.

Marlin catches him wandering in open water with his classmates, trying to play a game of Chicken to see who can swim closest to a nearby boat. Marlin is outraged and demands that Nemo come home, but Nemo, sick of his father’s restrictions, decides to swim right up to the boat and touch it in defiance.

A scuba diver soon grabs Nemo and makes off with him. Marlin is too slow to keep up. He ends up in the fish tank of a dentist and learns from the other fish that the dentist plans on giving Nemo to his niece, Darla – an obnoxious girl who killed her last fish by shaking the bag too much.

Meanwhile, Marlin and the forgetful Dory set off on an adventure to find Nemo while Nemo and the fish from the tank try to break him out before Darla gets her mitts on him.

Breakdown: The best animated movies are ones where adults and children alike can enjoy it at the same level. The best animated movies are ones in which both adults and children alike walk away having learned something. The best animated movies are ones like this.

Finding Nemo is one of my favorite movies. It’s incredibly well-written, has fantastic characters, is very funny as well as being emotionally impacting, and it never talks down to its audience. Some movies you enjoy as a kid and you reconsider watching them as an adult, but worry that you’ll end up focusing on all the goofy or stupid parts and realize that the movie wasn’t as good as when you first watched it.

This is definitely not one of those movies. In fact, I’d say this is one of those rare movies where you gain an entirely new appreciation for it when you become an adult. It makes sense, because Finding Nemo seems intentionally split to relate to both adults and kids by separating the movie between what’s happening with Marlin and what’s happening with Nemo.

In Marlin’s story, he’s hanging around with Dory, who has short-term memory loss. She’s trying to help him find Nemo, but her condition leaves her to being an annoyance to him sometimes, and, like Nemo, he starts to get overbearing with her too because he doesn’t trust that she can do any of the things she claims she can do since she has such a terrible memory.

Marlin’s journey is all about realizing that he can’t protect Nemo at all times, and, honestly, he shouldn’t, because that’s bad for Nemo’s growth as a person (fish?). Dory said it best.

“Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him….because nothing would ever happen to him.”

A parent protecting their child is only natural. A parent becoming overprotective after what Marlin went through is completely understandable. Here, he has to realize that his fears are getting in the way of not only Nemo’s life, but also his happiness. If you protect him from everything that is perceived as possibly bad, you’re also shielding him from any good experience he could possibly get. And sometimes you need to experience bad things, even pain, to have a truly fulfilling life.

I may not be a parent, but I definitely understand the negative effects of having a sheltered childhood and overprotective parents.

While we’re on the topic of Dory, she is just as funny as I remember her, even if she did get a tiny bit annoying in spots. And I am so glad they didn’t try to force in some sort of weird romance between her and Marlin.

Nemo’s side of the story is not only about becoming independent, but also overcoming his own fears and limitations. Simultaneously, it’s about him understanding his father’s stance. While Nemo is more than willing to try and prove his father wrong in what he can and cannot do, he still holds hesitation rooted in his bad fin. We never see it hindering him much, but the fact that he has it makes him feel like he sometimes can’t do things.

One of the most important scenes with Nemo was the failed escape attempt. After gaining some self-confidence in his abilities by the gritty Gill, Nemo is quickly recruited to be a part of Gill’s newest escape plan – which involves jamming the filter system for the tank and swimming out of the narrow tube.

Everything goes according to plan until the pebble that was being used to jam the system suddenly slips, sucking Nemo down into the rotor. The other fish manage to save him, but Nemo is very shaken by what happened and Gill gives up all escape plans out of shame.

This scene is especially important because it teaches Nemo that there was a reason behind Marlin’s concerns. The world is dangerous and you do have to be cautious within it. You could argue that the incident with the boat did the same thing, but this is a little different.

Gill gave him confidence in his abilities, whereas the boat incident was fueled by defiance for Marlin. He wasn’t concerned with his abilities or the danger at hand because he was too focused on defying his father, like most kids do. It was an immature thing to do.

In this case, Nemo was focused on getting them all out of there, escaping Darla and being reunited with his dad. He still had reservations, but he was willing to give it a try. This is more mature and is a sign of actual bravery.

In the end, he manages the entire operation by himself after finding out that his father was braving terrible danger, including sharks, to find him. His father facing his own personal fears to find him gave Nemo a more healthy dose of confidence and clarity that allowed him to pull off this feat.

You could say Marlin and Gill are pretty good opposites – especially as father figures. Marlin is an embodiment of the dangers of living too cautiously while the scars on Gill’s face from a failed escape attempt and the fact that he nearly got Nemo killed doing the same make him an embodiment of what happens when you’re overly headstrong. In the end, they all find a good balance.

This film is also a rarity in that there’s not a single side character that I disliked. While some segments could be classified as filler, I was always more than entertained enough to not care. The sharks, the synchronized school of fish, the seagulls and especially Crush and Squirt were all very funny and great to watch. Some of the fish in the tank were a little weak on the comedy, such as Bubbles (His shtick is he likes bubbles…) Gurgle (germaphobe) and Bloat (a kinda gross pufferfish voiced by Brad Garret.)

If I had to say anything negative, some of the jokes are a bit too juvenile and there was nary a single human character who wasn’t despicable. The only two main human characters are the dentist, who is annoying and gross, and Darla, who is an obnoxious little brat. I get that kids do indeed do this, but I about wanted to smack her upside the head when she started violently shaking the bag Nemo was in while yelling “FISHY! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WHY ARE YOU SLEEPING!?” The kid watching all of the commotion from a little window, thinking the dentist is torturing her, is pretty funny, though.

Also, there are way too many death fakeouts. Nemo has a grand total of five death fakeouts. Dory and Marlin have one together, and Dory kinda has one on her own (It’s more like a ‘severe injury’ fakeout)

Finding Nemo has aged wonderfully in the art and animation department. 15 years have passed, and I am still in awe of the attention to detail and the beautifully fluid motions of the fish. This movie does an outstanding job at really making you feel like you’re in a vast ocean, and I give them double props for this because underwater animation is insanely difficult.

Pixar is also noticeably better at making human character designs at this point.

The music is good and fitting, but a little forgettable.

The voice acting is fantastic. I loved Willem Dafoe as Gill and Alexander Gould did a great job as Nemo.

All in all, I still love Finding Nemo as much, if not more, as when I was a kid. It’s a timeless (outside of one mention of 2003) film that is a fantastic ride for adults and children alike. It’s funny, emotional, full of great action and just a joy to watch. You’re truly missing out if you don’t see it at least once.

Recommended Audience: There’s quite a bit of death. Either characters dying or talking about death. This movie probably has the biggest Pixar body count if we count every one of Marlin’s kids. It’s all very well handled, however. There are no dead bodies….well, one, and the language is very tame. It’s not like that scene in The Little Mermaid where Sebastian watches fish being slaughtered. Other than that, nothing really. They avert saying a swear once, but that’s the worst of it. 6+

 

Pixar’s Lamp: Monsters Inc.

Rating: 8.5/10

Plot: Kids always worry about monsters in their closet – and well they should be, because there are plenty of them in there. Behind the doors of every child’s closet is a portal to the world of monsters, and a company called Monsters Inc. is tasked with scaring children and collecting their screams as a form of energy to power their world. A small girl nicknamed Boo sneaks into the world of monsters causing panic within the city since monsters believe human children to be highly lethal to monsters. A monster named Sulley and his best friend Mike must return her to her room before she falls into dangerous hands.

Breakdown: Next up on the Pixar list is Monsters Inc. a beloved movie and a shining example of how creative and heartwarming Pixar can be.

I got Monsters Inc. for Christmas one year and I remember watching that movie over and over. It is a very original and creative concept to work with. Not only do they create a world of monsters behind the closet doors of every child, but they also need to scare children to collect their screams for energy. And if that’s not enough, there’s also the incredible irony that these scary monsters are terrified of humans to the point where merely touching an item in the human world can result in incredible panic of contamination.

I don’t know exactly why they believe that humans, children in particular, are so lethal to monsters. Perhaps it’s another matter of fear being born from ignorance.

This movie is dear to me, but I will admit it’s not as strong as Toy Story. It’s definitely their most heartwarming adventure so far, edging out Toy Story 2 just a tad in sadness and heartwarming moments.

It has plenty of funny moments, snappy dialogue and nice pacing. The story is also good, though the villains were a little too obvious. I like the twist of making laughter stronger than screams, the action sequence with the doors was awesome and beautifully done, the relationship with Boo and Sulley was cute and genuine, plus Boo is incredibly adorable and an actually realistic child, and it never felt like it dragged that much.

I love Pixar’s texture work in this movie, especially with Sulley, Randall and Boo’s costume. It’s hard to believe this is their first foray into working with fur. The art and animation are great, but I would’ve liked a tad more diversity with the background monsters. I particularly enjoyed the opening sequence’s animation because it was so creative and fun to watch. They got so much better with human characters. Compare Boo with how Molly looked in the first Toy Story…….eugh…..I still have nightmares.

The music’s a nice changeup from the norm, and it was very fitting and nice to listen to. The duet at the end with Sulley and Mike is great. I listen to it off and on to this day.

That being said, I do have some minor problems. While Sulley and Mike do bounce off each other nicely and seem to have a realistic relationship, I’m not in love with either character. Sulley’s a tad bit bland. Outside of being a gentle giant character, there’s not much else to him. Mike can be annoying on occasion, and there are times when Billy Crystal’s voice and shtick don’t sit well to me.

The relationship that Mike has with Celia really only makes for awkward moments while trying to keep Boo a secret, which, as a whole, is a negative to me because quite a bit of the movie is keeping Boo a secret, meaning there’s a good degree of awkwardness. Not terribly done, but awkwardness still irritates me.

Celia does one thing in the movie outside of being luvey duvey with Mike and that’s it, so she’s a textbook love interest character.

The way the doors work is a bit confusing as Boo is gone for a full day yet it seems like it’s possibly the same night she left when she’s returned. During the scene with all the doors, all the houses they enter are conveniently empty as well. These aren’t major issues, but they’re noticeable.

Bottomline: Some of Pixar’s finest work, but not without some minor issues. I really just have a problem with storylines that require hiding something from people. While it, thankfully, doesn’t amount to too much awkwardness, it’s still there and it still has a negative impact to me. If that doesn’t bother you or if you even think those situations are funny, feel free to bump the rating up a few decimal points.

Recommended Audience: There’s a couple instances of pee jokes, burping and, while he doesn’t have anything down there, there is a nut shot gag with Mike. Some minor scary situations, especially in regards to that damn machine. I mean, wow, strapping children into a chair and sucking the screams out of them? That’s something out of a horror movie. 6+

Pixar’s Lamp: Toy Story 2

Rating: 8/10

Plot: It’s a terrible day for toys when Andy’s mom announces a yard sale. In an effort to save a beloved old squeaky penguin named Wheezy from being sold, Woody finds himself getting stolen in the yard sale instead.

The thief is the owner of Al’s Toy Barn, an avid toy collector, and he finds himself among a collection of toys based on the show Woody’s Roundup. He’s treated like a hero to the other toys; Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse and the prospector, but he’s still desperate to get back to Andy. Buzz and the other toys from Andy’s room travel to find Woody and bring him home, but the other Woody’s Roundup toys are convincing him that it’s better to stay in a toy museum instead of going back home where Andy will eventually grow up and forget about him.

Breakdown: Pixar’s first sequel and Pixar’s first relative ‘meh’ movie supposedly. I’ve never heard anyone say this is a downright bad movie, but most people agree that it’s not really fantastic either. I think people just fell under the impression that Pixar could do no wrong and finding that a movie wasn’t up to their high standards left it with a bigger dent.

Does it really deserve any flak though?

In my opinion? No. I really like this movie. It’s the weakest of the trilogy in my opinion, but that doesn’t make it a bad, meh or even weak film.

The storyline isn’t a rehash of the first film like a lot of sequels, and it touches upon the topic of the toys’ owners growing up and leaving them behind. They won’t really take this plot line and shove your heart into a paper shredder like the third movie, but still. And it also reminded me that, not only does that suck, but toys can be immortal to a degree. They can definitely live throughout a few generations at least if they’re taken care of, so it’s not only sad to think that the toys might be thrown out or spend their time rotting somewhere, but they could also see owner after owner ‘outgrow’ their use and be abandoned.

There are new characters added, and the background of Woody is explored, though I don’t quite get stuff like this. I don’t really understand why Woody doesn’t realize that he’s this famous. If he is an original, that must mean he’s over 50 years old, yet he doesn’t seem to act like he’s had previous owners and has completely forgotten his origins. I have to wonder why some toys realize what they are immediately yet toys like Buzz, Woody and the Aliens are under some delusion about it once they awaken.

Jessie’s pretty grating when you first meet her, but she grows on you and she is the poster child for the topic of the movie as she had an owner who grew up and ended up abandoning her. I’m still left wondering why she remembers that considering, from all I can tell from this girl’s room, this happened around the 60s or 70s, yet Woody can’t seem to remember anything pre-Andy days.

Bullseye’s a cute little character that can be a good addition to the group, but it seems weird that a toy like that is introduced when it’s been established that Woody and the others get along fine with Buster.

The storyline with Buzz, Delusional Buzz and Zurg felt forced. The opener is enough to attest for that because it felt like it was too long. Some of the interactions with Delusional Buzz were funny, especially the first scene, but after that it just felt like it was shoehorned in and a bit annoying. It’s almost like they weren’t quite sure what to do with Buzz to give him enough screentime. Plus, there’s the irritating nagging in my head that there was a Buzz Lightyear cartoon including Zurg and maybe this could’ve just been a big plug for that.

They also rehashed a few too many jokes from the original movie, but it’s not constant.

I think that this movie is actually better now that I’ve seen Toy Story 3. It’s acts as a great mediator between 1 and 3.

The first movie is about being there for Andy, no matter who he may seem to give more attention to and knowing that Andy loves to play with all of his toys.

The second is about dealing with the fact that, despite this, there will be a time when Andy becomes too old to play with his toys, but until that time comes they’ll be there to play with him no matter what.

And the third is finally dealing with what happens when Andy grows up and stops playing with his toys as well as addressing the various futures of toys when their owners grow up.

While it is a bit OOC for Woody to ditch Andy to be in a museum, it’s understandable that he’d feel that way. After hearing Jessie’s story and being shelved, as well as seeing what could’ve been the fate of Wheezy, it’s perfectly reasonable that he’d be scared and, in a way, its a story of mortality. You either live a true and happy life that eventually ends or throw it away to chase immortality.

Also, it reminds me that in Toy Story 3 Jessie’s situation and feelings should be much worse considering she was already dumped once before.

I think Woody singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on Woody’s Roundup was probably one of the best ways to handle Woody’s revelation that he needed to go back to Andy. It really was an incredibly touching scene…..Though I think the little boy on the show was a little on the creepy side.

The reprise at the end I could’ve done without, though, even if it is performed by Robert Goulet. Especially given that Wheezy skips some lines during it.

Bottomline: It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Not as good as the original, no, and there are some annoying and seemingly pointless things in there, but most of the jokes are really funny, the plot’s interesting and like I said it’s a great bridge between movie 1 and 3. I can see how some people may be disappointed with it, but I’d still gladly rewatch it several times.

Recommended Audience: There is very very slight innuendo that I doubt any kid would get, but otherwise nothing objectionable. E for everyone!

Pixar’s Lamp: A Bug’s Life

Rating: 8/10

Plot: A colony of ants has been essentially been enslaved by a group of grasshoppers lead by the cruel…well, Hopper. They’re tasked year after year with gathering a food offering for the grasshoppers in addition to the amount of food that they need for themselves before the rainy season comes.

An ant named Flik who tends to cause trouble all the time with his gadgets and inventions accidentally knocks the annual food offering in the waters surrounding their home. As punishment for their lack of offering, Hopper demands a double offering after summer and fall have ended when the final leaf on the tree above the ant hill falls. Flik gets an idea to find help outside of the colony by bigger and tougher bugs and the colony’s princess and soon-to-be queen, Atta, agrees in order to keep him out of trouble while the rest of the ants gather food.

Flik eventually finds a circus troupe whom he believes are actually warrior bugs. Likewise, the troupe believes him to be a talent scout with his story of the grasshoppers being the story of the show and agree to help him. However, everything falls apart when the truth is revealed and the last few leaves begin to fall from the tree.

Breakdown: I’ve already reviewed Antz and explained the little ‘who ripped off who’ war with Dreamworks. I also noted how it’s somewhat unfair to compare these two movies in terms of being ‘rip-offs’, whichever one you may believe is the rip-off, because they are two fairly distinct movies with seemingly different target audiences, plot points, characters, art styles and side characters.

So since it wouldn’t be entirely fair to compare these two side by side, let’s do it anyway!

Let’s tackle the art and animation first, shall we? The art is set more towards being cartoon-y with huge eyes and blue colored ants. I mentioned in the Antz review that the blue thing bothered me because ants aren’t blue and at least Antz was more realistic with having brown ants.

I did find something called a blue ant, but it’s not blue (if anything it’s black with a metallic-like coating and red legs) and it’s more of a wasp than an ant. Then again, it seems like Antz was going more towards an older demographic that would probably want realism over cartoon style whereas A Bug’s Life is clearly aimed more for a younger audience. I can’t say either of them is really better in the art department. A Bug’s Life is definitely more visually appealing, but Antz was more of a stickler for details.

Animation-wise, though, there’s no denying that Pixar’s is a lot smoother.

In terms of characters, our main lead, Flik, is more relatable and likable than Z, end of story. Z, while meaning well, was a big whiner who was constantly complaining about how the conformity within the colony was stifling. While he had a point, that doesn’t mean I liked to hear his constant complaining.

Flik, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to help the colony do bigger and better things. He makes inventions and has ideas that sometimes end up screwing up and ruining everything, but he only wants to make things better and easier for the colony as a whole. He does mope for a bit, but it’s relatable moping of feeling like you’re a big screw up no matter how good your intentions are. In addition, he only does it a couple of times. He doesn’t spend half the movie doing it like Z. Dave Foley is also much easier to listen to than Woody Allen.

Princess Atta is much different than Bala. Bala wanted nothing more than to shed her royal duties and just relax every now and then with the commonfolk, which is pretty much a common princess plotline. Atta is the complete opposite as she wants nothing more than to do a good job as a princess and later on as a queen. She’s obsessed and a bit of a worry-wart about running everything and doing everything right. Therein lies her connection with Flik. Despite their drastically different stances in life, they both feel like they’re big screw ups.

Atta is definitely the more fleshed out and unique character, plus she actually evolves through the movie. Bala is pretty forgettable and has a cliché princess personality. She doesn’t change much throughout the movie.

The big conflict in A Bug’s Life is the fact that a group of grasshoppers, lead by the most originally named grasshopper ever, Hopper, have been terrorizing a colony of ants for a long time under the excuse that they protect them from harm, even though they live about a day away from them and would never be able to prevent trouble in time. Every year, the ants are forced to gather food for the grasshoppers in addition to themselves.

The major issue is that they live on a very small island that has a limited supply of food. When Flik accidentally knocks the food offering into the water, which they can’t retrieve because they can’t swim, Hopper and his gang get pissed and demand that they offer twice as much food before the final leaf on the one tree of their island falls.

So they have to not only collect the double offering, but they also have to collect food for themselves, which will be difficult, if not impossible, under the circumstances as they barely manage to make their singular offering in time.

The conflict in Antz really doesn’t come to light until later, but the major issues are that the ants are a bunch of mindless conformists who only do what they’re told and nothing else. One of the soldier ants creates a Nazi-esque plan behind the scenes to wipe out all of the worker ants so only the princess and the more deserving soldier ants will live.

Two very different stories, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought A Bug’s Life’s was more interesting and could hold a longer run time. That is one of my main issues with Antz. To me, it was good, but forgettable. There are problems with A Bug’s Life that are glaring and will be addressed in a minute, but at the end of the day, despite those problems, A Bug’s Life was just more entertaining and enjoyable to me whereas Antz I could really give or take.

Finally, the message of A Bug’s Life was a combination of strength in numbers, the ‘power of one’ to unite them all, and standing up to bullies, as well as maybe being proud of the fact that you’re different no matter how much you may screw up because of it.

Antz’s message was a little confusing. It seemed to be that conforming, especially to the point of basically being robots, and living for nothing but work was bad, but then you have the fact that the ants were mindless drones no matter what they were told. They did shake off their blind obedience when Z showed them the error of their ways, but then they showed that non-conformity lead to complete and utter laziness and uncaring for your community. Then when they started to question Z in the slightest, they revolted against him in an instant as well.

Perhaps the message is that conformity and living for work are wrong, but going too far in the other direction is just as wrong. Living a life in balance is a good lesson, but if that is the main message, they muddled it up horribly.

I should also mention that the little kids didn’t annoy me as much as I remember them doing. Those two little snots who tease Dot are still brats though.

Well, let’s stop with the comparison and get to what’s wrong with A Bug’s Life as a movie, in terms of story anyway. Three things, really.

First, this movie eventually gets to a point where it relies on the “main character lies to his friends and eventually gets found out” trope. Flik enlists the help of a circus troupe made of a (male) ladybug named Francis, a praying mantis named Manny, a black widow spider named Rosie, a dung beetle named Dim, a walking stick named Slim, a pair of pill bugs named Tuck and Roll, and a gypsy moth named….Gypsy. Besides the issue of ‘I hate this trope and it only makes for that incredibly awkward ‘reveal”, it also raises another issue. Flik never lied to begin with. At all. He told his story straight out to the troupe and even a second time to the pill bugs who don’t speak English and speak some kind of made-up language, but he wasn’t aware of that.

If anything, the troupe was at fault for making the totally unprompted assumption that he was a talent scout just really invested in this grasshopper story. They even fully believe it when they arrive at the colony and everyone’s cheering their heads off for the arrival of ‘the warriors’. It’s only until after a welcome dinner that the troupe figures it out and gets mad at Flik for lying to them even though he never ever did.

In addition to getting pissed and insulting him, the pill bugs slap him! FOR THEIR MISTAKE. Granted, once Flik finds out the truth, he eventually decides to actually lie to the colony about the troupe, which leads to the predictable awkward reveal, but the fact is that the troupe should have been the ones who looked like they were lying or at the very least made a grave error, not Flik.

Second, one other thing I will say in favor of Antz was the fact that they highlighted a big problem with A Bug’s Life. In Antz, the ants were divided up into workers and soldiers at birth and they remained widely segregated in their regular day to day lives.

In A Bug’s Life, there’s a noticeable lack of soldiers. They’re all workers. They have to be in order to be so firmly under Hopper’s thumb. That creates a problem and dare I say plot hole that could’ve just been patched up by saying that the soldiers all got overpowered by the grasshoppers or were killed or abandoned them or something. I’m not an entomologist, so I don’t know how likely it is that this species or specific colony of ants would just straight up have no soldiers, but it’s a noticeable issue to me.

Finally, the climax has a pretty big problem to it. All of the bugs, understandably, have a huge fear of birds. Hopper especially has a fear of birds since it’s implied that he got the big scar on his face and lost sight in his right eye because of a bird attack and is traumatized because of it. Flik, who is already in the trenches of his deception, decides to just screw the whole idea of the warriors in lieu of a new idea – making a mechanical bird made of sticks and leaves that will scare Hopper and the others away.

They complete the bird and are really optimistic about their chances. However, the colony finds out that the ‘warriors’ are really circus bugs and that Flik lied to them. Flik is then banished from the colony and goes off to join the circus troupe in shame while the colony panics because they spent all summer and fall mostly making the bird and hanging out with the warriors instead of gathering Hopper’s food because they no longer intended on paying him his tribute.

They scramble to gather food, which ends up not being nearly enough to offer to Hopper without leaving themselves to starve to death otherwise and completely lose hope.

The problem I have with this is…what the hell happened to the bird? Why is the bird thing no longer a feasible idea? I know it was Flik’s idea and he lied to them thus they might have lost some faith in the bird. Hell, Flik even loses faith in the bird as he’s riding with the troupe.

But you have to remember something – the idea of the bird was presented to the circus troupe, who thought it was a great idea. The idea was then presented to the queen, Princess Atta and the royal council, who also thought it was brilliant. The idea was then shown to the entire colony who also had so much faith in it that they were cheering at the presentation. Why did they suddenly lose faith in the bird idea?

It can be argued that the stuff with the ‘warriors’ was moot by the time the bird was done, and the reveal was actually at a celebration party for the completion of the bird! In fact, Flik was figuring out a way for the troupe to escape without being noticed at the party so they could leave before the grasshoppers came. The troupe stayed of their own accord because they liked the colony and had recently lost their jobs anyway.

The bird was completely unrelated, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t have stuck with that plan in the end despite Flik’s deception and banishment. Did they really think they had more of a chance of gathering a double offering in a matter of days? It’s not like they couldn’t have done it since Flik comes back and actually pilots the bird just fine with only a girl scout troupe to help him operate it.

Bottomline: Despite those plot issues, I have to stick by my stance and just say it’s a more enjoyable, memorable and funnier movie than Antz. I commend Antz for trying to be more realistic in their designs and I still enjoyed the movie just fine, but in the end the one who will always win out for me is A Bug’s Life. I’ve gained much more appreciation of Dreamworks productions in recent time, despite the fact I haven’t gotten to their later work, but I still remain as a loyal soldier in Pixar’s colony……Oh wait. Damn you, ant puns!

Recommended Audience: There’s some drawings of bug gore by the little kids (their teacher actually told them to draw one of the good guys as dead to make it more dramatic. The amount of flying that wouldn’t do in an actual school setting is amazing.) no swearing, no innuendos that I remember. Some minor violence, some grasshoppers get killed although not graphically. It’s fine for all ages.

Pixar’s Lamp: Toy Story

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Rating: 9.5/10

Plot: In a world where toys are alive, yet pretend to be inanimate around humans, a boy named Andy’s favorite toy, a cowboy named Woody, feels threatened by the presence of a new toy, a space ranger toy called Buzz Lightyear. Andy slowly starts playing with Buzz more than Woody, and in his jealousy Woody accidentally causes Buzz to fall out the window. When Woody ends up getting lost as well, he and Buzz have to work together to make it back home and back to Andy.

Breakdown: It’s Pixar’s turn with their first baby; Toy Story and I LOVE TOY STORYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!

*cough* Sorry.

It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I’ve become fairly good at removing my nostalgia goggles when it comes to things that I used to love when I was a kid, but Toy Story holds up extremely well as still being entertaining, fun, funny, heartwarming and exciting. Best of all, it’s a movie that parents and kids can enjoy together; not a movie that you turn on just to humor your kids.

The characters are all unique and lovable. They all implement various parts of their designs into their own specific brands of humor. Even the minor toys get their own little times to shine and be memorable. Woody and Buzz in particular have great chemistry both as enemies and friends. They bounce off of each other with plenty of entertaining banter and they are really a joy to watch.

The story is fairly unique and never becomes boring or cliché (Also I never knew Joss Whedon worked on this.) Jealousy’s not really a new thing, but they implement it in a way that doesn’t come off as tired.

Love or hate Randy Newman, I love his songs here. He was perfect to do the music for this movie.

Art and animation wise, the designs are unique and memorable. The animation is believable and really brings the toys to life in more ways than one. I will say that the animation, usually involving the human characters and Scud (whose eyes are just weird), is sometimes not quite as polished as what we’ve come to enjoy from Pixar movies today, but this is hardly noticeable and nothing major. Besides, they were just starting out here anyway.

……Oh wait, no. I can never forgive the nightmare fuel that is Molly. *shudder*

It even does product placement right. It puts a bunch of existing toy brands with allusions to real brands with toys made specifically for the movie and manages to market all of them. I still, to this day, wish I had gotten that creepy baby doll robot spider from Sid’s room. That kid may have been a serial killer in the making, but that toy was cool. (Seriously, his parents just let him buy rockets, play with matches, blow up his toys and get an ‘I ❤ explosives’ bumper sticker on the wall and don’t suspect a thing?) I did have a big Buzz Lightyear toy that I actually still have in my closet somewhere with his rocket (non-cardboard version).

This movie stands up really well and never ceases to be entertaining and heartwarming to me. It is a very fitting opening to Pixar’s prestigious career.

Recommended Audience: There’s toy violence when it comes to Sid as he really likes torturing and blowing up his toys through various means. The final scene with Sid would also be insanely frightening if shown without context in any other movie. But eh, come on. 5+

Dreaming of Dreamworks: Antz Review

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: Z is a worker ant who feels like a nobody. Part of a huge colony where hardly anyone has a real identity or personality, Z wants to break away from all of them and be his own ant. The colony’s princess, Bala, also wants to break away from her boring duties as princess to have some ‘fun’ with the workers and meets Z at a bar. They hit it off, but are torn apart by the horrific norms of society. However, when a general, Bala’s fiancee, has a terrible secret plan to wipe out all of the workers and create his own colony with soldiers, it’s up to Z, Bala and his friends to save the colony.

Breakdown: Going through all of Dreamworks’ productions this time, and Antz is first on the list.

A lot of people are quick to dismiss Antz because so many people saw it as a blatant rip off of one of Pixar’s first babies, A Bug’s Life. I can see that, given the fact that both take place in ant colonies and both have a ‘different’ and ‘weird’ main character who falls in love with their colony’s princess. I can also easily see this since even the studios were arguing over who was really copying who. In addition, their productions were going at at the same time. Antz actually debuted a couple of months before A Bug’s Life, so I kinda wonder why Antz is labeled as the rip off if it came technically before A Bug’s Life.

Pixar did make more money off of their movie than Dreamworks did, but Pixar also had about 20 mil more in their budget to work with than Dreamworks. They seem to be pretty square in their releases and productions yet A Bug’s Life is always seen as the triumphant one. Let’s differentiate these two.

At face value, this plot is actually quite a bit different from A Bug’s Life in that there’s no dictator-esque group of people squeezing the colony of every bit of their food….but there is a nazi-esque general who believes that the worker ants are useless and wants to kill them all in order to make a new colony with the princess and the soldiers.

There’s no circus group that helps out, but the main character does lie to a bunch of people in order to feel good about himself and gain support.

The main character’s not an awkward outcast inventor….but he is Woody Allen….take that as you will.

There’s plenty that is different with this movie. Some different good (No annoying child ants!) and some different bad (Z is not very likable, in my opinion. Also the artwork is weird to me sometimes.)

I guess that is my main problem with this movie. I never grew to like Z. Maybe because I never liked Woody Allen, but he is just so damned annoying, and he really is just Woody Allen as an ant. Z doesn’t like the fact that he seems to be insignificant and this is only reinforced when people….reinforce it.

There is a hive-mind way of thinking in the colony, as expected. There’s no individualism, no free thinking, no real choices; just doing what you’re told to do and doing it for the sake of your colony. A Bug’s Life worked in a similar manner, but they were far brighter and upbeat about the situation like everyone was in their roles because they wanted to be not because they didn’t know any better.

Z’s so different because he actually thinks for himself. Ooh what a rebel. This wouldn’t be that bad if he wasn’t so…..vocal about his character being mindless robots….He’s a goth kid without the black is what I mean. Always prattling on about how everyone just does what their told and never thinks for themselves and–

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Yeah that.

Not that he doesn’t have a point; they don’t do anything but what they’re told. But it’s just thrown in your face so blatantly. And of course Z setting one example causes a huge shift in everyone’s mindsets and causes everyone to revolt against their work.

Thing is, the scene where they showcase this makes it seem like individualism=laziness. They were told to do nothing but work, but their work had a point – to help the colony. Yet the instant they’re like ‘hey we can think for ourselves’ no one wants to work or help at all anymore.

The colony really is a bunch of, forgive this term,…sheep. They change their attitudes so quickly back and forth that you nearly get whiplash at how quickly they turned on their almighty hero Z in order to follow the antagonist.

The art and animation were also…..blech-ish. I didn’t mind the character models all that much. The ant designs were also much different than what we see in A Bug’s Life. In fact, that’s a bit of a gripe I have with that movie. I know black and red aren’t really appealing colors to work with, but blue ants? Bright blue ants? Really?

The ants here have a much less cartoony design than Pixar’s, and they’re colored in a more realistic brown color. It works okay, but that art, especially where Weaver was involved, looked claymation-ish. Or almost unfinished. I get that Dreamworks was just starting out with this but still, not grade A work. The animation is good, though. A little on the stiff side. There never seemed to be any moments where it seemed funny or unnatural….Well, okay, the human scene was weird. You never see his/her torso and the walking just seems so slow.

In the end, it was a pretty enjoyable movie that kept my attention, but I don’t think I’d ever have a reason to watch it again. Despite having enough to stand on its own merit and not be compared to A Bug’s Life....A Bug’s Life is just a more enjoyable movie to me.

Recommended Audience: Another fairly significant difference between this movie and A Bug’s Life is that this has more adult humor in it. A good chunk of the jokes are really jokes for older audiences and there are several instances of swearing and some allusions to sex. Nothing major, obviously, though. 7+