Tag: andrew stanton

Finding Dory

Finding Dory (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

The follow-up of “Finding Nemo,” a Pixar Animation Studios masterpiece, does not live up to its predecessor as a whole but nonetheless one that is highly entertaining and heartfelt. One characteristic that surpasses the original, however, is the visuals. Notice the confidence in how it changes the tone, flavor, and feel with each vastly or subtly different environment—sometimes within the span of mere ten seconds. Consider such a trait when taken side-by-side with other, lesser animated films. They look claustrophobic, cheap, and laughably one-note by comparison.

Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), a blue surgeonfish who suffers from short-term memory loss, suddenly remembers that for years she has been looking for her parents (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy). Convinced that they are still alive and looking for her, clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), volunteer to help their endearingly forgetful friend. Overwhelmed by pieces of the past that have popped into her head, Dory informs her companions that they must find a way to go to California. Marlin knows the reptile for the job.

Perhaps the film’s biggest limitation is its utilization of one too many flashbacks. These images show how Dory’s parents teach their young child small ways how to get around or overcome her condition. While two or three scenes are genuinely moving because these lessons of survival are usually disguised as fun games, these flashbacks are very short, sudden, and numerously dispersed. As a result, the momentum of the picture is disrupted continuously. Eventually, I grew exasperated from seeing more of Dory’s memories because they become very repetitive. I got the feeling that the filmmakers were treating us like we had memory loss, too.

The picture introduces a memorable supporting character: an octopus (Ed O’Neill) with seven tentacles who does not like to be touched—especially by children. Every time Hank the quick-tempered “septopus” moves, he commands attention. The beauty and impressive attention to detail of Hank’s animation can be most appreciated during sequences where he must take Dory from one area of the Marine Life Institute—where sea creatures are taken to be rehabilitated—to another.

The energy and number of elements that must be juggled expertly to create a convincing and engaging—not to mention funny, clever, and entertaining—plight reminds the viewer of the best sequences of the “Toy Story” series. The filmmakers are able to answer this question with specific, fun-filled details: How do you get sea creatures, many of which depend on constantly being in water to survive, across an aquatic amusement park without humans noticing something odd?

“Finding Dory,” directed by Andrew Stanton, undergoes a few hiccups with its flashbacks, but it nevertheless delivers top-grade animation and storytelling. It is certain to charm and delight young children, adults, and everyone in between because creativity is abound. It may not be a necessary sequel but it is absolutely a welcome one.

Monsters, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Due to a severe energy shortage in Metropolis, there is pressure on Mr. Waternoose (voiced by James Coburn), the leader of the company in charge of making sure the city’s power stays on, to motivate the “top scarers,” monsters that sneak into children’s bedrooms to elicit energy-rich screams, and train newbies to become effective at their jobs.

The most important rule is to never leave the closet door open while a scarer is in the bedroom because during that time it serves as a portal to Monstropolis. Equally important is to avoid physical contact with the children because they are believed to be extremely toxic. But somehow a little girl has made it to the monsters’ world. As panic takes over the city, it is up to Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman), best friends and co-workers, to return the human child to her bedroom.

Full of unique-looking and adorable monsters, voices that perfectly match the appearance of each character, and executed with energy so wild that it reverberates, “Monsters, Inc.,” based on the screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson, is entertaining for all ages. What it lacks in narrative sophistication, it makes up for a world that demands a second glance. Seeing the monsters, those in focus as well as those in the background, is like being in candy land: they are colorful and we want to know the flavor of their personalities.

Choosing jazz as an animated film’s score and soundtrack is daring and smart. It is very upbeat, friendly, and welcoming. Children, I think, are used to hearing pop songs that bookend the picture and when the story hits a sad note. Jazz, on the other hand, is new and exciting. It has flavor. It demands attention. When it is the trumpet’s turn to shine, it is near impossible to not want to dance or at least tap one’s toes.

The self-absorption of Mike, a single-eyed, circular green monster with horns, is the source of many of the jokes. He thinks he is so handsome, so romantic, and so funny that the way he sees himself so highly often backlashes. At the same time, his vanity is what makes him adorable. In an early scene, Mike and Sully watch a TV commercial produced by the company they work for. Mike expects to be the star. Instead, his full body appears in it for barely a second and is immediately covered by the company logo. His reaction is priceless.

Even throwaway characters like Roz (Bob Peterson), a very serious lady garden snail in charge of keeping track of the employees’ paperwork, and The Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger), exiled in the Himalayas, are given a chance to be memorable. They either do something unexpected or there is an irony to them–sometimes both. The supporting characters Sully and Mike interact with are never boring. I wished there were more scenes of Smitty and Needleman (Daniel Gerson). Their goofiness is infectious.

The picture has two hearts: the friendship between Mike and Sully and Mike becoming the little girl’s father figure, her protector, as Boo (Mary Gibbs) is hunted by the CDA (Child Detection Agency). The latter’s relationship is effectively executed in the third act as their bond is inevitably cut. We can also interpret their separation as a symbol. Eventually, all children stop believing that monsters are hiding or living in their closets. It is one of the first steps of growing up.

Directed by Pete Docter, the effusive charm of “Monsters, Inc.” can win over just about anybody. It moves quickly, the rapid-fire exchanges are witty at times (“Look at you! You have your own climate!” from Mike to Sully for being so hairy), its characters’ goals are always clear, and it does not rest on cuteness to tell a story.

Toy Story

Toy Story (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A cowboy toy named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) felt like he was going to be replaced as Andy’s favorite toy when Andy (John Morris) received a spaceman toy named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) for his birthday. Out of jealousy, Woody tried to get rid of Buzz and the two, after a series of adventures, ended up right next door–where another boy named Sid (Erik von Detten) lived and had a penchant for ordering explosives and blowing up his toys to smithereens. Buzz and Woody then had to work together in order to escape and return to Andy’s care before his family finished packing to move to another house. It is no stranger that Pixar’s first animated film was an international success because it was able to deliver state-of-the-art animation without sacrificing Indiana Jones-like adventure and witty sense of humor. It also had a real sense of danger denoted in scenes where Woody and Buzz had to face the neighbor’s toys after Sid performed cruel surgeries on them. At the same time, there were lessons in scary and dangerous scenes, especially for kids, such as not judging something solely based on its appearance and how creativity and imagination can triumph over the most seemingly insurmountable challenges. There were even lessons about empathy and taking care of the things we own. The picture really was multidimensional in terms of story and the meanings we could extract from the visuals and the script. Even though the characters’ faces looked more wooden and had sharper angles compared to its sequels, “Toy Story,” directed by John Lasseter, is something special because each character had a memorable characteristic and was able to contribute something crucial to the project. Some stand-out scenes include Woody and Buzz meeting green aliens who believed that if they were chosen by The Claw, they would go to a better place, when post-surgery toys acted like zombies in order to teach Sid a lesson, and when Woody and Buzz had to chase Andy’s car in which failure meant losing their friend forever. Based on the screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, “Toy Story” proved that animation was not just for children as long as the story had an element of uniqueness that the audiences could invest in. And just like classic films, animated movies could also be timeless not just in terms of visuals but the universal emotions we couldn’t help but feel every time we would watch them.