Incredibles 2 Review

It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since the last Incredibles movie graced the big screen. Despite technical advancements in films (like Inside Out and Toy Story 3) as well as better storytelling approaches (in films like Up and WALL-E), The Incredibles is still picked out by fans as among the best.

I’m not sure if there’s really a solid answer to why this is, but maybe it’s because The Incredibles tackles real life, complex issues (like marriage and infidelity) while also being a cool, kid friendly action movie. The Incredibles has a little bit of something for everyone, and there really isn’t an audience demographic who’d dislike this.

So, after many years of patiently waiting, Pixar and superhero fans finally get another dose of their favorite family of supers.

The film takes place directly after the previous installment (I love when a movie can do this properly) with the attack of the Underminer. After a public blunder that further calls the role of superheroes in society into question, the Incredibles (i.e. the Parrs) must go into hiding once again. That is, until they’re approached by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a business tycoon and superhero fan who wants to help gain public support to legalize supers. To do this they enlist in the aid of Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) aka Elastigirl to display the benefits of superhero intervention in society. While Helen’s off saving the world, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is forced to become a stay-at-home parent, raising their rambunctious children. We get to see new and old characters, fun commentary on everyday life, and a malicious plot to undermine the existence of supers.

Incredibles 2 is quickly becoming another beloved installment into the Pixar canon. However, claiming it as a game changer or the next big cinematic leap in animation would be a major embellishment.

The visual quality saw a great improvement over its predecessor; and it’s interesting to see how far animation has come even within the past 14 years. The backgrounds and character movements are crisp and clear; making action sequences and special effects more appealing to the eye. A lot of the artwork in the film has this distinct futurism look to it that I took notice of almost immediately. I’m a fan of this style of science fiction imagery and found it nice to see here.

The villain of Incredibles 2 called the Screenslaver, whose identity is part of the big surprise twist, is sadly quite obvious from the get-go. It’s in fact so apparent that your first immediate guess is exactly right. It’d call this a minor nitpick, but I think even younger kids might find this to be a bit too blatantly obvious.

Screenslaver as a character is kind of ominous and has a fascinating monologue full of philosophical and ideological jargon. There’s actually a plethora of thought-provoking ideological clashes displayed in Incredibles 2 that I really admired. The biggest of these ideological themes is the place of superheroes in our society, which we see reflected in the beliefs of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Winston Deavor, and the Screenslaver. It’s not the first time this has been debated in film (even being mentioned in the first Incredibles); however here I feel like we really get at the heart of the conflict in a fascinating way.

If there’s anyone who decides to take up arms against The Incredibles 2, it’s going to be over the pretty stagnant story, which perhaps is not as exciting as everyone wanted it to be. This could potentially be the case especially when you consider it’s taken Brad Bird so many years to get around to the sequel. Fans have been waiting so long they expect the best possible story to be told, and I’m not sure if this was it. I can’t help but feel that Pixar coaxed him into production far before he was ready. Really, the “stay-at-home dad” plot/ retread morals of the first film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s understandable.

That being established, I think most audiences young and old can get a lot of entertainment value out of Incredibles 2. Even with the release of several superhero films a year (and countless television series), there’s something about The Incredibles films that really draws in its viewers. In this case, I think it’s because we’re all already in love with all these characters, and The Incredibles 2 just builds on top of that connection. The Parrs are an interesting group of superheroes that we love seeing interact and get into trouble.

How well the film will age after the superhero craze dies down is a good question that I don’t have the answer to. But if audience reactions are any indicator, I’d say The Incredibles 2 will be cherished for years to come.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Pixar vs. DreamWorks Debate

Today, I’ve decided to dive deep into the most controversial topic in current American politics, that being the Pixar v. DreamWorks debate. It’s ruined families, polarized the political climate, and now I’m here to discuss it.

I’m sure many individuals could be asked this question and not have to think twice about an answer: Pixar. Their films are beyond revolutionary, with films like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. forever immortalized into the childhoods of millions. Starting with films like Toy Story (based off their own short film Tin Toy) and A Bug’s Life, Pixar created an empire of award-winning family movies. Led by the former Disney animator John Lasseter, his guidance and passion for animation has helped Pixar to produce hit after hit.

For the purpose of this article, DreamWorks could be considered the underdog of the matchup. Established by former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Steven Spielberg, and David Geffen, DreamWorks built their empire from the ground up. Starting with their 1998 production of Antz (which rivaled Pixar’s own film A Bug’s Life), they quickly proved themselves to be a fierce competitor in the animation field.

When it boils down to the quality of film being produced, there’s a lot of trade-off between them. Both companies have had really high highs (like Shrek 2 and Up) and really low lows (like Shark Tales and Cars 2). Overall, I think both companies are of equal talent in the art of animation, just in slightly differing ways.

For example, Pixar’s Finding Nemo is one of most stunning 3D animated movies around, while DreamWork’s The Prince of Egypt is one of the most stunning 2D animated movies around. Pixar films typically deal with heartfelt themes of parenting, aging, or friendship while mixing in lighthearted humor. DreamWorks definitely emphasizes the comedic elements of a film more, with the humor often overshadowing the themes. To use an analogy, Pixar is a sophisticated and nurturing parent, while DreamWorks is the goofy uncle who usually doesn’t take himself too seriously. This isn’t to say Pixar never focuses on humor and DreamWorks doesn’t get deep, I’m just pointing out the general trend I’ve noticed.

When comparing the content, right off the bat Disney Pixar has an unfair advantage just in the type of content they tap into, which tends to be more emotional and whimsical. Award shows, film critics, and general audiences are more likely to warm up to the touching relationships and timeless themes of Wall-E or Up than the off-the-wall humor of Bee Movie.

While Pixar is the more critically acclaimed company, when it comes to who I have the most respect for, DreamWorks takes the cake. Pixar’s films are truly terrific, but are always obvious, play it safe hits. You know that Toy Story 3, Finding Dory, and Monsters Inc. are all going to be instant classics just based on the simplistic subject matter (again, the emotions their films tap into).

DreamWorks on the other hand is much more willing to take a chance on an idea, even if that idea appears to be a surefire disaster. Some of their films like Shark Tales and Shrek the Third are dead on arrival, but occasional missteps are normal for the creative process. And it’s all worth it in the end when we get great works of animation like How to Train Your Dragon and Chicken Run.

If you would’ve told me back in 2008 that a movie about a self-conscious, Kung Fu fighting panda that’s voiced by Jack Black would not only be successful but be one of the best family pictures of recent years, I’d tell you you’re crazy. And what about the satirical fairy tale movie starring a pessimistic ogre that’s voiced by an actor whose career was already beginning to wither away? Not only was that film great, but it spawned an even better and funnier sequel that remains one of my favorite animated films of all-time.

So, the answer to who is better is rather complicated and anything but clear-cut. I think it’s safe to assume that most people would choose Pixar as the clear choice for better animation company and I don’t blame them. Pixar’s animation is rich, their characters highly memorable, and the themes of their movies timeless.

But my respect for DreamWorks and their willingness to take a chance on wild ideas is unwavering, therefore I’d have to choose DreamWorks as the better company based on this dedication to the craft.

-Zachary Flint

 

Coco Review

Following the lukewarm critical and public reception to numerous of their recent films (particularly The Good Dinosaur and Cars 3), Pixar hits home with their musical tale titled Coco. Based on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Coco features a variety of enjoyable characters, exciting moments, and an overall light mood.

Coco follows the character of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who dreams of becoming a famous musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), despite his family’s multi-generational hatred of music. However, through a series of unfortunate and inconvenient events, Miguel finds himself stuck in the Land of the Dead. Among the colorful people of the dead is a mischievous yet delightful man named Hector, who befriends Miguel and promises to help him return home. Together they embark on a fantastic journey that may unlock secrets to Miguel’s family.

After what I felt to be an underwhelming start, Coco really picked up around the halfway point, at a scene involving a big musical contest. Here, a variety of interesting and rousing musicians come together for a competition of sorts. This is when Pixar fully began to display their talent for entertaining animation, with a distinct visual style and plenty of heartwarming charm. This scene and beyond is when the storytelling and imagination really escalated into the Pixar methodology that people know and love.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Mexican culture or the Day of the Dead, but I can presume that we got the watered-down Disney version of the whole thing. Nonetheless, I think Coco serves as a great stepping stone for those curious in learning about another culture, especially young children.

The film even has a few nice little twists at the climax, ones that parents may see coming but kids will definitely respect. And while I was hoping the end resolve would’ve taken a morally grey direction, the message is well-crafted and communicated brilliantly.

At times, Coco tries too hard with its overly childish humor (like the comic relief dog sidekick, which was a huge misfire), and at other times it wasn’t confident enough to take the story to the next level. However, with its shortcomings easily forgivable, Coco developed into an emotionally heartwarming and visually pleasant film. A worthy entry into the Pixar canon.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Cars 3 Review

In the past, I’ve made it no secret that I highly dislike Disney Pixar’s Cars and Cars 2. While most people either find the films passable or okay, I cannot stand watching even a second of them. Coming from the creative giant Pixar, we should’ve gotten a film much more imaginative and unique than something like Cars, which looks more like an idea Blue Sky Animation would conjure up. The first film is an unoriginal mess, with an all too predictable plot and lame characters. Unfortunately for audiences, Cars 2 was even worse, with an incredibly bizarre plot involving spies. So, when going in to see Cars 3, I had already established some pretty low expectations for what I was about to watch.

And to my honest amazement, I thought the film turned out pretty great. Not only did Pixar course correct some of the issues of past films, they managed to make an all-around quality movie people of all ages can enjoy.

The film follows the fleeting racing career of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), as a new generation of advanced racers begin replacing cars like himself. In a last ditch effort to continue racing, Lightning looks to his new coach named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) for help. And despite a rocky start, the two embark on a journey of self-discovery, learning a lot about themselves and each other.

Our main cast gets another major update for this picture, and this time for the better. All the characters, new and old, are written much stronger, with a lot more personality. Not only does Lightning McQueen get a fulfilling story arch, but Cruz Ramirez and a few other minor characters get good payoffs too. This time around I actually found myself invested in the story and the protagonists, and I wanted to see our characters succeed in their endeavors.

In the previous Cars films, most of the camera angles and shots are boring, with little variety. Cars 3 on the other hand does a complete one-eighty, constantly shaking things up with great new angles that really captured the excitement of the movie well.

The camerawork is complimented nicely by the fast-paced, crisp animation, making Cars 3 much more visually appealing than its previous installments.

The only major downside to the film is the villain, who is just your standard one dimensional bad guy with no redeeming qualities. I feel that with how strong the morals are in Cars 3, they could’ve had a better antagonist that really hit the messages home. Instead, we just get a young, generic hot-shot who occasionally hurls insults at McQueen.

While I believe the Cars movies are among Pixar’s worst, I’m happy to say that Cars 3 is a real winner. There are some fun characters, an exciting story that moves along quickly, and even a really good message about aging. Cars 3 doesn’t break new ground in any sense of the word, and it stills has its issues. However, it does excel at being a fast-paced, family-friendly adventure that is infinitely more enjoyable than its previous two installments.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Finding Dory Review

I seem to be much more cautious towards seeing Pixar films than most people. I`m never quite as convinced that what their putting out is magnificent. I did not like Cars or Cars 2, neither did I like Planes. But that is a whole different argument.

Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed their latest feature, Finding Dory. All the right pieces and all the right parts came together to make this one enjoyable family film. It definitely had its low points, and had the usual Pixar stuff that get tiresome, but nonetheless I think Finding Dory is a solid movie.

Finding Dory stars (not surprisingly) the beloved Blue Tang fish Dory, voiced be Ellen DeGeneres. Dory is now living next to Nemo and Marlin on the reef, when she starts having visions of her family whom she has not seen since she was a child. Dory must now set off on an adventure to find her long lost parents, all while meeting goofy new characters along the way.

The animation in Finding Dory is beyond incredible, as Pixar usually is. I had no problem being sucked into the film by the colorful visuals.

Sometimes with Pixar flicks what holds me back from enjoying as much is the story, as I am not always convinced they are as great as everyone says they are. I think they play it safe too much too often and just go with the same style of story. However, the story in Finding Dory is surprisingly strong.

The location of the story mainly takes place in a large aquarium, where Dory is trying to find the tank her parents live in.  The aquarium itself is very visually interesting and is set up to remind me exactly of a real aquarium.

Their are a couple of points early on where the film has some cameos from Finding Nemo characters. This for me was one of the worst points of Finding Dory. The cameos felt so pointless and forced, like they felt obligated to throw at least a few past characters in. I was actually pretty astonished at how annoyed I felt by these cameo characters, because all the new characters introduced in Finding Dory are great. In fact, they were probably the strongest point of the film.

There is this pissed off squid named Hank (Ed O`Neill) that Dory meets trying to sneak his way onto a crate that will take him to an aquarium. He is pretty funny from start to finish and actually gets a lot of development in the plot.

There is also this whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell) that Dory meets who is very funny. He cannot use his echolocation due to a concussion he received, but really he`s just a hypocondriac. His character gets a lot of development from the plot too, all to my delight.

There are so many new fun and creative characters that are brought in its hard to recall each one. This is the biggest reason I loved Finding Dory, and I have a safe bet it`s why many others liked Finding Dory too.

This is another strong film from the animation giant Pixar. Its a film many will love, and only a select few will hate. I recommend Finding Dory to anyone and everyone who loves a good Pixar movie.

Zachary Flint