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Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: March 17, 1989
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Knick Knack © PixarAfter three impressive short films, the fledgling Pixar company decided to relax a little bit.

The result is ‘Knick Knack’, in which boundaries are pushed much less clearly, but which demonstrates like no other short that Pixar animation is rooted deeply in an animation tradition.

‘Knick Knack’ features toy souvenirs, focusing on a snowman trying to escape the prison of his snow globe to join some sunny souvenirs. Harking back to the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, ‘Knick Knack’ is self-consciously cartoony. For example, the snowman is able to produce various tools out of nowhere. Moreover, his actions are driven by a sexual desire, induced by the rather grotesque female souvenir from Miami*. These traits are typical of classic cartoon characters, like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.

Unlike these, however, the snowman is a silent character, and his fanatism is more reminiscent of the equally silent Coyote in Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner cartoons. Like the Coyote, the snowman is conscious of the camera, and shares his emotions directly with us, the audience.

‘Knick Knack’ only clocks 3 minutes, but its gag story is perfectly executed in this short time to a wonderful finale. The result is a very entertaining and funny cartoon, with an excellently matching soundtrack by Bobby McFerrin.

However, it was to be the last short Pixar would make in eight years. After its release, the company suffered some changes: it ditched its hardware department, making the studio department suddenly the core of the business. Now the studio could focus on its first feature length film, ‘Toy Story’…

Watch ‘Knick Knack’ yourself and tell me what you think:

* Upon the film’s rerelease as a short for ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003) the Miami souvenir and the mermaid were redesigned, losing their bulbous boobs. With this step they became less obviously stereotyped objects of male desire, making the snowman’s actions less overtly sex-driven. Unfortunately, with this removal the film lost a little of its bite.

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Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: August 1988
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Tin Toy © PixarAfter ‘Luxo Jr.‘ ‘Tin Toy’ is the most important of the early Pixar shorts.

Not only did it win an Academy Award, being the first computer animated film to do so, it was also the source of inspiration to the first computer animated feature length film, ‘Toy Story’ (1995). Like ‘Toy Story’ it explores the idea of toys being alive.

The short focuses on a little tin one man band toy, who encounters a monstrous baby, much to its dismay. The baby, indeed, looks terribly ugly. It’s an early attempt at the human form, and although it’s animated surprisingly well, it’s not really a success. Being a giant monster in the eyes of the toy, however, the ugly design does succeed. So, although ‘Tin Toy’ demonstrates it was maybe a little too early for the human form, its brave attempt showed the way for much more to come.

Apart from that, it’s a splendid little story, much more elaborate than Pixar’s earlier two films, and perfect in its execution. An excellent example is the scene in which the tin toy flees under the couch, only to discover numerous other toys hiding in fear. This scene is a masterstroke, as it perfectly explains how toys get hidden away far under couches and beds, like they somehow do in real life.

In the short time span the tin toy goes from emotions of hopeful anticipation to dismay and fear, turning into surprise, pity and finally proud stubborness. These emotions are completely convincing and prove that computer animation was perfectly able to tell a moving story. Now the company’s fulfilling of their dream of an animated feature would not be far away anymore.

Watch ‘Tin Toy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: November 30, 1987
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Red's Dream © PixarWith ‘Red’s Dream’, made for computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH, Pixar pushed the envelope once more, after its success with ‘Luxo jr.‘ the year before.

‘Red’s Dream’ is very impressive in its moody and rainy night time setting. But once again, it is able to tell an emotional story about a lonely and forgotten unicycle, which stands forgotten in the corner of a bike shop, where he dreams of performing in the circus.

The dream sequence, featuring a vaguely realistic clown, is the weakest part of the film. The clown is well animated, but looks terribly unreal and is a little scary in its ugliness. The unicycle Red, on the other hand, is a character one can identify with.

Unlike ‘Luxo Jr.’ from one year earlier, animator John Lasseter allows some unrealistic distortions on the unicycle in order to make its emotions work. However, he keeps those to a minimum, keeping Red a believable unicycle. The film’s power lies in the effect that in the last scene one is so involved with Red’s emotions, one tends to forget the stunning computer graphics that are at play to show us the shop at night.

Watch ‘Red’s Dream’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: August 17, 1986
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Luxo jr. © PixarOf all classics of animation, ‘Luxo Jr.’ is certainly the shortest. This little gem only lasts ninety seconds, and can feel more like a study than as a mature cartoon. That said, the short is brilliant in its concept and execution.

Being the fledgling company Pixar’s very first film, ‘Luxo Jr.’ is the first of a series of shorts, in which the ambitious team explored the boundaries of computer animation, ever pushing them further away. ‘Luxo Jr.’ is a first example. It was made in a time in which computer animation was mainly used for special effects. Of course in ‘Luxo Jr.’ there’s special attention to lighting and texture, too, but most importantly: it shows that computer animation can also be used to tell an engaging story with characters.

Even in their simplicity, the two table lamps are recognizable characters, one old and parental, the other young and enthusiastic. The effect is the more extraordinary, as animator John Lasseter didn’t use eyes or squash-and-stretch techniques: the lamps remain lamps.

Thus, the cute Luxo jr. showed the world that in principle computer animation was as much able to tell a moving story with emotional characters as any other medium. Unlike the earlier ‘The Adventures of André and Wally B‘ (1984), which remains too primitive and too uneven to be of lasting charm, ‘Luxo jr.’ is as engaging today as it was at its first screening.

After ‘Luxo, jr.’ Pixar would keep on demonstrating the story powers of computer animation with three other brilliant cartoons: ‘Red’s Dream‘ (1987), ‘Tin Toy‘ (1988) and ‘Knick Knack‘ (1989), culminating nine years later in the first computer animated feature film ‘Toy Story’ (1995).

However, it’s Luxo jr. that showed the way way back in 1986. No wonder the studio keeps the feisty little lamp still in their logo.

Watch ‘Luxo jr’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: July 25, 1984
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Adventures of André and Wally B © Pixar‘The Adventures of André and Wally B.’ is a rather pompous title for this very short film, which only lasts eighty seconds, and features ca. one gag.

Made for ‘The Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project’, two years before the birth of Pixar, it is clearly made to showcase two computer animation techniques above anything else. Most impressive is the quasi-realistic, almost pointillist forest background. Much more primitive, but ultimately much more important is the animation of the two characters, for which young animator John Lasseter was brought in from the Walt Disney studios. Lasseter animates André and the bee Wally B self-consciously cartoony, as if they had walked in straight from the 1930s. They don’t blend at all with the quasi-realistic backgrounds, and they look appallingly primitive to modern eyes, but they’re the very first computer graphics to show character animation, even at its most rudimentary.

‘The Adventures of André and Wally B.’ will never become a classic, for it’s too uneven and too shallow for that, but it is one of animation’s milestone films.

Watch ‘The Adventures of André and Wally B’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Pete Doctor
Release Date: November 2, 2001
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Monsters, Inc. © PixarPixar’s fourth film can be considered the studio’s best up to that point.

The very idea of monsters needing to scare children to fuel their city is a masterstroke. As is their mutual fright for children. The idea of closet doors leading to a parallel world is used to the max, especially in the breathtaking finale, whose premise is both logical to the plot as strikingly original and totally unexpected. Nothing to the story is predictable, and its lead characters Sully, Mike and Boo and their nemesis, the slithery Randall, are very well developed.

The only two lesser points may be Monstropolis itself, which is a surprisingly unimaginative copy of an average American town, and the film’s humor. Compared to Dreamworks’s ‘Shrek’, released earlier that year, Monsters, Inc.’s humor is rather mild. It heads for steady smiles, not for loud guffaws. Moreover, the loudmouth comic sidekick, the green eyeball Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal), never really gets convincingly funny or very sympathetic, and he pales compared to Eddie Murphy’s Donkey in ‘Shrek’.

No, the main selling point of Monsters Inc. is heart: the endearing ‘love story’ between top scare Sully and the little child Boo is completely convincing. This makes ‘Monsters, Inc.’, apart from being startlingly original, a sweet film. One that is able to move you time and time again.

Besides, ‘Monsters, Inc.’ displays some spectacular effect animation, the highlight being Sully laying in the snow, with his hair blowing in the blizzard, something unseen up to that point.

In 2013 ‘Monsters, Inc.’ fell prey to Hollywood’s sequel mania ,spawning the prequel ‘Monster University’.

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