The Return of Talking Time

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Old 03-15-2013, 03:16 AM
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Default Pixar and The Movies About Things That Act Like People

Once upon a time a big loveable dork named John Lasseter and his computer nerd friends made a company called Pixar, a little development studio that produced computer software for special effect companies and animation houses like Disney. It was they who produced the CAPS system used to more seamlessly integrate animated characters with their backgrounds starting with a few scenes in The Little Mermaid and throughout every Disney animated film to follow for a great many years.

Also they occasionally made little computer animated shorts to show off their software. The shorts were charming but definitely had an obvious low-budget quality. Then one day Steve Jobs did that thing where he goes, "Hmm, I think these guys are going to be a big deal" and gave Pixar all of the money.

Using that money they made a feature film that impressed Disney enough to work out a distribution deal with the little company. It was pretty good, I guess.

Toy Story

Travel with me back in time to the year 1995. A young Blinkipus Q. Penningtonshire was watching his VHS of Indian In The Goddamn Motherfucking Cupboard when a most intriguing trailer did appear. Imagine that trailer today. Do you think it would generate much buzz? Haha, get it? It's basically just a minute and a half of all the punchlines in the first half of the movie rapidfire. But it was fully computer generated. That was a big fucking deal. On that novelty alone I was absolutely chomping at the bit to see this film, plus it was a fun concept. We'd seen a few "living toy" movies before and I always enjoyed them so I was all for it.

What would catch me and the world off guard was how amazing the quality of story turned out to be in this movie that from the trailers looked like just a bunch of sight gags and puns. Man! These Disney computer animation guys had really knocked it out of the park!

Wait, Disney? I thought this was Pixar?

Let's roll things back a bit. Or forward? Anyway, one of the first things I did after putting in my tenth anniversary Toy Story DVD was watch the little John Lasseter intro where he goes all Uncle Walt on us in his on particular little way and it's funny how Disney and Un-Disney this film is all at once.

The film opens up with a CG-ified version of the Disney vanity plate and then just... goes right into the movie. No Pixar logo to be found. Once the credits are underway it gets a passing mention. Have I mentioned that the distribution partnership between Disney and Pixar at the time was not always a friendly one? It took a good number of years for any of us to fully appreciate that these movies were actually being made by a company that was creatively independant of Disney. Nowadays it's so obvious to see Pixar's voice and tone predominant all over the movie but back then we just thought Disney was doing something new and exciting.

All that said, even with how this movie has aged you can see that in the ripe old year of 1995 Pixar was something special. It was a movie easily half a decade ahead of its time in visual quality, easily outshining shit like the year 2000's Dinosaur or even 2005's Chicken Little. Of course the majority of the visual splendor goes to the toys themselves and the backgrounds. While John Lasseter is a big sentimental goofball who would make a movie about toys anyway, in a lot of ways the choice of protagonists in this film were chosen because they would more easily mesh with the plasticy look of CG at the time. The most aged parts of the film are the humans and animals. Especially that dog. But in spite of these somewhat rusty elements the movie holds up as well today as it did back then. Because the main thing that always keeps me coming back to Pixar films again and again is their appreciation for story. Computer effects will age. Future movies will surpass them in visual splendor. Things that once blew your mind will look stiff and awkward. But if you have a great story with likeable characters (and a little help from talented animators who inject personality into those characters) your work will elevate itself in a way that all the puns and cheeky self-referential jokes in the world never will.

That is Toy Story. A bomb dropped on the world of animation forever changing the landscape. If you can't tell I'm a bit of a fan.

It's the story of Woody, a cowboy doll voiced perfectly by Tom Hanks. Get used to this. No other animated studio so universally casts and utilizes its big name voice actors with such a high success rate. He's the favored toy of a boy named Andy, one of those sensitive kids who doesn't abuse and smash apart his toys (watch the behind-the-scenes material for this movie and the vast majority of the animators will admit they were far more like Sid as kids, with John Lasseter generally being the exception who acted like Andy). Not only that, Woody is basically the de-facto leader of Andy's room full of toys. All of them admire him, respect him, and look to him for guidance and wisdom, and the lovely porcelain Little Bo Peep doll considers him her knight in shining armor.

He lives the good life. But then on Andy's birthday a week before the family moves to a new house, the kid recieves a brand new toy. A Buzz Lightyear action figure, a shiny plastic superstar with battery-operated functions, wings, a laser light, and glow in the dark bits, and voiced by Tim Allen to boot! Tim Allen was a big deal back then, ok? And in this movie he shines. Despite the fact that he seems to instinctually obey the rules of "toys staying still when humans are around", Buzz is convinced he's a real space ranger, and constantly approaches situations the way a pulpy Flash Gordon type personality would.

Woody tries to be the big man at first as he is quickly overshadowed by the much cooler toy but his bitterness gets the better of him and a rivalry grows between the two that ends up getting both toys lost in the streets far from home and in threat of being forever seperated from their owner, and ultimately puts them in the hands of Andy's sadistic next-door neighbor Sid, an older kid who likes to smash, explode, mutilate, and dismantle toys like most of us did at some stage in our tweenage years.

Really I don't need to take the synopsis any further because you all know it. What's amazing about this film is just how great everything works. There's so many great, beautifully animated, hilariously voice-acted moments throughout this vitriolic buddy comedy. I could make a whole post just listing great things. The shark saying "Hi, I'm Woody! Howdy howdy howdy!" Buzz's reaction to having his helmet snapped off for the first time, and Woody's disdainful expression at the same time. His self-pitying melodramatics complement Buzz's delusional machismo so perfectly. It had been a long time since I watched this film and I forgot how fantastically hilarious this exchange is. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard.

But there's also a lot of heart in the film. Woody's character arc, from confident leader to jealous and conniving schemer to repentant friend is beautifully paced and realized. Buzz as well, the defining moment of the film being in my opinion the cheerful silliness of him witnessing the Buzz Lightyear commercial followed by the quiet pathos of his crisis of identity coupled with the best Randy Newman song in the entire film. It's those deeply heartfelt, powerful moments that really make these Pixar films work time and time again. And that they can elegantly follow it up with the hilarious Mrs. Nesbit sequence, just blows me away.

I haven't even talked about the supporting cast, and I forgot just how antagonistic they are in this first film. With the film's tight runtime and so much screentime dedicated soley to Woody and Buzz's interactions, they do a remarkable job of establishing all these personalities and making them likeable and memorable with yet more perfectly cast voices.

I would say it just doesn't get any better than this, but fuck, nobody seems to know how to top themselves like Pixar.
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Old 03-15-2013, 04:54 AM
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Wait - did i miss Titan AE?
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Old 03-15-2013, 06:02 AM
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It's in the other thread.
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Old 03-15-2013, 07:12 AM
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Toy Story Story Time! I think I've mentioned this on the forum somewheres before, but hell, here it is again. This is the story of how I actually won a Nintendo Power contest.

Around the time Yoshi's Island came out one of the contests in an issue of Nintendo Power was very Mario-centric, I think it was an anniversary for the series? I forget what exactly. But anyway, first place in the contest was a set of Mario-themed gold coins (or was it just a single gold coin? I forget), second place was a set of tickets for you and your friends to attend a premiere of Toy Story at a theatre of your choice (of those available), third prize was a copy of Yoshi's Island. When you sent in the card for this contest it also asked you to pick which theatre you'd like to see Toy Story, in case you won second place. There was an option for a theatre in pretty much every Canadian province.... except Newfoundland. I wound up picking the one in Halifax since it was closest, I was sure I wouldn't win anyway.

And then I won the second place prize. At first I was elated, in a 'holy crap I just won a Nintendo Power contest' kind of way. But then it hit me, second place was the movie, and sure enough the tickets I recieved were for a theatre in Halifax.

So we called Nintendo Power to see if anything could be done. The movie was certainly going to be playing in St. John's (this was before the big Empire Theatres opened, I'm pretty sure), but for whatever reason NP didn't make any arrangements with the theatres in that city. I guess they figured 'what are the odds some kid in Newfoundland will win Second Place?'

I briefly asked my parents about actually going to Halifax to see it, we had family there after all, but that went about as well as you'd imagine. In the end Nintendo Power sent out five Mario T-Shrits to make up for it, one for each ticket, but they were all several sizes too small for me so they went to my cousins.

I didn't see Toy Story until it came out on video and while the movie is indeed fantastic, I'm unable to watch it without being reminded of the one time I won a Nintendo Power contest only to get a prize I couldn't enjoy. I would've been perfectly happy with third place.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:48 AM
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It had been a long time since I watched this film and I forgot how fantastically hilarious this exchange is.
I think it says a lot about the movie that I knew right away what this was before clicking it.
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Old 03-15-2013, 09:04 AM
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It might also say a lot that I didn't because there are a lot of exchanges in the movie I love.
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Old 03-15-2013, 09:48 AM
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Toy Story Story Time! I think I've mentioned this on the forum somewheres before, but hell, here it is again. This is the story of how I actually won a Nintendo Power contest.
But that's a terrible story! Nobody got what they wanted.
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Old 03-15-2013, 11:53 AM
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There's a really great animatic on the... whatever DVD Netflix sent me with dialogue from a version of the story where Woody was far more of a jerk and completely unlikable. Apparently since edgy sarcastic protagonists were the thing at the time there was pressure to make the story far edgier, to the point where Woody deliberately shoves Buzz out the window. Once they watched it, though, the Pixar folks realized how horrible it was, and that they should make the movie they wanted to make with the characters they wanted to use. I think we can all agree they made the right choice.
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Old 03-15-2013, 11:59 AM
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We just joined the Disney Movie Club and got Toy Story 3, A Bug's Life and Pixar Shorts Vol. 2 in the deal. Reminds me how I want to see the first two Toy Story movies again.
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Old 03-15-2013, 02:36 PM
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There's a really great animatic on the... whatever DVD Netflix sent me with dialogue from a version of the story where Woody was far more of a jerk and completely unlikable. Apparently since edgy sarcastic protagonists were the thing at the time there was pressure to make the story far edgier, to the point where Woody deliberately shoves Buzz out the window. Once they watched it, though, the Pixar folks realized how horrible it was, and that they should make the movie they wanted to make with the characters they wanted to use. I think we can all agree they made the right choice.
That's the thing about John Lasseter and the people he surrounds himself with. They have a real eye for sitting back and looking at what they've produced, seeing that it doesn't work, and having the courage to throw it out and start over to make something better. The inability to do that is I think the main cause of a lot of the bad movies out there.
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Old 03-15-2013, 03:07 PM
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It had been a long time since I watched this film and I forgot how fantastically hilarious this exchange is. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard.
I have an interesting personal story about this scene. Years ago in art school I was in an acting class where we had to pair up, find a scene from a movie with dialogue to act out, and add a slap in the face somewhere in the scene. A friend and I picked a scene out of some Santa Clause comedy that I forget now, but two other girls picked this scene from Toy Story. So, girls were pretending to be male toys and the girl playing Woody pretend-slapped the girl playing Buzz around the line of "You are a child's plaything!"

Now, this may sound quite fascinating, and in retrospect it kind of is, but at the time none of us were exactly thrilled to be there. This was a computer animation school in which most of the students, myself included, were severe introverts who felt somewhat uncomfortable to be in that class (myself especially!) even though the teacher was doing everything right, and he had to work very hard to get even mediocre performances out of us.

I can look back on that class and laugh, but it taught me just how uncomfortable I feel when I try to act.
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Old 03-15-2013, 03:19 PM
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Toy Story really is wonderful. I really ought to just start over on Pixar flicks, 'cause they're all pretty much great.

or so i've been told.
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Old 03-15-2013, 03:40 PM
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I'm luke-warm on Pixar but the Toy Story series is great. All of them! Each one gets better! That never, ever happens in movies and is commendable in itself.

Enjoy these while you can. I had to endure Cars 2 about twenty times last year.
The horror.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:18 PM
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Though Pixar hit it big with Toy Story and were instantly solidified as admirable filmmakers, they opted not to forget their roots and revive the art of the theatrical short, making one for the beginning of nearly every one of their movies from here on out. Some of them are clever, some beautiful and whimsical, some just quirky and wierd, but all of them are creative and full of character.

Geri's Game

A very very simple idea, an elderly Tyler Durden sits down at a table in the park and plays chess against himself. It's a great example of how editing can be used to blur the number of characters in a scene, starting off showing the slow transition as the elderly man moves his white piece, carefully takes off his glasses, gets up from the table, walks slowly around to the other side, and sits down to move the black piece. Then the edits come faster and faster until it actually feels like there's two different guys playing against one-another, a similar trick would be used with Gollum talking to himself in Lord of the Rings years later. It's a cute short, and kicks off a pretty impressive collection.

A Bug's Life

Pixar does this thing where in every new movie they make, they try to do something with the technology that's new and exciting at the same time as they try to make a quality story. In this case it was all about coming up with rich vibrant backgrounds to make this ant colony feel vibrant and lived in, especially in detailing what the sun looks like through the underside of leaves, making them almost translucent. They also came up with some clever tricks to render hundreds of distinct looking ants on screen without having to specifically animate them one by one.

Wait a minute? A story about ants, and bucking the social order with new and scary ideas? I think I've heard this before! These Pixar guys are just ripping off Dreamworks, aren't they! Man, what a bunch of hacks! You can tell Dreamworks is better because they put a "z" in their title. That makes it cooler.

Nevertheless, let's look at this hack rip-off anyway. It's one part the fable about the ant and the grasshopper, with a touch of Seven Samurai and a healthy dose of Three Amigos, all coming together with that Pixar touch for memorable characters and punny humor. Boy are there a lot of self-referential bug puns in this film. At times it feels a little heavy with them, and it's nice to see that later films in their canon don't seem quite so eager to give you a nudge and a punchline every thirty seconds. That's not to say it isn't a great movie though, because it is.

It's a very busy movie with an even more elaborately detailed ensemble cast than Toy Story. The prior film dedicated the lion's share of its screentime and development to Buzz and Woody, which worked just fine for it, but Bug's Life keeps its supporting cast just as involved in the plot as its protagonist, the clever but awkward Flick. And for all the rapidfire jokes it throws at you, most of them hit the mark and elicit genuine laughter. It's easy to see how the likes of this movie inspired the worst excesses of Dreamworks' catalogue but that's not A Bugs Life's fault. It's amazing how fleshed out they get with such a large cast of characters, which again is where you give props to the amazing voicework(and voice direction no doubt) and the vibrant animation that establishes characters so quickly without letting them play thin.

So much happens in this movie I can't even begin to really synopsize it. It's one of those movies that feels a lot longer than it is, but in a good way, like one of those premium cable shows that manage to pack what feels like four episodes worth of material into a single hour. So once again I guess I'll just have to go off about some moments that are really great, like the fact that it portrays an adorable orange bird as a terrifying monstrosity. It has a group of second-graders creating a bloody mural and enacting a brutal war epic where everyone dies. It has one hell of a ruthless bastard of a villain voiced by Kevin Spacey. And one hell of an exciting climax that fakes you out several times in where it's going to end.

In short it's an amazingly great follow-up to Toy Story. I distinctly remember as a kid (young teen by that point, actually) going into the film not expecting to be blown away, partly because I was older now and partly because I just didn't imagine these guys were going to strike lightning twice. I was blown away. It would be a while yet before I stopped doubting Pixar altogether, but things were heading in that direction.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:29 PM
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Enjoy these while you can. I had to endure Cars 2 about twenty times last year.

The horror.
Cars and Cars 2 aren't real Pixar movies. They're shambling ghouls wearing Pixar skin. I have no idea what they're doing in the oeuvre.
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:40 PM
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Cars and Cars 2 aren't real Pixar movies. They're shambling ghouls wearing Pixar skin. I have no idea what they're doing in the oeuvre.
Making bank
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:56 PM
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I feel I might be the only person in the world actually enjoying Cars. I mean, it wasn't anything groundbreaking, but a nice movie about talking ca... ok, it was kinda silly, but not THAT bad? Cars 2 on the other hand, I wouldn't smell that one ever again.

Guess I'll have to watch A Bug's Life some time. For some reason, I've been avoiding it. Sounds fun enough
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Old 03-15-2013, 08:57 PM
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I ready the Disney Adventures digest religiously as a kid, and I have distinct memories of poring over the little snippets and screenshots of Toy Story all excitedly before finally seeing it on the big screen. I was 11 years old, holy shit. Toy Story's creeping up on its 20th anniversary! Boy did Pixar know what they were doing when they did TS3 like they did.

Even though the animation from early Pixar has definitely aged, it still holds up pretty well for the most part. The mark of quality!

I think I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I've always found it effectively unsettling to have an extremely realistic-acting animal in the midst of a cartoon situation. The bird in A Bug's Life is pretty much the posterchild for this, even when young the twitchy realistic movements of that thing going after the insects really weirded me out!
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Old 03-15-2013, 09:06 PM
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I actually don't care for Toy Story. The plastic cgi sheen of the movies is a total turn off for me. I just do not connect to these shinny cgi characters in the way I connect to classic 2D Disney or Warner Bros cartoons.

Pixar to me is the movie equivalent of Blizzard, with all the good and bad that that entails. Pixar makes consistently well crafted movies, but they offer very little in the way of surprises.
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Old 03-15-2013, 10:07 PM
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Isn't the plastic sheen fully appropriate for toys, though?

Anyway, we watched about half of A Bug's Life tonight. Fun movie! If you've watched it lately, fix the trailer the bug city is situated near in your mind. It pops up in Monsters Inc.

And yes, agree entirely about the bird. Just a normal little bird, and it's a completely terrifying threat from the perspective of an ant.

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Just like every movie Pixar has made that wasn't Cars.

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I feel I might be the only person in the world actually enjoying Cars. I mean, it wasn't anything groundbreaking, but a nice movie about talking ca... ok, it was kinda silly, but not THAT bad?
The problem with Cars is how badly its world breaks down if you start acting questions. Bugs that act like bugs, but talk and stuff so a story can be told? OK. I can buy that. Cars that talk and drive on their own and make their own roads and cities, but there are no people? There's something we're not being told about this world.
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Old 03-15-2013, 10:26 PM
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The problem with Cars is how badly its world breaks down if you start acting questions. Bugs that act like bugs, but talk and stuff so a story can be told? OK. I can buy that. Cars that talk and drive on their own and make their own roads and cities, but there are no people? There's something we're not being told about this world.
It's a lot like that "Robots" movie. There's a glaring inconsistency that can't really be ignored because the story's not strong enough for you to buy into the lie.
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Old 03-15-2013, 10:31 PM
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It's a lot like that "Robots" movie. There's a glaring inconsistency that can't really be ignored because the story's not strong enough for you to buy into the lie.
Exactly! That's it exactly. I just keep seeing the seams in the worldbuilding and wondering where are the people where are the people they killed the people
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Old 03-15-2013, 10:39 PM
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I've heard that A Bug's Life is considered one of Pixar's weakest, but this movie has really been a great fun to me. Flik is a forgettable MC to me (*IMO, the "awkward misunderstood inventor" type is a litt le bit overused nowadays), ditto with the rest of ant characters. But, the overall dynamic, the villain, and the 7 Samurai Bugs are awesome. Francis the Ladybug is a personal favorite.

I actually enjoy A Bug's Life much more than I enjoyed Rataotuille or The Incredibles, even though I'm well aware of the latter's technical superiority and more weighty themes. Just a personal preference.

As for Toy Story...it's a classic, enough said. Not merely one of my favorite animations, but one of my favorite movies ever, period. I love it as a kid, and love it even more when I re-watched it as an adult and notice all the things that went over my head when I was still small. Such a wonderful accessibility.
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Old 03-15-2013, 11:23 PM
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Cars and Wall-E are set in the same continuity. It takes place in a different part of the world, where the cleaning robots didn't all break down and so finished their work, and then decided to recreate civilization based on the incorrect assumption that automobiles were the dominant life form.

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I actually don't care for Toy Story. The plastic cgi sheen of the movies is a total turn off for me.
Well, then have I got something for you!
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Old 03-16-2013, 12:40 AM
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Exactly! That's it exactly. I just keep seeing the seams in the worldbuilding and wondering where are the people where are the people they killed the people
See, my problem with it isn't so much WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE? I can accept some weird crazy alternate universe where cars came to exist on their own with no humans ever on the scene. I mean, I watched Transformers as a kid. The problem is that the characters motivations and concerns are completely human. They do not have the problems cars have, at all. If you just replaced every character with a human who owned that type of car, there is exactly one scene you would have to change, and it'd be pretty minor:

Rather than fall off a flatbed and get stuck in the middle of nowhere, our hero misses a flight and has to take a rental car, getting himself stuck in the middle of nowhere. Otherwise? Not one change to be made.

The closest the movie comes to treating the characters as cars is that deleted scene dream sequence with the brain/engine block transplant. But, you know, they cut that.

I also kinda take issue with the moral being that you should take inefficient back roads through the middle of nowhere and all the little towns that exist only as places to break for the night, because John Lasseter has misplaced nostalgia about them. I mean, it'd be one thing if it was going for just a general stop and smell the roses thing, but I gutted the behind the scenes stuff trying to work out what's up, and no, this is a strictly literal thing he was going for.
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Old 03-16-2013, 02:37 AM
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I'm going to thoroughly explain to you heathens why the first Cars and Brave are great films when I get to them.
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Old 03-16-2013, 03:13 AM
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John Lasseter is a huge Miyazaki fanboy and has talked about taking inspiration from Miyazaki's films. It worked. Pixar clearly took up the mantle of "World's Best Animation Studio" from Ghibli. Symbolically, I'd like to think the baton was passed when a hopping lamp appeared in Spirited Away.
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Old 03-16-2013, 05:07 AM
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You'll have to revisit this thread when Planes comes out in August. Work that sucker into the weird Cars world theories.

Oh and Brave IS great so that's hardly a challenge.
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Old 03-16-2013, 05:26 AM
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Daikaiju Daikaiju is offline
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Admittedly I haven't seen Cars 2, but I enjoyed the hell outta Cars. I've crossed the USA several times by road and it hit the right vibe for me. Also, great casting.
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Old 03-16-2013, 07:06 AM
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madhair60 madhair60 is offline
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I like both Cars movies, they're good fun. Wasn't crazy about Brave or A Bugs Life. Every Pixar is a league above everything else, though.
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