Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

pixar Archive

Monday

28

December 2020

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Soul is a touching film that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Pixar has a knack for tackling the existential. Most of the themes present in Soul are bound to be foreign to the younger members of the audience who haven’t necessarily had to grapple with grown-ups struggles yet. Many have tried to figure out “the meaning of life,” with varying degrees of success toward a somewhat unanswerable question.

The film follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician who works as a middle school music teacher to support himself. Teaching full-time presents stability that musicians rarely enjoy, but Joe isn’t quite ready to give up on his true passion. Consumed with the prospects of playing a gig with the popular Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), Joe accidentally falls down a manhole, sending him to the “great beyond.”

An effort to cheat death lands him in the realm of pre-existence, where spirits named Jerry mentor young souls before they head off to the world for their own adventures. One soul, 22 (Tina Fey), doesn’t see the point in the great adventure called life. An effort to get to the bottom of this great mystery creates a bit of a Freaky Friday moment, leading to a fun and thoughtful adventure for Joe and 22.

Foxx and Fey have quick chemistry, a rapport designed to carry just about any feature. Pixar’s always-spectacular animation eases the burden on the leads, crafting a delightful narrative that breezes through its 90-minute runtime. Soul has one of the most satisfying third acts of any Pixar feature.

There are morals in the film that have been pretty thoroughly explored by other Disney films. The overall messaging might be a little lost on younger kids, passion being a concept that takes maturity to appreciate. Soul manages to speak to its broad demographics simultaneously, never letting weighty themes drag down its engaging narrative.

Disney loves talking about death, scarring countless children by killing off its protagonists’ parents. For a film that partially takes place in the afterlife, Soul doesn’t really concern itself with death. Instead, the film offers a celebration of life that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings. It’s weird to be moved by a Pixar film that doesn’t really try to make you cry.

Pixar has aimed for more ambitious goals than Soul, but the first-rate nature of its craftmanship ensures that this film belongs in its upper echelon. Soul is a thoroughly satisfying narrative. Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented to make for a worthwhile experience.

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Sunday

8

March 2020

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Onward Is a Perfectly Fine Film from a Studio Capable of Better

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

It seems likely that the early 00s will represent the same kind of legacy for Pixar that Disney Animation enjoyed throughout the 90s. The Disney Renaissance restored the company’s reputation as a leader in the genre, while Pixar established its own rather quickly, producing hit after hit. Aside from Cars 2, it’s hard to argue that Pixar has done anything to damage its stellar image, except perhaps through its shifting emphasis toward franchises.

Conceptually, Onward occupies fairly safe territory for a company like Pixar, known for challenging audiences young and old alike. The idea of two young elves going on a quest to reconnect with their long-dead father might carry more weight if this wasn’t a path Disney had walked so many times before. The Pixar magic comes alive through the stellar animation, but from a plot perspective, the film looks like territory well-staked out by the company’s competitors.

For the Lightfoot brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), adventure brings the possibility of long-awaited dreams fulfilled. Barley is an RPG-obsessed teen hoping to see his passions played out in real-time, while Ian hopes for a father figure to instill in him a sense of confidence. The contrast in the two brothers’ ambitions for the narrative is a little clunky, but for the most part the film manages to skirt by on sheer chemistry alone.

The voice cast is unsurprisingly top-notch. In addition to Holland and Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, and Lena Waithe supply plenty of comedy in supporting roles. The script doesn’t exactly do a whole lot for any of them, disappointing given the talent involved, but the movie rarely drags either. Pratt and Holland bring a lot of natural humor to their roles that don’t really get to shine here.

Onward is a touching narrative, though a movie destined to depress Pixar fans with its lack of ambition. A studio capable of more must live with the expectations of greatness. Onward is not great. It stakes it claim in the hall of very good.

The themes are fairly complex, the kind of stuff better absorbed by parents than their children. When loved ones die, those left behind are often put in the unsavory position of having to pick up the slack, whether they’re ready to or not. The ones who need to be taken care of quickly find themselves as the ones who need to do the caring. Onward understands the fast-moving cruelties of life.

Pixar has hit a lot of home runs. As every great hitter knows, the perfect swing is not one that always has its sights set on the fences. Onward is more of a standing double, a base hit that was never in question, yet one that lacks the suspense of a moment that’s truly grappled with something larger than itself.

For fans of Pixar, Onward might be a bit of a mixed bag. Children who are more unfamiliar with the company’s broader history may not care as much, fitting for the film’s target demographic. Onward is a safe film from a studio that frequently gnaws at its audience’s heartstrings. It’s okay to be a little upset that Pixar didn’t try to unleash the waterworks. Crying is good.

 

 

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