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What Happened To Pixar? (Worries About A Struggling Studio)

Since 1995’s Toy Story, the computer animation geniuses at Pixar had been a run that can only be described as genre defining.

I was 11 years old when Woody and Buzz came into my life, and the results were nothing short of defining. I became obsessed with movies. The in’s and out’s of their creations. These amazing characters, so richly detailed, were made from computers?

I had always been an inquisitive child, interested in learning as much about things as I could – but I think it was Toy Story that made me a true film nerd. I could tell you as much about Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as I could John Lasseter. And for many many years, Pixar delivered movies that amazed me.

I remember Monsters, Inc. tugging at my heart strings with the adorable Boo. I remember when Toy Story 2 spoke to me as a toy collector at the time, while also showing that sequels can improve on the original. I remember The Incredibles being everything I’ve ever wanted out of a movie, from an amazing score by Michael Giacchino, to being a Silver-Age superhero film that my Wizard-addled mind could only dream of. I remember the amazing short films that came before each movie, packed away in the DVD extras. I remember the shared tears as my family and I watched Toy Story 3 together on Blu-Ray one Thanksgiving.

They were the movies I could talk about and share with anyone – from my film nerd friends, to my parents, to little cousins. You knew that if you paid for your ticket to a Pixar film, you’d be guaranteed an impeccable movie experience.

The less said about the Cars franchise, the better. (I know, kids love it.)

The peak? The amazing three film streak they released from 2007 to 2009. Three films created in the time period where they didn’t know if they were going independent, or staying with Disney. The brillance-out-of-chaos production of Ratatoullie which mixed rats, food and criticism. The apocalyptic yet uplifting Wall-E which warmed our hearts with an adorable robot, while questioning what we’ve done (and may do) to our planet. The love-lorn adventure of Up, mixing some of the saddest animation ever with the bold thrills of pulp – to see what lives BEYOND THERE! I don’t know that there’s been a gutsier trio of films made by any studio or creative force back to back, especially under the guise of “family entertainment”.

They’ve been praised, heralded by animation aficionados as one of the greatest studios ever, spoken in similar tones of the masterworks created by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. They’ve made billions at the box office. They’ve been imitated by other studios such as Dreamworks and Warner Bros. Animation.

…But I worry the sterling reputation has been tarnished, and may not shine again for some time. Since 2011’s Cars 2, something has been off about Pixar. And I’m not sure if – or when – it will turn around.

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A History of Batmen, Or: NECA Toys Delivers Figure I’ve Dreamed Of All My Life

Tim Burton’s Batman was a life changing experience for me. I was 5 years old in 1989, and as a young comic book fan (Batman and Spider-Man being my favs, even now), the movie absolutely broke my brain.

Yeah, I can watch it now with a more critical eye and see how “off” it was for a Batman movie and what not, but that movie was a defining experience. I can watch it now, 25 years later, and spout off entire sequences of dialogue. I lived for that movie as a kid.

Unfortunately, the best option we had as a kid for a Batman action figure (which – of course – I needed), was this guy, from Toy Biz. I remember being so happy getting him for Christmas in 1989. Countless fruitless searches at Woolworths, K-Mart and other stores paid off, no more searching through pegs of Bob The Goon!

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Toy Biz was still relatively new in the world of action figures. Made off of a modified Super Powers mold, I remember their early figures feeling cheap, with paint that would easily flake off. Not really the best look for a defining character of my childhood.

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God Help Me, I’m Excited For ‘Pitch Perfect 2′

I came into the original Pitch Perfect not out of protest, but – I guess out of a sense of loyalty.

My lovely, long-suffering fiancé Sam asked me to see it with her. I cause her to see many of the massive nerd films and Hollywood blockbusters that I talk about at length on here, and while she enjoys some (if not most), I know that there are those she does not care for. And one day, that came to roost.

She wanted to see Pitch Perfect.

All I knew about the movie going in was that I hated the film’s poster and that the plot sounded like Glee-light.

In the movies favor? It starred the delightful Anna Kendrick, who had grabbed my attention with her turns in 50/50, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Up In The Air. I think I owed Sam for seeing Looper earlier that week anyway – even though she ended up loving it. (She has heart-eyes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.)

Lights go down, movie goes up, and to my shock, the flick was fantastic. It could have been a generic, trope filled mess. Instead, with a witty script, incredible casting, and one of the best soundtracks from a film possibly ever (SUCH GREAT MASHUPS!), I loved every single minute.

…it didn’t hurt that one scene was basically Super Art Fight with a capella.

It seems like the rest of the world seemed to agree, as Pitch Perfect went on to be a surprise hit, generating $113 Million worldwide on a $17 million budget. It made a star of Rebel Wilson, and increased the notoriety of Ms. Kendrick (who even scored a Billboard hit with “Cups”.)

Pitch Perfect has gone on to be quite the favorite in our household – with literally dozens of rewatches on Blu-Ray – and this May, Pitch Perfect 2 hits theaters. It may be the only movie rivaling Avengers: Age of Ultron as a Summer 2015 most-wanted between my to-be wife and I.

And today, we have the trailer.

Pitch Perfect 2 takes the Mighty Ducks approach, and takes our lovely group of singers – the Barden Bellas and throwing them into a Worldwide tournament. Some elements look great! (David Cross? OH SNAP.) Some look…less than great. (SURPRISE! The Germans are the villains because Germans.) But I’m excited to see what may come out of this. The scale certainly appears to be bigger on this one. Helps to have a larger budget, right?

Perhaps Pitch Perfect was a Bring It On moment – a surprisingly great movie coming out of a hackneyed premise. Sequels to great comedies are few and far between. With the first film’s producer Elizabeth Banks making her directorial debut here, I have to think she wants to stick the landing. Lightning can strike twice. I just know that – I may never admit it – but I’m going to be the one pushing my fiancé to see this one opening weekend.

Pitch Perfect 2 hits theaters on May 15, 2015

BIG HERO 6

Big Hero 6 (2014): A Review

The Superhero film – like any genre – has its formula.

A steady three act structure. Act 1, we set the tone and characters. Act 2, something doesn’t go right for our hero (or heroes). Act 3, it all comes together, evil is defeated, and good continues to win the day.

So – when the structure is so solid, how do you approach it?

If you’re Disney – it’s with excitement and heart, and that’s on display in their latest release, Big Hero 6.

Loosely based on a Marvel comic (pretty much only the character names and vague concept are ported over here), and set in a made up city called San Fransokyo (it’s like if Blade Runner went right), our lead protagonist is a young teenage genius, Hiro Hamada. Hiro is incredibly bright, but lacks focus, wasting his skills on underground robot fighting. His brother Tadashi, however, is working hard in the robotics wing of San Fransokyo University – with his prize creation being Baymax, an incredibly friendly robot focused on healthcare and well-being.

Hiro and Tadashi live with their aunt, with their parents dying at a young age. Like any good Disney movie, it’s probably not a spoiler to say that Tadashi doesn’t stay in the picture for very long – and as a villainous mystery ensues, Hiro – alongside the wonderful mix of personalities that made up Tadashi’s fellow robotics students – quickly wind up in the world of superheroics.

We’re clearly coloring in the lines in Big Hero 6, but what makes the movie shine is the palette that directors Don Hall and Chris Williams use to shine. From incredible action sequences (a flying scene is equal parts How To Train Your Dragon, Kiki’s Delivery Service and the opening of Futurama), inspired voice work (Damon Wayans Jr. is a delight, as is Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass, and comedian TJ Miller as burn out fanboy Fred), and absolutely beautiful design, as every inch of San Fransokyo shines, from small details like Hiro’s awesome robot clock to the blimps that shine high above the city.  I especially love how the movie actually bumps convention at times, too, with science ruling the day, and the most bad-ass character being female (complete with a catchphrase of “Woman Up!”)

The movie’s not-so-secret weapon, however? Baymax.

Voiced by 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit, Baymax is one of the greatest creations in the modern Disney lexicon. Huggable, hilarious, and with a silicon heart of gold, you can’t take your eyes off him. The film’s trailers may have taken the shine off of some of his antics, but Baymax represents some of the best physical comedy ever rendered in CG. The acting of Adsit also somehow brings an indelible warmth to Baymax’s robotic voice, which just adds to the love he clearly forms in the audience. There will be a lot of Baymaxes under Christmas trees this year.

Yes, the movie does eventually fall into the same “rush to the end” trap that all superhero movies do. Yes, you can see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. But when a movie nails a formula so hard, it’s difficult to not enjoy every single minute of it.

More Wreck-It Ralph than Frozen (although Ralph is still the better movie), Big Hero 6 continues the Walt Disney Animation Studio renaissance started with 2010’s Tangled. It’s a fun, exciting movie for animation fans of all ages.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to figure out which Baymax I’m going to buy off the Internet.

Additional Notes: I saw Big Hero 6 in 2D, so I cannot speak to the film’s 3D quality. With the 3D being rendered natively from the computer generated files, it’s probably pretty good – especially the flying sequences. The film is prefaced by a brilliant short, Feast, which will tug at your heart-strings, particularly if you love dogs. Oh, and stay through the credits…especially if you’re a superhero fan.

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An Epic End: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Trailer

This December, Peter Jackson brings his tales of Middle Earth to a true end.

After three amazing Lord of the Rings films, and – thus far – two installments of The Hobbit, thirteen years of films come to an end with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Warner Bros. released the final trailer for this third Hobbit film, and it is – as one would expect, epic.

Sure, no Smaug. Sure, barely any of the titular hobbit. But it’s hard to not have an incredible sense that a major chapter of filmmaking has come to an end.

Perhaps The Battle of the Five Armies will continue the upward trend of the Hobbit films. The Desolation of Smaug was a significant improvement on An Unexpected Journey, and while I continue to believe The Hobbit could have been told in just one film – this trailer does a lot to revive the spark for Middle-Earth I once had.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies releases December 17, 2014.