FlixChatter Review: SOUL (2020)

It’s been a while since I actually reviewed a Pixar movie. I haven’t seen COCO and while I did see Onward last Spring, I didn’t get a chance to review it. I’ve always liked movies about music and there is something so fun about SOUL that I watched it a day after its release on Disney+.

I love that Disney’s animated opening logo montage uses the music played by Joe Gardner’s (Jamie Foxx) middle-school students in his music class. It’s a fun and clever way to introduce the character in his environments. Now, it’s a special day for Joe as he’s been hired full time by the school as a music teacher. Instead of being ecstatic however, Joe actually feels down as his dream has always been to be a jazz musician. His tailor-shop-owner mother Libba (Phylicia Rashad) pressures him to accept the job as she wants him to be financially secure. As luck would have it, thanks to his former student, Joe suddenly got a chance to play in one of his favorite jazz quartet. He’s got oh-so-close to finally living his lifelong dream that night when poof! he falls into a manhole.

Pixar has always been great at defining its characters and in SOUL it’s no different. Joe is all about music… it’s in his blood, body and soul… as he says, ‘music is all I think about, from the moment I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep at night.’ So when I saw his dream slipped away from him just as he came SO close to realizing it, I couldn’t help but gasped (even though that scene is right there in the trailer).  Most of the movie happens in the afterlife, starting with Joe’s soul protesting the fact that he’s one of the poor souls heading towards the Great Beyond. Leave it to Pixar to make something quite traumatizing like death and make it cute and mirthful as Joe’s soul tries to escape the long lineup. He ends up in the Great Before, as in the pre-mortal existence before the soul enters a body. It’s classic Pixar that the visuals in each world is just spectacular to behold… gritty New York City, the dark, ominous-looking steps going to the afterlife (complete with the accountant counting every single soul), then the colorful, fluffy world of the Great Before, each one is so imaginative and wonderfully-constructed.

But the beauty of Pixar Studios isn’t just the amazing, awe-inspiring animation techniques, but the genius is in the brilliantly-witty writing, thanks to Pete Docter who co-wrote the script with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers. Somehow they could just get into the psyche of what it is to be human and can create such a family-friendly movie that actually gives you a lot of food for thought for adults. It’s when Joe meets 22 (Tina Fey), a cynical soul who has remained in the Great Before universe for a very long time and feels she’s not worthy to live on earth that most of the philosophical discussions happen. But of course, all the deep, meaningful existential conversations are delivered via one hilarious moment after another.

The soul-body switcheroo involving a therapy cat creates plenty of slapstick humor, and at times perhaps I fear that it’d get to be too much. Thankfully the writers never loses sight of what the movie is about and all the humor fits into the narrative they’re telling. There are so many great moments in this movie but I think the bit when both Joe + 22 are on earth might be my favorites. I love the bit at the barber shop… even the hilarity in that scene consist of deep moments where Joe realizes that perhaps he’s become too self-absorbed and not interested in other people’s lives. It’s these poignant scenes that Pixar is so good at making, filled with life-lessons and wisdom without getting too heavy-handed.

Of course all the characters are delightful. I love all the soul counselors, all named Jerry, voiced by Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi; and the droll accountant is voiced by Rachel House (whom I love in Taika Waititi movies like Hunt of the Wilderpeople and Thor Ragnarok). As I watch Graham Norton show frequently, it’s fun to hear his voice here which I recognize right away. It’s inspired casting to have him play the character Moonwind who helps lost souls get over their obsessions. Lovely to hear Angela Bassett‘s smooth voice as the sassy Dorothea Williams and that metaphor she told Joe in the end is memorable. Hey I’d love to see a spinoff of her character as a Jazz musician/sax player.

Of course, the fact that the protagonist loves Jazz, the music is absolutely fantastic. I love that the fingers playing the piano actually play the keys correctly, courtesy of real-life musician, Jon Batiste, who composed and also performed some of the songs. The movie also included musicians Herbie Hancock, Daveed Diggs and Ahmir-Khalib Thompson aka Questlove. I actually wish Jamie Foxx would actually sing in this movie as he too has a wonderful voice!

Per IMDb, Docter revealed that once the filmmakers settled on the main character being a jazz musician, they chose to make the character African-American. So Joe is the first black main protagonist of a Pixar movie that serves as a fitting tribute to Jazz music as well. What a brilliant title too, a soulful film both thematically and in terms of the music genre. I’m glad Pixar once again comes up with a fresh concept. This one is perhaps most similar to Inside Out which also gives an imaginative insight into humanity in the most delightful way. It’s fitting that it’s released on Christmas day, as it celebrates the humanity of us all and what a gift life truly is, even in a year like 2020.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen SOUL? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: TOY STORY 4 (2019)

When Pixar Animation Studios released the animated feature Toy Story on November 22, 1995, it probably could not have imagined in its wildest dreams that the animation studio would be acquired by Walt Disney Studios, and would be releasing its fourth Toy Story movie, Toy Story 4, after the first three films received universal acclaim from critics and fans alike and made close to 2 billion dollars in the worldwide box office. Fortunately for Pixar President Jim Morris, and Pixar Chief Creative Officer (and Minnesota native) Pete Docter, all of these things did come true, and the release of the last Toy Story film, Toy Story 4, could not have come at a more perfect time.

Pixar has become synonymous with genuinely heartfelt, often hilarious, high-quality animated entertainment. And Toy Story 4 delivers just that for the Disney-owned animation studio. It’s a sequel to the massively successful Toy Story 3 movie of 2010, following the adventures of Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), among other toys who reside with their human child owners, and try to bring them as much joy and laughter as possible.

While we did not review any of the previous Toy Story movies here, back in 2016 blog owner Ruth Maramis did a weekend roundup after having just watched The Secret Life Of Pets and re-watched Toy Story 3, where she said she was “blown away by how good and emotionally-compelling it was. It’s definitely much more than just a fun, feel-good kids movie. The Toy Story trilogy still reign supreme as the best animated movies ever, it won’t be a hyperbole to call it Pixar’s masterpiece.” Well I have good news for you, Ruth! Toy Story is no longer a trilogy but rather a list of feature film series with four entries (and probably one of – if not the – best four animated feature film series) and its will most definitely NOT be a hyperbole to call the Toy Story franchise Pixar’s masterpiece. In fact, Toy Story 4 could be considered the crown jewel of the franchise because it manages to maintain its superb animation qualities and the emotional complexities of its predecessors, while adding a major element of humor to its repertoire.

Ducky & Bunny – voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

By adding the strong comedic writing style of Rashida Jones, among other writers, Director Josh Cooley added new toy characters such as Ducky and Bunny (voiced respectively by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) to a freshen up the animated toys used in the franchise. These two – a duck named Ducky and a rabbit named Bunny – make friends with Buzz Lightyear after he finds himself as a prize in a carnival booth. They exist simply for being plush toy prizes, and not belonging to any child. They long for the chance to escape their monotonous existence on the wall of a carnival booth someday and get the shot at an exciting life, belonging to a child, and of being a part of a family of toys. These are just two of the new and exciting toys in Toy Story 4, but probably the most ordinary yet magical new toys is Forky (voiced by Tony Hale). Forky was created by new child Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) when she goes to kindergarten for an orientation. Bonnie instantly falls in love with Forky and it is the only toy she can ever think of when she wants a friend. But Forky… well Forky is much interested in the simpler life, one where he is quite simply trash. He was made from trash, and feels most comfortable when in the trash can. In fact, Woody spends the majority of the first half of the movie trying to keep Forky from ditching Bonnie for a less exiting existence in the trash. But by doing so, Woody also finds meaning to his own existence and understands that not all toys are meant to belong to just one single child.

One of the most exiting toys that I’m sure will be talked about long after Toy Story 4 finishes its theatrical run is named Duke Caboom and he’s voiced by Keanu Reeves. Duke Caboom may just be a Canadian daredevil toy with a white outfit, a mustache, and a toy motorcycle. But Duke Caboom is also a major hero, where he risks everything just so the toys he just met could be saved.  You see, Duke suffers from low self-esteem due to believing that he let down his previous owner (a Canadian child), unable to do the stunts that his commercial ads had promised. His current state is that of being confined to the shelved as an antique, but his backstory is equally tragic. When Woody and Bo Peep (voice by Annie Potts) meet Duke in pinball machine inside the spooky antique shop, the daredevil openly pines for what he once lived and lost. He tells them “You have a kid? I had a kid. I let him down!” You see, he wasn’t able to perform the stunts that his TV commercial promised. But he is given the chance to redeem himself and boy does he ever. You could say that Duke Caboom is my favorite new toy to appear in Toy Story 4.

Keanu Reeves-voiced Duke Caboom

The main arc of the story also introduces us to a doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks). While at first, Gabby Gabby and her henchmen at the antique store (a group called the Bensons, who are silent but sentient puppets) aren’t very friendly to Woody and Forky. We learn that there is a very good reason Gabby Gabby is interested in Woody and taking something that is very personal to him. But Gabby Gabby is a vintage 1950’s doll that doesn’t get almost any attention from children, and this is what motivates her to take her existence into her own hands and find the one child who will love her like she deserves. This helps Woody, Bo, Buzz and the whole gang to ultimately find their place in life, whether it’s with one child or one that helps other toys, sometimes lost toys, to find their owners. This is where Toy Story 4 succeeds. It doesn’t try to be overly sentimental in its approach to humanizing these animated toys, but rather it draws on the emotions we feel as human beings on a daily basis; the desire to belong, to be loved, to help others. I think this will be the legacy that the Toy Story franchise leaves its admirers – to accept others and treat others like you want to be treated.

Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks

There is a touching tribute at the end of the credits – to thank and acknowledge the passing of actor Don Rickles, who voiced Mr. Potato Head in the previous movies. Also stay in your seats after the credits for a special bit involving the Pixar Logo and Duke Caboom. I can’t tell you more but I promise you that you won’t regret it. Overall, Toy Story 4 succeeds where the other three Toy Story movies also succeeded, but it also builds upon the franchise with great humor and a great ending. Perhaps the Disney and Pixar bosses will try to make a fifth movie in this franchise (just take a look at what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise) but it would be beneficial for everyone if they just let Toy Story 4 be the movie that concludes the franchise. Maybe take some time and reflect on the Toy Story legacy, and what it brought adults and children alike in the past 24 years. Then take another one of Pixar’s troves of films (maybe Inside Out 2?) or just go with an original concept (what a novelty!) and hope that it turns into Disney and Pixar’s next animated perfection and makes them “a bajillion dollars” in the process. Because by this time, you would be foolish to ever doubt Pixar, wouldn’t you?


Have you seen TOY STORY 4? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s Inside Out (2015)

InsideOut_poster

Ever since Pixar came out with Toy Story in the mid 90s, I’ve been a big fan of Pixar films. What I love about most of them is behind the imaginative concepts and inventive visuals, the stories aren’t devoid of heart. Well, that principle is in full display with this latest movie.

This time, the protagonists aren’t people, animal or aliens, but the emotions that reside within an 11-year-old girl, Riley. As if a preteen girl’s life isn’t complicated enough, being uprooted from the Upper Midwest all the way to San Francisco certainly is a big adjustment. Watching Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness bicker with each other on how to best navigate Riley’s new environment is a real blast!

InsideOut_Riley

The fact that the young protagonist is from Minnesota makes it extra amusing for me. I didn’t realize that at first but I suppose the scenes with all the snow, the family going skating and the fact that Riley LOVES hockey should’ve been a major giveaway. Pixar really immerses you into their imaginative universe here. The headquarter where the four major emotions operate in is so fun and inventive, such as how each memory is stored within this glowing orb and the whole process of how it gets sent up the memory tube. There’s also Riley’s Island of Personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island, each powered by Riley’s core memory.

InsideOut_IslandOfPersonalityFiguring out how Riley’s internal *universe* work is part of the movie’s charm, and of course, the four emotions are such a hoot. I absolutely adore Joy who’s now become one of my favorite Pixar characters. Amy Poehler is the perfect choice to bring her character to life. She utterly lives up to the name in every way… an absolute joy to watch and listen to. The voice work is stellar all around, as to be expected in a Pixar movie. Nice to see so many female voice cast, too. Mindy Kalling as Disgust is delightfully snarky and Kaitlyn Dias as Riley is appropriately bubbly and full of angst, as you’d expect every preteen to be. Bill Hader is perfect as Fear and Richard Kind is memorable as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong who’s a bizarre combination of an elephant, a cat, candy, and a dolphin. Oh and it cries candy, it really doesn’t get more adorable than that!

InsideOut_JoySadnessBingBongFor anyone who’s ever experienced moving to a new town at a young age, forced to abandon the friends and environment we’ve grown to love, we can certainly identify with Riley. But truly, Inside Out‘s is relatable no matter what age you are because we’ve all experienced growing up. The movie mostly takes place within Riley’s head, but occasionally it goes into the mind of Riley’s mom and dad. The one that gets the most laugh is the closing credit sequence when it zooms inside the mind of dogs and cats. Boy I could watch an entire movie of a cat version of Inside Out! Now there’s a spinoff idea. Oh and I have got to mention the hunky Brazilian Helicopter Pilot, that bit was hilarious and I certainly can relate to THAT 😉

InsideOut_Family

This film’s concept is brilliant and inherently challenging one as it deals with the psychology and science of the brain which, if not handled well, could easily be quite boring. Yet directors Pete Docter (who I just realized is a Minnesota native) and Ronaldo Del Carmen somehow made all the science stuff so whimsical and delightful, without forgoing accuracy. Per this article, Pixar worked with UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert on the science of emotion, which I think help flesh out the animated personifications of the four major emotions depicted in the film.

Final Thoughts: I had a lot of fun with this one. I’d think this movie would appeal to both kids and adults, though I’d imagine parents of preteens/teens would get a real kick out of this. Inside Out is not just an entertaining family fare, but it’s also an affecting one that gives us an insight into our humanity in the most delightful way. Not sure yet how this movie will rank amongst my all time animated favorites like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall•E over time, but this is definitely another winner from Pixar.

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Have you seen Inside Out? Well, what did you think?

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Teaser Trailer Spotlight: Pixar’s Inside Out

EverybodysChattinWinterHello all! It’s yet another combo post today, as I want to highlight some of my favorite posts from fellow bloggers as well as highlight a brand new teaser trailer from Pixar. I was going to do a Music Break of Into The Woods since I’m going to the press screening tonight, but I’ll save it ’til next week. I’m also going to the Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb screening early Saturday morning. I haven’t seen the first movie but hey Dan Stevens is playing Lancelot!

I might be blogging about my reaction to the SAG and Golden Globes noms, boy they all seem to be coming out at once! Oh and stay tuned for Ted’s review of Exodus tomorrow. If you’ve read yesterday’s post, you might’ve guessed what he thinks of it 😉

So here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

CR_FelixLeiterAfter having finished the audio book Carte Blanche (read by my dahling Toby Stephens, natch!), Michael talked about one of Bond’s most loyal allies: Leiter, Felix Leiter.

One of my fave bloggers Cindy B. always have such insightful and perceptive posts. Her latest is on the point of view of Books vs Films and why the latter often doesn’t live up to its source material.

A few month-in-review posts are still trickling in. Kristin and Eric just posted what they’ve watched last month… and Kristin also talked about what she’s anticipating in December.

Those with music in their minds … Josh posted his list of Top 25 Songs of 2014, whilst Chris picks his Top 100 songs in batches.

Lots of great reviews of movies I haven’t seen yet:

Mark reviewed Whiplash, Stu reviewed Calvary, and Zoë reviewed FURY. Meanwhile, Mikey and Katy are both impressed by the movie I wish I had seen: Nightcrawler.

ConradHall-RoadtoPerdition

Last but not least, check out these two great lists … Alex picks his Top 10 Conrad L. Hall films, whilst Dan/Top10Film‘s contributor listed Top 10 Horror Films from the USA.

 


Now time for that awesome teaser trailer …

I hadn’t been following Pixar’s next project but oh, I absolutely LOVE this story concept! Inside Out is Pixar Animation Studios’ fifteenth feature film and glad they’re going back to an original story since Brave in 2012.

Pixar_InsideOut

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters.



Now I’m not too crazy about the name (wonder what other titles were tossed around). But hey, the premise does sound promising and the trailer definitely grabbed me. This looks like it could be right up there with Toy Story and Wall•E, both of which are written by Pete Docter and he also directed Monsters Inc. and UP for Pixar. Docter is the sole screenwriter of Inside Out and he’s also one of the co-directors. I quite like the voice cast too: Diane Lane, Amy Peohler, Kyle MacLachlan, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader. So color me excited for this one!


What do you think of ‘Inside Out?’