Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pixar Animation Studios: Part 2: Bugs Life

Series Intro: In my purposeful retrospective of WDAS I couldn’t ignore it’s younger sister: PIXAR. This is Part 2 in the retrospective of PIXAR

Official Title: A Bugs Life
Release: November 25, 1998 (Three years after Toy Story)
Running Time: 96 minutes
Estimated Cost: $60 million (double that of Toy Story)
Estimated Revenue: $363.40 million
Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Plot Summary
Flik, inventor ant, has inventions that go awry and cause the oppressive Grass Hopper Army to become angry and force the ants to work double time before the winter comes in. He is forced to go find other bugs to help the ants fight against the grass hoppers. He mistakenly returns with circus bugs.

After several mishaps, the ants successfully defeat the grass hoppers. Flik is celebrated for his inventions and is chosen as a mate for the new ant queen!

Plot Rating: 4 stars out of 5

PIXAR has outdone themselves with this movie. It has the loveable characters that made Toy Story great. It has comedy and laughs (reminding me of Walt’s movies that had a lot of comedy to help relieve the tension of the plot). I had moments of tears and moments of giggle fits. I like that PIXAR has focused on male leads, where WDAS focused on female leads.

Animation Rating: 5 out of 5

OMG, the background art was the most fantastic piece of art I’ve seen yet! It was so life like, but yet the characters truly belonged in the world. The character art was great too, for the leads, but not for the hundreds of ants. Even PIXAR made fun of the fact that all the filler ants looked the same (one of the extras of the BluRay has one character talking to the card board cut out of the same ant).

The Test of Time:
Eric, Flik and I at Disney's Animal Kingdom in WDW
Kind of slid into PIXAR vaults, not to say anything was really wrong with the movie, but just not much has been happening in it.

Final Thoughts
Aside from the Toy Story series, I have not seen any PIXAR movie in theatres. And many not at all. I do have a problem with CG movies (as you might have be able to tell with my WDAS reviews and I highly criticize the CG effects). I truly miss hand drawn animation and hope to see a return to it. However, knowing that PIXAR has dedicated itself to CG animation, I can appreciate the art and characters they have created.

Next Up:
Toy Story 2

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Walt Disney Animation Studios Part 34: Hunchback of Norte Dame

Series Intro: This is Part 34 of a multi-part retrospective of Walt Disney Animation Studios' endeavors.

Official Title: The Hunchback of Norte Dame
Release: June 21, 1996
Running Time: 91 minutes
Estimated Cost: $70 million
Estimated Revenue: $325.5 million
Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Plot Summary:
Judge Frollo loathes Gypsies and kills one on the steps of Notre Dame; after seeing the woman’s baby he vows to drown the hideous creature until the Archdeacon guilts Frollo into raising the deformed baby; Frollo agrees under the condition that the monster live at the cathedral.

Twenty years have passed and Quasimodo has gone slightly mad locked in the bell tower with only the Archdeacon and Frollo for human company. Quasi imagines three of the gargoyles into friends and they encourage him to visit the Festival of Fools in the courtyard of the cathedral.

Once down there, in direct defiance to Frollo, Quasi gets wrapped up in the revelry and is revealed to be the monster that rings the bells. Esmeralda, a gypsy, helps save Quasi from the angry mob but finds herself in hot water with Frollo. She is forced to claim sanctuary in the cathedral by Phoebus, the captain of the guard.

Quasi, falling in love with Esmeralda, helps her escape the cathedral. When Frollo discovers her disappearance he goes crazy with lust, longing for Esmeralda. He and his guard (including Phoebus – also in love with the gypsy) start burning Paris in hopes of finding the Gypsy people’s hide out.

After saving a family from Frollo’s wrath, Phoebus is shot with an arrow by the guard under Frollo’s orders. Es saves him and hides him at the cathedral. Quasi, realizing he and Es have no future, continues to be her friend, and takes care of Phoebus. However, Frollo, knowing of this friendship tricks Quasi into showing him the location of the Gypsy hideout.

Es is threatened with burning at the stake, unless she recants and gives herself to Frollo. She doesn’t and a battle ensues with Quasi not saving Frollo as he falls to his doom from the top of the cathedral. Es and Phoebus kiss with Quasi’s aprroval.


"The Bells of Notre Dame"
"Out There"
"Topsy Turvy"
"God Help the Outcasts"
"Heaven's Light"
"A Guy Like You"
"The Court of Miracles"

Although not my favorite soundtrack, I believe the song these to be the most powerfully moving songs of the cannon. Unlike those from Pochahontas and Lion King and the others of the renaissance, these all had much deeper connections to the plot and the story truly was told through the music!

Plot Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The story was the most interesting yet. I believe WDAS truly outdid themselves with creating this plot. As with any movie based on a book, it was almost a completely different story, but taken as a separate entity, this movie wonderfully mixed the worlds of literary fiction and classical animation and musical theatre.

However, despite retaining a “G” rating, this movie was very adult! More so than any previous release (save for Black Cauldron (the red headed bastard of the Disney cannon). Every male character in this movie was lusting over Esmeralda. The movie had many religious overtones (how could it not taking place in a cathedral?), but mostly the concept of hell. Frollo even sings an entire song about his lust for Es and how she (and possibly he) will wind up in hell for her lack of Christianity and his carnal desire.

And look at how sexy he is!
Despite its adult themes, Hunchback had a lot of the comic elements that were missing from Pocahontas. Phoebus was just one big walking double entandre that kept jokes for the adults (such as commenting on a wines vintage), while the kids would have enjoyed his machismo always ending badly (when Es punches him below the belt with a candelabra). Also, the cute friends were back; this time in the form of the gargoyles (Quasi’s imaginary friends).

Animation Rating: 2 out of 5

And here is where this movie failed! The CG effects were too simplistic for the movie and WDAS relied on them too much. All of the crowd shots were obviously poorly rendered characters. How can PIXAR, be creating believable movements for their characters in Toy Story that look like actual moving pieces, while WDAS can barely make a crowd look realistic?

WDAS has come to over rely on CG effects. Most of the backgrounds in Hunchback were so poorly rendered that the characters (who were finely drawn) stood out and looks as if they didn’t belong in the world (it reminded my of my high school days in front of a green screen and we were never able to edit the film to quite make it look natural.

The Test of Time:

Another movie that hasn’t quite stood up against time as some of the other movies from the renaissance. Where are all the Quasi costumes on Halloween? Or the Notre Dame cathedral in the new WDW Fantasy Land? Having one direct to video sequel didn’t do enough to keep this movie in the lime light.

I saw this movie in theatres, then was inundated with it by my three year old cousin, where I was forced to watch it hundreds of times in a month. I never watched it again until a day ago!

Through the Modern Lens

The anti-classic story that doesn’t end with the guy getting the girl. Not that I expected Es to end up with Quasi, I was still hoping for it, the entire time. But here WDAS shows us that you have to be beautiful to find true love (a running theme in the WDAS cannon). Considering how much WDAS changed from Hugo’s original novel, couldn’t they have allowed Es and Quasi to wind up together. She was the only person in Paris to not judge him by his looks.

I also wonder about the modern technology through which I view these movies. How much does that play into the enjoyment of it. When I was watching the extras of this DVD, with the darker animation, the CG effects looked slightly better than they did during the remastered DVD. Will they look even better when Hunchback is remastered again for the Platinum/Diamond editions?

Next Up: