March 23, 2010

Toy Story

Long in coming reviews of Toy Story 1 & 2 lead to the question of what it is about Pixar that works?

I'm coming around lately to the idea that they're the true inheritors of the silent era's cinema of gesture and melodrama... but I've been wrong before.

Talk back on the eve of Toy Story 3.


Vincent said...

This is only peripherally related to Walter's and Bill's excellent take on the Toy Story BDs (BD being the connective thread), but the current issue of Cineaste magazine features a fascinating symposium on the state of 35mm theatrical repertory exhibition in the digital age. The online supplement ( ) is excellent in its own right, though I would encourage those so inclined to check out the magazine for the full scope of the discussion. It's a lengthy but worthwhile read for "film freaks," and a reminder that while we're justifiably excited about the wonders of BD and the like, we as consumers of our treasured art form need, where possible, to support our local rep houses with ticket purchases and memberships in a necessary effort to balance that third, fourth or fith purchase of something like Toy Story in its newest home video incarnation.

For those with less time on their hands, an excellent introduction to the Cineaste piece is Dave Kehr's "The Ballad of Blu-ray and Scratchy Old Film" ( ), to which many of the Cineaste symposium participants refer. It appeared in the New York Times a few months back, so pardon me if it's old news, but if you haven't checked it out you should.

eddie said...

I was only 10 or 11 when I first saw Toy Story, catching it on video after dismissing it during its theatrical run. I think I was trying to prove to myself that I was growing up and didn't need to spend my time on cartoons/stuff that my siblings liked. But when I finally saw it I instantly fell for all of its charms. As the years passed I could start to see faults with it, though I would never admit it, but it never diminished the viewing experience. Toy Story is one of those movies that I love unconditionally, can watch anytime and be just as amused as the first time I saw it. With every new release I'm hopeful that I'll be able to capture that sense of wonderment and timelessness. For sure, it doesn't always happen, but when it does (Wall-E, TS2, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, Incredibles), that kind of experience with a film can't be topped.

To answer the original question, I think I'm predisposed to falling for almost anything Pixar does because they hooked me good with that first experience, like any good brand does. My first experience with Pixar was excellence and now I'll keep coming back for more. It's not as academic or interesting as Walter's notion, but it's what I've got.

Dan said...

I was 16 when I saw Toy Story, and actually didn't think much of it. I was the "wrong age", I know, but I distinctly remember the audience I saw it with being similarly underwhelmed, too. There was just a vibe in the air when the lights went up.

I appreciated it a lot more on DVD (it's a fun buddy caper for kids), but I still say it's a teensy bit overrated. Toy Story 2? I'll admit, my indifference to Toy Story has meant I've only ever caught bits and pieces of it playing on TV.

brandon curtis said...

When I was the ripe old age of thirteen maybe fourteen (depending on a release date) I remember throwing a massive temper tantrum in the front yard when I discovered my family had gone to see the movie without me. It certainly speaks to Walter's displeasure with the film for being shrill, unpleasant and thick with bad behaviour. But I guess there's an object or an age that brings out the inner asshole in all of us. At the time, for me, it was movies and true to form my tantrum was completely unearned because I had chosen to do something else earlier in the day, but as a young deluded asshole I was probably under the impression that we'd made some tacit agreement to all go to this thing together.

On the other hand, even in light of that embarrassing episode, I can't say that I regret it for even a second.

Anonymous said...
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Gary said...

Not related to Toy Story, but there's a bit of a heated debate over the net as a result of what Kevin Smith had to say about critics on his twitter. Namely that if critics are going to dump on his movies then they can at least pay for the privilege, and that instead he'd likely select random people off twitter for press screenings in the future.

Was just wondering if anyone had thoughts on this?

renfield said...

Re: Walt's review of Lost Season 2.

I'm puzzled by your reaction to the contents of The Hatch. I wholeheartedly agree with the comparison drawn between the experience of "pressing the button" and watching the show -- it's an act of chasing one's own tail, or levitating by picking oneself up by one's own feet -- but I fail to see why that is a bad thing. Isn't it, in fact, a good thing that the show simultaneously enacts what it is about? In film school, they teach you that this is the most admirable thing film can do, and they show you Citizen Kane and stuff.

There are only a handful of episodes left in the sixth and final season, and the writers seem to be making good on their promises to provide "answers" to the "questions" the show has raised. I find this utterly inexcusable, given that the point is to chase the same paradox down a fractalized rabbit hole.

It is, to me, the same predicament as The Prisoner: we want to know why he resigned and who runs the Village, but we even more badly want not to know because it would destroy everything that makes The Prisoner valuable to us. I also read your review of the MacGoohan series, and while I agree that the finale is true to theme on a symbolic level, it drives me nuts that it must be taken purely as symbolism. The show forces you to suddenly forget all your investment in the idea that the events are supposed to actually be happening within the reality of the show.

I mention it partially to further illustrate the rock/hard place between which Lost finds itself (it's going the literal route instead of the figurative, and I don't like either of 'em). I also bring it up to open up a broader discussion:

Mr. Chaw mentioned in the Armond White blurb that having an agenda is a positive thing for a film critic. I guess I agree. But how adaptable is your agenda? Do you know exactly what you want from film, and therefore accurately pinpoint your reaction to a given work? Or do movies still have the potential to change your idea of what movies can (or if you prefer -- I don't -- "should") be? If the agenda is inflexible, isn't there a danger that I'm going to learn more about Walt and my differences as viewers than about the work in question?

renfield said...

Further addressing these alleged "differences": I have trouble with the idea that Prisoner's thematically consistent ending is acceptable simply because it's thematically consistent. I think that it makes the show adhere more easily to a critic's desire to canonize and categorize.

Then we begin tracing themes through movies that were conceived, written, greenlit, produced, post-produced, and maybe shelved years apart, but released simultaneously, and say "This is what movies in 2009 were about." I'm not trying to deny that trends occur, just that obsessing over them is symptomatic of the Chaw agenda (how many trucks were destroyed in 2008?) and possibly detrimental to a few notions of what makes art valuable or what makes it art at all.

I personally am more interested in what art reveals about the artist than the extent to which a given work agrees with itself or with other works released in temporal proximity. I favor films that are enthusiastic over those that are consistent. I don't think films need to be thematically accountable to be fascinating, valuable, and relevant, and I do think greatness frequently happens unintentionally and even despite the best efforts of those involved.

I guess I'm alleging that there doesn't seem to be much room for that kind of stuff within Walt's agenda, which is obviously preferable to us all wanting the same things from films. But I'd like to know more about why everybody comes from the perspective they do, and if Mr. Chaw thinks this is at all an accurate depiction of his approach.

(and, certainly, the acting, dialogue, and genre abuse suck throughout all six seasons of Lost with rare exception)

Anonymous said...

If you think "a Scotsman" is a satisfactory answer to the question of "What's down the Hatch?" then you've come to the wrong website.

renfield said...

That's a rather obtuse, nasty, and unproductive comment.

The predicament of the Scotsman in the hatch is a consistent iteration of Lost's primary conflict. As such, I think it jive's with Walt's "agenda" as I'm perceiving it.

Are you suggesting they should have all found dummies of themselves that turned out to be monkeys when unmasked? (ie, why is the answer to "who is number 1" any more satisfying?") Is Lost necessarily trying to be about the Nietzschean abyss, or rather, must it be in order to be valid?

Dan said...

@Renfield: Personally I thought the reveal of what's down The Hatch was perfectly handed in Lost; it introduced us to a new level of mystery in the DHARMA Initiative (but one that was hard and tangible, not surreal or wantonly bizarre).

When I think back to all the crazy theories that were being thrown around at the time, nobody got close to "a Scotsman pressing a button for a mysterious company", and half the job of a mystery show is to keep audiences guessing like that... without alienating too many people with totally ridiculous answers that make zero sense. Lost has since proven, with a few forgivable exceptions, that they knew what they were doing with the Hatch scenario (see: Season 5). I don't agree with Walter that it was "The Mundane" at all.

But it's fun to read a well-written, opposing viewpoint. I'd even agree that Lost's very structure is something of an elaborate Skinner Box, but that's part of the fun. I'm a willing guinea pig for this show to entertain and delight, which it has done for 6 seasons solid.

renfield said...

I'm also freshly comparing it to our discovery of the Smoke Monster's "true" identity (if we are to believe the last episode's revelations). I mean come on, it's just the fucking Bad Guy? We're going to spend the rest of the series trying to Stop the Bad Guy? I really hope they have something else up their sleeves.

JF said...

I found most of the first three seasons of Lost (and a portion of this one) rather irritating for many of the same reasons Walter gives. Once the flashbacks stop, however, the show opens up and becomes consistently rewarding. I don't think it's a great story, but when looked at as a grand, all-consuming experiment in how convoluted a show can get without becoming totally incoherent, I have to admire it. Many of the individual pieces that make up its huge narrative pattern are hacky and half-baked, but the overall shape they form is shaping up to be something really nifty.

Alex Jackson said...

Not related to Toy Story, but there's a bit of a heated debate over the net as a result of what Kevin Smith had to say about critics on his twitter. Namely that if critics are going to dump on his movies then they can at least pay for the privilege, and that instead he'd likely select random people off twitter for press screenings in the future.

Was just wondering if anyone had thoughts on this?

I went to the drive-in last night and I thought about this comment everytime Smith's Cop Out caught my periphereal vision.

I looked up Cop Out on Moviefone to see where it's still playing. I picked a theater at random and found that these were the other movies on the marquee:

Shutter Island
The Crazies
Brooklyn's Finest
Hot Tub Time Machine
Repo Men

I don't know what kind of person would look at the listing of this theater and think that Cop Out looks the most interesting of the six.

Would Kevin Smith pick Cop Out? If you had a hankering for a raunchy comedy appealing to nostalgia for the 1980s wouldn't you be more attracted to Hot Tub Time Machine?

Smith isn't attacking critics because they want to piss on everything. He's not attacking critics because they expect film to be art. He's attacking them for their very rudimentary function of consumer reporting. Because they dare suggest that this other movie playing in your multiplex might be more worth your ten dollars than his film.

In fact, the only way I would have even given Cop Out a second thought is if the critics said it was a good movie.

Bill C said...

My favourite part of Kevin Smith's rant is that he referred to his own movie--his *own movie*--as a retarded child and the critics as therefore inhumane for picking on it.

Honestly, I've loathed the guy ever since I read the depressingly vacant "My Boring-Ass Life". (Cue Smith: "But what did you expect with that title?!") He has absolutely nothing left to say and nowhere to go. He's delaying his inevitable future of shedding pounds on "Celebrity Fit Club" and comisserating with Vanilla Ice on "The Surreal Life" with these desperate bids at relevance. And his tantrums are becoming increasingly Troy Duffy-esque.

Fuck him.

Patrick said...

renfield: I find the end of The Prisoner satisfying precisely because it tries so very hard not to be. It is a big F-U to authority, namely, the viewers demanding closure and answers. And with The Prisoner railing against authority, it fits perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill/Walter, the Lost 3rd Season review is excellent but you need to fix the episode numbers in the review - they're all 2.19 and 2.20 instead of 3.19 and 3.20.

Dan said...

I hate talking off-topic here (any chance of a weekly "discuss what got posted at FFC?" post every Friday, Bill?), but I must reiterate that I'm enjoying Walter's lambasting of Lost, having just read his Season Three vitriol. And that's *despite* being a massive fan of the show and disagreeing with many of his points (but certainly not all of them.) I just feel a little sorry for someone who's having to review entire seasons of something he's clearly not enjoying!

I find that Lost benefits from having a week to discuss and theorize on developments with likeminded fans, so perhaps digesting the show a half-dozen episodes at a time isn’t helping. And if you're just not into the show and its Stephen King-level mysteries and sci-fi, you're just not into the show.

But are you finding NO entertainment-value in Lost, beyond the quality of the stunning Blu-ray picture, Walter? Season 3 is actually my least favourite (particularly the "mini-season" set in the cages, which was responsible for halving its audience from thereon in), but there were still many moments and sequences that hit my geeky sweet spot. The premiere's opening sequence, to name but one.

I just have an image of Walter watching the season 3 finale when "the twist" is revealed, sitting stony-faced as the credits rolled, before sharpening a pencil to indulge in a rant about how badly Hurley's written. Maybe, just maybe, you'll come around to liking it a little more with season 4 (my favourite year), which ditches the then-redundant and overused flashbacks. But probably not. I look forward to the review, regardless. :)

Alex Jackson said...

Just saw the Synecdoche, NY DVD. Google search on the blogger discussion revealed this.

Yeesh! Can we call a moratorium on the put-down "pseudo-intellectual"? Whenever I read that it suggests to me that the writer just plain attacking intellectualism in general.

renfield said...

@Alex: A strange and dismissable piece, eh? Much of it is spent ridiculing the physical appearance first of the film's content, and then (inexcusably) of the roundtable panelists. Still, I look forward to checking out that discussion.

Bill C said...

@Alex/renfield: That's NP Thompson's shtick. He hates it because you like it and uses a person's looks as a yardstick of their worth. He's a wannabe Armond White, allegedly mentored by legendary cockhorse John Simon. He can be entertaining, though, like most uber-douches.

jer fairall said...

Meanwhile, on the subject of non-entertaining douches, NIcholas Sparks thinks that he is a better writer than Cormac McCarthy.

The Voice said...

We used to get Entertainment Weekly at the office I was recently laid off from and I recall a big Nicholas Sparks interview where he proclaimed that he "hated" Ulysses. Hated? You've never read it, you illiterate scumbag.

May I extend my thanks to Walter for continuing to point out the emperor's new clothes scenario that is the Lost phenom. At least the fascism of something like 24 is stated in its premise.

Hugh said...

After reading that (slightly disturbing) Sparks article, i get the feeling that he's one of those rare people that has written more books than he's read. Any man who can do a PR launch with Miley Cyrus and end up making her look like the intellectual heavyweight is definitely a concern

Tony said...

Water, Water Every Hare. Boo.

Bill C said...

@Tony: No love for Bugs?

Tony said...

Sorry, "boo" meant the monster was scary in the tower. If I didn't love it I wouldn't have recognized it.

Ian Pugh said...

Poor Gossamer never got his due--at least, not before the Looney Tunes became the guileless media behemoths they are today.

Also, I wonder if Sparks would directly attack/compare himself to his apparent "contemporaries" in his own work, a la Shaw and Shakespeare. A series of Nicholas Sparks puppet shows! A new medium to defile, perhaps--but a deliciously insane fantasy in any case.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Kevin Smith, what did you think of Clerks II?