Movie Review: “Finding Dory”

Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

Well, this is disturbing: Pixar, which for years was the most creative, most consistent studio in Hollywood (that includes live-action films and animation), has five films in various stages of production, and four of them are sequels. If you go back to 2010, Pixar has produced seven sequels, as opposed to four films based on new ideas. Three of those four new-idea films have been released. One of them (“Inside Out,” one of only a handful of reviews I’d like to rewrite after misinterpreting a key plot point) has already ascended to classic status. The other two were two of Pixar’s weakest efforts (“Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur”). The fourth one, “Coco,” is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is the exact setting for Fox’s 2014 film “The Book of Life.” Ahem.

The first of the five films in production is “Finding Dory,” the follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” far and away Pixar’s most successful film until “Toy Story 3” made over $1 billion worldwide in 2010. Thirteen years is a long time to be away, and Pixar is clearly mindful of the gap, because the story structure is part sequel, part remake. Several jokes from the first film are rehashed, with diminishing returns from all but one (the sea lions). For the most part, the film plays it maddeningly safe, and then the third act arrives, at which point all hell breaks loose in the most glorious, adorable way possible. In addition, it appears they even threw in an homage to “Inception” for the adults.

After a cute but heartbreaking sequence involving a toddler Dory and her parents, then later lost tween and adult Dory trying to find her parents, the story eventually settles a year after the events of “Nemo,” where Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a sudden urge to, yep, find her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With a vague memory that she was raised off the coast of California, Dory, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) enlist the help of an old friend (no spoilers) to take them on the roughly 7,000-mile journey. Shortly upon arrival, Dory is snagged in a plastic six-pack ring and picked up by employees of the local marine institute, which treats marine life for release back into the ocean. Dory recalls living in one of the exhibits and convinces a standoffish mimic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill, in a bit of inspired casting) to help her. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are concerned that without them, Dory will forget where she is and why she’s there, and embark on their own adventure to save their friend.

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Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur”

Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand
Peter Sohn

An unsettling trend is starting to appear in Pixar’s work. When the visuals are more eye-popping than usual, it’s a sign that something more important is lacking (see: “Brave”). “The Good Dinosaur” is visually breathtaking, featuring the most lifelike water that has ever graced an animated film. The story structure, however, is one of Pixar’s weakest, feeling more like old-guard Disney than the kind of thing Pixar normally produces. There are valuable lessons for children to learn here, but there is also a fair amount of trauma. Little Arlo gets his ass handed to him early, then spends the rest of the movie trying to survive.

In “The Good Dinosaur’s” universe, the meteor that is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs misses Earth. Fast forward a few million years, and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus of below average size, is born into a family of farmers. Arlo is also timid, and his father’s attempts to get Arlo over his fears come to a head when Arlo is tasked with killing the critter that keeps eating their winter food supply. The creature is caught, and it’s a little, feral, human child. Arlo can’t bring himself to kill the boy and sets it free. Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) insists on chasing the creature, but they lose the trail in a ravine, and then Arlo loses his father in a flash flood while in the ravine. First rule of Disney: kill at least one of the parents, and if possible, do it in such a way that the child feels guilty about it for the rest of his life.

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Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

“Inside Out” has a sweet, entertaining story at its core, but it requires one of the characters to act like a complete idiot in order to set it into motion, and no matter how enjoyable the rest of the movie may be – and thankfully, it is – those acts will linger in the back of your mind, which, come to think of it, the filmmakers might find ironically funny. It’s not, though; it’s a shortcut, the kind of thing Pixar steadfastly avoided in their storytelling for well over a decade, and now that they have been getting their asses kicked by their peers at Disney Animation (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) for the last three years, you’d think that they would come up with a better story than this. And to be fair, they came up with a good concept; it just has a bad setup.

As Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is born, we see her emotions being “born,” as it were, in her head. The first two, as one might imagine, are Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), but they are soon joined by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black, in the part he was born to play), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Most of the time, Joy is in charge of Riley’s emotions because Riley lives a charmed life, but when Riley’s father moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco for a work opportunity, Riley’s emotions are all out of whack, a problem that is worsened when Sadness continues to taint core memories so that they turn from happy ones to sad ones in Riley’s mind. In her attempt to stop this from happening, Joy tries to take control of the situation, but in the process, she and Sadness accidentally get transferred to Riley’s long-term memory and far away from the control panel, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. Riley becomes an emotional wreck, and the longer Joy is away, the worse things get.

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Friday Video – Gary Numan, “Cars”

Following last week’s tribute to “The Green Lantern” with a couple of green-themed songs, we would have been fools not to take advantage of a similar tie-in with a certain Pixar movie that a certain someone’s four-year-old son is positively dying to see. Maybe we’ll see someone singing this at a karaoke bar during one of the Tokyo scenes. (As it turns out, no one sings “Cars,” but Weezer sings “You Might Think” by the Cars. And it’s pretty lame.)

It seems amazing that this song was such a big hit at the time. Not because it didn’t deserve to be, because it absolutely did, but because there wasn’t anything else on American radio at the time that sounded remotely like it. What’s even more impressive is how well the song has held up sonically. Whenever someone makes a record using cutting-edge technology, it almost instantly sounds dated. Not this song, and it’s likely because Numan was smart enough to use real drums and an analog bass to anchor the track.

Bonus video: here’s a clip for the B-side to “Cars” (yes, we had the 45), a nifty little track called “Metal.” Almost as awesome as its A-side.


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