The Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

FeaturedThe Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

I attempt to explore the main theme of this beloved franchise and why I think it’s an unparalleled masterpiece…

WEBSITE UPDATE: As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot more time making video essays on YouTube than writing new blog posts these days. There’s a reason for that. Although my first and foremost passion is writing about the things that I love, there is no denying that more and more interest is being generated in audio/visual content. While I’ve been stuck at home during this unprecedented situation, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the extra time on my hands to grow my YouTube channel and hopefully offer more of this type of content. However, my goal is to always create what I love, and not what I think others want to see, so I have put great care into my writing of the video’s scripts to accomplish this. I have poured my heart and soul into these videos and I hope my passion for writing still comes through in it. The long and short of this update is to say that I am absolutely 100% planning on making more written content in the future. I have not abandoned that. Videos just take a long time to make, and as I currently do everything by myself, it naturally has taken up most of my time. In addition, my current situation during this pandemic has made it difficult to create an accurate schedule or reliable method of creating content, at least for these last few months, and it will take some time to figure out how to move forward in the changing landscape of the future. My goal is to eventually balance the two  forms of media and find a schedule that works for releasing fresh and original content in both video and written form! I can’t wait! Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a magical week! 🙂

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review and Analysis (Spoiler Alert!)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review and Analysis (Spoiler Alert!)

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They should have called it “Scoundrels: A Star Wars Story”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed this movie; I just don’t think it should have been called “Solo”. I didn’t love it, but I liked it and felt it was a good way to spend a lazy afternoon. However, I feel like it does better without the Solo name attached to it. I purposefully went into the theater trying to forget the Han Solo I knew and the original trilogy. I did not want my opinions of Han Solo as a character to color the movie. Nobody can replace Harrison Ford as Han Solo, so I made a point of separating Alden Ehrenreich’s Character from Solo entirely in my mind. On that level, it really works.

As a science fiction heist film it plays fairly well, but check your expectations of a Star Wars film at the door. There are several moments of heavy fan-service, but other than that, the film works best when you let yourself forget that it’s Han Solo or the Star Wars universe. After a few minutes or so of trying not to compare it to the Star Wars characters I know and love, it was easy to slip into the story at hand.

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On that point, the story is pretty solid. It’s nothing special, but it’s still enjoyable. A couple heists, a raving villain, some double-crossing shenanigans… you get the picture. It may be what people expect, no more and no less, but that’s part of the fun. Sometimes you just want some crowd-pleasing simplistic entertainment; the same viewer mentality of Saturday morning Kung Fu movies. As long as you go into it knowing what you’re in for, you might actually find yourself enjoying it!

There was a lot of fan service, even more so than Rogue One. But, besides from a few hammy and forced moments (The Imperial March playing in-universe, weird droid crushes, and Han’s gurgling linguistics as a few examples), these didn’t interrupt the flow of the movie very much. In my opinion, casual fans will have no problem getting into this movie as it doesn’t alienate them, and yet there are enough inside-jokes for the super-fans to feel special. A previous knowledge of the Star Wars canon isn’t really needed to jump in and enjoy the story. It truly is a standalone movie, with very little impact on the larger Star Wars Universe, and with very little interference from it in return. In fact, it’s actually a little crazy when you remember that there is no mention of The Force at all in this movie (something that has never happened before in a Star Wars film); an impressive feat when you realize how iconic the Force is to the Star Wars mythos.

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The movie has good design and special effects, something that you can always expect from Star Wars, and the cinematography is solid. The writing is competent, even if it’s nothing particularly memorable. The score is average, as is always the case when John Williams is not the composer for Star Wars, but it performs well for it’s purpose. The performances are actually surprisingly good for what the actors have been given, and as long as you separate Alden Ehrenreich from Harrison Ford in your mind, his performance is just fine. The real standout performance for me was Donald Glover as Lando (you probably saw that one coming); he really nails the charisma and confidence of Billy Dee Williams and does the character justice. A more surprising performance was the eccentric and creepy Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany) who really leaves a slimy impression with comparatively little screen time.

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Of course, some of the characters are little bit…extreme…for my taste, with some being unique in a good way, and others not so much. There was one character that I felt was a little bit preachy. I felt like the droid, L3-37, monologued about her political ideals a little too much. she could have gotten the same message across with little more subtlety, but that’s just my personal opinion. I freely admit that I’m very picky when it comes to subtlety in characters; preferring actions to speak louder than words when it comes to motivation.

However, even with this personal preference, I wasn’t bothered by the character and still enjoyed her antics. So no harm done in the end I guess. In the end, all of the characters fit well with the tone of the story.

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That’s another thing; the story could be better, but It’s a miracle that it’s not awful. Let me explain! Now, I’m just speculating, and I could be completely wrong, but I believe that we almost got a very bad movie! In my opinion, Lucasfilm seemed to abandon hope over Solo as soon as they fired Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. They released Solo a mere month after Infinity War, and had Incredibles 2 come out not long after, which bespeaks a fear that Solo wouldn’t do so well at the Box Office. Usually a company will only plan releases so close to each other if they expect one of them to be a failure. It’s no secret that Ron Howard is a ‘safe’ replacement and reshot 60-75% of the movie not long before its release.

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In my opinion, this was because the previous directors’ work was so bad that Lucasfilm was in emergency mode and made last-minute changes to try and salvage the situation; not even expecting someone as competent as Ron Howard to fix it. Now this is all speculation of course, but there are enough irreverent “21-Jump Street style” Jokes in the movie (They are awful and my least favorite part of Solo) which feel too much like Lord and Miller’s style for us to ignore this idea. Imagine a whole Star Wars movie of cringey wink-at-the-audience and fourth-wall-breaking jokes. I believe this sophomoric humor was the direction the film was going, and that’s why the directors were fired so disgracefully. If this was true, it’s a miracle that Ron Howard managed to make anything decent out of it.

But all that speculation aside, what we got wasn’t that bad at all! Solo is a solid film and not the complete disaster everyone was expecting it to be.

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Infinity War Analysis and Review

Infinity War Analysis and Review

Everyone seems to be sharing their thoughts on Infinity War. At first, I thought writing a review of my own would just be creating white noise. But then I gave it some more thought and realized that I had to write a review; because if I don’t, I might go crazy from all the thoughts swirling around in my head! I need to get them out of my mind before I’m driven mad, so without further ado, here’s my Infinity War review and analysis!

Warning: Spoilers!

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Infinity War is different from any other Marvel movie in history. It opens different. It ends different. It even plays out different. Right from the cold open, to the end credits, this movie takes you through a unique journey. And when I say cold open, I mean a cold open out in the middle of space, where in the first five minutes of the movie, two of the longest running characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe die. Both Loki and Heimdall, fan favorites, die relatively harsh deaths before the actual story even starts. The directors want to make it very clear to the audience that this movie will be unlike any other Avengers movie ever made. In one genius stroke, they let the audience know that no one is safe. For once, a Marvel movie has very real stakes.

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It’s totally ambitious, not just because it is the culmination of 10 years and 18 movies in one shared universe, but also because it risks alienating the very fans that have made the franchise so popular. They took risks with the themes of the film and even with the lives of characters, raising the death toll with the possibility of making some viewers upset that favorite characters had been axed. The fans of the comics, including myself, may have been mentally prepared for it (even if they didn’t know the exact details), but the average viewer was not. With one wrong move, the makers of this film could have alienated a large portion of the fan base.

But with a brilliance that is often overlooked, the directors (the Russo Brothers) managed to pull off these calculated risks, all whilst honoring what had come before, juggling dozens of A-list stars, and even…dare I say it…telling a fairly engaging story. It’s interesting how many people take this feat for granted. If you looked at the facts, you’d see how nearly impossible this film should have been to pull off; at least on a technical level. And yet they did it.

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The theme is sacrifice. We don’t have time to cover all the instances of this theme here, but there are quite a few (especially from Gamorra and Vision). Even with the villain, the Russos didn’t shy away from playing with this theme. Even if I still hate Thanos, and his backstory only makes me hate him even more, at least they managed to make him believable. The character, even through heavy CGI manages to convey weighty emotion, and really makes you believe he’s a real person with real motivations (whether we sympathize with those emotions as an audience or not).

Thanos is not some forgettable Dark Elf that wants revenge. He’s a deeply disturbed individual who believes that killing half the universe will curb overpopulation. He watched his home world die because of that, and he wants to prevent it from happening anywhere else. It may be insane and morally wrong, but it’s also a unique and plausible motivation for this ‘Mad Titan’. He really believes himself to be the hero. Most of the audience is pulled into this slightly different perspective. In Thanos’ mind, he is the hero who is sacrificing everything that he has, and the Avengers are the villains arrayed against him; attempting to stop him from obtaining universal peace.

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This uncomfortable perspective makes the audience, at least in my opinion, hate him even more, as one-by-one my favorite heroes are swatted away like mere insects. It’s a bit depressing to see our heroes not have much of a chance. Thanos managed to dispatch Hulk with a single Infinity Stone.  What can our heroes possibly do when he has more? The answer is nothing. Even the strongest Avenger is no match for Thanos and for the first time in Marvel cinematic history, the heroes have lost before the movie even begins. They can do absolutely nothing about it.

Well, almost nothing. My last point is the theme of failure and mistakes. The heroes have several opportunities to beat Thanos, and every small glimmer of hope is snatched away by a single character’s mistake. It’s not just Star-Lord and his sentiments for Gamorra that you should be mad at…everyone had a chance to mess things up. Of course, there were several of these chances that I’m glad they avoided (like Star-Lord killing Gamorra so Thanos didn’t get the Sould stone, or Scarlet Witch killing Vision so that he didn’t get the Mind Stone), but there are also several that would have been fine. Iron Man went to Titan to fight Thanos on his own turf, even when Strange said it was a stupid idea. Scarlet Witch went out to battle in Wakanda when she should have been protecting Vision. Even Thor failed to land a killing blow, or at least cut the gauntlet off Thanos’ hand, with Stormbreaker. There were so many moments when the good guys could have won, but they did not and that is the true art of this movie; to show that, even in the world of superheroes, mistakes have real consequences.

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For the first time, several real heroes died in battle; not just token characters. They did not shy away from killing off popular heroes that we love, and they even managed to surprise the audience with who died; leaving alive the older heroes that everyone thought were going to die, and instead killing the newer ones that we expected to live. Not only was it emotional for the audience, but it was also emotional for the characters. The filmmakers have, by killing off the Avengers’ closest friends and family, brought the original heroes of this universe to the lowest place that they have ever been; raising the stakes to the absolute maximum to bring them to the point of desperation for the coming battle in Part 2…and that is feat to be reckoned with!

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