Top 5 Pixar Soundtracks

Though Pixar’s films tend to lack the big musical numbers that make the soundtracks of Disney’s animated films so iconic, they’ve still provided audiences with some fantastic and largely underrated soundtracks. Even without the Broadway-style songs, Pixar films have featured soundtracks that rank up there with Disney’s and Studio Ghibli’s as some of the best music in animated films.

This begs the question as to which Pixar soundtracks are the best of the lot? While everyone is sure to have their own say-so, the following are what I consider to be Pixar’s best soundtracks. So if you’re a fan of film scores, I highly recommend giving each of them a purchase and repeated, obsessive replays.

One more thing, this list represents Pixar soundtracks as a whole, not individual pieces of music. Though I will highlight some of my favorites from each soundtrack. With that out of the way, let’s get to the top five! Continue reading “Top 5 Pixar Soundtracks”

Top 5 Reasons the Best Animated Feature Oscar is Great

The Oscars have come and gone, and amid all the forced social statements that only served to make the people involved feel important, some good did come out of the event. Mad Max: Fury Road won a bunch of stuff, and Inside Out won Best Animated Feature.

On the downside, Best Animated Feature was the only thing Inside Out was allowed to win, given the Academy’s blatant bias against animated films (diversity!). Lord knows more than a few animated films should have won Best Picture by this point, especially after the turn of the new millennium, when more and more animated films have become more and more sophisticated. It’s also well over due that a director of an animated film gets a Best Director nod, and hell, why not nominate a voice actor if their performance deserves it (in the case of Inside Out, Amy Poehler definitely should have got some recognition). And don’t get me started on why on Earth no animated film has been nominated for Art Direction (shouldn’t they dominate the category?). In short, it would be nice to see animated films win more than their token award and the music/song categories.

With all this said, the Best Animated Feature category, in the fifteen years its been around, has become something special in its own right. Now, the Academy has been sure to stunt it as much as they can, often handing the award out in filler moments and “bathroom break” segments, not to mention in the award’s early years they often had filler nominees (Jimmy Neutron? Shark Tale?!), many great animated films that should have been nominated weren’t (Ponyo, The Secret World of Arrietty, etc.), and not all winners have been deserving (Happy Feet, Brave). But the award has slowly evolved into something meaningful, and even with all the missteps in its early years, it has greatly boosted the efforts of animation over the last decade and a half.

So while there’s still some work to be done, a lot of good has come out of the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Notably, it has allowed for certain types of films to be nominated (and win) awards that the other, more live-action-y awards would never allow.

Without further rambling, here are five reasons why the Best Animated Feature Oscar is not only great, but even manages to outdo the live-action awards present at the show, including Best Picture.

 

5: Films that make money can actually win

Frozen

While the Academy Awards often seem to have some kind of allergy towards movies that make money, no matter how good they might be (note that The Force Awakens didn’t win a single award), the Best Animated Feature Oscar is apparently immune to this particular bias. A number of winners have all been huge box office successes, with Toy Story 3 and Frozen both being billion-dollar movies. Not every movie that makes a lot of money is great, but there have been plenty of films that are both quality movies and financial successes, and it seems too often the latter prevents certain films from winning anything, so it’s nice that at least one award has the door open for movies that people actually cared to see.

4: Foreign films can be nominated… and win!

Spirited Away

How many times have foreign films been nominated for Best Picture? How many have won? The answer to the former is very few, and the answer to the latter is none. Meanwhile, Best Animated Feature has seen an increasing number of foreign nominees, from earlier years with the likes of The Triplets of Belleville to this year’s award with When Marnie Was There. Notably, the award’s second-ever winner, Spirited Away, hails from Japan. In just fifteen years, the Best Animated Feature award has shown more diversity than Best Picture has in eighty-eight.

3: The winners are actually entertaining

Inside Out

Okay, so this one’s more subjective. Look, there have been a number of entertaining Best Picture winners over the years, but most of them were decades ago. Aside from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, what Best Picture winner since the dawn of the twenty-first century has had any substantial form of re-watchability? Have any others been anything more than that same, particular style of “Oscar movie?” I’m not even saying they’re all bad, but are they the kind of movies you’d be quick to go to when you want to watch a great movie? Some of the nominees maybe (Mad Max), but probably not the winners. The Best Animated Feature award, on the other hand, has provided some highly enjoyable winners, and not just for children. Films such as Spirited Away and Inside Out are incredibly insightful, while still being a whole lot of fun.

2: History actually remembers the films involved

Finding Nemo

Let’s really think for moment how many recent Best Picture winners will go down in history as all-time classics. Does anyone even bring up Argo or Slumdog Millionaire (movies I enjoyed, by the way) in conversation anymore? Does anyone revere The Hurt Locker or The King’s Speech in the same way they do the classics of yesteryear?

You know what people do remember? The Finding Nemos, Toy Stories, The Incredibles, the Ups, the Spirited Aways, the Frozens, I could go on. Animated films simply have a universal appeal that break age and cultural barriers. More people will openly admit to crying during the first fifteen minutes of Up than they would about any of the recent Best Picture winners. Animated films have a way of leaving an indelible mark on audiences. That’s more than you can say about most the movies the Academy deems Best Picture worthy.

1: Animated films win something!

Big Hero 6

I’ve saved the most obvious for last! The number one reason why the Best Animated Feature Oscar is great is that it allows animated films to actually win something.

Yes, it’s a crying shame that the award has become something of a token, since there’s very little else the Academy seems interested in even thinking about nominating animation, let alone having them win. But as stated previously, the existence of the award itself has encouraged a stronger output of animated features. And because of it, some animated films that many audiences might not otherwise know about (like the aforementioned foreign films, or smaller features like the delightful Song of the Sea), can actually receive some recognition, and may gain an audience or two.

If only the award were given better treatment by the Academy itself. Still, the fact that this award allows animated films, and by extension, all the above categories, to be recognized in any way makes it a showcase for far more versatile and entertaining storytelling than Best Picture has allowed in a very, very long time. If not ever.

Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 was a fantastic year for movies (for me anyway, I don’t know about you). There were so many great films in so many genres that I had difficulty ranking a top 10. But ranking a top 10 I must, and I feel I’ve finally managed to properly list my ten favorite films from 2015.

You may (once again) notice that my list won’t look like a whole lot of others. I like what I like, and I try to be honest with that. This of course means I’m not just going to sprinkle in some indie films and Oscar-bait just so I look “credible” to the hipsters and snobs of the internet. Some Oscar movies and indie flicks always have the potential to make it as some of my favorites of the year (and in the case of the former, some did this time around), but only if they had enough of an impact on me personally.

I have to admit, a number of films I really enjoyed, such as The Revenant, Ant-Man and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, didn’t quite make the cut. 2015 was such a good year for movies that those films, contenders in their own right, miss the mark.

Also keep in mind that, although these ten films are ranked, some of them (particularly numbers 3 through 5) are pretty interchangeable. So if I ever say something down the road that contradicts what I say here, it’s not an inconsistency. Opinions fluctuate.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2015.

Continue reading “Top 10 Films of 2015”

Movie Awards 2016: Best Animated Film

Animated films have become a bigger part of the cinematic world than they ever have been before. They regularly reap critical acclaim and have become some of the biggest earners at the box office. Animation is no longer a medium just for younger audiences, but the most universal storytelling medium around.

As such, naming the best animated film released in any given year is a big deal. But as far as 2015 goes, there was one obvious winner.

 

Winner: Inside Out

Inside Out

Inside Out is the deepest, most profound film that Pixar Animation Studios has ever made. The tale of the inner workings of the mind of a young girl, and the complexity of human emotion.

It’s a smart, imaginative film on every level. It’s a thing of beauty both visually and in its depth of storytelling, with a story that’s more heartfelt and (appropriately) emotional than anything Pixar has made before.

Inside Out is an animated film that takes full advantage of the medium to bring to life a concept that simply could never work in live-action. It’s also an important film that should be watched and studied by adults as well as children, as its messages are universal and profound. It rings true no matter your age.

It’s not only the best animated film of the year, it’s one of the best animated films ever.

Runner-up: The Peanuts Movie

Movie Awards 2016: Best Music

What would movies be without their scores? A lot less engaging, I can tell you that much! Movies and music go together like peanut butter and jelly. They were just made for each other. Imagine Indiana Jones running from that boulder without John Williams’ epic score in the background. Or Jaws without those menacing notes signaling the shark’s presence. It just wouldn’t feel right, would it?

Musical scores are imperative to movies. And great movies in particular should have a great score. As far as 2015 goes, one score stood out above the rest.

 

Winner: Inside Out (Michael Giacchino)

Inside Out

From the minute I first heard that melancholic opening melody to Inside Out, I knew I was in for something special. Pixar films have had great scores in the past, particularly Michael Giacchino’s previous collaborations with the studio (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up), but Inside Out’s music stands out above them all.

The score to Inside Out is, very appropriately, bittersweet. It captures a range of moods and emotions to do the accompanying material justice, and often sounds minimalistic, ethereal and more abstract than most Pixar scores, which suits the film’s nature perfectly.

Inside Out is a sad movie, but also a happy one, and Michael Giacchino’s score captures that essence in what has become one of my all-time favorite film scores. It’s joyous and heartbreaking just to listen to. I’m tearing up just thinking about it!

Runner-up: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)

The Good Dinosaur Review

The Good Dinosaur

After a few rough years that saw the release of some of Pixar’s weakest efforts, 2015 got the revered animation studio back on track with the release of Inside Out, Pixar’s most profound and imaginative film to date. 2015 also marks the first time that Pixar has released two feature films in the same calendar year, as Inside Out is followed up by The Good Dinosaur. But does The Good Dinosaur continue Pixar’s regained momentum, or was Inside Out a standalone return to form?

The Good Dinosaur has a simple enough premise. What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? The opening scene depicts the asteroid humorously skipping the planet as dinosaurs look on like a crowd watching a shooting star.

Fast forward a few million years, and the dinosaurs now take on more caricatured character designs and more human attributes. Among these dinosaurs is a family of Apatosaurus: the father Henry, the mother Ida, and their three children, Libby, Buck and Arlo.

Arlo is the runt, considerably smaller, and far more fearful than the rest of his family. Arlo has a difficult time doing even some of his simpler farming and chores. But Arlo is determined to earn his place, and his father gives him the chance by guarding the family’s silo, where they store their food for the Winter.

The silo and its food have been the target of a recurring pest, and if Arlo can get rid of said pest, he will earn his print on the silo alongside the rest of the family. As it turns out, the pest is a feral caveboy. Arlo is quick to sympathize with the boy, and sets him free after initially trapping him. When Arlo’s father grows upset with his son, he drags Arlo on a mission to track the caveboy, but along the way a flash flood occurs. Though Henry manages to save Arlo, he ultimately loses his own life in the flood.

Some time later, Arlo’s fears have been intensified by the loss of his father. When the caveboy comes back to cause more mischief, the grief-ridden Arlo gives chase, but accidentally stumbles into a river, which sweeps him far away from his home. This leads to an adventure for Arlo to find his way back home. But more importantly, it begins a friendship between Arlo and the caveboy, whom Arlo names Spot.

If that summary seems to cover a lot of familiar animated territory, that’s probably because it does. The Good Dinosaur, while charming, is an incredibly safe movie. This is especially true when you consider this is a Pixar movie, and all the more magnified by the fact that it followed the wildly original and inventive Inside Out by mere months.

It’s not that what The Good Dinosaur has to offer is bad. In fact, compared to a lot of animation today it’s solidly good. But it’s terribly predictable and by-the-books. The story can often feel like its leaving checkmarks as it covers many animated tropes. Despite the many cliches, The Good Dinosaur features two aspects that help keep it afloat.

The Good DinosaurThe first of these aspects are the characters. Though it’s far from Pixar’s most fleshed-out cast, The Good Dinosaur features a number of characters who Arlo and Spot come across during their adventure that leave their mark. From a cowboy tyrannosaurus, a group of pterodactyl zealots, and a superstitious styracosaurus, the film frequently introduces new characters for Arlo and Spot to interact with. It’s a colorful parade of characters, and at the heart of it all are Arlo and Spot. Arlo is a character kids can easily identify with, while Spot, who acts like a dog and only speaks in grunts and howls, is a scene-stealer. And the relationship between the two is heartwarming.

The other standout aspect is the animation itself. The characters continue Pixar’s preference for exaggerated and cartoony character designs, and it’s all the more charming for it. But the film’s scenery and locations are built on a greater sense of realism than Pixar has ever attempted. You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Pixar simply placed their animated characters in live-action settings. The environments look that real. The water effects in particular being the most realistic I’ve seen in animation.

The Good DinosaurVisually speaking, The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful film. And character-wise, it’s charming and sweet. Children will probably love it. But audiences who are old enough to remember all the animated films it borrows narrative elements from may feel like it’s simply treading familiar ground. Perhaps the film’s troubled production meant that Pixar needed to salvage the it quickly, and fell back on familiar tropes to finish the film on time.

Whatever the reason, The Good Dinosaur, despite its merits, is one of the weaker films in the Pixar canon. On the bright side, Pixar’s stellar track record means that even most of their lesser films are enjoyable, and The Good Dinosaur is no different. On the downside, Pixar’s return to their former glory may have been a one-time deal with Inside Out, and releasing The Good Dinosaur relatively soon after Inside Out only makes The Good Dinosaur’s shortcomings all the more apparent.

The Good Dinosaur falls back into lesser Pixar territory. For younger audiences, it may be fun while it lasts. For everyone else, it feels like treading all too familiar ground, with little to make up for it.

 

5

Ranking the Pixar Films

Buzz and Woody

Twenty years ago, Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story, the world’s first full-length computer animated film. Though computer animated movies are a very common occurrence these days, Pixar remains at the peak of the medium due to the studio’s nearly unrivaled knack for creating original stories, memorable characters, and emotional depth.

To celebrate twenty years of Pixar films, and the release of their newest feature, The Good Dinosaur, I decided to compile a list of Pixar’s feature-length library. This was certainly not an easy list to make, seeing as the majority of Pixar’s films range from great to masterpiece. But I decided to have a go at it anyway.

The following list contains all fifteen of Pixar’s currently released features (I decided to make this list before The Good Dinosaur’s release, because who knows how long it might take for me to determine where it would rank among the others). The films are mostly ranked from least to greatest, but understand the quality of most of these films is so great that many of them are interchangeable. So when the day comes that I inevitably revise this list, please don’t think less of me if many of the films end up switching places.

I hope to one day get around to giving each of these films a proper review. But for now, enjoy them in list form.

So without further ado, let me give this my best shot. The fifteen feature films of Pixar, from least to greatest (more or less).

*Some spoilers follow!*

Continue reading “Ranking the Pixar Films”