Film review – Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, 2019)

It’s lovely to see the gang back again. After three 5* films, this is the first one that, for me, drops the standard a little.

Woody, Buzz and Jessie have never looked so good. What a difference 24 years makes. In the opening scene there’s a rescue mission that involves Woody leaving the playroom and being exposed to rain. It is nothing short of stunning. You feel every drop off water hitting him, soaking into the materials of his clothes, bouncing off his hat and face. One can only wonder what Ralph Eggleston and John Lasseter would have made of this all those years ago.

Whilst the visuals are as close to perfection as 2019 will allow, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the voice acting. Of course, each of the actors have aged with the fans of the movies, but I could definitely hear that in their acting performances. If there’s another nine years until they decide to make a 5th installment, Tom Hanks will by then be 72 years old. I honestly just don’t want to hear Woody in his eighth decade.

The storyline lacks the oomph and coherence expected of other Pixar films. Whilst it’s somewhat predictable, it also has the feeling of a team trying to add in about 25 minutes to a film they’d crafted but realised didn’t run long enough. It just went around in circles for a little too long when the end was in sight, with an antagonist in the form of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) that was played too softly throughout to ever leave us worried that she’d be a genuine threat.

It’s not a bad film and doesn’t ruin the series, but I think they need to draw a line under it now. It’s an addendum to the perfect ending of Toy Story 3, and it only just gets away with it.

Short film review – Lou (Dave Mullins, 2017)

A sweet short film about a bully’s relationship with a lost and found box in a playground might just make your ticket to Cars 3 worth the entry fee.

Dave Mullins is a first time director but has been working with Disney since 1995 and Pixar since 2000, working in the animation department for the likes of Up, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille and Inside Out. It is clear that his attention to detail and love of a great story is at the heart of this film, which is brought to life wonderfully in a story that lasts only a few minutes.

The film opens with the lost and found box attracting the attention of the children in the playground of a school boy, encouraging them to play with the contents. However, the school bully J.J. begins teasing his class mates by taking away their toys and teasing them in the process. However, when the contents of the lost and found box come to life and start to turn the tables on him, he quickly learns a fast lesson in being nice to his peers, awakening memories he’s hidden inside himself that may be the real problem behind his poor behaviour.

It’s incredibly difficult to create something with such a large story and get the whole point across in a strictly limited timeframe, but Mullins and his team completely manage it. The short is, essentially, a silent film, but it has no difficulty in delivering a succinct but strong message.

The audience, which were mainly children, were completely captivated and gave a spontaneous round of applause at the end of the screening.

You can watch the opening 40 seconds below.



Film review – Cars 3 (Brian Fee, 2017)

I always try to stay positive about a film I’ve seen. With that in mind, I can happily announce that Cars 3 is one of the top three films in the series.

The wayward plot that feels deeply familiar on many levels. It’s Rocky III on wheels, with the care and attention of The Karate Kid III. This does little to rescue a franchise that looked in danger of sinking since the poorly-regarded Cars 2.

Put simply, Cars 3 is defined by lacklustre character designs and a thinly veiled attempt to use a film as a means to sell merchandise and toys.

This time around, Lightning McQueen (the returning Owen Wilson) is struggling as an ageing racing car. An arrogant young car named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) has shown up and is utilising modern technology to achieve better performance from his specs, forcing cars based on the older technology into retirement. McQueen refuses to retire and pushes his car too much in the final race of the season, leading to a horrific crash that takes him months to recover from. Determined not to retire, McQueen takes on additional training at a new facility sponsored by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), though he seems to want McQueen to retire and turn him into a brand rather than let him keep racing. Regardless of this, he’s given a personal trainer called Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) who he quickly strikes up a love-hate relationship with.

One of the tough sells for the film outside of North America is that McQueen is essentially a stock car racer. NASCAR is the second most popular sport on American televisions, but is largely unpopular in Europe and the UK. Indeed, the sport is ridiculed by many who see it as vastly inferior and less exciting than the likes of Formula One and MotoGP. Perhaps as a British film fan I am spoiled when I see stock car racing – maybe the subtleties of the skill involved are lost on me. But converting that into an exhilarating plot point in a film is an unenviable task and something I don’t think is achieved in Cars 3.


For all the disappointment associated with the story, the visuals are nothing short of stunning. There have been huge advancements in animation in the eleven years since the original’s release. The benefits are felt with the backdrops, which feel somehow much more life-like than it’s predecessors. Even the character design, which is hampered by the restrictive nature of bringing cars to life, feels more advanced; a clear sign they’ve learned from two predecessors.

At its heart, this film eventually ends up being a buddy movie. Whilst it takes a while to get there, it’s an important move to bring the film closer to the original movie. I didn’t like either of the first two instalments, but Cars 3 stands alongside the original as being more in line with the Pixar ethos. It is, as the investors would say, “on brand”. So, whilst the first-time director Brian Fee has taken no risks here and the outcome is something that probably won’t overly please anyone, but nor will it offend anyone.

A safe bet that will maintain the franchise and opens the door for further sequels. Bland, forgettable, but pleasant enough to keep its target audience happy.

Though I do think Cars 2 is a better film.

Glastonbury announce Pilton Palais Cinema line-up!

Glastonbury has announced its line-up for the Pilton Palais Cinema at this year’s festival. The list is below or you can follow the link here for more info.

The area is always a highlight of every year at Glastonbury and is well worth checking out for a brief time, even if you only catch one film!

The whole thing is being curated by Tilda Swinton, returning for her second consecutive year. Her film Okja is lighting up Cannes right now and will no doubt be an interesting prospect for those in attendance.

My highlights are the two silent films: Metropolis and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I’ve seen Metropolis several times on the big screen previously, but never with a live musical accompaniment. If you’ve never seen a silent film done this way then either of these are a must, though their favourable time slots will no doubt mean they will be popular choices.

Here are the full listings, in no particular order.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story
Donnie Darko
Enter the Dragon

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (with live score by The Guildhall Electronic Music Studio)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Frozen Sing-a-long
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Big Lebowski

Doctor Strange
Bunch of Kunst: A Film About Sleaford Mods (featuring guest appearance by the band)
Okja (UK Premiere)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Lupita: Castle in the Sky

Metropolis (with live score by The Old Police House Collective)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Don’t Look Now
What About Bob
Bag of Rice
Gimme Danger

Advanced Screening (TBC)
Your Name

Film review – The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn, 2015)

Pixar’s latest effort The Good Dinosaur is a by-the-numbers buddy comedy set in an alternative history where the asteroid that would have wiped them out has missed Earth completely, meaning dinosaurs and Neanderthal humans live side-by-side. It concerns a timid dinosaur called Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who is split up from his family has to befriend a dog-like human called Spot to survive and return home.

The Good Dinosaur was destined for problems before it was released. Originally scheduled for a Christmas 2013 release, it has been put back several times, each time causing confusion and issues for the other Disney films on track for their respective releases. According to Denise Ream, one of the film’s producers, the primary reason for the rescheduling was “the story was not working, period, full stop, it just was not where it needed to be.” The director Bob Peterson, who previously found success with Up, was removed and replaced with Peter Sohn, allegedly because he was too involved with the film.

The upshot of it all is that it has found itself living in the shadow of the excellent Inside Out, which has barely left the cinemas, and is competing for shelf space in the various toy stores across the land with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set for release less than a month after The Good Dinosaur. It was also released in the middle of a school term, drastically reducing the opportunity to go and see it for anyone with children in school. So does that make the target audience parents who aren’t working and have children old enough to go to the cinema but under the age of 4? I guess so… [1]

The film itself feels like an unfinished product. It is the first time I’ve watched a Pixar film and genuinely felt like they’d given up on it. It feels like a last-gasp chance to recoup on a project that will, at best, break even.

The character design is uninspired. None of the dinosaurs offer any of the individuality or appeal audiences have come to expect from a Pixar or Disney film. The beautiful environment goes some way to make up for this, but only Spot himself felt like a fully realised character.

If the reports are to be believed, then the problems with the film lied in the final third. This is, then, presumably where the cavalry came in to take over and save the day. Sadly for Peterson, this is exactly where the film picked up a bit and paid off on some of its promise.

Two scenes stuck out as being particular highlights. The first was a beautiful montage scene where Arlo and Spot ran through an open plane full of birds was vintage Pixar. The second was an emotional scene in which Spot is effectively adopted by another Neanderthal family at the encouragement of Arlo.

Perhaps both of these were Peterson’s work. Will we ever know?

As a 31-year-old man, I know I’m not the target audience for this film. I do have an appreciation for all good animation though and this falls a long way short. The best critics are the children. Four days after its release, the cinema was about 10% full. The children present seemed restless and disinterested. A few parties left. Maybe they went home to watch something more enjoyable. Or, you know, fun.

The Good Dinosaur is currently on release at UK cinemas.

[1] In my local cinemas only one screening was achievable for workers and people at school, which was a 6:30 screening at a Cineworld. I don’t know how many people were at earlier screenings.

Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel, 2015)

If you were keen enough to get to the cinema early enough before The Good Dinosaur, one of the worst Pixar feature films thus far, you’ll have been treated to Sanjay’s Super Team, one of the worst Pixar short films thus far.

Sanjay realises just how bad The Good Dinosaur is.

The story, based on the true memories of director Sanjay Patel, revolves around him as a young child and the conflict between him wanting to enjoy a superhero TV show and his father wanting him to join him in prayer. Frustrated when his father turns the TV off and forces him to pray, Sanjay uses his time of reflection to daydream into a strange world where his Hindu gods are more like superheroes.

The cel-shading technique used in the daydream sequences is a bit of a let down and feels like a quick solution, despite the best efforts to make it look as colourful as possible. I couldn’t help but imagine how good it would have looked with more attention to detail.

This is a film about a child having doubts over his beliefs and a clash of cultures. Whilst many won’t understand the precise religious and cultural aspects at play, most will appreciate the story from the position of a child not wishing to have to follow in the footsteps of the parents. In principal I don’t agree with using religion as a basis of children’s entertainment, but it works well in this case to create a story for the older audience members.

Unfortunately, the overall result is a bit bland. There was no dialogue, the brilliantly coloured dream sequence lacked any real wow factors and it didn’t move fast enough to make use of the lengthy running time for a short film. The children in the audience voted with their restlessness and disinterest. 

In this sense, it was the perfect warm up for the main feature.

Riley’s First Date? (Josh Cooley, 2015)

If you loved the Pixar animated feature film Inside Out then chances are you’ll… like “Riley’s First Date?”, the short included as a bonus feature on the various Blu-ray versions of the release.

It centres around a mysterious boy showing up at Riley’s household to take Riley out, with most of the jokes coming from the parents’ reactions to interacting with him. If you’ve seen Inside Out itself, it is essentially an extension of the final sequences of the film, popping in and out of the characters’ heads in rapid succession for quick laughs.

It lacks any of the emotional pull that made the film a huge success over the summer, but it does succeed in getting a few jokes that make it worth a watch. It can’t go down as a reason to purchase the Blu-ray – you don’t need any more reasons than the fact it’s the best Pixar films released for years.