Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pixar Rankings

With Pixar’s 10th feature film opening tomorrow (Up) I thought I’d rank the nine others. The nice thing about making such a list, is all the films are favorites. Pixar has yet to make a bad film. They average great, but the range is good to masterpiece.

9) Cars – This is the worst Pixar feature film IMHO. Which is like saying this is the list crisp $100 bill in the stack. I love the voice of Paul Newman in the film and Click and Clack. The end segment is awesome with the critique of the film from Pixar’s good luck charm, Cliff from Cheers.
But the story of a race car that learns to be humble is at times a bit sappy and the film drags (not in the speedy drag race way) for me.

8) Ratatouille – Yeah, it may be one of the five best films made the year it came out, but that isn’t good enough for top ranking on this list. I love the message of exceptionalism in the film, but I think Brad Bird works the theme even better on another film on this list. Very well developed action sequences, but it doesn’t have the emotional punch some of the other films have.

7) Monster’s Inc – I love monster movies. And this is one of the great one. Sure, the monsters prove to be lovable old fuzzballs, but wasn’t King Kong as well? And Frankenstein’s Monster? And the Wolfman? And Hanibal Lector? (Um…Scratch the last one.)
John Goodman and Billy Crystal do great voice work in this film, but they may be out acted by the Pixar kid who voices Boo.

6) A Bug’s Life – Many people consider this the least of the Pixar films, but I’m a sucker for the team recruited for a mission films (Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven ) and the variation on the theme of incompetents on a mission (Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest) which this film is. Plus, Dave from News Radio has had very few opportunities to star in major motion pictures.

5) Toy Story – The first Pixar feature is a masterpiece. The rest of the films on this list are masterpieces. Who but Hitchcock, Kurosawa and a few others do the kind of work these Pixar folks have achieved? Of course, here they had the help of Joss Whedon, the great creator of Buffy and Firefly.
Anyway, this film touches on themes of identity and loss in ways that are funny and emotionally devastating at the same time. Some of the best work Tom Hanks has done (which is really saying something) and some of the best work Tim Allen has done (which is saying a lot less, Galaxy Quest excepted.)
Don Rickles in this rules.

4) Finding Nemo – Albert Brooks has done a couple of my favorite comedies (Lost in America & Modern Romance) but this is what he’ll be remembered for decades from now. Same with Ellen Degenerous who is hilarious and heartbreaking as Dori.
But as a dad, the best part is the way the film plays on the themes of protecting and releasing a child.

3) Toy Story II – Okay, we’re talking the rarest of the rare here. A sequel better than the original. We have this and Empire Strikes Back and um… No, the second Godfather is not better than the first. You’re just wrong about this. As funny as the original and even more poignant. Plus it adds a Republican with Kelsey Grammer as the Stinky Prospector. (Along with the ever present John Ratzenberger – the other conservative Cheers vet.)

2) Wall-E – My son thinks this is the best film, but he’s wrong. The first half hour, though is hard to beat. Up with the best slapstick of Keaton and Chaplin. Love the message against the Nanny State, but it’s the robot romance that really touches the heart.

1) The Incredibles – It just is the best. We’ll see how Up compares. But, come on, the best James Bond film in forever and it’s family friendly? How did they do that? The Spirit of the best comic ever, The Fantastic Four, as well? A great score, vocal work, art design, everything. So much better than that animated Mr. Incredible show that played on TV in the 60’s.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Boldly Going Where Bill Shatner Went Before

One out of every three children ages 6 to 11 is afraid the Earth won’t exist when he or she grows up. If I was to guess a single reason why “Star Trek”, the movie recreation of the forty year old TV show, is so popular, I’d guess it was because of the film’s optimism.
Chris Pine stars as the young, yet to be Captain, James Tiberius Kirk growing up hundreds of years from now in the state of Iowa where there the skies are still blue and the fields are still green. San Francisco has not been flooded by the rising oceans of global warming. Nations haven’t destroyed each other with nuclear weapons, but instead, in the world of Star Trek, not only are nations and ethnic groups no longer at war, but there is also peace with a variety of planets, races and civilizations.
There are many things to appreciate in the world of the new Star Trek. Exciting action sequences, some very funny lines and the warm relationship that develop between the characters (that are like family to many viewers): Dr. “Bones” McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekhov, Sulu and especially the half human/half alien, Spock.
Many people relate to the personal struggles of Spock. His Vulcan race insist that all decisions and actions should be made using reason and logic alone. In the film, we see the beginnings of his friendship with Jim Kirk, someone who bases his decisions often on feelings and instinct. Learning to balance the mind as portrayed through Spock and the heart as portrayed through Kirk is a constant struggle in all of our lives.
That balance reason and emotion is called wisdom. The book of Proverbs is all about the pursuit of wisdom in life. Proverbs 2: 1 & 2 says, “Store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.” We need the balance between the teaching of Scripture for our minds and the prompting of God’s spirit in our hearts.
But back to that optimism in the world of Star Trek. So many science fiction films show a world without hope. In the world of the Terminator films and TV show atomic war destroys millions of lives and war is ongoing. In the world of “The Day After Tomorrow” and this summer’s “2012” ecological disaster looms to destroy us all. Let alone that coming zombie invasion.
In the world of Star Trek there is hope. There will be peace (well, except for those pesky Romulans). There will be prosperity; everyone’s needs will be met and everyone will have a job to do. And people get to fly in cool space ships. People love the thought of such a world.
But that’s just science fiction. The problems this world faces are real. Jesus said those troubles would come. Mark 13: 7 & 8 says “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes and famines.” And He said that was just the beginning.
Scripture tells us this world will eventually come to an end. Hebrews 12:26 we have God promises as much, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also heavens.”
There will be a world of peace, hope and incredible riches. Revelation chapters 21 and 22 describe God’s new heaven and new earth. It will be greater than the optimistic world Gene Rodenberry imagined with the old Star Trek and even J. J. Abrams’ new Star Trek.

(The film is rated PG-13 and does include scenes of sensuality, violence and language.)