invasion of the paramount: day eight

day eight is all about pixar, courtesy of scott butler, paramount graphic designer. i assumed his choices were connected in some way to his design background but he assures me it was only because he has a three year-old and wanted to pass along the experience of being forced to watch these films. we start with john lasseter's toy story (1995).

tom hanks is woody, a cowboy action figure and leader of a group of toys that belong to andy, a little boy with a birthday on the horizon. tim allen voices buzz lightyear, the new toy on the block. buzz is a little on the arrogant, self-deluded side and woody is a little on the jealous, insecure side. in the back-and-forth to be andy's favorite toy, woody and buzz find themselves in a series of perilous misadventures. they end up in the sadistic clutches of sid, a neighbor boy that delights in destroying toys, pulling off a daring rocket-powered escape to be reunited safely with andy and all the other toys in the final reel. i hadn't seen this since it was in theaters in 1995. it has certainly held up well and deserves its reputation as a modern kids classic, one of the best of its kind. this movie really changed the whole world of animated film. it is hard to overstate its importance in that regard. it is pixar's very first full length feature and they really nailed it the first time out of the gate. it was also the very first film that was entirely CGI and as pure kids entertainment it couldn't get much better. it's funny, teaches great lessons that are basic and easily understood about compromise, trust, overcoming jealousy and the nature of friendship and is still beautiful to look at almost twenty years later. i am very much a traditionalist and will always love hand-drawn animation the best, but this is pretty spectacular work. their entire universe is beautifully rendered and is rich in detail in the way that only pixar films are. the cast is right on the money as well. in addition to hanks and allen, whose personalities are perfect complements to one another, you also have don rickles, wallace shawn and r. lee ermey, all in top form. this very first effort from pixar set the bar incredibly high. they still approach that mark occasionally - up (2009), for example - but nothing they've done has proven to be as timeless while maintaining the purity and fun of genuine kid's entertainment. it's a rare feat to make something so simultaneously revolutionary and pitch-perfect. a true american classic.

for an example of what pixar has grown into since then, we have lasseter's fourth effort for the studio, cars (2006).

it takes place in a world populated with anthropomorphic cars of every stripe. it's the story of lightning mcqueen, an arrogant hotshot of a racecar on his way to california for a championship race, sponsorships, riches and fame. a mishap on the highway ends up separating lightning from his transport truck and he wanders off the main road, eventually arrested and impounded for accidentally tearing up the street in the town of radiator springs. while he is stuck there making restitution for his crimes, he slowly but surely begins to learn that there is more to life than being self-serving and he slowly warms to the idyllic charms of this small town. he pays his debt to society and heads off to his race but he is leaving a little bit of himself behind in radiator springs. the race is going badly until all of his pals from radiator springs show up as his surprise pit crew. he pulls it together in time to win but realizes that winning isn't everything and sacrifices taking that checkered flag to help another car in need. all the requisite lessons are learned but this one didn't quite do it for me the same way that toy story did. this one belongs more to the current crop of pixar films that i posit are more for adults than kids. yes, it is full of bright colors and there are jokes aimed at kids but there is so much of this that kids couldn't fathom. the pixar films of late have just as much regret, melancholy and nostalgia for times that even the parents of an eight year-old kid today don't remember as they do lessons about how to treat your friends. it's smart on pixar's part, i suppose. it gives the parents that have to go see these something to latch onto, but these certainly aren't really kids films anymore. in cars the central message is "slow down and take it all in before life passes you by", using route 66's lost battle with the interstate highway system as metaphor. it means a lot to me because i am a forty-one year-old man that has made mistakes and i have actually traveled a good portion of the old mother road. i remember vacations where driving was the trip, but i don't see how it's going to encourage an eight year-old to stop and smell the roses, much the same way that same kid isn't going to even partially grasp the significance of a lifetime of devotion as presented in up. i thought cars was alright, and i loved up, but let's not kid ourselves that these are for children anymore. it's kind of a shame. watching these together made me long for more pixar work in the vein of toy story. the artistry is still there. i just wish more of the innocence was as well.

thanks, scott. i hope at least that little bit of commiseration was somewhat satisfying, although i am guessing you have a lot more viewings of these in your future than i do. good luck with that.

tomorrow we abandon the kid's stuff and head for the furthest reaches of space to reconnect with an old friend of the queue.

did i say friend? perhaps i misspoke.

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