Archive | June 2019

Movie Review: Toy Story 4

Rated G

Nine years ago, PIXAR Animation Studios seemed to have wrapped up the adventures of Woody, Buzz, and their toy pals in a nice, emotionally-charged little package…or so we thought.

Toy Story 4 catches up with Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang shortly after the events of the last film. While Woody struggles to help his new owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), things get weird when a craft project Bonnie dubs Forky (Tony Hale), suddenly comes to life!

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Forky (Tony Hale) and Woody (Tom Hanks)

It is during a road trip that the manic creation wanders off, leaving Woody to try and return the new “toy” back to it’s owner. During the journey, they encounter some new toys…and a familiar face or two.

In watching the Toy Story films over the years, it has felt like their plots mirror human life, but in “toy terms.” If the last film was about Woody learning to let go of his owner Andy, then this film is him dealing with his retirement years. In that sense, Woody’s part in the storyline will probably go over the heads of the younger crowd, but for those getting on in years, they will probably see something of themselves in the cowboy doll’s struggles.

Compared to it’s predecessors, this film definitely feels like it’s trying to pay homage to it’s past stories, but also trying to embrace these characters with new eyes. Much of the original crew that created the first film have moved on, making this an effort largely created by a newer generation.

For a portion of the film, the character of Forky becomes our Buzz Lightyear: a toy that can’t quite accept what it is, and thinks it is something else entirely. I had hoped there would be a bit more interaction between Woody and Forky, but while Forky’s antics are quite entertaining, he soon seems to become little more than our macguffin for the story.

For those expecting to see some of their favorite toys in action, most of them are shuffled to the sidelines. Even Buzz feels quite under-utilized here. At one point, the story “equips” him with a running gag, but it quickly peters out after the first few uses.

In this film, our attention is given over to a number of “new toys.” From an antique doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) to a pair of carnival toys named Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), the film gives these characters (and several others) a chance to shine.

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Bo Peep (Annie Potts)

One thing the film’s advertising has not shied away from, is publicizing the return of a character that was sorely missed from the last film: Bo Peep (played once again by Annie Potts). Her appearance here may be one of the most radical re-imaginings for a character PIXAR has done, as the once soft-spoken porcelain doll, has become quite independent in her time away from the others. One of Woody’s greatest fears is to be a lost toy, but Bo seems to prove that one may not always need a kid to survive in the world.

For most film series, the fourth film is usually the one that ends up crashing-and-burning, leaving people wishing the filmmakers had walked away a long time ago. While Toy Story 4 doesn’t quite top the toys’ last adventure in my book, it proves that PIXAR is still a major talent to be reckoned with.

I will confess that a whirlwind of emotions passed across my face through the course of the film, and while I was rarely ever bored, the flow of the film felt uneven at times. Still, when Toy Story 4 slowed down and took its time, that was where some of it’s most beautiful work “burned brightest,” and showed the company’s next generation of filmmakers may be quite capable of carrying the studios legacy to infinity, and beyond.

Final Grade: B+

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Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 21) – Cleaved

Well…here we are. After four seasons and over 76 episodes, it all comes down to this.

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With no way to fully take down the Solarian warriors under Mina Loveberry’s control, Star proposes a radical solution: destroy the magic power that controls them. Star reasons that if she can destroy the Realm of Magic, it will undo the spell her mother (Moon Butterfly) used to help Mina bring the warriors to life.

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However, such a decision comes with a heavy price: not only will Star and others who wield the magic lose their powers, but the dimensional portals the magic controls, will be closed forever, shutting off all access to the majority of Star’s inter-dimensional friends…including Marco Diaz.

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I don’t think any of us thought that when we first saw Star Comes to Earth four years ago, one of the biggest selling-points of the series would end up being the thing that had to be destroyed. At times, Cleaved almost feels on par with season 3’s episode Toffee, given that we’re dealing with the destruction of magic, but in a slightly different context.

While Eclipsa and Moon have parts to play in this story, Star and Marco are front-and-center for the majority of it. We do get to find out what happened to Tom from several episodes ago, though it feels like one of the weaker revelations in this story (almost like the writers needed to get themselves out of a corner, and keep him in the story somehow).

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We also get some fan-related callbacks, as well as some unexpected revelations before the end of the episode, including just what “the whispering spell” incantation is (though it’s true purpose still is unrevealed).

For me, these 22-minute episodes have often been a way for the series to give us more emotional stories, and there is plenty of emotion to be had here (with one moment regarding Moon really getting me ‘right in the feels’). However, I also had to focus my attention on this episode’s story as a whole…and in that sense, Cleaved comes across as a good-but-not-great final effort for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Maybe if the large, final storyline of the series had been packaged as a 2-hour movie, it might have felt more satisfying. Given what we’re dealing with in the 22-minute time-frame here, things feel a tad uneven, like there’s a rushed attempt to tie up a few loose ends before we get drawn into the final conclusion.

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Speaking of conclusions, I had some ideas just where the story could end, and I was surprised to find I was…maybe, 35% on-the-nose? The other 65% was definitely something I couldn’t have foreseen, but I do feel that some of the stories following the season 4 Coronation episode, were hinting at what the conclusion would be.

In the end, it’s interesting to think how far Star Butterfly has come as a character after 77 episodes. From a hyperactive girl creating flaming rainbows, to a young woman who is willing to make a major sacrifice if it will help others, it has been quite a journey.

This wasn’t the ending I would have envisioned, but from an emotional and dramatic storypoint, Cleaved manages to do a decent job. It didn’t feel quite as satisfying an ending episode as Toffee from last season (or the conclusion to another great Disney animated series: Gravity Falls), but I doubt there will be many upset with how it all turned out.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Ho-ho-ho, you don’t have any skin!”

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “O-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, down goes the zipper.”

When I first started watching Star vs the Forces of Evil over 4 years ago, I noticed a lack of people writing reviews after the first few episodes. That led me to start filling the hole I found online with these reviews of my own. Out of a number of things I’ve written about on this blog, this series is the only one I’ve reviewed from (near) it’s start, all the way to the end.

While Star has not had enough outstanding material to put it up with some of the best animated series I’ve seen, it’s weirdness and acknowledgments of “magical girl” anime, were what kept me watching, and to see what Daron Nefcy could bring to an American-made magical-girl series.

One of my biggest disappointments, was while Star did garner it’s own rampant fanbase online, it seemed that many did not share in a lot of the show’s mysteries that intrigued me. There were not hundreds of people trying to decipher the Mewni alphabet we saw, wonder about the backstory of obscure characters, or try to draw conclusions around the dozens of things we saw that were never given answers to. While the Gravity Falls fandom would have been analyzing everything being thrown at them, the majority of the fandom for Star, seemed more hung up on which of the fanships being shouted about online, was “the one, true faith.”

While I am sad I didn’t really find an all-inclusive community to discuss the show with during it’s run, I was happy that I did have the chance to meet some of the cast and crew.

Along with getting the chance to speak with Daron Nefcy and Dominic Bisignino at The D23 Expo a few years ago, a highlight was running into Adam McArthur outside the convention hall, and getting a one-on-one meeting with him (plus, Marco gave me a Birthday shout-out in one of the show’s livestreams a few years ago too!).

A lot of younger fans have expanded on the series in numerous ways, with all manner of fanart and comics that have shown up online. As for me, I took the ticket and rode the ride as far as the tracks would take me when it came to the series (and the un-finished Joe Books comic series and the two Disney book publications tied into it). Much like how the series Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 I read in my teens/twenties ended, Star vs the Forces of Evil’s final episode assures us that the adventures will continue, but for us in the visual realms of animation, it seems that the portal has officially closed.

This may not be the end of Star articles for me, as I may do a few more introspection articles on the series, or another Top 10 episode list. For now however, it’s time to wrap up this last episode review for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Good night, and good luck.