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Kids movie

Toy Story 4

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Toy Story 4

I was 15 in 1995 when the first Toy Story was released. That’s a bit older than the target audience for Pixar’s inaugural feature film, but I vividly remember seeing it and being dazzled by both the story and the groundbreaking animation. I’ll be 40 next year. I’ve been wowed by each successive Toy Story installment released over the last quarter century. Both the astonishing leap in digital animation technology and the touching stories involving old pals Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang – Toy Story 2 and 3 consistently bring me to tears with every revisit – get better with each new film.

That’s definitely the case with the seemingly impossible jump in animation quality between Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4. The plot, however, isn’t quite up to the level of the earlier films, especially Toy Story 3, probably the strongest of the series. While “cash grab” is too strong a phrase, this is the first entry in the franchise that feels like the artistic vision got a little fuzzy.

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Mary Poppins Returns

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Mary Poppins Returns

It’s impossible to say if author P.L. Travers would have liked the second Disney film to feature her most beloved creation, the magical nanny Mary Poppins, any more than she liked the first. As documented in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, Travers disliked almost everything about what became one of Disney’s most cherished movies, 1964’s Mary Poppins. She hated the musical numbers, she hated the animated characters, she hated the changes Disney made to the Poppins character. If Saving Mr. Banks is to be believed, she hated the general whimsy of the picture. That’s the exact quality that has made it such an enduring piece of pop culture.

The new sequel Mary Poppins Returns – a project which Travers stymied for decades and her estate finally approved years after the author’s death – manages to conjure some of the whimsical magic of the original. But the movie also suffers from being over-plotted to within an inch of its life. It’s true that the original has a message, but it never becomes as overbearing as the one in Mary Poppins Returns. The actress portraying Poppins in the new film, Emily Blunt, also has the insurmountable task of living up to the iconic performance of Julie Andrews. Both of these factors make Mary Poppins Returns a shadow of the movie that it attempts so very hard to evoke.

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A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time

The highest praise you can bestow on a kids’ movie is that adults can enjoy it, too. Is that just us grown-ups being selfish? Not really, because if a movie is aimed at children, but is sophisticated enough for adults, that usually means it’s not talking down to its target audience. It gives kids credit for their own level of sophistication. See just about every Pixar movie for the best examples of this sort of filmmaking.

A Wrinkle in Time truly is a kids’ movie. It’s not meant for me, so it feels mean-spirited to beat up on it too much. There are perhaps millions of kids out there who might have a cultural earthquake happen inside them when they see this picture. But, the movie does a disservice to the kids it wants to entertain. Aside from the gigantic budget and the production value that goes along with it, A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t offer its audiences (either the kids or the adults) much sophistication at all.

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Finding Dory

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Finding Dory

I’m a runner, and I live in Texas. The day after I saw Finding Dory, I ran seven miles in 86° heat with 70% humidity. I promise I’m not bragging. The sequel to the 2003 Pixar smash hit Finding Nemo actually helped me get through that run. While I was baking in the heat, my mind wandered back to the theater several times – to the cool, wet mise-en-scéne of the movie’s oceanic setting. One of my favorite things about Finding Nemo was the gorgeous underwater animation, and the meticulous care that was clearly spent bringing the world beneath the surface to life. Finding Dory absolutely excels in these areas, too. If you find aquariums soothing, you know what I mean.

Aside from the visuals, Finding Dory also does an admirable job trying to match the magic and fun of the original. It doesn’t quite make as big of a splash as its predecessor, but it’s a close call. Close enough to make Finding Dory a really rewarding time at the movies. I don’t know what it is about the deep sea environs that translate so well to the Pixar style of animation, but, for me, both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are absolutely mesmerizing in a way few other Pixar movies are. The Toy Story franchise comes closest to achieving the same effect, but even the first rate animation of those pictures don’t beguile me in the same way that the Finding movies do.

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Inside Out

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Inside Out

Many adults love Pixar movies just as much as the actual target audience for their childlike animated films. I’m no exception. The creative minds at Pixar are fond of plumbing the depths of melancholy and nostalgia to create sophisticated features adored by people of all ages. One of their efforts – 2008’s Wall-E – even rises to the level of film art. The movie is gorgeous to look at, and the technique of minimal dialog employed in the first half is gutsy and inspired. It may be unfair to put those kinds of expectations on any movie, but that’s what I do every time Pixar announces a new release. They are victims of their own quality and consistency. That’s why what I’m about to type feels strangely dismissive: Inside Out is a solidly entertaining kid’s movie. It’s well-paced, energetic, and engaging. The trademark characteristic of a Pixar movie, though – being swept up by the emotion, usually to the point of tears – was missing for me this time.

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