Samir Mehta: “It ruled.”
Pixar has yet another masterpiece on its hands. Working on all cylinders, this mixes a great and ambitious story about the nature of existence with vibrant settings and a fantastic jazz infused soundtrack.
Erik Bates: “It ruled.”
I really enjoyed this one. Great soundtrack. Touching story. 22's interactions with her prior famous mentor's ... clever.
Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”
This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
Samir Mehta: Scott, interesting take and I understand it. I almost think you're making a case for why revision is the only way to review. I.e., we are caught in our context and can't really process what is best because we process it in our own lives. I think that some of us promote works that are newer (if we have recency bias) and others promote works that are older (because we have preferences for older things). And I wonder if the minor variations that help distinguish things are lost on those biases.
For me, Toy Story and Bugs Life and Monsters Inc. tend to fade in their brilliance over time because the shades and additions matter a lot. Similarly, I won't wax nostalgic for the NBA of the 1980s because I see the innovations, big and small, of the game today.
I think back a lot to the works of the past that "don't hold up". Some that stick out to me - Easy Rider, The Graduate, Gone with the Wind, Indiana Jones (as a series - blasphemy I know!), and James Bond (pre- Craig). Many of those are fine or even very good. None are, to me, great in view of what came after. − December 28, 2020 more by Samir
Scott Hardie: Yeah, it occurred to me, while watching Soul and thinking about how standard-issue "Pixar" it felt, that I couldn't remember the last Pixar movie that I would consider great. I pulled up a list and realized that, well, there isn't one at all. If you had asked me circa 2005 if Pixar had made any great movies, I would probably have said Finding Nemo and either Toy Story. But now that I've seen so many more, they kind of all seem the same to me, barring a few disreputable outliers like Cars.
Maybe I've been spoiled. Maybe all of Pixar's movies are all so good that it has ruined my perception and I'm no longer able to recognize their genius and they falsely seem more ordinary than they are. If that's so, I could try to cleanse my palate by seeing other companies' terrible kids movies, but I'm not really willing to sit through, I don't know, Sherlock Gnomes.
Or, maybe I'm looking for art where I shouldn't be. These movies can cost a fortune to produce, and they need a big return at the box office, and Disney has a cash cow on their hands, so of course they're going to be optimized to please as many people as possible, and that's going to handicap them. We should continue to count ourselves lucky that Disney finally stopped forcing Pixar to crank out sequels; Soul may be trite in its message and too familiar in its execution, but at least it's not Wall-E 2.
I wonder whether Apple's influence is part of the problem. Consistency in design and user experience are core parts of Apple's brand, to the point where devices coming out today feel the same as they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, even 30 years ago in parts of the UI. Pixar was long owned by Apple and no doubt influenced by their culture, and they have a very standard feel to their films in much the same way. They experiment in shorts, but features are always played as safe as possible. (And the shorts are good in their own way. I'd put Kitbull up against any of their features for the title of "best Pixar film.") − December 28, 2020 more by Scott
Samir Mehta: Interesting points. First, I watched Kitbull and it is excellent. But I would never agree that it matches the best of Pixar. (For me, that's Coco, Up, Wall-E, Inside Out, and Toy Story 3.) Part of this is by design. What makes Coco, Up, and Wall-E unusually amazing (along with the others) is how they leverage their time and scope. In Coco, we hear the exact same song sung three remarkably different ways. And in that, we hear a subtextual evocation of the theme of the entire film - music provides transcendence that can span lifetimes, but the quiet intimacy of intimacy can create connections between people (as between Hector and Coco, and later Miguel), and between large audiences (as with Ernesto de la Cruz). The movie is tackling the most classical questions about what life is about. Do we chase ambition? Do we find our happiness in our family? In what we do? I could write a similar defense of Up (that has one of the most poignant callback scenes I've ever seen - where Carl re-opens the scrapbook and instantly sees his life of achievement, not on the grand scale, but on an important and personal one with Ellie) and the others.
Second, I do wonder if you're onto something with your Sherlock Gnomes point. Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael wrote a lot about how watching trash makes one realize what great trash is, and what great art is. And I wonder if you only watch good movies and good animation, you miss those details?
For me, I think my goal is just to have an open mind to see art for where it is, not where I think it should be. I find that modern movie and TV criticism has an alarming amount of groupthink where things are elevated simply because people say they should be. e.g., I think Tree of Life, Dunkirk, Frances Ha, and Call Me By Your Name are unwatchable garbage. I will happily say Pixar is more artistically important that Terrence Malick (esp. since 2000). (Ironically, I think Malick has the Apple problem too - his movies are so devoid of ideas that all that is left is prettiness that once was distinctive, and now is bland consistency.) − December 29, 2020 more by Samir
Scott Hardie: True, a short lacks the power of a longer feature. But years after seeing it, I still have fonder memories of the 5-minute Kitbull I do of most of Pixar's features. And even if they all magically took the same amount time to watch, Kitbull the one that I would choose to watch again if someone forced me to pick one.
I try to cut myself a lot of slack when writing these reviews. Besides the fact that this is a silly little review service that is only read by a handful of my friends so who cares, I'm also well aware that opinion is highly subjective to context. If I see a film in a bad mood, or after a trailer has ruined it for me, or after it was described inaccurately and I went in expecting something else, I'm going to react to it more harshly. There are a thousand elements affecting my mood; maybe I just had a headache or something that day and I was cranky. My job isn't to be objective because that's impossible; my job is to write what I thought about the movie. I thought Soul was well-made but disappointing, so that's what I wrote, and in the end that's good enough for me. Let the professional critics and serious academics worry about whether they have accurately assessed the relative merits of this strain of 21st-century American cinema; I can sleep well with what I wrote. That's my goal.
Ha! I had just written that I need to drop the subject when it comes to Disney forcing Pixar to make sequels, and that I've complained about that too much now, especially since it seems to be a thing of the past. But I looked again at that list of upcoming titles and it includes this. Someday Pixar will stop reusing their old IP, and someday I will stop complaining about it, but I don't know which will happen first. :-P − December 29, 2020 more by Scott
Erik Bates: I had never seen Kitbull before.
And now I'm crying at work. THANKS GUYS. It doesn't help that we have a rescue pitbull at home that we love more than anything, and who is the biggest softie you've ever met. − December 29, 2020 more by Erik
Samir Mehta: Scott, Ha! Fair all around. I will close in noting that your invocation of your personal experience reminded me (again) of Pauline Kael and her style of mixing her experience with her reviews.
I did like Kitbull - I was amazed and struck by how casually they suggested that the pitbull is badly abused and/or in a dogfighting ring. I will never understand that subculture. − December 30, 2020 more by Samir
Matthew Preston: “It was ok.”
This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
Scott Hardie: If two kids won't even sit through the kids movie, that's kind of damning. − December 29, 2020 more by Scott
Erik Bates: more by Erik