Lightyear is the real film based on the fake toy from a real movie who thinks he’s a real person from a fake film which they have now really made. That convoluted (yet technically accurate) description demonstrates how unnecessary a film this is, but as Pixar exhausts the Toy Story franchise it is now looking to spin-offs for brand recognition. Based on the animation style, Lightyear would presumably have been a live-action film within the fiction of the first Toy Story, and perhaps fittingly it feels like an utterly generic sci-fi family film from the 1990s as Buzz takes on robot antagonists with the help of a handful of rookie Space Rangers. There is much to appreciate visually, from soft lighting diffusing through varied skintones to the weathering detail on aged space suits. Technical merits aside, this may be one of the least ambitious stories Pixar has ever told. Although it briefly sets up an interesting time dilation concept as Buzz tests hyperspace fuels, years passing each time he returns to the planet, Lightyear exhausts its creativity within the first act. In two hours it does little to advance Buzz’s character beyond a touchingly poignant gloss to his most famous catchphrase. Though unlikely to be profitable directly, Lightyear will presumably succeed through merchandising with a varied set of space-suited characters and a very cute robot cat, and perhaps Disney’s budgeting requires the studio to make a film like this to fund others like Soul. I am not sure there is quite enough here to keep kids fully entertained for two hours; adults, even accounting for nostalgia, will certainly feel like they have seen this all before.
director: Brad Bird writer: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco starring: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole running time: 111 mins rating: U
Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.
Over the past decade Pixar has been growing steadily and is now churning out a film every year, yet somehow always of impeccable quality in visuals and heart. Ratatouille is a perfect example of both these qualities but, like many of Pixar’s recent releases, seems to lack the originality of their earlier work.
Food-loving Remy [Patton Oswalt] is an unusual chef. Primarily because he’s a rat. When he finds himself alone in Paris, separated from his family, he teams up with hapless human chef. Languine [Lou Romano] is a new employee at the restaurant created by the renowned Gusteau [Brad Garrett], who inspired Remy with his motto, “anyone can cook”. With Remy’s help, Languini soon becomes the talk of Paris. Meanwhile Remy must deal with conflicting loyalties to his new life and his uncouth family.
Visually Ratatouille delivers a treat, as one always expects from Pixar. Unusually there is a large cast of human characters, not as overtly stylised as The Incredibles but still retaining a cartoonish appearance. Fur has long been one of Pixar’s strengths and cute rats look wonderful, showing off their coats under a variety of conditions, often drenched and even electrified! Most of the film occurs in enclosed spaces but the outside shots of Paris are breathtakingly recreated with incredible detail. The outdoor highlight is a chase through Paris which is simply one of the best action sequences I’ve seen recently in any medium.
The voice acting is capable but unremarkable, though this elevates Pixar above most of its mainstream competition where celebrity voice talent overpowers the characters themselves. The exception is Peter O’Toole’s ominous food critic Anton Ego. Of note is that there is much successful visual, physical comedy here, unusual in a film that is clearly designed for both children and adults. Usually the physical side is reserved for weaker gags to appeal to the younger audience. Unlike other family films that resort exclusively to middle-of-the-road material to appease everyone, here plenty of elements are geared at different sections of the audience so that everyone is kept entertained. There are humorous digs at the French and the inherent snobbery of haute cuisine, but it is always playful rather than mean spirited.
The chief criticism is that beyond the initial creative conceit of a gourmet rat in a kitchen, the story unfolds in a charming but utterly predictable manner. Indeed this feels like a culmination of an alarming trend with Pixar as their unique storytelling spirit of the Toy Story to Monsters, Inc heyday gradually slips away. It is telling that Pixar releases now mark the central focus of the Disney calendar, because it seems the studio is becoming subsumed into its publisher: this tale is exactly what one would expect of a Disney cartoon a few decades ago. Although little is known about the plot for the forthcoming robotic Wall-E, one is hopeful that it may buck the trend.
So Ratatouille remains at the peak of animated fare with a providing much for both children and adults to enjoy. Yet while its polish is undeniable, one cannot help feel that, like Cars, it fails to live up to the legacy that precedes it. Nevertheless it remains one of the top family films of the year, further cementing Pixar’s dominant position.