Pixar Tag

Review: Ratatouille

Ratatouille (2007)

On the heels of Dennis Burger’s review of Coco—probably the best of the recent harvest of Pixar films, likely because it was a holdover from the Lasseter era—comes this review of Ratatouille, probably the best of the films from the studio’s initial, defining Golden Age. Anointing a “best” Pixar film is almost impossible, especially when you’re talking about that early period when they could do no wrong—well, except for Cars.

 

Why Ratatouille? Mainly because nobody should have been able to make a mass-market cartoon about the world of gourmet cooking, let alone use it as a springboard for portraying that world in depth and at length, with both insight and affection, then draw a big enough audience to reap almost a billion dollars along the way. No live-action film could venture into that 

territory and expect to earn enough to even cover the crew’s car fare.

 

That Brad Bird and associates were able to evoke that rarified and exclusive world without succumbing to the Bay Area’s provincial snobbery, Silicon Valley’s endemic hubris, and the insufferable know-nothingness (and -everythingness) of the then emergent hipster movement makes it that much more of a miracle. This movie should not exist—and yet there it is.

 

Fourteen years on, Ratatouille still holds up for the most part. The visuals don’t have the depth and photorealistic microdetail of Pixar’s more recent fare, but the production design and animation are so inventive and expressive that those technical improvements would be superfluous here. About the only thing that comes up short are the fire effects, which look smudgy.

RATATOUILLE AT A GLANCE

4K HDR definitely enhances the experience of what is probably the best of Pixar’s early features.

 

PICTURE

The use of HDR is consistently restrained but also consistently compelling, taking full advantage of Paris’s reputation as the City of Light.

 

SOUND     

The TrueHD Atmos mix is appropriately atmospheric, for the most part, but gets a little too cartoony during those moments when the movie feels the need to goose the action.

Remy, Skinner, Ego, Emile, and Django are all still solid, Colette still feels perfunctory and obligatory, and Linguini is still consistently annoying and just plain uncomfortable to watch, a sop to the youngest part of the audience that never felt right and hasn’t aged well—which brings up the biggest differences between this and earlier viewings of the film. It’s becoming apparent there’s a flaw in the Pixar formula that is going to become more obvious as time passes, a tendency to periodically amp up the action way beyond what the story calls for out of fear of losing the audience. This especially sticks out in Ratatouille because it’s so unnecessary, the themes, characters, and plotting being so compelling (with a glaring exception) that the little action set pieces jump out as arbitrary and disruptive.

 

That glaring exception is the third act, which, for all their genius at plotting, the Pixar team badly bungled here. Not having properly balanced the various narrative threads, the result was something just short of chaos when they tried to pull them all together. Or, to shift metaphors, by the time Ego arrives at the restaurant for his dinner, they have so many balls in the air that you can sense their arms getting tired.

 

The time that elapses between Ego’s arrival and when he’s finally served is so drawn out that it stretches plausibility to the breaking point, even for a cartoon. Instead of maintaining the tension created by his presence and taking advantage of the momentum it creates, the movie jerks along in fits and starts as it tries to check off the boxes of all the various subplots, wreaking havoc on any realistic (or dramatic) sense of time. For instance, we’re supposed to believe that Linguini has his freak out, then defends Remy, the entire kitchen staff quits, Remy becomes reconciled with his father, Colette reconsiders, the rats come to the rescue, the perpetually bumbling Linguini becomes a supremely coordinated skater, and they all conjure up a ratatouille while the most important food critic in France, with the power to ruin the restaurant, just waits—and waits, and waits. It doesn’t help that they too conveniently place the deposed and banished (and distinctly diminutive) Skinner in the middle of the dining room where he would have been instantly spotted by the wait staff. Poetic license can be a beautiful thing but this is all too much to swallow. You naturally give a cartoon a lot of leeway—but not when it squanders a natural point of dramatic energy because of shoddy plotting.

None of this fatally flaws the film—far from it. It’s just another aspect of Pixar being so hyper conscious of serving the audience that they didn’t fully invest themselves in the material—which would have led to a better, and likely just as successful, film.

 

So let’s jump to the “modern animation always looks great on digital media, whether HD, Blu-ray, or 4K” cliché. I can see the merits of that argument but would then have to point toward what HDR brings to the presentation here. It’s a consistently restrained application but a consistently compelling one that takes full advantage of Paris’s reputation as the City of Light. Probably the best example is the shot toward the end of Ego standing looking at the skyline out his tall study window as he’s heard on the soundtrack reading his review. The deft enhancement of his desk lamp, the dimly lit chandelier, and the city’s glow is both subtle and dazzling—and Exhibit A for why animation is worth seeing in HDR.

 

I’m sometimes intrigued by Michael Giacchino’s work but wouldn’t call myself a fan. His scores are too often both ingratiating and derivative, and too big for the project at hand. But Ratatouille is one of his less turgid efforts—aside from those 

Ratatouille (2007)

gratuitous action set pieces—with the film’s more modest and intimate action  causing him to rein in his usual excesses, leading to some evocative, and even graceful and restrained, flourishes from time to time.

 

The TrueHD Atmos mix is appropriately atmospheric, convincingly placing you out in a field, in a farmhouse, in the sewer, in a gourmet kitchen, etc. But it does get a little too cartoony during those moments when all involved felt obliged to goose the action.

 

The reputation of Pixar’s films is so strong it’s damn near invincible, so pointing out that some cracks might be starting to emerge is unlikely to trigger any kind of reconsideration. And it doesn’t make those early years any less miraculous—the animation in the original Toy Story is really starting to show its age but that hasn’t yet had any real impact on enjoying the film. The same thing applies here, sort of—the animation in Ratatouille is still solid, and the creative team gets the expressive aspects so right that that third act fumble, which would have sunk a lesser film, triggers little more than a passing twinge. It’s hard, even at this late date, not to be in awe of what Pixar wrought here. 

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Review: Coco

Coco (2017)

It may seem strange to begin a review of Coco with a discussion about a man who had nothing to do with the making of the film, but hopefully this will all make sense in a few paragraphs. I am, to put it mildly, a magic enthusiast. I have a drawer in my dresser dedicated to all manner of illusions, from prop thumbs to Svengali decks to Scotch & Soda coins, and the list goes on. So, it stands to reason that I have an all-time favorite illusionist—a mischievous little imp known as James Randi, who performed for years as The Amazing Randi before transitioning into a career as a professional skeptic and debunker. 

 

What makes Randi my favorite magician is that he was honest about being a liar, famously stating, “I’m a trickster, I’m a cheat, I’m a charlatan. That’s what I do for a living.” The one time I actually got to see him perform illusions in person, he 

explained his craft in detail. He walked the audience through his tricks, exposing not only the mechanics, but also why the audience fell for them.

 

And all of the above is simply context for what I’m about to say: One of my all-time favorite magic tricks is Pixar’s Coco. And yes, it is a magic trick. It’s illusory, after all, packed with deception, misdirection, and sleights of hand both subtle and coarse. But what makes it such a great magic act is exactly what made Randi such a great magician—even after you recognize and understand the deceptions, they still work. They still have power. They’re still artful and masterful.

 

And all of that is just one of the many reasons why Coco sits high on my all-time favorites list of Pixar films, and why it’s worthy of discussion today, some four years after its 

COCO AT A GLANCE

One of Pixar’s very best films comes across with slightly different visual emphasis on Disney+ and Kaleidescape. 

 

PICTURE

Kaleidescape’s UHD presentation is rich with subtle textures, and the HDR10 color grade is a significant step up from the Blu-ray release.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is a textbook example of object-based surround done right.

release. Another reason is the film’s thematic complexity. And I’m forced to contend with that as I sit here and attempt to convey in words what the film means, what it has to say. The simplest I can come up with is that it’s ultimately about the struggle—the tug-of-war—between one’s intrinsic search for identity and one’s obligation to family and society. But that’s too simple. It would be more accurate to say that it’s about the complex way in which our identity is formed both from within and without. More obviously, it also beautifully deals with death, legacy, and the afterlife in a way that feels mutually compatible with spiritual thinking and a more secular outlook on life. And somehow it manages all of this while feeling organic and spontaneous.

 

Of course, a more obvious reason to discuss the film at this juncture is that Kaleidescape is currently running a Pixar Fest through September 14, with special pricing on select films from the studio’s catalog. Coco currently comes in at $14.99 in UHD/HDR. I mean, come on. At that price, it’s simply irresistible, even if you’re a Disney+ subscriber—and I know that may be a hard sell, but let me explain why. Firstly, Kaleidescape’s download comes with so many of the bonus features that are missing on Disney’s streaming service, including a wonderful (but far too brief) documentary called “The Real Guitar,” which is otherwise only available on disc or Apple TV.

Kaleidescape’s UHD presentation is also rich with subtle textures, and the HDR10 color grade is a significant step up from the Blu-ray release. Mind you, Coco is a gorgeous film at any resolution, mostly owing to its fantastic art design and animation, but the HDR in particular adds some meaningful enhancements that make the illusion all the more convincing. The expanded color gamut allows for a slightly more pronounced contrast between Miguel’s Día de las Muertas makeup and the actual bony flesh of the dead, for example, accentuating why the deception almost works, but not quite. The fluorescent glow that permeates the Land of the Dead also radiates with more intensity, making it all feel just that much more magical.

 

Kaleidescape’s Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is also a textbook example of object-based surround done right. Panning and object placement are simply perfect within the base soundfield, and the overhead channels are used to expand and enhance the ambiance and reverberance of the world without thwapping you over the head with distractions.

 

It’s interesting to note that there are more significant differences between 

Coco (2017)

Kaleidescape’s presentation and the stream available on Disney+ than would usually be the case. And that’s mostly down to the fact that Kaleidescape relies on HDR10 while Disney+ has the film in Dolby Vision.

 

It’s really not a matter of which is better—in this case, it largely comes down to personal choice, as both have their merits. The Dolby Vision grade is more vibrant, with a more intense color palette and higher-intensity brightness in spots, making it obvious bait for videophiles. The HDR10 grade is more muted—at least in the land of the living—which makes the visual contrast between the two worlds stand out a bit more. Both look gorgeous in their own ways, but again—and this is the main kicker for me—Disney+ only adds a few deleted scenes and one short featurette, whereas the Kaleidescape download comes with almost all of the bonus goodies available on disc. Those supplements, as well as the more reliable access afforded by downloading the film once instead of streaming it on demand, make Kaleidescape’s release of Coco incredibly easy to recommend as a permanent part of your personal movie library. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Review: Luca

Luca (2021)

When I was in high school, my favorite band was Talking Heads and I had this weird kind of love-hate anxiety when they would release a new album and I would go to listen for the first time. Would I love the new album because I actually loved it, or would I make myself say I loved it because it was from the Heads, or would lead singer David Byrne have taken them off on some new musical direction that meant I actually didn’t love it, and couldn’t even bring myself to lie that I did?

 

That’s a bit how I feel about a new film from Pixar.

 

Pixar Animation is about one of the surest bets around when it comes to delivering solid entertainment. And I don’t mean only in animated titles, but in just great movies in general. While I used to get a bit concerned because Pixar trailers used to seem 

so generic and uninteresting—always fearing, “Well, this is the one where Pixar finally misses the mark . . .”—I have come to realize the company just doesn’t produce great trailers, often because their stories are so layered you can’t really hope to encapsulate the whole spirit in a one-to-two-minute spot.

 

So, even though I wasn’t really overly excited by the trailers for Luca, the 24th film from the studio, which premiered on Disney+ this past Thursday (June 18), I wasn’t overly concerned. But, I’m sad to say, I think this might actually be the company’s weakest film to date, certainly rivaling 2015’s The Good Dinosaur, which is widely considered the worst film in the company’s canon.

LUCA AT A GLANCE

Awful thin for a Pixar movie, especially on the heels of the nuanced and adult, Oscar-winning Soul

 

PICTURE
Luca just looks gorgeous—the colors are straight-up eye candy throughout.

 

SOUND     

Kind of like the story itself, the movie’s Dolby Atmos mix is just satisfactory.

It’s not that Luca is a bad film by any means. In fact, it might even be a good movie. It’s just that it’s not a great one, and that is the nearly impossible situation that Pixar has placed itself in—after delivering film after film of greatness that anything less than a home run is considered disappointing.

 

I think the letdown is compounded by the fact that Luca follows Soul, the company’s most adult and ambitious title to date, which was so full of, well, soul. Soul took on incredibly deep and heavy issues and had such richly developed characters that the light and saccharine sweetness of Luca just seems all the emptier because of it.

 

But for Pixar, Luca lacks the depth, weight, and multi-dimensional story we’re used to getting. It’s just . . . simple. It’s hard to really care too deeply about its characters because the story doesn’t give us enough to care about them. Sure, there are tons of metaphors and parallels you can draw. The characters’ goal is to win a race that will give them enough money to buy a Vespa, which the film literally tells us is freedom—the freedom to get out and see the world beyond your four walls, especially exciting for Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), who has lived a very sheltered and protected life. (“I never go anywhere. Just dream about it.”) The characters are also hiding the secret about what they really are (sea monsters), looking to fit in and gain acceptance from the small Italian city of Portorosso which hates/fears what they really are. And if you want to draw a parallel to the LGBTQ community here, well, it doesn’t take much of a stretch (Especially at the end, when two more characters come “out.”) 

 

The film takes place around the ‘50s-‘60s on the Italian Riviera, where sea monster Luca spends his days herding fish like a shepherd. One day while out swimming, he meets Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), who shows him that when dry on land, they transform into human form. Alberto pushes Luca beyond his comfort zone, until one day Luca’s parents (voiced by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) discover what he has been doing and threaten to send away to the deep to life with bizarre—and semi-translucent—Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen). 

 

Luca and Alberto swim over to the city of Portorusso, where they attempt to blend in with the “land monsters” and fulfill their dream of getting a Vespa. They befriend Giulia (Emma Berman) whose dad Massimo (Marco Barricelli) happens to be a major fisherman and sea-monster hunter. (Who is clearly inspired by—and is the spitting image of—the dad from Pixar’s short “La Luna.”) The film builds to the Portorusso Cup Triathlon, a race where the winner gets a trophy and prize money, with the boys in constant fear of getting wet and revealing their secret.

 

One thing you can’t fault Pixar on is the technical presentation, as Luca just looks gorgeous. I watched it the first time on my 4K projector in HDR10 and then again on a new Sony OLED in Dolby Vision, and the colors are just straight-up eye candy throughout. The animation here is definitely more cartoony, not having that hyper-realistic look found in some of Pixar’ss films (e.g., the jazz club scene in Soul). Even still, the colors just burst off the screen, and this will make your video display really pop. You can also tell that the Pixar animators and writers took the time to research life in a small Italian Riviera city, with lots of accurate little details thrown in throughout. (This is also the directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa, who clearly tried to bring as much Italian authenticity and love to the project as possible.)

 

Water is notoriously difficult to animate and render, but here it just looks fantastic. Also, even through Disney+ streaming (via my Apple TV), I didn’t notice any banding issues as the sunlight filtered from the surface down through various layers, colors, and shades of the ocean—something that looked especially natural on the OLED with Dolby Vision. Another scene had water crashing into a rocky shoreline, with clear and individual detail to each rock, with the foam, froth, and bubbles in the water incredibly detailed. There are also subtle detailed touches like the different shades of color in the sand as water lapped in and out. There is also super-fine detail in the clothing worn, letting you clearly see the differences in fabric texture, patterns, and weaves worn by characters.

 

Much of Luca takes place in daytime in the town of Portorosso, with brilliant sun shining in piercing blue skies; bright, emerald grasses; and multi-colored buildings, or the warm, golden-orange hues as the sun sets. It all looks gorgeous. 

 

Kind of like the story itself, I found Luca’s audio mix to be just satisfactory. Dialogue is well rendered primarily in the center channel (though it does occasionally follow characters as they move off screen), making it clear and intelligible throughout, but even though it is a Dolby Atmos mix, it was very subtle and reserved. The one dialogue distraction was Giulia’s accent, which seemed to come and go, and was especially pronounced when she is sprinkling in some word or phrase in Italian, kind of like how a Latino chef will go out of their way to over-emphasize some ethnic word like “chili relleno” to let you know just how legit they are.

 

Italian songs of the era are sprinkled throughout, and they get some room across the front channels and a bit up into the overheads, but the rest of the effects are pretty sparse. There were some instances of the sounds of boats passing up overhead, or a harpoon thrown that passes by, but I didn’t find the sound mix dynamic at all. (Again, whether this was a streaming issue or an Apple TV issue, I can’t say.) 

 

I did notice that the soundfield opened up a bit as Luca leaves the water and goes onto dry land. It wasn’t through a big use of audio, but rather just the sonic sense that the room had expanded with sounds of gentle wind, rustling leaves, and birds that let you know you are up in the human world.

 

Is Luca worth seeing? For Disney+ subscribers, I’d say definitely. If nothing else, it is beautiful to look at, and it’s a fun, albeit simple, story.

 

And, it’s not that Luca is a bad film. In fact, you could easily say that while Soul was a Pixar title made for adults, Luca sets its sights squarely on a younger audience, with a coming-of-age story about friendship, acceptance, childhood dreams, and overcoming fears that never gets too deep or strays too far away from safety and cuteness that kids will be drawn to. And if Luca came from any other studio (well, with the exception of Disney Animation, Pixar’s parent company), it would likely be heralded as a triumph. It’s just that Pixar has come to make us expect so much more.  

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: Soul

Soul (2020)

Disney’s gift to families arrived on Disney+ yesterday in the form of Pixar’s 23rd feature-length film, Soul, which is arguably the largest title to debut on the streaming service without requiring the purchased premium access of the recent live-action Mulan remake. (Onward had a brief theatrical release before being moved to the streaming site.)

 

Soul definitely tackles Pixar’s biggest, most complex, and heady adult ideas and themes to date. While other Pixar films have dealt with the death of a main character (notably the loss of a parent in Onward), here we get a version of both the afterlife and pre-existence—and I’d say despite the pleasing visuals (especially in the vibrant and colorful Great Before) and big-eyed 

cuteness of the ever-smiling new souls, it isn’t really a children’s movie at all. But the genius of Pixar films has always been that they are able to entertain and appeal to viewers across large age groups, and the jokes and themes here are certainly geared towards an older audience, such as what some of those sign-spinners are really up to, what happens to hedge-fund managers, and why the Knicks keep losing.

 

Jazz—or “black improvisation music” as Joe Gardner’s (Jamie Foxx) father calls it—also plays a prominent role throughout the film, a musical genre that isn’t typically kid-friendly, and it also features “real,” poignant adult conversations between characters, such as the chat Joe has with his longtime barber Dez (Donnell Rawlings).

 

You could consider Soul to be the final (?) film in director Pete Docter’s reverse life-cycle trilogy, which began with 2009’s Up that focused on a person nearing the end of his life, followed by 2015’s Inside Out, which put us in the

SOUL AT A GLANCE

Pixar’s 23rd feature—debuting on Disney+ without a theatrical release—is a very adult take on life and the before- and afterlife.

 

PICTURE     

Image quality is reference-quality throughout (especially when viewed in Dolby Vision), with fine micro-details visible in literally anything you choose to focus on.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby Atmos audio does a great job of presenting the film’s jazz score, with music swirling overhead and around the room, and with plenty of nice subtle sonic moments throughout.

mind of a pre-teenager figuring out her emotions. With Soul, we actually roll back to pre-existence, discovering how people get their unique personality traits and find that “spark” that motivates, excites, and inspires them.

 

The movie begins with Joe, a part-time middle-school band instructor, getting hired on full-time at the school. While his mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), is thrilled at the prospect of Joe having a steady paycheck, insurance, and security instead of his gigging lifestyle, Joe feels he’s turning his back on his dream of being a jazz musician. When one of his former students, Curley (Questlove), calls him to see if he’s available to audition to play piano with the Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) Quartet that evening, Joe nails the try-out and leaves on Cloud Nine, oblivious to everything going on around him. This leads to him walking into an open manhole, and, well, coming around as a soul ascending towards the great white light of the Great Beyond. But Joe isn’t willing to accept that he has died on the night of his big break, so he fights to get back to his body on earth.

 

And that is just the first 11 minutes of the movie.

 

From here, we transition to the Great Before—rebranded as the You Seminar—where mentors work with new souls who are given unique and individual personalities to prepare them for life on Earth. (One soul proclaims, “I’m a manipulative 

megalomaniac who’s intensely opportunistic.”)  Another group of souls is sent to become self-absorbed, causing one of the counselors to say, “We really should stop sending so many people through that pavilion.”

 

The final step in a soul receiving its full personality—and getting its Earth pass—is for it to find its “spark,” or that thing that 

drives you. Joe is assigned to Mentor 22 (Tina Fey), who has been stuck as a new soul for years with no desire to go to Earth, having broken previous mentors such as Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Mohammed Ali.

 

With the help of Moonwind (Graham Norton), an astral traveler who sails about The Zone, a place between the spiritual and physical, in a tie-dye-sailed ship listening to Bob Dylan and helping lost souls find their way, 22 and Joe make it back to Earth, but not exactly in the way the Joe is hoping. I thought the film was going to take a Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin All of Me turn, but it doesn’t. Without spoiling, I’ll say Joe comes back in a way where he can still communicate with 22 but with no one else.

 

The movie has three distinct animation styles and looks defining the Great Beyond, the Great Before, and life on Earth. The Beyond is rendered in very contrasty black and white with just the color of the souls headed towards the ultra-bright light (a scene that reminded me of Carousel from Logan’s Run, whether intentional or not), whereas the Great Before is vibrant, filled with glowing blue, pink, and purple pastels and almost neon-tube drawings with things glowing bright around outlined edges and having a very ethereal look. Earth is hyper-realistic with a more muted, natural color scheme.

 

Image quality is fantastic and reference-quality throughout, with Soul being beautiful and just pleasing to look at. While the Great Before has colors that leap off the screen (especially when viewed in Dolby Vision), it is the scenes on Earth that really show off Pixar’s animation prowess, with fine micro-details visible in literally anything you choose to focus on. The texture, layering, and fading colors in street graffiti, the floor of the barbershop and look of Dez’s shoes, the distressing in iron railings, the sweat that appears on musicians’ faces after a long gig, the variety of people walking around the streets of New York, the micro-bits of fabric at the edges of Joe’s sweater, or the reflection off a glossy piano lid revealing the workings inside. Remembering that every . . . single . . . pixel of detail, every micro imperfection, every scratch and nick, every reflection, every subtle lighting effect, has been painstakingly created by deliberate artistic choice takes appreciation to the next level.

 

You can also really notice the choices the Pixar artists make in how they animate different things. While they’ve settled on the look of people, other items like buildings, backgrounds, and furniture get near-photo realistic detail. Other things like photos of jazz greats in a stairwell, or the stage at the club, land somewhere in between.

 

As mentioned, jazz music is a prominent, recurring theme throughout the film, and the Dolby Atmos audio does a great job presenting this, especially when Joe is really grooving and in-the-zone, where music swirls overhead and around the room. Voices in the Great Before are echoey, while the street sounds and cacophony of New York sound appropriately overwhelming. There are also plenty of nice subtle sonic moments throughout, such as the flatter, low-ceilinged sound of music in the Half Note, the clack of tracks aboard the subway, or the buzz overhead as Joe stands under a neon light. Most important, dialogue is always clear and perfectly intelligible.

 

Soul is a deep story that actually takes a bit of unpacking, and it looks so good you’ll likely want to revisit it more than once, where you’ll likely discover plenty of new things to appreciate—and possibly pause to try and pick out the Easter eggs scattered throughout. Finding out what things make a life, and learning to enjoy the simple pleasures and experiences life has to offer is the real heart of Soul, and this is another win for Pixar.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4

First, let me just put this out there: I’m a huge Pixar fan. Like huge. For years, I felt the studio could do no wrong, as they churned out one brilliant, original, entertaining film after another. In fact, I would put Pixar up there with Lucasfilm as a studio whose next film I am going to see regardless of what it is or what it is about. Pixar makes a movie? I’m going. Automatic.

 

And that Pixar films are animated is almost irrelevant, as they have heart, head and shoulders above most of what other studios are putting out. And they seemed to have cracked the code on how to make films that simultaneously appealed to a wide generation of viewers, offering something engaging for toddlers and grown-ups alike, with characters you truly care about.

 

But recently, Pixar seems to have veered away from its originality roots and has been relying fairly heavily on sequels, with Cars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc. all getting the multi-film treatment. So, it shouldn’t have come as a real surprise that they would return to their original goldmine one more time with another entry in the Toy Story franchise.

 

When I initially heard about the plans to release Toy Story 4, I was actually upset. Not because I’m not a fan of the franchise—rather, exactly the opposite. It’s because I’m such a big fan, and I felt the story arc had been so wonderfully and perfectly completed in Toy Story 3, that I feared any additional movies would only dilute the emotional conclusion of that film, one that never fails to cause me to tear up no matter how many times I watch it.

 

Sure, give us some further exploits of our toy friends playing with Bonnie such as the Toy Story Toons Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex or the longer shorts Toy Story That Time Forgot or Toy Story of Terror, but let Toy Story 3 remain the perfect end note to the main story.

Toy Story 4

However, with its early release in 4K HDR at the Kaleidescape Store (a week prior to the UltraHD Blu-ray), I decided to take the plunge and complete my Toy Story film collection.

 

I’ve watched TS4 twice now, once in theaters and once at home in 4K HDR, and my heart has definitely softened to this latest entry in the series. While much of the story feels more forced than the more organic events of 1—new toy, Buzz, comes in and shakes up things in the toys’ world—2—Woody is stolen and discovers he is a celebrity—and 3—the toys come to terms with Andy growing up and leaving them behind, it gives our toys another great adventure while advancing Woody’s story and ultimately giving his character some nice closure. (And a new beginning.)

 

The movie opens nine years in the past, showing us what happened to Sheriff Woody’s (Tom Hanks) true love, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), when she is given away to another child. We then cut back to the present where, following the events of Toy Story 3, young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is growing, and Sheriff Woody finds himself being played with less and less. On the first day of kindergarten, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack to make sure she has a good first day, and while at school, Bonnie crafts a new friend, Forky (Tony Hale), from miscellaneous scraps of trash. When brought into Bonnie’s room, Forky magically comes to life and spends much of the movie trying to throw himself in the garbage.

 

When Bonnie’s family takes a road trip, Woody tries to convince the other toys—and Forky himself—that Forky is important to Bonnie. And when Forky throws himself out of the RV’s window, Woody goes after him, setting the stage for a variety of adventures, and the bringing together of old friends and new acquaintances.

 

All of your favorite characters from the previous films are here, including Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, 

Toy Story 4

Duke Caboom

taking over for the late Jim Varney). Significant among the new characters are Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and ultimate stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).

 

Toy Story 4 is Pixar doing what Pixar does best, which is putting a bunch of interesting characters together in humorous situations and milking each scene for maximum humor and heart. They nail the little moments like 

Rex being impressed with how long Forky’s pipe-cleaner arms are, or Snow Combat Carl (Carl Weathers) missing out on a high five. This is definitely not the best of the Toy Story films, but it is still a lot of fun to watch.

 

We’ve been having a bit of a resurgence of Toy Story watching in our house, as my 3 year old has become obsessed with the first three films, wanting to watch them on our Kaleidescape system over and over. She is especially fond of Bo Peep, who plays a significant role in this movie as a surviving tough gal who knows how to stay alive and get things done.

 

What you really notice is the generational leaps in animation improvement from film to film. Whereas the first movie now looks almost like a student project, this one has many moments that border on photo-realistic. The opening scenes look stunningly real, with incredible depth and detail in every frame. Taken from a 4K digital intermediate, there is striking micro detail in every closeup, a testament to the fanatical level of attention paid by the Pixar team. From the ultra-fine texture in Bo’s bonnet, to the detail in every one of Bonnie’s eye lashes, to the scuffs and scrapes on Woody’s hat (visible only in certain lighting and angles, mind you), each frame is bursting with detail. Just sit and watch as each rain drop in the beginning hits, splashes, and ripples. It’s amazing work.

 

The outdoor scenes all look unbelievably real—from the exterior of Bonnie’s school, to the road and landscape while Woody and Forky are walking, to the interior of the Second Chance antiques store, it’s all 4K eye candy. One scene in the antiques 

store where Bo and Woody look at a variety of illuminated chandeliers is especially fantastic looking.

 

I did find the colors throughout to be a bit subdued and muted. Whether this was to give it a more grown-up, film-like, and realistic look or due to some other creative choice, colors aren’t as overly saturated and “pumped up” as they are in many animated titles, including others in the TS series. There are still scenes where colors pop, such as the shimmer of Bo’s deep purple cloak, the flashing colored lights in the secret club inside an old pinball machine, the gleaming chrome on Duke’s cycle, the midway at the carnival, and especially the carnival lit up at night.

 

This film is gorgeous to behold throughout, and reference-quality video in every way.

 

I found the Dolby Atmos audio track to be mostly restrained, with the vast majority of the audio action happening in the front of the room. There were some nice moments where the height speakers were called into creative use to expand the on-screen dialogue—for example Woody hearing things inside Bonnie’s backpack, or Ducky and Bunny talking off screen—or where the audio 

Toy Story 4

soundstage is expanded with a variety of ticking clocks in the antique store. But Toy Story 4 isn’t really an audio showcase. Having said that, this is frequently a dialogue-driven film, and the dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and there is appropriate use of surrounds when called on, but just not aggressively.

 

There are multiple end-credits and a post-credits scene that are definitely worth hanging around for.

 

If you have kids or grandkids, or just want a fantastic-looking movie with a bunch of heart, Toy Story 4 is sure to please.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 review

Incredibles 2 shouldn’t work. At least not as well as it does. It’s been 14 years since the original film, after all, and the world—our world, the real one without superheroes—has changed. A lot. Socially. Politically. Cinematically. So, to pick up this sequel right after the end of the original film seems a myopic decision. One can’t help but wonder—as the film opens on the familiar closing scenes of its forebear—if Incredibles 2 will ever rise above the level of nostalgic romp.

 

Thankfully those apprehensions are unfounded. Perhaps it’s due to the retro-futuristic tone, style, and aesthetic of the Incredibles universe, but somehow the film manages to catch up with a decade-and-a-half worth of sociopolitical progress and regression while also managing to feel like a fluid and organic extension of the original. And it does so while somehow managing to be less preachy and more nuanced.

 

Another reason Incredibles 2 feels like something of a risky move is the fact that it has the courage to be a lot of films at once. It’s an unabashed superhero flick, sure. It’s also a girl-power anthem and a slapstick masterpiece rolled up into one, with a side-helping of commentary on all forms of media (new, social, and mainstream). There’s teenage romance. There’s thrilling action. There are poop jokes and technological warnings that are about as subtle as a 1958 Pontiac Parisienne. There’s also an epic (and epically hilarious) battle between a trash panda and an infant, for goodness’ sake. But somehow this mélange of themes and tones and styles coalesces into something that works wonderfully and cohesively.

 

If there’s one criticism to be leveled at the film, it’s that from 30,000 feet its main plot is sort of just a gender-inversion of the original film’s main storyline. In many ways that works to its advantage, though. It gives the longtime fan something to latch onto—a sense of comforting familiarity that in many ways makes this film’s narrative and thematic departures hit home with a little more oomph.

 

More than anything, though, the themes of Incredibles 2 build on those of the original in a seemingly seamless way. Whereas the first film dealt largely with issues of individuality, the sequel in many ways wraps its arms around the internal struggle between defining ourselves as individuals and accepting that who we are as people is often a function of who we are to the other people in our lives, especially when viewed through the lens of the family.

 

That isn’t really any sort of insightful observation on my part, mind you. It mainly comes from the film’s exceptional collection of bonus features. If you saw Incredibles 2 in cinemas and thought you were done with it, you owe it to yourself to explore the shockingly revelatory and honest supplemental material included with the film. If you’re on Kaleidescape, that means downloading the Blu-ray-quality version of the film as well as the 4K HDR, since the extras are limited to the former.

 

It’s well worth downloading both, though. The Kaleidescape HDR version of the film sets itself apart from the other home video releases thanks to unique color grading that focuses less on the absolute blacks and eye-reactive highlights and more on subtlety and richness of shadows that simply look more cinematic to my eyes. Kaleidescape’s TrueHD Atmos soundtrack (otherwise found only on the film’s UHD Blu-ray release) also has a leg up on the Dolby Digital+ soundtrack found on streaming versions of the film. Not necessarily in the booming bass of big action sequences (of which there are many, with oodles of sonic impact, something Disney hasn’t always gotten right as of late), but more in the subtle details that deliver ambience and atmospherics. And above all else, Incredibles 2 is nothing if not atmospheric.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.