Add to Queue 81: A parsec of mitigation

[[image:090324_header.jpg:BD Releases | March 24, 2009:center:0]]
Media | A2Q Archives | A2Q on Twitter | A2Q #81 | March 25, 2009

Bolt surprised me for several reasons. As a CG-animated Disney film without the Pixar imprimatur, I assumed there was no way it could have been any good. Throw in the leads in the cast — John Travolta and Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus — and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. So why on earth did I end liking it so much? My gut tells me that at least some of the credit has to go to John Lasseter. I will admit to being a huge nerd for Pixar, but I think anyone who compares the recent works of both Pixar and Disney animation studios will agree that the former has produced far and away the superior films. So when Lasetter, director of both Toy Story features (among others) was named by Disney as Chief Creative Officer of both animation studios after Disney purchased Pixar in 2006, it lent hope to a lot of long time Disney nerds like myself.

Bolt works on multiple levels: as a tale of friendship between a little girl and the eponymous dog she has to leave behind every weekend lest he realize he is not the super-dog he portrays on their joint weekly television series; as a tale of self-discovery when the sheltered Hollywood dog escapes the studio and ends up in the real world; as the emotional healing of a declawed and abandoned kitten who no longer trusts anyone but herself. There are other subplots running throughout, including a satirical look at the exploitation of child actors by the Hollywood machine and the comedic hi-jinx of an over-enthusiastic hamster who meets his hero, Bolt the super-dog, and wants to go adventuring with him. I was particularly touched by Mittens the cat, trying to fend for herself in the big city without her claws to protect her and wondering what she did wrong to end up being thrown away by the callous humans she thought would love and protect her. Bolt, still under the impression that cats work for the fictional man with the green eye whom he (Bolt) believes kidnapped his human, forcibly enlists her in his search for the girl. I have animals that were thrown away, and even though I knew it had to be coming, I was really rooting for her to get a happy ending.

Whether or not it was Lasseter’s Miyazaki-like genius for animated story-telling that made Bolt so enjoyable, or some other confluence of events, the point remains that it is a good movie. It’s not quite up there with Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but it’s quite a bit better than Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Dinosaur, Chicken Little or Emperor’s New Groove. [Bite me, dude — Emperor’s New Groove was great! — ed.]

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More Criterion arrives on Blu-ray this week, and that can only be a good thing. The latest James Bond, accompanied by three of the older films [four if you count Never Say Never Again — ed.], also arrives on Blu-ray. I personally find Casino Royale a tad over-rated (the parkour-influenced opening sequence already feels dated, as does the film’s exploitation of the then-current poker fad) but I still think it’s a pretty good movie. While I don’t like Casino Royale as much as most, I did enjoy Quantum of Solace more than most people seemed to. Funny how that works out, sometimes.

Finally, Tales of the Black Freighter is out. Not that I have any interest in it at all, but at least all the Watchmen apologists — who dismiss all criticism of the film by pointing to some mythical director’s cut at some unspecified future date that will supposedly include the Black Freighter side plot as well as all kinds of additional footage that will, in their words, redeem the film — can at least see the animation they insist will make Watchmen a better movie. It is hard to argue about the merits of a film when you are discussing a movie that exists in theaters and they are defending a movie that exists in their imagination. I’ll give a Watchmen director’s cut a chance when and if it is released. That doesn’t change the fact that the movie as it was released was a failure on multiple, contradictory levels.

Thanks for reading Add to Queue, GameSpite’s weekly round-up of US Blu-ray release highlights. Sorry, rest of the world; region locks are the industry’s way of saying they still don’t understand the Internet. Oh, I lie now and then, I suppose. Sometimes I’d tell them the truth and they still wouldn’t believe me, so I prefer to lie. – Cover art courtesy of Amazon. Follow Levi Tinney on Twitter, or add him to your PSN or XBL friends list: VsRobot. You can also contact him via e-mail via levivsrobot [at] gmail [dot] com.

18 thoughts on “Add to Queue 81: A parsec of mitigation

  1. And having seen Never Say Never Again recently, no, I don’t count it. There are a lot of terrible Bond films, so I can’t rule it out on dubious quality alone, but the lack of a Maurice Binder style intro is enough for me to rule it out.

  2. Part of me still wishes that the film Bolt was originally (American Dog) was made instead, but I’m a fan of Chris Sanders (who directed Lilo and Stitch and was the original director on American Dog/Bolt). Never saw Bolt, and because of the film’s turbulent production history – very much including Sanders being pulled off the project – I’m not sure I want to. I know that might sound petty, but the original American Dog sounded much more appealing to me.

  3. Okay, one more note and I’ll shut up – The 400 Blows is great. I just saw it for the first time myself last year, and if you can get past all the film school-hype that’s always surrounded it, you’ll find a pretty nifty slice of pre-punk existential schoolboy angst. It’s worth watching if only so you can say to your friends, “hey man, this was made by that dude from Close Encounters! No, not Richard Dreyfus, the French guy!”

  4. So, wait – did Lasseter have any ACTUAL involvement with Bolt, aside from being the guy at the top of the ladder?

  5. Lasseter fired Chris Sanders (rumored: out of a grudge) which turned the movie from American Dog into Bolt.

  6. I think you might be too hard on Casino Royale. Every Bond movie is made in the matrix of its time; it’s inextricable. Look at the old James Bonds – they have influenced entire generations on what the ’60’s “looked like”. Not to mention there are political and social undertones that appear just as a byproduct of being filmed when and where they were – Freudian slips that reveal more than the writers intended, and same beaches and carnivals that we’ll never see again – By their extreme nature, Bond movies are a bit of history, travelogue, and ethnography rolled into one.

  7. So Bolt’s good because of Lasseter?
    And if it wasn’t good it’s because of Disney then?

    Also, do(n’t) read Grant Morrison’s ‘WE3’. You’ll bawl your eyes out.

  8. Stiv: I knew that. The news of Sanders’ firing was all over the animation blogs when it happened. Didn’t know about the alleged grudge, though.

  9. John Lassiter is not so much like Miyazaki, and more so a self-concious and religious attempt to be his westernized clone. I suspected this was the case after watching and comparing his films, but the fact that John Lassiter goes out of his way to befriend Miyazaki, get his movies localized and distributed in the United States, and shows his employees Miyazaki’s films on a regular basis sounds much less like he is heavily influenced by him, and much more like a man with relatively blank credentials who was told he could make a movie one day. I personally find the Brad Bird films of Pixar’s far more original and enjoyable.

    That isn’t to say he doesn’t have talent of his own, or an extraordinary business-sense. But to me his films feel like The Magnificent Seven or The Ring: they’re good films in their own right, but you HAVE to acknowledge the source materials. Anything that seems even slightly Miyazaki-like in a John Lassiter film is very very intentional.

  10. I agree w/the editor, Emporor’s New Groove was awesome. Not that you’re saying it isn’t, but putting it in the same sentence as Home on the Range and Chicken Little is a little… hurtful.

  11. I love Disney and am sad that they lost their way for a decade or so. I am very happy that there are quality movies with the Disney logo I can take my young niece and nephew to see. I would never say a movie is bad just because it came from Disney.

    I don’t agree that Lasetter is a hack who slavishly copies Miyazaki. I think anyone in animation who isn’t taking cues from Miyazaki isn’t very good at their job. Toy Story 1 and 2 are fantastic movies.

  12. With all the Chris Sanders discussion, I’m surprised no one mentioned that Levi left out the 2-Disc “Big Wave Edition” of Lilo & Stitch from this week’s releases…

  13. @joshnickerson – This column doesn’t cover standard DVD releases, and hasn’t for a while. I cover Blu-ray, and even then it is not comprehensive — I skip concert videos and nature documentaries and other stuff that’d be shelved in the “Special Interest” section of your local video store.

  14. Has anyone actually picked up a copy of the Venture Bros. Blu-Ray yet? I’ve heard that the whole Atari 2600 aesthetic is carried through to the packaging inside the box, down to there being a mock 2600 ‘catalog’ insert featuring the Venture clan huddled around a gaming system like something out of a 1979 Sears Roebuck ad.

  15. Agreed that Bond films never age tremendously well, but Casino Royale is likely to age better than most because it’s just a well-constructed film – something Quantum of Solace really wasn’t, for any number of reasons (writer’s strike killing any possibility of rewrites or inserting anything more than the faintest whispers of a plot, the director going for a pale Bourne rip-off instead of just making a Bond movie, etc.) And, frankly, it’s not like the chase in Casino was a blatant “LOOK! PARKOUR!” thing, it was just a cool little chase to start off the movie in proper Bond fashion since the pre-credits sequence was so sedate. If people don’t remember what Parkour was in twenty years, the scene will still be well-shot (something Quantum wasn’t) and paced, and using the usual “what my mom thought” test for Bond movies, I don’t think she ID’d it as anything more than a cool chase scene.

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