Can we just have Pixar make every movie? The animation studio is at it again with Toy Story 3, yet another creative triumph that offers everything the rest of the summer's big-budget extravaganzas do not: multifaceted characters, adventurous filmmaking and an emotionally involving story that is surprisingly dark and intense. How many kids' movies have the balls to place its heroes on the verge of extermination via a big, nefarious purple teddy bear (creepily voiced by Ned Beatty) who betrays them multiple times before leaving them for dead in a fiery, hellish furnace?
Pixar was founded in 1979 as part of the computer division of Lucasfilm. Apple guru Steve Jobs acquired it 1986 and, along with longtime Pixar employee John Lasseter, nurtured it through its early movie triumphs, beginning with Toy Story in 1995. Ten feature films have followed, all of which have been critical and commercial successes, including its four most recent efforts, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, which will now take its place as one the great movie trilogies to ever grace the screen.
In fact, one could make an argument that Pixar is the most successful movie studio of all time. So how has it thrived in an era when most every other movie studio on the planet has succumbed to the current risk-averse, bottom-line-is-everything mindset? Like most successful creative endeavors, it was the result of a group of likeminded artists who inspired each other to take their endeavor of choice — in this case, animated stories about, according to Lasseter, “the growth of the main character and how he changes” — to new, unique levels.
Now the question is whether, in light of its acquisition by Disney in 2006, Pixar can remain the creative haven that has produced some of the best movies — animated or not — of the last 15 years.
For our sake, let's hope so.
GROWN UPS — Don't let the title of Adam Sandler's latest movie fool you — it's as juvenile as anything in the actor's filmography. Sandler has strayed from his doofus formula in recent years, but Grown Ups is a classic Sandler/Happy Madison production (a broad, guy-centric, oddly earnest comedy featuring everything from fart jokes to breastfeeding gags) about five grade-school buddies who, along with their families, get together for the first time in 30 years over Fourth of July weekend. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C
KNIGHT AND DAY — James Mangold (Walk the Line and Girl, Interrupted) pawns off his directing credentials to shepherd through this spastic piece of celebrity eye-candy action drivel. Tom Cruise might look better than most 47-year-old movie stars, and Cameron Diaz isn't exactly hard on the eyes, but you need more than looks to keep an audience's attention. (Read full review here.) (Opened Wednesday.) — Cole Smithey (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C-
SOLITARY MAN — Solitary Man is a dark comedy about the mid-life crisis of the breed of man (Michael Douglas) who can only gauge his own worth by how effective he is at scheming young women into bed. The film wouldn't work with anyone other than Douglas, for whom the part was written by the writing/directing team of Brian Koppleman and David Levien (Rounders). (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire and Mariemont theatres). — CS (Rated R.) Grade: B