by Michael S. Palmer
I love the smell of new Blu-rays on a Tuesday morning.
And this week is better than most, thanks to our friends at Disney who are finally (finally!) releasing Pixar's 'The Incredibles' on a 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. At the present, it also includes information on obtaining one free admission to 'Cars 2' from Disney Movie Rewards.
Seeing this movie in high definition for the first time is an experience only rivaled by the original theatrical experience. The colors are bold, the textures are lush, and the sound is unbelievably dynamic. One can only hope director Brad Bird ('The Iron Giant') will bring as much energy, heart, and enthusiasm to the 'Mission Impossible' franchise as he has to his animated oeuvre.
Re-watching 'The Incredibles' over the weekend got me thinking about my love for animated films. Or more specifically, how a perfect Blu-ray is for this era for computer generated (CG) animation. For most CG animated films, we're getting direct digital outputs that have never seen a lazy projectionist, or been stored in the real world where artifacts and dust can build up or chemical dyes can fade. Sure, zeroes and ones have their own storage complications, but for now, these films are as perfect as they can possibly be. Which I think speaks to why so many of them are Reference or Demo Blu-rays. Obviously, much of this has to do with the hand-crafted multi-channel soundtracks and the bright, shiny kid-attention-grabbing colors. But the Pixar revolution, starting with 'Toy Story', has lead to a world where the CG animated flicks are routinely the best of every year, outpacing most live action films in terms of drama, comedy, heart, suspense, and action.
With all of that in mind, here are my top ten favorite, incredible CG animated demo discs. Be sure to hit up the forums to add your own lists, or favorite must-watch CG animated Blu-rays.
Another Brad Bird film, but this one about the potentially stomach-turning tale of a rat who wants to be a gourmet chef, so he cooks food (he touches food!) in a kitchen. And yet, this a charming story featuring luscious production design, great characters, and some well choreographed action. On a personal note, this is also one of my fav's because it's the first Pixar film I ever watched with my wife (please feel free to make a "recipe for love" pun).
9) 'Surf's Up'
Here's a sad example of what happens when you're the last out of the gate. Sure, 'Armageddon' may have done better than 'Deep Impact', but by the time 'Surf's Up' hit cinemas in 2007, the world was over cute penguin pictures. But, if you haven't seen this flick, please go out and give it another try. Speaking as a guy who surfs, this is one of the few movies that captures the wondrous elation of gliding across a curling wave. Speaking of which, the waves and the colors in the movie are simply breathtaking and often realistic. And my final two words of praise are this (because nothing is funnier than): Chicken Joe.
Dr. Seuss has had a rough time being adapted into feature films, but 'Horton Hears A Who!' is the exception. It features a wonderful Seussian tone that is somehow reverential to the material as well as modern. It also marked a symbolic return to physical comedy for Jim Carrey who, along with Steve Carrel, delivers a top notch vocal performance. 'Horton Hears A Who!' is a delight from beginning to end, and also features some great messages for kids about bullying and over-conforming.
For many years, I held a teeny-tiny grudge against DreamWorks for 'Shrek' winning the first Animation Oscar over 'Monsters, Inc.', almost dismissing the studio because of its need for post-modern pop culture references and a production quality which lagged behind Disney/Pixar releases. 'Kung Fu Panda' is what forever changed my mind. It's a hilarious, warm-hearted adventure about, well, about a panda who wants to learn Kung Fu. Audiences are then exposed to exotic locations, grand action set pieces, and a truly terrifying villain. This may be Jack Black's best role. I can't wait for number two. Also, we have since met the guy who did the top-notch soundtrack so it's great to support him and his team.
'Monster House' is about three young kids who battle their block's haunted house to prevent it from eating all the children on Halloween. To think this is Gil Kenan's directorial debut is nothing short of astonishing. This is a young filmmaker who is really on top of his game. 'Monster House' is a nostalgic callback to the Steven Spielberg / Amblin era of early 1980s films, but one that is made with a very modern combination of computer animation and motion-capture performance. 'Avatar' aside, 'Monster House' may be the best use of motion capture because we get the realism of the human performances without the uncanny valley.
I'm a sucker for movies where a kid gets onto a mythological beast and gets to fly, so I couldn't wait to see 'How To Train Your Dragon'. What really impresses me here are all the character dynamics. Despite all the silliness and elevated nature of the world, the way people interacted felt real to me. Also, I think it's really clever that the filmmakers were able to humanize the dragons, making them more than ravaging beasts. Also, the action-packed climax is literally as explosive as they come.
I've put 'Wall-E' on a number of lists, but I can't help myself. It should go on pretty much all lists. It speaks about love and what it means to be human, all while wrapping itself in a virtually silent film that is as funny as it is heart-warming.
What should have won the first ever Academy Award for Animation, 'Monsters, Inc.' is an ingenious reverse-engineered fairy tale about the world where monsters come from before hiding inside your closet. Every single frame of this movie is so well designed, simultaneously speaking to story, mythology, and theme. It's one of the smartest movies ever made, and at the time, was a huge leap forward in technology (being one of the first animated films to feature a fully rendered furry character). This quite literally is the 'China Town' of animated films.
Ah, the reason we're having this list today. 'The Incredibles' may be the best superhero film ever made -- granted, it builds on audiences' knowledge and expectations of said superhero stories, but it masters them so well, it nearly reinvents the genre. The characters, the family themes, the villain, the retro world design. There's so much for film fans, superhero fans, and James Bond fans to get excited about here. Yet, the film still works perfectly for first time viewers. And, as E already said in his review, it's a Must Own. My only minor complaint is that I've had the rare privilege, thanks to our friends at Dolby, to hear one scene from this film re-mixed into 7.1 -- that, dear Readers, would have made this Blu-ray audio worthy of 6 out of 5 stars.
And now, the number one incredible CG animated demo of all time (to me):
The best movie of 2009, and perhaps Pixar's best film to date, 'UP' is a movie, like so many Pixar films, that couldn't have been made anywhere else in Hollywood. "An old man, a boy scout, and a talking dog take a house down to South America? Who will we market this to? But 'UP' managed to be an emotional experience, blending adult themes with broad humor, crackerjack action, and a really beautiful story. I'm not sure if 'UP' is my favorite film, but if I was ever trapped on a desert island and could only have one film with me, 'UP' just might be it.
Well, there we have it. As always, there are certainly more films to mention than what's considered on my personal (all too short) list of favorites -- yet remember, we're only considering currently available Blu-ray Discs -- so I encourage readers to hit up the forums to add titles and/or arrange your own list. What are your favorite CGI animated Blu-rays? And which titles can you no longer wait to see on Blu?