Have you settled down after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road? Perhaps you are still beaming and shimmying from this weekend’s viewing of Pitch Perfect 2. Perhaps, like my compatriot here at Reel World Theology, you took in both and are torn between singing and blowing up a car. Either way, you will not get much time to recover as another highly anticipated movie makes its way to screens this weekend in Disney’s latest output, Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, and Hugh Laurie.
Having visited the Magic Kingdom a mere 16 days ago (has it been that long alreadY?), seeing Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom was quite a special treat with this new movie coming out. It will be incredibly magical to see the vision and artistic beauty of Walt Disney’s creation realized on the big screen.
As far as the plotting, narrative, and characters go, well, that is up to one of Disney’s most reliable and Midas-like men, Brad Bird (the script was also co-written with Damon Lindelof, of LOST fame). Winner of two Oscars for his work with Pixar, Bird is a world-class screenwriter and has quite the chops as a director, as well. While he does not have a ton of feature-length films to his credit, he has just enough to warrant a Top 5 in anticipation of his sixth feature-length film, either as a screenwriter or director.
Show of hands for all those early to mid-30 year-olds who saw this movie growing up? I watched this a countless amount of times on a blank VHS my grandma had recorded the movie on when it was on TV. So many feel good memories from this movie that have almost nothing to do with the movie. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and the screenwriting debut of Brad Bird, the movie was originally part of the TV series Amazing Stories, a show Brad Bird also wrote two episodes for, first worked with Spielberg, and had worked his way up to a producer by the end of the show’s run. Bird first proved in this 1987 gem he had the knack for the family movie. It’s sweet, it’s charming, and it is tons of fun. My favorite part of this movie is when the two cute flying saucers, designed by Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic, flip burgers for the old couple at their restaurant. The concept of flying saucers flipping burgers made me hungry and alive with wonder at the same time. It’s great movie masking and Bird was an integral part in the winsome and likable alien and human characters. Definitely an under appreciated movie.
In one of the most confusing moves, at the time, Brad Bird was tapped to direct the fourth installment of the Mission Impossible franchise. Most of the movies had received generally positive reviews, but no one could have expected Bird to do what he did with the fourth movie. What seemed to be a franchise reaching the height of its possibilities and would never duplicate the fun and excitement of the original, Ghost Protocol was imaginative, poetic, thrilling, and cinematically original. Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer was attuned to Bird’s sense of style and direction when he said about Ghost Protocol, “Brad Bird’s brand of [animation style]…owes much to the rigors of and traditions of live action.” Bird has shown this in other movies we will discuss here, but he has a sense of the cinematic beauty of action and adventure. It leaves me anticipating what he is able to do in Tomorrowland.
These last three movies are the rarified air of animation and Brad Bird’s mastery. The Iron Giant, might be your favorite animated film of all-time, and rightfully so. To be completely forthright, it has been awhile since I have seen this movie. I remember seeing it once it was out of the theaters around the year 2000, but I was in my “Fight Club” phase at the time and cared more about that movie, which had been released in 1999 also. I have grown to appreciate this movie a lot more after seeing it when my two oldest kids were young. Vin Diesel gives a gruff yet heart-felt performance as the Giant, and the animation in the movie is innovative but classic drawn animation. The story is full of warmth and centered on relationship at a time when Walt Disney Animation Studios was starting its slow fade, and only three features into its revitalization under Pixar. The movie and Bird’s story and direction were indicative of what American animation could be once again and Disney must have sensed that to pick him up for the #2 and #1 entries on this list.
The more popular of Bird’s two Disney/Pixar animated features he directed, The Incredibles was Pixar asserting its story chops with an all-time classic animated film. A story that touches on themes of greatness, family, sacrifice, and community, but also has satirical and comedic touches, Bird’s ability to add humanity and pathos to animated characters reaches its pinnacle in this movie. The Parr family is simultaneously relatable but also has touches of the magical, the most obvious being their superpowers. Their superpowers function less on the “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-to-have-those-powers” level and on a metaphorical plane of their individual personalities. My favorite one being Helen and her super elasticity as an amusing analogy to the super human task of being a mom; the dinner table scene with Violet and Dash being the poetic petrie dish of the image.
Now some might argue that this SHOULD be #1, and you are entitled to that opinion. However, Bird reaches the deepest, narratively and cinematically, with his follow up feature to The Incredibles in 2007.
As if somehow capturing the foodie craze and French cuisine it is inspired by, Disney/Pixar’s 2007 animated film, Ratatouille, is their finest work to date and the culmination of everything that makes Pixar great and Bird one of our generations best screenwriters. Bird didn’t write the story, or even start directing it. He was called in after the original creator of the story and concept, Jan Pinkava, was given no-confidence from Disney execs. Bird moved in and changed the story, put emphasis on different characters, and used his expertise and know-how from being a part of Pixar’s animation and story team to put the movie together. The result is nothing short of the cinematic version of the finest French cuisine. The humor is funny and sophisticated, the animation is so ground-breaking the food looks edible and mouth-watering, and the character performances are equally outstanding. From top to bottom, the voice actors (Patton Oswalt, Ray Romano, Jeanine Garofalo, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole, and the list goes on) give inspired performances that add dashes of charm, dollops of drama, and a heaping helping of hilarity. Say what you will, this is a classic film that is ambitious and gratifying and so much fun! If Bird still has this kind of genius left in him somewhere, then we better be prepared in the future to be blown away all over again.