Blu-ray Review

“Cars 3”

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©️Disney/Pixar

In Pixar Animation Studios’ terrific Cars 3, Lightning McQueen is at a crossroads after a horrific crash–should he call it quits or should he retrain and get back in the game? What follows is a beautifully crafted and entertaining film (my original review is here) about aging, second chances, mentorship, and power of believing in yourself.

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©️Disney/Pixar

The film is now available on Digital HD and Blu-ray. Here’s what is included on the three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo set:

  • Lou – When a toy-stealing bully ruins recess for a playground full of kids, only one thing stands in his way: the “Lost and Found” box. Directed by Dave Mullins, this delightful and poignant short also played in front of the theatrical release of Cars 3.
  • Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool – This fun new segment includes “testimonials” from the Crazy 8 drivers at Thunder Hollow who learn from the best–the school bus from hell, Miss Fritter.
  • Let’s. Get. Crazy. – Get schooled in the world of demolition derby, the “rules” of figure 8 racing, and how Pixar put the “crazy” in the delightful Thunder Hollow Crazy 8 race segment in Cars 3. This piece is hosted by Lea DeLaria herself, the voice of Miss Fritter.
  • Legendary – A close, historical look at NASCAR racing legends Wendell Scott and Louise Smith, whose tenacity and perseverance got them into the race even when they weren’t invited.
  • Ready for the Race – Disney Channel’s Olivia Rodrigo and NASCAR racer William Byron check out the Hendrick Motorsports campus to showcase how real-world race training influenced the filmmakers.
  • World’s Fastest Billboard – Blink and you will miss all of the graphics and “car-ified” advertisements created by Pixar artists to make the Cars 3 world as believable and entertaining as possible.
  • Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could – Join Cristela Alonzo, the voice of Cruz Ramirez, and the Cars 3 filmmakers on their journey to create a race-car trainer turned champion racer.
  • Generations: The Story of Cars 3 – For the story team, creating Lightning McQueen’s next chapter didn’t involve just a tune-up, but a complete overhaul. This is a particularly good piece.
  • My First Car – A collection of illustrated first-car stories as narrated by members of the Cars 3 cast and crew. “A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington,” “Old Blue,” and “Still in the Family.”
  • Deleted Scenes – Each deleted scene is introduced by Cars 3 director Brian Fee with an explanation as to why it was removed from the film. The five deleted scenes include “The Boogie Woogie,” “The Jars of Dirt,” “Lugnut,” “The Bolt,” and “More Than New Paint.”
  • Cars to Die(cast) For – Take a look at the phenomenon of die-cast toy collecting and the more than 1,000 unique designs that exist in the Cars universe. I love Cars die-cast cars, so this one was very fun for me, too.
  • Commentary – Brian Fee (Director), Kevin Reher (Producer), Andrea Warren (Co-Producer) and Jay Ward (Creative Director) all join in for an excellent feature commentary.
Cars 3

©️Disney/Pixar

I was pleasantly surprised with all of the terrific bonus content and I really enjoyed watching everything. The mini-documentaries and shorts were high-quality and expertly done and truly provided the type of information that can make bonus features such a treat. I highly recommend this release for any and all fans of the Cars films and characters.

In fact, watching the bonus features was a bit of a bittersweet experience. The anticipation and enjoyment of Cars 3 has been such a highlight of 2017 for me and I’m sad to see it all come to an end. From the presentation at the North American International Auto Show in January, to the artwork, trailers, and posters, to the NASCAR race appearances, and to the film’s theatrical release, Cars 3 did not disappoint this Cars fan. Now that I’ve got my own copy of the Blu-ray, the wise words of Smokey the truck (voiced by Chris Cooper) from the film are fitting: “You can’t turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.” I will be winding up this excellent Blu-ray set again very soon.

CARS 3

©️Disney/Pixar

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Classic Cinema

See Four Disney (and One Pixar) Princess Movies on the Big Screen

AMC Theaters is having a Disney Princess film festival (or something of the sort). But who cares about the “princess” stuff, I’m just stoked to be able to see some great films from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios on the big screen again.

(Images © AMC, Disney, and Disney/Pixar)

Starting today, AMC will be screening these five animated films over the next five weeks. Check the AMC website or mobile app for a theater near you (and check out this cool poster artwork, too).

Beauty and the Beast (1991) — Sept. 15-21

Mulan (1998) — Sept. 22-28

Tangled (2010) — Sept. 29-Oct. 5

The Princess and the Frog (2009) — Oct. 6-12

Brave (2012; the only Pixar film being shown since she is the only Pixar character that’s also been crowned a “Disney Princess”) — Oct. 13-Oct.

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Current Cinema

Lightning McQueen Made of More Lightning McQueens

I love this Lightning McQueen model currently on display at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (aka the annual Frankfurt Auto Show) in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s made up of smaller die cast Lightning McQueens (and some yellow Cruz Ramirez die casts; not sure what other characters were used for the additional colors).

Here’s the original tweet.

Pixar Animation Studios’ Cars 3 is still playing in select theaters and is coming to Digital HD on October 24 and on Blu-ray on November 7. Go see it!

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Thoughts on Movies

A Trip to Pixar

Last week, I had a chance along with some friends to tour again the Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville, California. Pixar created Toy Story, the first feature length animated motion picture made entirely using computer-generated imagery. Since then, the studio has made a number of fantastic feature length and short animated films using their trademark blend of cutting edge of technology, beautiful artistry, and authentic storytelling (a complete list of their films is on their website). I have such tremendous respect for the films created by Pixar team, so being able to see this unique place again was an honor and a thrill.

(Photos taken by yours truly unless otherwise noted.)

Driving through the gates is a great way to start

This Pixar employee had an awesome cutout of Miss Fritter from CARS 3 attached to the Jeep’s spare tire

The giant Luxo Jr. and Pixar ball statues in front of The Steve Jobs Building

Luxo Jr. refers to a computer-animated short film done at Pixar in 1986 starring a couple of Luxo brand desk lamps and a ball (the Luxo Jr. lamp is part of the Pixar logo placed at the front of every one of their films). Watch the trailer on YouTube.

We’re going in

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I have no selfie game

In his excellent (and highly recommended) book Creativity, Inc., Pixar co-founder and president Dr. Ed Catmull says this about the Pixar campus, which was heavily influenced by the owner of the studio at the time, Apple Computer guru Steve Jobs:

“Built on the site of a former cannery, Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. (Its name, in fact, is The Steve Jobs Building.) It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. Outside, there is a soccer field, a volleyball court, a swimming pool, and a six-hundred-seat amphitheater. Sometimes visitors misunderstand the place, thinking it’s fancy for fancy’s sake. What they miss is that the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community. Steve wanted the building to support our work by enhancing our ability to collaborate.”

Once you enter the doors of The Steve Jobs Building, it feels like you’re walking into a more creative version of an Apple retail store. Currently hanging from the sides of main atrium area are giant “papel picado” (Spanish for “perforated paper”) cutouts that are themed to Pixar’s upcoming film Coco.

The atrium of The Steve Jobs Building

COCO-themed “papel picado” (perforated paper)

More papel picado

Beautiful Coco art is hanging on many walls in the atrium.

Loved seeing this concept art from COCO

Fun statues also populate the space.

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Luigi, Guido, and The Incredibles welcome everyone walking through the front doors

These statues also populate the lobby–Pixar’s increasing number of awards (Academy Awards and others) for their animated films and shorts.

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Pixar’s impressive haul of awards received for their work

From the atrium, we were given a tour of the infamous animators’ office section on the main floor of the building (sorry, no photos allowed). This is the place where the animators are encouraged to decorate their own workspace. Here’s what Ed Catmull had to say about it, again from Creativity, Inc.:

“The animators who work here are free to—no, encouraged to—decorate their work spaces in whatever style they wish. They spend their days inside pink dollhouses whose ceilings are hung with miniature chandeliers, tiki huts made of real bamboo, and castles whose meticulously painted, fifteen-foot-high styrofoam turrets appear to be carved from stone…The point is, we value self-expression here. This tends to make a big impression on visitors, who often tell me that the experience of walking into Pixar leaves them feeling a little wistful, like something is missing in their work lives—a palpable energy, a feeling of collaboration and unfettered creativity, a sense, not to be corny, of possibility. I respond by telling them that the feeling they are picking up on—call it exuberance or irreverence, even whimsy—is integral to our success.”

Needless to say, the animators’ area is really a fun and clever space where these brilliant and talented folks get to put in the long and arduous hours in creating these beloved animated films. It was cool to see director Lee Unkrich at work in the Coco production area. And we also got to see some art from some other upcoming Pixar projects which kind of made my head explode.

We then were taken upstairs (again, no photos allowed…sorry). In one hall, we got to geek out at a stunning display of pre-production art for Coco.

Here’s a trailer for Pixar’s Coco, which opens in U.S. theaters on November 22.

In the opposite hall on the second floor, we got to see some amazing concept art used in the making of Cars 3 (and how cool is that neon sign at the top of the stairs?). Some of this art can be found in the books The Art of Cars and Poster Art of Cars, both highly recommended for any Cars fan. I didn’t want to leave this hall.

Actually, I didn’t want to leave the building. There really is a palpable, positive energy in the place, which I believe comes from both the beautiful work environment and, more importantly, from the talented people at work there. Our tour guide kept it real with us–he knows that he is working in a rarified work environment, but he also was very clear about the challenges and pressures that the artists face daily. He said something really interesting about the importance of problem solving at Pixar which, to quote Ed Catmull one more time (because he says it best), really sums up what makes Pixar so exceptional:

“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it. This, more than any elaborate party or turreted workstation, is why I love coming to work in the morning. It is what motivates me and gives me a definite sense of mission.”

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The entire gang (📷: Allison Shields)

I left the experience with even more respect for the creative folks at Pixar. I also left feeling creatively re-charged and ready to re-start some of my own creative projects that have been percolating. The Pixar-themed fun continued later that evening when I had some delicious ice cream at Fentons Creamery, which made an appearance at the end of Pixar’s wonderful animated feature film Up.

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From the parking lot (and it was a miracle that I even found a place to park–it’s a very popular place)

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The ice cream here is legit

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Russell, Carl, and Dug (and the rope ladder to the dirigible) at Fentons in UP (©️Pixar)

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Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“Castle in the Sky”

This month’s entry for GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 was Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 action-adventure pic Castle in the Sky (which is also sometimes referred to as Laputa: Castle in the Sky). I was able to see the English sub version this week at my local Cinemark.

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(© Studio Ghibli)

In the film, a young orphan girl named Sheeta is in possession of a magic crystal that other people aggressively want, namely the mysterious Colonel Muska and a family of pirates led by their mother, the relentless Captain Dola. Sheeta falls (literally) into the life of orphan boy Pazu, who happens to know about a floating city in the sky–a mysterious place that his now-deceased father was able to photograph before he died. Turns out that Muska and the pirates are looking for the floating city, too, and that Sheeta’s magic crystal is the key to finding it.

The adventure that follows is so fun, so inventive, and so delightful, I was pretty much in movie heaven for the entire screening. And after it was over, I couldn’t believe that it’s taken me all these years to see this wonderful film.

The film’s soundtrack by Studio Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi is also a major highlight. Here’s a sample.

My friend Rachel Wagner invited me to be a part of her Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 podcast series and our initial reactions to Castle in the Sky are here.

Major thanks to GKIDS and Fathom Events for screening this delightful film. Can’t wait for next month’s entry in the Studio Ghibli Fest 2017, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

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Blu-ray Review

“The Lion King”

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ perennial favorite The Lion King (1994) is back on Blu-ray (and DVD and Digital HD), this time as “The Circle of Life Edition” under the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” moniker. The film is currently available for download on your favorite Digital HD platforms and the new Blu-ray version gets released this Tuesday, August 29.

(© Disney)

Chances are excellent that, if you’re a Disney fan, you already own a copy of The Lion King on DVD, Blu-ray, or VHS. The Lion King is the fifth Disney animated motion picture title to join the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” established in 2016 (previous titles are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Bambi). While it’s unclear to me why this new collection even exists (other than to possibly provide a new simplified “halo” brand for Disney’s home entertainment offerings and/or to generate more revenue), having a pristine Blu-ray copy of these beloved films along with the opportunity to have Digital HD copies of them (if you’re into building up your digital film collection like I am) is always a good idea. But is this new “Walt Disney Signature Collection”/”The Circle of Life Edition” (whatever that means) worth your time and money?

The film’s digital transfer is gorgeous (which I also thought of the 2011 Blu-ray release). It was a pleasure to watch this beautifully animated film again. Included on the Blu-ray is a brand new sing-along version that displays fancy subtitles during all of the film’s songs. I watched some of this version as well and the subtitles are done in a colorful and fun way which should be very appealing to young readers. Probably the more compelling reason to get this new version is to have your own digital copy of the film (again, if you’re into that).

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(© Disney)

The new special features are a mixed bag. My favorites were the “Inside the Story Room” segments where co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff reunite and introduce some fascinating video footage of the film’s storyboard presentations from 1993 when the film was in production. Some of these I had seen before and some I had not, but I enjoyed them all. I also liked “Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation” where Matthew Broderick (voice of adult Simba) and Nathan Lane (voice of Timon) meet up with former Disney Animation chief Thomas Schumacher and talk about the making of the film. My only complaint is that the segment was too short.

Other special features (which may vary by retailer) include a dance and paint performance piece by artist David Garibaldi and a team of modern dancers called “Visualizing a Villain”; video footage of some of the film’s vocal talent recording their dialogue for the film superimposed on top of the final animated clips called “The Recording Sessions”; and an audio commentary track with producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Other specifications for the release are at the bottom of this post.

The timing of this re-release is confusing to me, since the “reimagined live-action” (aka photo-realistic CGI) remake of the film directed by Jon Favreau is currently in production isn’t scheduled to be released until 2019 and there’s no other promotional thing to tie it to (even the Broadway musical is still going strong–it’s now the third-longest running musical in Broadway history behind The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago; Cats comes in fourth). It will also be interesting going forward to see what Disney does with all of their home entertainment releases with the recent announcement of their own exclusive streaming service to begin in 2019.

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“Remember who you are.” (© Disney)

Still, I’m happy to have both a beautiful Blu-ray and new Digital HD copy of this beloved film which I hope that my friends, family, and I will be able to enjoy for years to come. So, if Digital HD is your thing or you just need a new version of the film, the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” version of The Lion King is a winner. (And I still don’t have a clue what “The Circle of Life Edition” means other than it’s just a name for this 2017 release.)

My rating of The Lion King film: 5 out of 5 stars

My rating of “The Circle of Life Edition” Blu-ray special features: 3 out of 5 stars

And speaking of “The Circle of Life,” here are are a couple of covers of that great song for your listening pleasure. First up is a rendition the Mormon Tabernacle Choir along with YouTube star Alex Boyé  recorded at a concert last month (I sing bass with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and performing this song was a real treat for this Disney nerd).

I promise you that I don’t keep up on boy bands, but it really does seem like 98 Degrees hasn’t been doing much for years. (The last I even remember seeing Nick Lachey was in his MTV Newlyweds days with his now ex-wife Jessica Simpson.) However, 98 Degrees’ newly recorded cover of “The Circle of Life” is also a fun one.

Specifications (Movie Only)

Product Offerings

Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy); Digital HD/SD; DVD

Feature Run Time

Approximately 89 minutes

Rating

G by the Motion Picture Association of America

Aspect Ratio

Blu-ray/1080p High Definition/DVD – 1.78:1

Audio

Blu-ray – DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (English); Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish and French)

DVD – Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, and French)

Subtitles

English ESL, English SDH, French, and Spanish

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