As hard as it may be to believe, Pixar has now been releasing films for 20 years. To celebrate, The El Capitan Theatre decided to have a double feature on Tuesday, November 24th, playing the original Toy Story, Pixar’s first, followed by the first audience of screening of Pixar’s latest, The Good Dinosaur. In between both films was a new stage show to celebrate this milestone, titled “20 Years Of Pixar Movies”.
Seeing Toy Story on the big screen again, the thing that dawned on me was how remarkably well this movie has aged. 20 years later, classic lines such as “Look, I’m Woody! Howdy Howdy Howdy!” and “you are a sad strange little man!” still manage to get huge bursts of audience laughs almost as if it were a new film being shown for the first time (given the ages of some of the audience members, that may have very well been the case in some instances). Even though it’s a film I’ve probably seen more times than any other, I can’t help but be drawn into that world every time I see it.
After a break following Toy Story, the El Capitan Theatre provided the magic it typically spreads, from organist Rob Richards playing the Disney catalog on the organ (including Pixar’s iconic “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”) to a costume showcase (where a bunch of little Woodys, Jessies, Buzzes, even a kid dress as Sid came to the stage) to raffle prizes which included Good Dinosaur gift bags, autographed posters and even some Luxo Jr balls.
Usually at the very first screening of a movie at the El Capitan, a celebrity makes an appearance. This night was no exception as Marcus Scribner, star of ABC’s Black-ish and voice of Buck came to the stage. He seemed quite enthusiastic about the project, exclaiming “I’m very excited to be able to show you this masterpiece!” and talking about how lucky we were to be among the first audience members to ever see the movie. Honestly, though, that introduction sort of paled in comparison to the video recording of John Lasseter at The Good Dinosaur premiere, welcoming us to this double-feature. Lasseter said he would let us be the judge if Pixar’s animation has improved over 20 years. He also stated, “While a lot has changed at Pixar over 20 years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is Pixar’s dedication to story,” managing to repeat his motto about how story is the most important thing at Pixar.
After the trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Alice Through The Looking Glass and Finding Dory played (all to enthusiastic audience reception — yes even Alice), we got to see the stage show “20 Years of Pixar Movies” which consisted of characters from the previous Pixar movies — ranging from Toy Story to this year’s Inside Out — dancing on stage to montages and songs such as “Celebration” and even Randy Newman’s Oscar-winning “We Belong Together.” It’d be easy to nitpick this show: while it's easy to understand the difficulty of Nemo or Lightning McQueen coming to the stage, a longtime Pixar fan can’t help but wonder why poor old Flick couldn’t join the stage. Regardless, for what it is it’s a very fun show and, if you're of a certain age like I am, seeing a Pixar montage is equivalent as seeing one’s life flash in front of your eyes. Seeing giant Luxo Jr. beach balls get thrown to the audience and confetti being unleash only added to the nostalgic fun.
Then came our feature with Sanjay’s Super Team playing right before The Good Dinosaur. This short was fascinating as Hinduism and Saturday Morning Cartoons are not two things one often associates as having a strong connection, but this short combines both in a way that original and exciting giving this short a much different flavor than Pixar’s usual gag-oriented shorts. It's also perhaps the first time a Pixar short has been autobiographical.
LaughingPlace.com has already reviewed The Good Dinosaur so I won’t go into too much more detail except to say I liked it a little more than Alex did. Visually, the film could very well be Pixar’s best. You can see Pixar has come a long way in 20 years since Toy Story and from being limited technologically to only being able to tell a story the takes place primarily in two bedrooms and on the street to a story that takes place across wide-open fields, mountain ranges, rivers and even the skies. Narratively, the film does suffer mostly from trying to be more emotionally involving than it ever really succeeds at being. That might be forgivable had the story really pushed into new grounds and ventured into exciting places like this year’s brilliant Inside Out does. Sadly, its themes feel a little too familiar to other films like The Lion King, Brother Bear or even Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time. While I would personally rank it somewhere in the bottom eight of Pixar’s now 16 film catalog, I do have to stress I did like the film, primarily due to the fact the story and tone felt different than anything Pixar had done before. It is admirable that, 20 years later, Pixar is still trying new things and venturing into directions that are new for them (even with their increased reliance on sequels as of late). Seeing this line-up with Toy Story, it was rather cool to see where Pixar has grown from being limited to telling a story about toy Cowboys and dinosaurs to telling a full-blown Western with dinosaurs as the stars. At the very least, it succeeds at being a more satisfying and engaging film than Disney’s Dinosaur from 15 years ago ended up being.
The El Capitan Theatre oftentimes has a special exhibit downstairs that coincides with the movie they’re playing. As someone who has now been to number of these exhibits now, I have to say this is likely the coolest as the Natural History Museum and Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology actually lent out dinosaur fossils to be displayed. Seeing a giant T-Rex skull or a femur of a Apatosaurus (the dinosaur species that The Good Dinosaur’s lead, Arlo, is) was very neat. There’s even a TV with a dinosaur documentary playing as well as a “dinosaur expert” on hand to answer any questions. It makes the usual high price of El Capitan’s tickets especially worth it. If you end up loving the movie, you can always drop by next door at the Disney Studio Story & Ghiradelli to buy all the newest The Good Dinosaur merchandise.
If you’re like me and have to see the latest Pixar film in theaters or if you have kids and want to take them to a family movie before the PG-13 Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominates the holiday season, then I highly recommend making the trip out to Hollywood to the El Capitan from Nov. 25th - Dec. 13th to celebrate 20 years of Pixar movies by seeing The Good Dinosaur.