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Ranking the Pixar Features

 

pixar-logoToy Story 4 has me waxing nostalgic about Pixar Animation Studios, even though Pixar is not an inherently nostalgic topic for me. I was already entering my teens when Toy Story debuted back in 1995. By the time Pixar’s fifth feature arrived I was in college and not really paying that much attention to the studio’s output any longer. The creation of Blu Ray is actually what got me interested in Pixar once more as the studio’s films looked wonderful in high definition. I began to collect them and before long I was reminded just how wonderful the studio is.

Back in 2013, I ranked what I considered to be the Top 10 Films of Pixar. Monsters University had just hit theaters and was one of four films I had not ranked. It was also the third film in four tries to be yet another sequel, something Pixar had avoided during its early days, but was turning into a staple for the studio. That period may have been the studio’s worst, as following Monsters University was…nothing. Pixar had released a film annually beginning with Cars in 2006, but problems arising with the development of The Good Dinosaur caused the studio to miss out on 2014 entirely. Since then the studio has been a juggernaut, releasing two films in 2015 and 2017 each with individual films in every other year in that time frame up until now. And as of this writing, there are two films slated for 2020 so the studio is showing no signs of slowing down in regards to its output.

Pixar has a pretty incredible track record with almost every movie the studio has put earning near universal praise. Cars 2 was the studio’s first true dud, and while it has added at least one other since, largely the films of Pixar have continued to be well-received. And we may be in the midst of another epict run as the last few years have been pretty great. Hopefully at least one of the films of 2020 continues that trend.

Now feels like a great time to rank these things once again though. Toy Story 4 is Pixar’s 21st feature film and its 8th sequel/prequel. Twenty-One films in twenty-four years, the majority of which have been original, is pretty damn incredible especially because computer animated films were a new artform. Pixar obviously had lots of practice making animated shorts and doing computer sequences in other films, but doing a feature utilizing this technology was still uncharted territory.

It should go without saying that ranking these films is an exercise in futility. While the first few were easy enough, it quickly became difficult. By the time I hit the top 10 of this list I was really scratching my head at arranging these films because they’re all just so good. And some of them I have seen more times than I can count due to my own children falling in love with them. For the ones I included in my top 10 six years ago, I’ll include where I placed them. Some moved due to new films entering the picture, while there were a few I dropped down a few spots due in large part to either fatigue or in just having a new appreciation for another film. I ranked these ones first, then revisited my past rankings and I was surprised at a few. Then I looked at the films surrounding those few surprises and I was less surprised because these things are just that hard to rank. Ratatouille, for example, is a film I absolutely adore and yet it couldn’t crack the top 5! For films I didn’t rank, I’ll include an “NR” distinction and for films not yet released “NA.” And lastly, before we begin I want to post a “SPOILERS” warning. A lot of these films are older so it may not seem important to warn folks about spoilers, but this is an examination of the films so some plot points will be discussed. In particular, the recently released Toy Story 4 so if you haven’t seen it maybe skip that write-up. That said, let’s get to the easy part, the worst of Pixar, and get on with this thing.

cars221. Cars 2 (2011)Previous Ranking:  NR

Cars 2 has the dubious honor of being Pixar’s worst film. It followed 2006’s Cars and largely feels like a sequel mandated by sales. Toys and merchandise based on the films are easy to conceive (they’re just Hot Wheels but with faces) and it was a real hit with kids. Then studio head John Lasseter also loved the project and it was basically his new baby following Toy Story, and when the guy in charge loves a franchise then you’re getting more from that franchise. The problem with this movie is that it makes the cardinal sin of taking a well-received side character from the first film and making him the main character in the sequel when the character was never suited for that role. In this case, it’s Mater who’s put into the starring role and his dim-witted nature just can’t carry a film. He was fine in the first film and occasionally funny, but here the schtick runs dry after 20 minutes. The rest of the film unfolds like a spy film, but it can’t decide if it wants to make an earnest run at being a spy movie or if it’s a spoof. Your kids might like it, but you probably won’t.

spot and arlo20. The Good Dinosaur (2015)Previous ranking:  NA

The Good Dinosaur was a supremely troubled picture, even though it had a fairly simple premise:  what if the asteroid that caused all of the dinosaurs on Earth to go extinct missed? What happened is dinosaurs flourished, learned how to become farmers, and eventually would have to learn how to live alongside humans. The film takes place though in the early years of humanity, so seeing humans and dinosaurs interact isn’t particularly interesting. The main character, Arlo, is likable enough, but the movie unfolds like a series of clichés and sequences ripped from past Disney flicks. It’s a very manipulative picture, and its somewhat original premise feels like its only original thought. On the plus side though, it looks pretty good and modern kids may be more accepting of it than The Land Before Time on account of its presentation, despite being an inferior picture.

monsters u19. Monsters University (2013)Previous ranking:  NR

Monsters University stands as Pixar’s lone prequel. Apparently wanting to do something with titular characters Mike and Sully again, but not seeing much promise in the new world setup by Monsters, Inc., we end up with a story of how the two met in college. It’s mostly fine, but also pretty forgettable. It’s not particularly fun to see the two start as enemies, especially when we know how they’re going to end up. The story of Mike wanting to be a scarer adds a bit of dimension to the character, but it’s also something that’s not even remotely hinted at in the previous film so it feels forced. The film focuses far too much on that aspect, because we know how it’s going to turn out the stakes don’t feel particularly high. The film also fails to create any new, memorable, characters and it drags on for too long. Still, it’s okay and I mostly had fun with that first viewing, I’ve just never really wanted to revisit it.

a bugs life18. A Bug’s Life (1998)Previous ranking:  NR

This is the point of the list where I feel like we’ve left the poor or merely adequate features behind and entered into what makes Pixar special. A Bug’s Life is largely hampered by the fact that it was the studio’s second ever feature when things were still being ironed out. The visuals are not as striking as they once were, and the story is a bit derivative of other works. It even felt derivative of Toy Story as it was another look at a much smaller world, only instead of toys we have bugs. Flick is a good lead though and Hopper makes for a convincing villain. Ants vs Grasshoppers isn’t a story I ever needed to be told, but it proved captivating enough. It’s just a film that has been topped many times over.

cars 117. Cars (2006)Previous ranking:  NR

Cars is a film I’ve actually come to appreciate a bit more over time. I still don’t think it’s great, but I find it entertaining enough. Which is good because my kid went through a phase where he wanted to watch this one a lot. Lightning McQueen is a fish out of water, a conceited race car who winds up in hick-ville. He’s unlikeable and he’s supposed to be, but he comes around and the journey is fairly organic rather than forced, even if you know that’s where the story needs to head. What has never sold me on the film, and franchise, is the need for it to exist. Personified cars just aren’t that interesting. They just act like humans, only their world makes no sense because of humanity’s absence even though signs of humanity are literally everywhere. Making the cars the characters did at least let Pixar off the hook in terms of having to animate humans, which was something of a weak point the studio was still figuring out. Otherwise, I’m just not charmed by the premise. Ultimately, the film is fine entertainment that’s just lacking that something extra that makes Pixar films truly special.

merida bow16. Brave (2012)Previous ranking:  10

Brave has the distinction of being the first Pixar film directed by a woman. One of the studio’s few black marks has been its inclusion of women. Few women have been writers on Pixar features and few have been allowed to sit in the director’s chair. Director Brenda Chapman did not have a great experience as she was to be the sole director, but clashes with Lasseter over the project got her demoted to co-director with Mark Andrews, who basically finished the picture. She has expressed no desire to return to Pixar and was very critical of the leadership there, and she was probably one of the many celebrating Lasseter’s exit when more voices came forward to denounce his behavior towards women. As a result, I wonder how Brave would have turned out had Chapman been allowed to make the film she wanted to make. It’s a mother/daughter picture in which the relationship and conflict between the two feels very authentic, even when the mother turns into a bear. The film has a strong start, but then it sort of meanders a bit and I always find myself losing interest the further in I go. It’s a good, solid, film though and it wouldn’t disappoint me if Merida were given another chance to lead a feature. Since Lasseter was replaced, Chapman has actually returned to Disney as a writer on The Lion King remake set to open soon, so maybe there’s still a chance she could return to the director’s chair for the company in the future. Never say never.

cars 315. Cars 3 (2017)Previous ranking: NA

It took three tries, but Cars 3 finally made the Cars franchise feel like it belonged at Pixar. After struggling to find an emotional hook in the first film, and basically not trying in the second, Cars 3 returned Lightning McQueen to the starring role and gave him a story that made him sympathetic. That story was for Lightning to confront his age and try to hang on as a top racer in his sport. In that respect, it feels similar to Toy Story 3 as those characters battle time in their own way. Cars 3 manages to surprise in how it handles the story while also providing a proper send-off for Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson character, who was basically written out of Cars 2. Cars 3 was the conclusion to a trilogy few wanted to see completed, but it proved worthwhile. Hopefully, Pixar knows well-enough to leave it be and resists the temptation of a Cars 4. Considering Cars was Lasseter’s baby, I think we may be in the clear.

RGB14. Incredibles 2 (2018)Previous ranking: NA

Incredibles 2 is the sequel we all knew was going to happen. Being a super hero film, it was the easiest sequel to craft. All one needs is a new villain for the heroes to battle and a plausible setup. Incredibles 2 surprised by playing it safer than expected. It essentially took the setup of the first film and flipped the roles of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. Mr. Incredible is the stay-at-home parent this time while Elastigirl gets to enjoy some adventuring. All of your favorites from the first film come back, and everything is still fine and charming. It’s just really long, like the first film, and since I didn’t love that one I found little to love here. It’s well-made and I think most fans enjoyed it. As sequels go, it’s pretty good, but I also expected more.

hank and dory13. Finding Dory (2016)Previous ranking:  NA

Finding Dory could have easily wound up being as bad as Cars 2. It takes the former sidekick, Dory, and puts the focus on her. It also rehashes the plot of the first film, but just moves some pieces around. And yet, the film works and in some respects I think it should be the benchmark for future Pixar sequels. If the studio isn’t confident its next sequel is as good or better than Finding Dory, then it shouldn’t make it. Dory does get a little grating, but her memory is allowed to gradually improve which helps make her more tolerable as the film moves along. Newcomer Hank is also a worthwhile addition to the cast, and there are some happy, teary-eyed, moments in this one. It’s also a tad manipulative, especially the flashbacks which include the impossibly cute baby Dory, so the emotional moments aren’t as earned as they are in other films. This one is still better than it had any right to be, and it’s more than okay that it exists even if it isn’t as good as Finding Nemo.

the incredibles12. The Incredibles (2004)Previous ranking:  9

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this film largely just didn’t work for me. I thought I was going to love it, so maybe I had a problem with expectations going in, but numerous re-watches over the years have further convinced me it just isn’t for me. I find The Incredibles to just be too long, and too slow. It’s not hard to see where the plot wants to take the characters, so the slow pace just feels so unnecessary. And like Cars 2, it seems to have an identity crisis where it can’t decide if it’s an earnest take on a super hero film or if it’s a parody. Nonetheless, the characters are charming and well-developed and there’s still a lot to like. My feelings towards it though are my explanation for why it’s ranked here, and not in the top 10 where I feel a lot of fans seem to place this one.

bo peeps outlook11. Toy Story 4 (2019)Previous ranking:  NA

The newest film from Pixar proved to be a hard one to rank. I knew I liked the other three Toy Story films just a bit more, but figuring out how to rank it relative to the non-Toy Story films was a challenge. There’s a lot to like in this one from the gorgeous visuals to the humor, largely thanks to newcomer Forky. Selling the audience on its resolution was the hardest part. Did audiences care enough about Bo Peep to want her to return, let alone to have her serve as the catalyst for Woody essentially abandoning the purpose he once clung to so dearly? I feel like the response to Woody’s decision at the end of the film to leave his friends, and Bonnie, behind to live a life beside Bo Peep will determine how most people receive this film. And yet, I was largely fine with it, but I’m still ranking the film outside the top 10. That says less about this film and more about how fantastic the 10 films to come truly are.

wall-e and eva10. WALL-E (2008)Previous ranking:  5

WALL-E is one of our biggest fallers from the previous ranking. Some of that is due to some newcomers joining the fray, but mostly it’s due to my opinion on the film changing slightly. I still love WALL-E, I just don’t find it as engrossing as I once did. That’s largely due to the film’s second half in space, which fails to match the spectacle of the early part of the film when it occurs on Earth. It’s still funny though and I love the film’s message and how charming these unspeaking robot leads are. WALL-E is one of my favorite leads of any Pixar film and his success is a wonderful tribute to how good Pixar’s animators are. He says so much, and yet he says almost nothing at all throughout the whole movie. I may not be ranking it number one, but WALL-E is absolutely one of the studio’s greatest achievements.

sully and boo9. Monsters, Inc. (2001)Previous ranking:  3

Monsters, Inc. is actually our biggest faller, going all the way from 3 down to 9. Why is that? Unlike WALL-E, this one is largely fatigue. I’ve seen this one so many times due to it being on television a lot, being a personal favorite of mine, and being one my kids adore. Though no matter how many times I see it that closing, “Kitty!” from Boo still gets me every time. It’s the stuff leading up to that which I’ve grown a little sick of. It also doesn’t help that the visuals aren’t as nice to look at as they were in 2001, though Sully’s fur still stands as a remarkable achievement even today. Even though I’m ranking it 9th, I still love this movie as I do all of the movies in the top 10. And I will definitely be checking out the television series based on this property coming to Disney’s streaming service. Hopefully, it goes better than Monsters University.

toy story 2 welcome home8. Toy Story 2 (1999)Previous ranking:  8

Holding steady at number 8 is Pixar’s first sequel. Saying it held onto number 8 is actually deceiving, as there are two new films to come along since those rankings that leapt past this one without affecting its rank. And that reflects my growing appreciation for Toy Story 2. Where as before I was certain it was a lesser film when compared with Toy Story and Toy Story 3, now I’m less convinced of that. It really expands upon the cast of the first film despite only adding a couple new characters and it does so by simply bringing along more in the journey of the toys outside Andy’s room. Mr. Potato Head, played so perfectly by the late Don Rickles, is really allowed to shine as he joins Buzz and the others in tracking down the lost Woody. The film is tightly paced and its new villain is arguably better than Sid from the first. Plus it looks noticeably better. It also holds up as it has proven to be the favorite Pixar movie of my kids so I’ve endured this one more time than I can count, and every time I see it I still get pulled in. It’s quite possibly the best sequel that doesn’t eclipse the original ever created.
ratatouille7. Ratatouille (2007)Previous ranking:  7

Another film that has held steady, but actually improved given the new films released since 2013, is Ratatouille. I adore this movie. Remy is so wonderfully portrayed by Patton Oswalt and his story is unique, engrossing, and ever so charming. I’ve seen this one a lot, and it never fails to entertain me nor does it fail to leave me hungry. The food looks so good, and for whatever reason the grapes affect me the most. I’m both hungry and thirsty just thinking about it right now. The way this one ends, with Remy finally finding acceptance amongst both his rat peers and the humans he shares a kitchen with, could lend itself well to a potential sequel, but I’m glad Pixar has so far resisted the temptation. I don’t want this film tainted in any way, even if that fear is largely an overblown one as no film could taint the original.

up6. Up (2009)Previous ranking:  1

It may not have fallen the most spots, but it feels like Up is this list biggest mover because it fell from the top spot all the way to number 6, outside the top 5. If it had fallen to number 3 because two new films supplanted it that would be one thing, but to explain the drop to 6 is practically unexplainable, but let me try. I pretty much love Up the same now as I did in 2013. I actually have not watched this one much since then as it’s one my kids haven’t taken to (though I should try again). It’s mostly moved because the films ahead of it are ones I have seen quite a bit in the interim and I just have a newfound appreciation for. Was ranking it number 1 six years ago a mistake then? Maybe. The opening beats in this one are some of Pixar’s finest work. Perhaps I placed too much emphasis on those and not enough on the ensuing adventure, which is fun and humorous, but not nearly as emotional. Reflecting on it though, I just think it really is a case of me falling even more in love with Pixar’s other works and not necessarily falling out of love with Up. This film still gets to me and I still love its characters. Ultimately, being considered the sixth best Pixar movie is also nothing to be ashamed of. I also did protect myself a bit six years ago as I said these rankings within the top 5 are pretty fluid. Not a lot is separating these movies.

inside out5. Inside Out (2015)Previous ranking:  NA

Our first new entrant since 2013 to really make a splash, Inside Out was an instant contender for best film in Pixar’s catalog when it debuted in 2015. The internal struggle of emotions within a young girl as depicted by personified entities didn’t strike me as a truly novel idea, but it turned out to be incredibly well executed. The story is essentially about depression, and yet I don’t think that word is ever uttered by a character in the film. It’s so careful and well-thought out making it a truly technical marvel. That it’s able to be so procedural while still maintaining the fun and spontaneity of it all is its real achievement. Joy is well-balanced by Sadness, and the supporting roles of the other emotions prove to be hilarious more often than not. And even though most of the movie is spent inside her head, we still learn a lot about Riley and come to care for her by the film’s end almost as if she were our kid too. I think my adoration for the character, and the film, influenced me down the road when my own daughter came into this world. Her name? Riley.

toy story 14. Toy Story (1995)Previous ranking:  6

The debut feature from Pixar is a tough one to top. Obviously, the studio has topped it since I’m ranking it fourth, but careful consideration is given to any film I intend to rank ahead of it. First of all, yes, the story is a bit derivative of the less popular Jim Henson production The Christmas Toy, but Toy Story takes the concept of toys having their own world in which they live in so far ahead of that production that it barely warrants a mention. I do it only because a lot of the concepts are the same, though I question how original it is to begin with. Who didn’t wonder if their toys came to life when no one was around when they were kids? Anyway, Toy Story was an incredible technical achievement in 1995, but it’s also so much more. Like Disney was able to do way back in the 1930s with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pixar was able to convince an audience that a computer-generated character could make us cry. This one doesn’t go nearly as far as its sequels would in that regard as Toy Story’s tears, if it produces any, are via celebration as opposed to sadness. I still get chills when I watch this one today when Woody and Buzz take flight and head for Andy’s car. It’s a wonderful moment of elevation to cap the film’s climax cementing this film as one of Pixar, and Disney’s, all-time greatest achievements.

nemo and marlin3. Finding Nemo (2003)Previous ranking:  2

Moving down a notch from my 2013 rankings is Finding Nemo. Unlike WALL-E and Up, this one simply moved because a new film was released since then to push it back a spot. That’s no slight against Finding Nemo, a movie I’ve seen more times than I can count over the years because it remains my wife’s favorite film. If I had to offer up one piece of criticism towards it, it would be that the film is perhaps a bit too long (it didn’t really need that sequence with the net after Marlin and Nemo’s reunion), but otherwise there’s nothing I’d change about. The undersea world of Finding Nemo remains beautiful more than a decade removed from release, and the story of a father searching for his son against hopeless odds will never not resonate with audiences. When I find myself feeling a bit fatigued with this one, I just stop and remember how charming some of the smaller details are such as Bruce and his boys and the seagulls that just say “Mine!” over and over. A beautiful film with a beautiful story, I won’t blame you if you think Pixar has yet to top it.

TOY STORY 32. Toy Story 3 (2010)Previous ranking:  4

This is the biggest culprit in moving some of the other films down a few notches. Every time I revisit Toy Story 3 I’m blown away all over again. First of all, its visuals are miles ahead of the two preceding films and it’s one of Pixar’s greatest technical achievements. The world the toys inhabit is so much more alive than it was before and the little details are amazing. Yeah, the toys somehow get lost again, and yes, Buzz also is reverted to his old form yet again, but the journey is just so much more engrossing than before. Woody’s devotion to Andy remains strong and serves as the film’s emotional core, but also there is Woody’s devotion to his fellow toys. He’s a true leader here unwilling to let anything happen to the friends he’s shared a playroom with. We caught a glimpse of this in Toy Story 2 when he helped out poor Wheezy, but we really see it on display here when he not only risks life and limb to save the others, but also in how he chooses to finally say goodbye to Andy. If that moment in Bonnie’s yard doesn’t choke you up then you have no soul. What an incredible, brave, ending that also proved smart since it setup for future television specials and even a fourth film no one saw coming. Had this been the last we saw of Woody and the gang I think everyone would have been fine with it, because the ending is so perfectly bittersweet. Hug your toys, if you still have them, people.

coco proud corazon1. Coco (2017)Previous ranking:  NA

Of all the films on this list, I don’t think I’ve seen any other more times over these past six years than I have Coco. I figured this film would be plenty good, because it’s Pixar, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how great it was going to be. Coco is an easy choice as Pixar’s best film for me because it does everything well that Pixar is known for. It looks amazing, its characters are well-formed and endearing, it depicts a new, fantastic world in the Land of the Dead, and it packs an emotional wallop to boot. Oh boy, is that emotional hook a big one. I was prepared for Ernesto to not be related to Miguel in the end, and I even saw Hector’s reveal coming, and yet I still was not prepared for Miguel’s emotional performance of “Remember Me” to his grandmother, Coco. So much of the film’s heart should be credited to Anthony Gonzalez, the young man hired to provide the scratch track for Miguel who was so good in the role he was made the starring voice of the film. His performance is incredible, whether speaking lines or singing one of the film’s many songs. Coco is also the closest thing to a musical Pixar has produced, though the songs all work within the confines of the film as opposed to being something that breaks-up the flow of the plot. And the music is so wonderful! “Remember Me” is its most famous track, though it might be my least favorite song in the film. It’s supremely versatile though, as the song takes on a whole new meaning depending on the performance. In the hands of de la Cruz, it’s an up-tempo, playful, track, but when performed by Hector it’s a sweet and somber tune. I’m torn on if my favorite song is “Un Poco Loco” or “Proud Corazon.” The visuals at the end of the film when “Proud Corazon” is playing probably seals it for me as Miguel is warmly embraced by his family that once shunned music, and the spirit of his ancestor Hector takes the “ghost guitar” from him to play along which is the perfect touch for the scene. I’m welling up just recalling it. Coco is just a perfect film filled with wonder and excitement and plenty of humor while also containing an emotional backing no film in Pixar’s library can match. It surprised me to become a favorite of my children as well, who happily sing and dance along with the film and sit enthralled with its exciting, closing, moments. They don’t fully understand it, because they’re so young, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to it as they get older. I hope one day that Pixar can top this film, but there’s a part of me that doubts the studio ever can.

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Toy Story 4

 

toy-story-4 poster

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Is there a better tetralogy of films than the recently completed (?) Toy Story franchise? It’s a question I didn’t immediately ponder upon viewing Toy Story 4, but in the days that followed it’s something I’ve started to consider. I’m not sure what the most famous tetralogy is, but my mind first went to the Indiana Jones franchise. While that one is quite good, I think most would agree the fourth film is okay at best. After that, and it gets murky for me. There’s a lot of trilogy franchises that were turned into four films like The Hunger Games and Twilight. I’ve seen The Hunger Games, I’ve never bothered with Twilight, but I don’t think many would argue for either as being great. There’s also Avengers, but that feels like another beast entirely given how interconnected it is with other Marvel films. And then there are a bunch of former trilogies turned into long-running franchises like Star Wars that took themselves beyond four films.

I’m surely missing out on some and there’s probably a good tetralogy or two I’m spacing on, but I’m having a hard time finding a worthy contender to what Pixar has done with its Toy Story franchise. It’s surprising how successful it has been considering Pixar never even envisioned doing a sequel. Disney all but mandated Toy Story 2 be a thing because of how successful the original was. It even started as a direct-to-video feature that earned a theatrical release and, for many, is the most beloved entry in the series. Toy Story 3 surprised and delighted movie-goers in 2010 and seemed to put a bow on the franchise as it dealt with the toys moving on from their beloved owner, Andy. A few TV specials have emerged since and it seemed like that’s where Toy Story was destined to reside. Then the world was surprised in 2014 when Toy Story 4 was officially confirmed as in development.

Toy Story 4 had probably the most treacherous development cycle (though most treacherous moment still belongs to Toy Story 2 when that film was accidentally deleted) of any of the films in the series thus far. A lot of writers came and went and the picture was delayed a year not once, but twice. John Lasseter was unceremoniously dumped by Disney and Pixar following some allegations of inappropriate conduct which was made worse when actress/writer Rashida Jones left the picture citing a disagreement on where the story was heading and renewing concerns that Pixar was not a great place for women creators. Given the turmoil behind the scenes, and the already high bar set by the previous films, it would not have been at all surprising if Toy Story 4 turned out to be a bust in the end. Pixar has a tremendous track record, but a similarly troubled picture like The Good Dinosaur wasn’t able to overcome development hell.

bo peeps outlook

Bo Peep is back and she has a whole new outlook on what it means to be a toy that Woody has to come to grips with.

Unlike The Good Dinosaur, this is Toy Story. This is the franchise that essentially made Pixar was it is today and it’s these characters that the company will be most identified by for as long as humans are around and talking about movies. There was likely a different kind of focus behind the scenes and a determination by those involved to make sure that this movie did not harm the reputation of the studio and the franchise as a whole. A lot of credit seems to be going to Andrew Stanton who has helmed several Pixar projects and director Josh Cooley, who was selected by Lasseter to helm his first feature-length project. Further credit should also go to these wonderful characters created by Pixar who quite simply refuse to stop being so damn charming and interesting despite appearing in now four films where the plot is nearly the same in all four with just slight variations on the setup.

Several years ago I ranked Pixar’s 10 best features and selected Toy Story 3 as my favorite in the Toy Story trilogy. It’s still my favorite, but following it I also had no idea how the franchise could go on. Well, that’s not entirely true. Pixar could have easily just stitched together another adventure only now instead of Andy in the background it’s Bonnie. After all, at their core all four films are just the toys getting lost and having to find their way back. That, however, isn’t really Pixar’s philosophy. Their features have purpose, and for Toy Story 4 the concept of self-identity and self worth are its purpose and main story. And the vehicle for that story is Woody (Tom Hanks), who was once the favorite toy of Andy but is now a cast-off in the eyes of Bonnie. He’s going to be paired up with newcomer Forky (Tony Hale), a spork turned into a toy via Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) who has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he’s no longer a discarded utensil but an actual toy.

Bonnie takes an immediate liking to Forky, and at least for the duration of the film, Forky is her new favorite toy. Forky though considers himself trash and all he wants is to be thrown away. It’s up to Woody to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a task Woody gives himself because he has no other purpose at the moment and he’s not even willing to share the responsibility of safeguarding Forky, which becomes quite a problem when the family hits the road for a good old fashioned RV vacation.

woody introduces forky

Woody introducing Forky to the rest of the gang.

The film opens with a flashback revealing what happened to Woody’s old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the porcelain doll who adorned a lamp belonging to Andy’s sister Molly. She disappeared between Toy Story 2 and 3, and in Toy Story 4 she is reintroduced as a lost toy. During an attempted escape from the RV by Forky, Woody and he end up on their own in search of the RV. During that time they happen across an antiques store where Woody recognizes Bo Peep’s lamp in the window, but without Bo Peep. He’ll eventually find her, and the film turns into a story about Woody and Bo Peep that’s essentially a G-rated rom-com.

Along the way, new toys will be introduced like Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom, a dare devil motorcycle toy with confidence issues, and the comedic duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele voice Ducky and Bunny, a pair of carnival prizes looking for an owner of their own. Old favorites like Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) are here as well, but they play very minor roles compared with past films. Really, only Buzz has a substantial role as the others are mostly left waiting on the RV absent from the adventure being experienced by Woody. It’s something that does not read well in a review, or at least it wouldn’t had I read any reviews going into seeing this film, but I honestly did not miss those characters even if I mostly adored them in the prior films. That’s a testament to the engrossing nature of the film’s main plot, the questions it asks, and the stakes it creates.

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Your old favorites are here, but there’s also new characters to introduce and, more importantly, merchandize.

Those stakes are partially created by outside forces. There’s a sense of finality going into this film, as there was with Toy Story 3, which makes it feel like almost anything could happen. And then there was also the impossible to avoid press on the film (even by someone like me who does his best to avoid such) in which Tim Allen and Tom Hanks openly talked about the emotional ending to the film. That had people speculating wildly on what could happen, and it was in the back of my mind while viewing the film. Even so, probably around the one-hour mark in the movie I could see where the picture was headed. That did not diminish my enjoyment of the film, though it probably contributed to my finding of the film’s resolution less emotional than its predecessor.

Toy Story 3 is a film that hit me right in the feels, so Toy Story 4 not matching that level of emotion is hardly a negative. It would have been hard to pull that off, but what Toy Story 4 did manage to do in terms of topping the prior films is up the comedy. This is, especially in the first half of the film, the funniest Toy Story movie yet. A lot of that comes from Forky who is basically suicidal, in a sense. I was quite skeptical of the character going into this one, but he absolutely won me over and he basically steals every scene he’s involved with. Ducky and Bunny also lend a certain level ludicrousness to this one that wasn’t found in past installments, or really in any Pixar film I can think of. I’m curious how much, if any, ad-libbing Key and Peel were allowed to do for their characters as it feels like their brand of humor certainly had an influence on their parts. Reeves is more charming than truly funny as Duke Caboom and Kristen Schaal’s Trixie is also good for a chuckle when she’s around.

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Your little ones may find some of the scenes in this picture a bit intense.

Toy Story 4 is not only the funniest film in the series, it might also be the scariest. While there is no moment where all of the toys look like they’re going to perish in a fire as there was in Toy Story 3, there’s some pretty scary imagery that may freak out the younger members of the audience. In particular is the army of old school ventriloquist dummies which occupy space in the antiques store. Those puppets, like clowns, are never not scary so when they’re trying to be terrifying it works. The film’s villain, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), is quietly unsettling as well and I always felt a feeling of discomfort when she was around, similar to Lotso from Toy Story 3.

The scary and the funny moments are just entertainment beats along the way to telling the story of Woody and Bo Peep. They have quite the adventure in this picture not unlike the past ones and everything looks quite spectacular along the way. The leap in terms of visuals from Toy Story 3 to 4 isn’t as impressive as what we saw in going from 2 to 3, but it’s still noticeable and this is a high point for Pixar. Whether it’s the toys or the few humans on display, this picture is marvelous to look at. The action pieces are thrilling and the novelty of viewing a world through the eyes of a toy has yet to grow stale. While I do think some liberties were taken in this picture in terms of the actions of the toys going unseen by the humans they share space with, it never diminished my enjoyment of the film.

I have heard there’s some disappointment amongst the fanbase in how this film resolves itself and some of the plot points it took to get there, but I can’t say I share them. Is this the story I would have told had I been given the keys to the franchise? Probably not, but I also would never be put in that position, and with good reason. I never desired to find out what happened to Bo Peep, just as I don’t really care what happened to Weezy or that shark who momentarily wore Woody’s hat in the first film, but Pixar created a story and a film centered on Bo Peep and it works. She is everything Woody fears as she’s a lost toy who is beholden to no owner, and Woody has to struggle to understand that world view. I get a sense some are disappointed to see that Bonnie has also essentially discarded the cowboy she appeared to love in Toy Story 3. To those I say how many of you continued to love every toy you received as a four-year-old? It would be more improbable for that four-year-old girl to continue to adore an old cowboy as opposed to finding something new (and in this it’s clearly established that she prefers Jessie to Woody). And while it’s unlikely any child would continue to love and adore a plastic spork turned into a toy, it’s totally probable in the short-term. I know my own kids have professed to love a Happy Meal toy or something similar for a few days or a week at most only for it to wind up under a bed or in a toy box for months on end (and then when I go to get rid of it they suddenly love it all over again).

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I never would have expected a rom-com from Toy Story, and yet that’s what we got and it works.

As it is, I find nothing improbable about the film’s overall plot, aside from it being about sentient toys. I accept the story for what it is, and found the film delightfully entertaining for its entire duration. There are parts that made me a touch uncomfortable with where these characters were going, but good films and stories should do that. They should challenge the viewer and take them out of their comfort zone at times, otherwise what’s the point?

Naturally, folks will debate what is the best movie in this franchise. It’s perhaps too soon to tell, but I do think Toy Story 4 is probably going to be the least liked film in the series, and yet it’s still going to be held up as another Pixar masterpiece. That says less about the movie than it does about the franchise as a whole, which has been remarkably consistent. It brings me back to my original question when I started this review:  what is the best tetralogy in film history? I’m not qualified to answer that definitively, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a series of four films better than what Pixar has given us with Toy Story. These are four delightful films populated by interesting and wondrous characters who have already managed to stand the test of time for nearly 25 years. Toy Story 4 is probably the end for these characters, though if you asked me I would have said the same after Toy Story 3. It’s always possible another movie comes along, and additional shorts will probably happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on Toy Story 5. If this is indeed the end then it’s a wonderful way to go out. Maybe it didn’t answer all of the questions fans had been asking (Who was Andy’s dad? Did Andy’s mom once own Jessie?),  but it kept the focus on the toys and it gave us a pretty full look at what it means to be a toy. It made us laugh and it made us cry and it probably also caused more than a few viewers to feel a little guilty about all of those toys we left behind ourselves, but mostly it captivated us and showed us a new way to enjoy animation. Toy Story is a franchise with an amazing and unforgettable legacy attached to it, and Toy Story 4 adds to it and is yet another film that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike to infinity and beyond.


Lego 10766 – Woody and RC (Toy Story 4)

img_4030There’s a new Pixar movie incoming next month, which also means lots of new merch! Especially when the movie is none other than Toy Story 4 as what movie franchise could possibly lend itself better to toys than one about actual toys? Toy Story 4 is a merchandising juggernaut for Disney and a cash cow at the box office as well. That’s pretty much why it still exists as Pixar never intended to even do Toy Story 2. Normally, cash grabs can seem cynical, but in the case of Toy Story I think all can agree that the franchise’s continued existence is very much a good thing as it has yet to deliver a dud. Toy Story 4 could obviously change that, but for now that feels unlikely.

Lego is back to supplement the film with construction sets based on the property. This isn’t new, but what is new is that we now have some pre-existing mini figures in need of some company. Prior Toy Story sets put out by Lego went with customized mini figures that prioritized likeness over the traditional mini figure aesthetic. With Lego’s first wave of Disney themed mini figures a few years ago, the company created a Buzz Lightyear that is basically a traditional mini figure but with some accessories. The line also included an alien which was more like the old Toy Story mini figures in which Lego went with a custom headsculpt. Those two guys seemed lonely on my shelf, so I was happy to check out the latest sets to see what I could do for them.

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Woody together with his former adversary turned best friend.

And the one that jumped out at me is Lego 10766 – Woody and RC. This is essentially a remake of an old set, 7590, which featured Woody, Buzz, and RC plus the giant rocket from the climax of the original Toy Story. I don’t know why they’re doing a scene from the first film in promotion of the fourth, but I’m not complaining. This set is simpler and includes Woody as a more traditional mini figure, RC, and some in-scale army men. For the low price of 10 dollars, it felt like a no brainer when I saw it at the store as I could easily pair it with the Buzz I already have.

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Woody is the driver here.

Woody is a pretty straight-forward mini figure. His hat and hair are attached to his head. They’re likely separate pieces and could be separated by someone with some degree of determination, but I am not that person. All of his costume details are printed on and there’s no holster or anything additional. The little army men are just small, all green, pieces. They’re a cute touch, even if they’re not exceptional. There are also some cones to put together and an assortment of boxes with colored lids. It would have been nice if instead of boxes Lego had just included traditional alphabet building blocks, but that would require some custom printing and Lego obviously wanted to target a smaller price point for this one.

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The cockpit only has room for one.

RC is the main attraction. His build is quick and simple, but also quite clean and functional. His decals and eyes are printed pieces so no stickers to screw around with. You could probably build him just by looking at a picture, but there are of course instructions included. He also features a little remote control that Woody can hold and it’s also a simple construction, but one that captures the likeness quite well. Woody can fit in the driver’s seat area easily and I so far have elected to position Buzz on the tail piece. There’s nothing for him to click onto though. This RC is not as robust as the older one, but it works. About the only complaint I could levy is that the front bumper could have been done in a more inventive manner and the rear wheels should be larger than the front. He sits a bit too flat compared with the source material.

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Where Woody and company can expect to live out their days. It beats an attic.

A quick and simple post for a quick and simple Lego set. This one does its job and I’m happy to position Woody, RC, Buzz and the Alien together amongst my other Disney collectibles. And while I’d love to add Jessie or Rex, I don’t see myself shelling out for additional Toy Story 4 sets. I prefer this aesthetic for the figures compared with the older ones, and it’s nice to see a relatively cheap, licensed, set from Lego. I don’t think I need any additional Toy Story characters (technically, I don’t need any at all), but maybe I’ll change my mind after seeing Toy Story 4.


Lego Mini Figures – Disney Series 2

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Series 2 gives us more Aladdin which probably isn’t a surprise considering the new movie coming out.

I feel like I need to take credit for the existence of this wave of Disney Mini Figures. It wasn’t that long ago I wondered why the flood gates never opened following the 2016 release of Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World and the wave of mini figures that preceded it. Just days after that post Lego announced a new set based on Steamboat Willie was incoming. Then just days after that a second wave of mini figures based on Disney properties was announced! My timing could not have been better.

Obviously, I am joking about the credit thing because these were in the works for months, if not years, before being announced. I just ended up having extremely good timing where Disney and Lego are concerned. When that Steamboat Willie set was released I snatched it up and shared my thoughts here on the set as a whole. Now I’ve tracked down the entirety of the mini figures that followed in May and I’m ready to tell you all about them.

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I’ve got these, and other Disney objects, displayed all over my house.

Series 2 for the Disney brand of Lego mini figures largely went as expected. Several characters complement the characters from series 1 while others are just logical inclusions based on their level of popularity. There are 18 figures in total, two of which are variants of previously released figures. Each comes in a blind bag, but those willing to stand around in-store feeling up bags should be able to reasonably ascertain who’s who without purchasing doubles of any character. Below, I’ll talk about things to look for when hunting as I found this series pretty easy. The only way you’ll end up with doubles is if you get impatient, which is easy to do as no one is 100% comfortable feeling-up bags of toys in a store while strangers look on. You just have to suck it up and feel like a dork for a little while. Each figure retails for 3.99 in most places, but specialty shops may tack on a buck or two and each figures comes with at least one accessory.

1928 Mickey and Minnie Mouse

So these two should look familiar. These are the same figures included in the Steamboat Willie set. It’s not at all surprising to see Lego save a couple of bucks by doubling-up here, and for those not interested in that set at least they can get a Minnie and Mickey this way. The only difference between the two is that these versions use a black, white, and gray color scheme while the Steamboat Willie figures utilized silver instead of gray to make them seem extra special. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my toys so I actually prefer this color scheme. Mickey and Minnie both feature a removable hat affixed by a peg with Minnie even coming with an extra in case one gets lost. Mickey sports his iconic steering wheel while Minnie gets a buoy. It’s a pretty lackluster accessory for Minnie as this is also Lego’s go-to piece when creating a toilet seat. Why not give her the ukulele or bird? These two are super easy to find though because of their unique head sculpts. And distinguishing between Mickey and Minnie is also simple given that giant steering wheel. I came across many in my search so they may even be packed slightly higher than other characters, or it could be that many people are leaving them behind. I kind of wish I had extras of the series 1 Mickey so I could get extras of these ones to make a classic, colored, Mickey by combing the black and white head with the colored body.

Huey

Coming in from the Disney Afternoon is Huey, the red-clad nephew of Donald Duck and great nephew to Scrooge McDuck. Huey is based on his classic look and the one most commonly associated with the original DuckTales from the 80s. He uses Lego’s kid legs which are immovable, has the “duck butt” debuted with Donald and Daisy, and removable cap. His accessories include the Junior Woodchuck’s Guide Book and a compass. When trying to find him in a blind bag, look for the book which comes in two pieces and is pretty distinct. Huey looks pretty great and the head sculpt is quite nice. Mostly, I am delighted to see some love for the Disney Afternoon. And naturally, you can’t have Huey without his brothers…

Dewey

Dewey (and Louie) is exactly the same as Huey only the red parts are blue. It’s another way for Lego to save some money and it makes sense as the triplets are identical in the source material (maybe this is why Lego decided on 80s DuckTales instead of the new one). The only other thing differentiating Dewey from Huey is his slingshot accessories. He comes with two, and it’s what you need to look for when feeling up a bag. It may be a small piece, but it’s actually pretty distinct even through a bag.

Louie

The last of the nephews and the one clad in green. I probably should have just put all three together, but oh well. He’s the exact same as his brothers, only he comes with two flashlights. They utilize the lightsaber hilt from Lego’s Star Wars sets and a stud for the light portion. Again, pretty easy to figure out as once you’ve identified that you’ve got one of the duck nephews you just need to find either a stud or the handle as Huey and Dewey do not have a similar piece.

Scrooge McDuck

My personal favorite of this wave is Scrooge himself. Based on his DuckTales look, he’s sporting his blue coat and top hat while also featuring a cane and his number one dime (plus an extra cane for good measure). His head sculpt looks great as it features his glasses molded right onto his bill. They’re colored instead of transparent, but look fine. His cane is missing a handle though, and the red stripe on his hat is molded on, but not painted. As a result, he could have been better, but still looks pretty rad to me. When hunting for Scrooge (who seems to be popular and a touch harder to find as a result) you can safely just key-in on the two walking sticks. Surprisingly, he’s the only figure with a perfectly straight, round, piece like that. If you want further assurance, his hat is also pretty easy to find and he’ll have the duck butt piece as well.

Chip and Dale

The mischievous duo of Chip and Dale make their Lego debut. While they’re obviously not in scale with the other characters, I still consider it a positive to receive such an iconic and classic pair. Chip and Dale utilize the better kid legs which are able to move like conventional mini figure legs as well as unique sculpted heads like the other mascot characters. The only way to distinguish between the two is their accessories. Chip comes with an acorn that’s disassembled. Through a bag it just feels like little, tiny, pieces. Dale, on the other hand, comes with a sack (a nut sack?) that’s pretty distinct and should be a reliable way to separate the two rodents. Lego also took some creative license with the pair and made Dale lighter in color. I’m not sure if this is a popular occurrence in the merchandise world, but I had not encountered it before. Again, purist here, so I’d prefer the two look the same, but it’s not a big deal. I do wish they had a tail piece instead of a printed one on their back. Overall though, they look plenty cute and the designs didn’t suffer in the transfer to 3D.

Elsa

The first series of Disney mini figures surprisingly avoided the princess characters, but this one did not. And how could Lego ignore the incredible popularity of Frozen, especially with a sequel coming later this year? Elsa comes clad in her classic ice blue dress. She has a cape, which I suppose is supposed to be the transparent parts of her dress, but just looks like a cape here. It’s a dark blue and covered in printed snowflakes. She also has an oversized snow flake, a braided hair piece that takes her hair over one shoulder, and a head piece with two facial expressions: a smile and a winking smile. Her base is a trapezoid like piece to account for her robes. Maleficent utilized a similar piece in series 1, but the difference here is that there’s some slight molding on the front to provide a hint of legs underneath – a nice touch. It’s that base that makes it easy to narrow down the other figures when looking for them as she shares that piece with Anna and Jafar. To further separate her from her sister just look for the snowflake. It may be a bit of a dumb accessory, but it does make it easy to find Elsa. Plus, she really didn’t have anything else in the film going for her. The cape looks silly, but the overall likeness is fine and sure to please your daughter (it did mine).

Anna

Anna comes sporting her traditional look when she sets out to find her sister. Her body sculpt is the same as Elsa’s except her hair features two braids instead of one. She even has a smirking face and winking face as well on her head piece. Her cape looks much better by virtue of it being pretty simple making her my preferred Frozen sister. Her accessory is also a bit more fun, though also not tremendously important to her character as it’s just a lantern. It’s a unique piece though making it easy to find Anna in a blind bag. Once you found the leg base piece, just look for the lantern and the cylinder that goes inside of it.

Jafar

Series 1 of the Disney mini figures included Aladdin and the Genie, so why not Jafar in series 2? We need more bad guys, so the sorcerer is welcomed. He has his standard look and comes with his large serpent-topped staff, the piece to look for when hunting. He also has a cape, shoulder pads, and his rather large hat. His head only features one expression, but it’s not like Jafar needs anything aside from his scowl. Characters with a lot of distinct characteristics in their clothing seem to work best, and it’s why Jafar is one of the best figures in this series. Like Anna and Elsa, he also uses the robed base and the abundance of accessories make him a cinch to figure out. The only thing missing is a little parrot stand-in for Iago.

Jasmine

Another princess, this one also pairs nicely with Aladdin. Jasmine is a conventional figure with all of her clothing being printed on. The sides of her body are blue which makes her look rather weird at certain angles, but this is how Lego does this sort of thing to make its figures actually look less blocky. She comes with a bird as seemingly all Disney princesses are capable of conversing with animals. It’s not a particularly exciting accessory, but I guess giving her a tiger would have been a touch excessive. When on the hunt for Jasmine you basically have to use process of elimination as her figure is rather plain. From there, look for the hair which is in a long braid and is rather soft and pretty easy to locate.

Hades

Arguably the easiest one to figure out when feeling-up the bags is Hades. That’s due to his unique leg-piece which is similar to Ursula’s from series 1. It’s molded to feature his robes which have a life of their own in the film he’s from. And if for some reason you can’t locate it, the little flames are also pretty easy to fine. Hades has a great look and the flames on his head are actually glued on. He’s another welcomed bad guy, and while I’ve never been a fan of Hercules, I’ve always liked Hades in spite of his detestable voice actor. He’s one of the better looking figures in this set as the bad guys really stand out.

Hercules

Since we got Hades, it’s no surprise to see Hercules in this wave as well. He’s a traditional mini figure who features two expressions, two swords, a shield, cape, and hair piece. The circular shield is pretty easy to fine, and the two swords stand out as well. I already mentioned I’m not much of a fan of the source material here, but for what it’s worth Hercules looks pretty good. He’d be hard to mess up.

Sally

Coming in from the always popular Nightmare Before Christmas is that lovable scarecrow Sally. Sally is another conventional mini figure with no additions aside from her hair. And it’s that hair that makes her a dead giveaway when searching through bags as it’s huge and spoon-shaped. Which is good because her little flower accessories, which have to be assembled, are somewhat nondescript when on the hunt. Otherwise, her features are achieved entirely via screen-printing as Lego opted not to give her any cloth pieces, which feels like a mistake as her model in the film has such lovely textures that this figure just can’t capture. She’s one of my least favorites as I find this depiction a little boring.

Jack Skellington

Naturally, if you’re going to include Sally then you need to include Jack. He’s able to “wow” more than Sally by virtue of his easily translatable look and additional pieces. He has his bat-like bowtie and cloth suit tails. His accessory is a Christmas gift, I believe the one that houses the shrunken head in the film, only this time it’s filled with little circular snowflakes. The cubed box is the item to look for when figure hunting and should stick out like a sore thumb. Jack’s face looks great and overall it’s hard to find fault with this one. Lego could have gone with a unique head piece, but I think the standard one works just fine for the character. After all, part of the charm is seeing the characters converted into the Lego style.

Edna Mode

Serving as a compliment to last summer’s Incredibles 2 Lego sets is this version of Edna Mode. A previous one was available, but it was rather lackluster. This one uses the Lego child body and an oversized hair piece that features Edna’s glasses to really bring her look alive. She also comes with a pair of coffee mugs and what I assume is a purse. By virtue of the fact that she shares a base with the nephews, you’ll want to try and find that hair piece. It’s bowl-shaped and quite deep so you shouldn’t worry about confusing it for one of the caps included with the duck boys. Mostly, use process of elimination as the duck boy heads are easy to distinguish and the duck butt is as well. You shouldn’t worry about confusing her with the chipmunks as their legs can move and it’s rather easy to actually move them through the bag without fear of tearing it open. I’m not much of a fan of the Incredibles or this character, but she looks good for what Lego is shooting for.

Frozone

Lastly, we have Frozone. It was surprising to see him excluded from the Lego sets from last year, but I guess that’s because they were saving him for this wave. Frozone comes with two ice pieces that his hands can grip as well as a saucer meant to serve as one of his ice sleds, I suppose. That saucer is what will make him easy to find as it’s large and flat. Lego opted to screen print his cowl on rather than make it a separate piece and it works considering how tight his costume is supposed to fit. The little sled piece makes him fun to pose, and overall he’s a logical inclusion that looks great.

img_4021And that concludes series 2. Will there be a series 3? I sure hope so as Lego still owes us a Goofy. How he managed to avoid inclusion in this wave is beyond me since he really should have been in the first with the other Disney originals. Aside from him, Pluto would be wanted even if he was depicted as a mascot rather than a four-legged dog (maybe make him a unique figure for another Disney park set?!) and Lego has yet to tackle any of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods. The Disney Afternoon is also teeming with potential figures, the most-wanted likely being Darkwing Duck. And if Lego insists on reusing its Mickey head well there’s a whole bunch of other outfits to explore. In short, a wave 3 would be easy to fill out and is probably likely to sell as well as any other series of mini figures, if not better, so hopefully it happens. I’m not ready for it to end.


Della Duck Comes Home

della flashbackIn the 1938 short Donald’s Nephews, Donald Duck received a postcard from sister Dumbella asking him to look after her three boys:  Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Who knew that afternoon would turn into nearly a century? Along the way, sister Dumbella would undergo a name change and the boys would even change guardians, but after many long years, Donald’s sister has finally made her way back to her children.

Airing last week was the episode of DuckTales titled “Nothing Stops Della Duck!” detailing the character’s journey from the moon to Duckberg and into the lives of her children for the first time. Interestingly, prior to the revamped DuckTales, Della had done little of note. She never appeared in a Donald Duck cartoon, nor did she have a meaningful appearance in the comics by Carl Barks or Don Rosa. She was Della in the Sunday strip, but Barks would rename her as Thelma with Rosa reestablishing the name Della years later. She appeared as a child in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, albeit briefly. Aside from that, her most notable appearance is in the often circulated Donald Duck family tree in which she’s just a headshot.

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The infamous postcard, back when Della was Dumbella.

Most of the canon surrounding Della has been recent and has trended towards her being a pilot or astronaut and she’s either missing or presumed dead. This was established in the 2014 Dutch comic 80 is prachtig which was part of a celebration of Donald Duck’s 80th birthday. The story is by Evert Geradts and is drawn by Maximino Tortajada and appeared in a Donald Duck magazine. It’s unknown these days what Disney considers canon, but her backstory there is similar to what has been introduced in DuckTales. The boys have, on occasion, identified themselves as orphans suggesting they believe she’s dead, but for the most part the subject of their parentage has been avoided. It’s likely the characters of Donald’s nephews, first introduced in a 1937 comic strip illustrated by Al Taliaferro from which the cartoon short was based on, were just created to give Donald some juveniles to bounce off of without saddling him with kids of his own. It was the 1930s, so Donald being a single father with three kids out of wedlock was probably too taboo, and having him marry would make him too domesticated. As nephews, the trio could simply come and go, which is largely what they did on film though it became clear in the printed world of Donald Duck these boys were here to stay.

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One of the few canonical images of Della has been confined to a family tree.

Scrooge McDuck would eventually come along and he and his nephews would form a grand, adventuring, team which eventually found its way to television in the form of DuckTales. There Scrooge was in charge of the boys while Donald went off and joined the Navy and the subject of Della Duck was never broached. When the show re-launched in 2017, things were different. The ending of the premiere included the boys stumbling across a painting of Scrooge, Donald, and their mother Della in the midst of some heroics on a pirate ship. Throughout the first season, the boys would search for clues about what happened to their mother, the truth of which nearly driving them away from their Uncle Scrooge. The final shot of the first season revealed that Della was still alive, but trapped on the moon.

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Della’s fate was revealed in the first season finale of DuckTales.

Season Two has partly followed Della and her trials on the moon. There she fended off monsters (and lost a leg) and befriended a peaceful race of moon people that aided her in rebuilding her rocket to get back home. Prior to this show’s creation, Della Duck was a character I paid no mind to. I’m sure many others did the same considering how little impact she’s had over the years. DuckTales though has made me interested in her, and “Nothing Can Stop Della Duck!” only amplified that.

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Della is too nervous to knock.

The episode wastes little time in cutting to the chase. The previous episode ended (agonizingly on a Friday) with Della (Paget Brewster) blasting off so she’s outside of Scrooge’s estate when the episode begins. Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is waiting for a bus which is to take him away on vacation for a month and he sees the rocket crash and races over to find his sister, but she’s already gone. She quickly makes her way to Scrooge’s front door eager to see her uncle again and finally meet the children she left behind as eggs.

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Scrooge seeing Della will break you.

It’s in the moments outside of Scrooge’s door where the episode shines brightest. Della is eager, but also terrified of what her first impression will be like. She can’t bring herself to knock or ring the bell and instead starts trying out first impressions. It’s partly played for laughs to lessen the obvious tension. On the other side of the door, Scrooge (David Tennant) is armed with some priceless artifact in the shape of a quill that can magically lead him to any treasure if he uses it to sketch a map. He, the boys, and Webby (Kate Micucci) are ready to leave, but when Scrooge opens the door he’s stopped dead in his tracks as the quill falls to the floor shattering into a million pieces.

dellas boys and webby

The boys appear guarded and unsure initially.

Della then basically cracks a joke of an introduction as we see the tears well up in Scrooge’s eyes. It’s beautifully illustrated and the two share a warm embrace. When the camera pans to the children, they’ve become withdrawn and are looking on cautiously. Webby is casually positioned in front of them just taking everything in and it’s she who first posits that the woman at the door is their mother. Della enters and drops to her knees with tear-filled eyes as Scrooge introduces her. The scene is paced so intelligently as the boys are both excited but also very guarded. Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is the most exuberant and the firs to embrace his mother, while Huey (Danny Pudi) needs to only hear her quote the Junior Woodchuck handbook to know he’s found his mom. Louie (Bobby Moynihan), the most casual and laid back of the three, is also the most hesitant. He justifiably wonders if this is some weird trick and Della is going to turn into a ghoul or monster. He eventually gives in, and the three share a heartwarming group hug.

della knees

Della falling to her knees feels like her succumbing to the weight of the moment. 

The scene dealing with both the joy of an unexpected, but welcomed, reunion coupled with some degree of trepidation and fear of the unknown is handled about as well here as it is in any medium. I was so impressed with the moment, but not surprised, because the bread crumbs this show had laid down gave me the confidence in knowing it could handle this kind of material and do it well. I was so convinced of that going into it that I made it a point to view this one by myself without my children. I love them dearly, but my son especially is at that stage where he asks 20 questions a minute when watching a TV show or movie so it can be trying to actually absorb and enjoy something when he’s around.

della embrace

The well-earned payoff.

The rest of the episode remained poignant and clever as Della tries to get readjusted to life within a family she hardly knows. She has to find her place and also figure out how to be a mother overnight. There’s confusion on all sides, and there’s a sense that Della is trying to force affection and a motherly persona onto her boys and all of them will adapt at different speeds. The show is establishing rather quickly that Della and Dewey will be kindred spirits and that bonding with him will come easier than it will with Huey and Louie. Della will have to spend time getting to know her boys and they will have to do the same. They love each other right now out of obligation and duty, but a more natural affection will take time. I think it will be an interesting experience to take in and you know the writers of the show will handle it deftly, mixing in plenty of humor and adventure.

Perhaps well aware that something they setup in the first episode was now being paid off, the writers saved one reunion for later. For when Donald stumbled into his sister’s spaceship he accidentally reactivated it sending himself to the moon. Della left behind a ruler who was scheming a way to motivate his people out of their docile, comfort, zone and into a more aggressive position by portraying Della as a villain to his people upon her departure. As a result, the environment Della found welcoming will not be so for poor Donald. Worse for him is that they all think he’s gone on vacation so they won’t even be looking for him. Eventually, they’ll have to go searching for him or Della will realize her ship is missing, but for now viewers will have to wait for the reunion of brother and sister. It was teased slightly in the episode with a cautiously optimistic and slightly excited Donald looking through the wreckage for Della. Meanwhile, Della has a moment by herself where she looks at a picture of Donald and the boys and thanks her brother for raising them so well (even if he didn’t give them the names she wanted). That moment to come may not be as satisfying as a reunion of mother and child, but I have a sneaking suspicion this show will handle it just fine.


Disney+ Revealed

Disney+It was only a matter of time until big companies got into streaming. Netflix was allowed to practically monopolize the market for years before facing any sort of real challenge. Now we have Hulu, Prime Video, as well as numerous niche offerings like WWE Network and Crunchyroll which cater to a specific type of fan. Premium channels like HBO can now be subscribed to without a cable subscription as more consumers look to change how they watch television. With Warner Media announcing in November of 2018 that it intended to offer a streaming service, it only made sense that Disney would follow suit. Not only did Disney possess its own vast library of works, it had recently entered into an agreement to acquire 20th Century Fox adding even more volume. And given how much money Disney had paid to acquire Fox’s portfolio, it only makes sense that the media giant would want to find a way to monetize that investment sooner rather than later.

We’ve known for months that Disney+ was coming. We’ve also known it was going to feature the entirety of Disney’s film library. This was notable when announced because it likely means the long-vaulted film Song of the South will be readily available for the first time in decades. Song of the South is a live-action animated hybrid first released in 1946. At best, it’s content was deemed racially insensitive and at worst flat-out racist as it sought to portray a setting of happy plantation workers in a post Civil War setting. Most historians seem to agree that Walt Disney’s heart was in the right place when the movie was made, but also acknowledge it’s very problematic. Today, most fans will just recognize the animated characters from the popular Disney World and Disneyland attraction Splash Mountain. Disney has long sought to distance itself from this film and never released it on VHS or DVD in the west. It has been released in some parts of the world where the issue of American slavery is less thorny. It’s likely appearance on Disney+ will be the first time many Americans are exposed to the film outside of a bootleg.

uncle remus

Disney+ will likely be how a lot of folks will first experience the controversial Song of the South.

A 70-year-old film that’s not very good wasn’t going to drive the success of Disney+ though. Song of the South will probably have high stream counts when the service launches and gradually fade away. The rest of the Disney film library will do a lot of the heavy-lifting, but how much was that going to be worth to consumers? Disney, more so than any other studio, has a pretty loyal following of fans that still buy its movies on physical media. While it’s certainly convenient to have films readily available on a streaming platform, what’s the value to Disney fans that already have most of these movies?

UPDATE:  Apparently “entire film library” does not apply to the controversial ones as it is now being reported that Song of the South will indeed be excluded from Disney+ when it launches this fall. In addition to that, Dumbo will see the infamous Jim Crow scene annexed from its film. Song of the South is not a good film so it’s not much of a loss to not have it on the streaming service. In the spirit of not hiding from one’s past, I would have liked to have seen it included with a disclaimer or even an introduction added on, but I’m also not surprised. Removing an entire scene, a rather pivotal one at that, from Dumbo is more concerning. If they’re going to start chopping up their films to remove questionable content (and there’s more than just Dumbo) then I’d prefer they just not include them on the platform.

Disney was going to have to make Disney+ special, and on April 11th the company at long last laid out what it envisioned for the service. The most important detail, as always, is cost. The service will launch in November 2019 at a cost of $6.99 per month in the US, or $70 per year. Other regions will follow as the company likely looks to stagger the release to get a read on how much their servers will have to work. Presumably, the cost will be the same or roughly the same in other parts of the world. It’s an aggressive price point, not in that it’s too high, but in that Disney clearly looks like it’s trying to undercut Netflix, which just raised its prices. Disney owns a 60% stake in Hulu so it likely doesn’t want to undercut that too much. And with the confirmation that it will be ad-free, Disney+ already looks like one of the better bargains in the streaming world.

disney+ dash

A concept of what fans can expect to see when they login to the service.

Disney+ will also include not just Disney films, but Star Wars and Marvel as well. This isn’t much of a surprise, but there probably were some wondering if one, or both, of those big brands would be sent to Hulu instead. It was also touted that the launch of the service will feature the newly released Captain Marvel, currently airing in theaters at the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Captain Marvel was highlighted, but not Toy Story 4 which is set for release this June. At the time Disney+ launches, Toy Story 4 will likely be heading to home media and digital for the holidays. That film might be the first litmus test for what fans can expect between home video and streaming release. It would be understandable if Disney wants a gap between the two so as not to harm home media sales, but it also needs to make its streaming service attractive in regards to new releases.

Disney knows it will need some original content to compete with the likes of Netflix, and it announced a few new shows destined for its streaming service. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars themed show about a bounty hunter that looks like Boba Fett because that character is inexplicably popular. There will also be an animated show based on Marvel’s What If? line of comics and a live-action show called WandaVision focusing on Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some what of a surprise was the announcement that the “live-action” Lady and the Tramp is going to be a direct-to-streaming film on the service as opposed to a theatrically released film. I suppose Lady and the Tramp isn’t as popular as the likes of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but given how much money these live-action remakes have been making it’s still a bit of a surprise to see it bypass the theater.

Disney-Simpsons

The Simpsons “welcome” their new corporate overlords.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was reserved for a non-Disney property:  The Simpsons. America’s favorite animated family is coming to Disney+ and all thirty seasons will be available on day one. I think most assumed that The Simpsons was destined for Hulu, but apparently Disney feels the brand is too valuable for that platform. It’s probably right, though this likely spells the end for The Simpsons World, the streaming portion of the FX Now app which currently is home to the entire series for anyone with a cable subscription. That app was limited, though it was still useful to have every episode on demand, with optional commentary no less. I assume the show will still air on FXX, assuming Disney keeps the channel around, but the on demand options to cable subscribers are probably about to decrease substantially.

What wasn’t touched on in as much detail as I would have liked is what is to come of the television properties Disney owns? Specifically, can we expect to see the entire Disney Afternoon collection of shows on this service? The announcement did make mention of Disney Channel programming so it’s expected all or most of the current programs will be there, but it wasn’t elaborated on. I also want to know if the classic theatrical shorts will show up, and if so, will they be remastered in HD? Some packages of shorts are currently available on Netflix, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those make it to Disney+ early on, but I’m really hoping all of the classic animation is included.

pooh and christopher robin

Disney+ could be a place where television shows like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, one that has been ignored by Disney since it ceased airing, could finally find a new home.

Given the amount of content and the low introductory price, I think it’s safe to say that Disney+ will have a pretty successful launch. My household will likely be a day one subscriber as my kids probably average one Disney movie per day and this will save ware and tear on my Blu Ray collection. I suspect the price-point to change much faster than Netflix changed its pricing. The most popular Netflix subscription just increased to $13 per month, nearly twice what Disney+ will cost in November. There’s no way Disney, a company that really loves money, will stay at the low-end for long. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively the company raises that number, with it likely staying put for a year or so. Disney will probably try to incentivize consumers to subscribe to the service in a package with Hulu and ESPN.

What we’re also likely to discover in the coming years as well is just how large an appetite the consumer has for streaming content. Cutting the chord used to be a radical concept, but now is starting to become pretty normal. It was once a way to drastically reduce the cost of television in the average household, but with more streaming options showing up spreading things around it’s no longer the value it once was. My guess is that consumers will become less loyal to any one brand and will be constantly switching between services on a monthly basis. That is, until the content providers start forcing or aggressively incentivizing consumers to subscribe to deals that last for months, or even years. It’s even possible they’ll be forced to turn to contracts, and then we’ll basically be right back to where we were with cable companies. The cycle will repeat.


Disney and Lego – What Happened?!

lego logoNearly three years ago The Lego Company released just its third ever line of mini figures based on a licensed property. Following two waves of figures based on The Simpsons, Lego turned to an old friend:  Disney. The Disney wave of mini figures contained 18 characters that covered some of Disney’s classic characters like Mickey and Donald, as well as film stars and even a few Pixar characters. A few months later, the wave was supplemented with the unveiling of the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. The 4,000 piece set was pricey, but also quite impressive. It, along with the other figures, now adorn the mantle over my front door declaring that my home is indeed a Disney home.

I thought we were in for more Disney from Lego, but following that the Disney brand went away. Given that The Simpsons received two waves and two construction sets, I assumed Disney would get the same treatment. Instead, Lego pivoted to showcasing its movies with mini figure waves based on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie along with waves of generic figures. Disney is an expensive brand, I assume, with characters that necessitate unique sculpts so I’m sure it’s pricier than a lot of other properties Lego could focus on, but I bet it’s also a big seller. Those Disney blind-bagged figures disappeared pretty fast from shelves wherever I saw them. The only place that seemed to maintain stock around me was a local comic shop that sold them for almost twice as much as The Lego Store or big box retailers. As for the castle, I have no idea how that did. It retailed for $350, but a lot of Disney enthusiasts are used to paying top dollar for anything Disney related. It’s still available at Lego’s webstore, so either it didn’t sell out or it’s still being produced. Aside from that, the only other readily available Disney products from Lego include Duplo, Lego Junior, and Lego Friends sets mostly based around Cars, Mickey, and the various Disney princesses.

lego cinderella

Pricey yes, but I would wager most who bought Lego’s take on Cinderella’s Castle from The Magic Kingdom were pretty happy with the end result.

Maybe Disney doesn’t perform as well for Lego as other properties. It would seem the company mostly caters to adolescent males with lots of Marvel and Star Wars sets. It’s possible that crowd looks down on Disney as being too kiddie or something. Whatever the reason, the lack of product feels like a mixed opportunity. Many characters were left out of that initial wave of mini figures and there are so many more landmarks and attractions from Disney parks that would look lovely in Lego form.

In terms of mini figures, the biggest omission from the first wave was Goofy. Goofy is one of Disney’s oldest characters along with Mickey and Minnie. Daisy Duck was likely included in that initial wave as a complement to Donald (and to reuse some of the duck parts), though Disney fans would certainly find Goofy more deserving of inclusion. The Mickey, Donald, and Goofy trio anchored many a cartoon short, and he would have been the most obvious inclusion in a wave two. In addition to Goofy, Pluto went missing as well. He’d look a little odd if done like a bipedal character, but Lego should have found a way to get him in even if it meant just doing a dog figure and single packing him. For The Simpsons, Lego made the pets accessories which also would have sufficed.

duplo goofy

If you want a Lego version of Goofy this is presently your best, and only, choice.

Goofy and Pluto are the only classic characters who went missing, but there were plenty of opportunities for complementary figures to what was released in the first series. Jafar would have made sense given the presence of Aladdin and Genie, and Woody and Jessie made sense given Buzz and the Alien were also included. Want more of The Incredibles? Elastigirl and the kids could have been featured and even Frozone. More classic movies could have also been explored. How about Pinocchio with Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto with Figaro and Cleo? The Beast would be a fun inclusion as would a pairing of Mowgli and Baloo. If they really wanted to go deep, while also reusing some sculpts, the Three Caballeros would certainly get my attention and another easy redo would be another Mickey but in his sorcerer’s attire or in black and white. Lastly, how about some Disney Afternoon figures? Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad, Darkwing Duck, the nephews – all would be welcomed and Lego really could have saved a few bucks if it released three separate figures for the nephews that are essentially just repaints of each other.

A second wave of mini figures would be easy to fill. If anything, there would likely still be characters missing, but things would feel more complete than they are now. As for new sets, oh there would be many contenders, but the most obvious is Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It would have to be relatively in-scale with Cinderella’s Castle so it would be a smaller set, and thus probably cheaper. The same loving detail would need to go into it though making sure the front of the structure is essentially picture-perfect with rooms around the back stuffed with nods to classic films. Given what was present in Cinderella’s Castle, this one could naturally spotlight other films. Aurora’s room would make sense and maybe a workshop resembling Gepetto’s. A bedroom with little beds in a nod to the Dwarfs’ cottage would be cute, though seven beds would probably be impossible. The only challenge would be not doubling-up on some of the references in the prior set, but that’s a nice problem to have. Cinderella’s Castle came with five mini figures, one of which (Tinker Belle) was exclusive. For this set, repaints of Mickey, Donald, Minnie and Goofy could be included with the exclusive being a dragon to resemble Maleficent.

spaceship earth

Disney’s secret best park would make for an attractive Lego set.

The most obvious set after that would be Spaceship Earth from Epcot. A version of which appears on the Lego Ideas site, but it doesn’t go far enough as a display piece (though I’m still backing it regardless). The designer attempted to build the actual ride, and in order to do so, didn’t create an outside for the spaceship similar to Lego’s take on the Death Star. I think to do it right, half of the set should be covered and textured like the actual Spaceship Earth, with the other hemisphere being uncovered to show the ride. That side could even be relatively flat as it would likely be impossible to make the ride truly resemble the real one. As for an exclusive character to include? None other than Epcot’s original mascot Figment, of course.

Spaceship Earth would be ambitious and probably as expensive as Cinderella’s castle. There are plenty of smaller exhibits from Disney parks that are just as iconic and popular with fans. Space Mountain is certainly unique looking and has been a park fixture for decades now. Splash Mountain would also be unique and fun and the characters associated with the ride would make for obvious mini figure tie-ins. Less ambitious, but no less iconic, would be Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Such a set would be small and probably quite cheap compared with the larger sets, but because of that and its status, it would probably sell quite well. The Haunted Mansion would be another fun one and would present an opportunity to possibly create mini figures based on The Nightmare Before Christmas since those characters are associated with the ride and are a lot better than the ghosts from that awful Eddie Murphy movie based on the attraction.

The only issue with embarking on such a path for Lego would be the demand for more. If they started making multiple sets based on attractions from Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom then fans would probably want more to essentially create a Lego version of the treasured parks. Imagine a Lego Main Street USA with the train station or the fire house with Walt Disney’s apartment over it. Disney enthusiasts would probably devote large portions of their homes to their displays as they layout the main entrance to the park leading to one of the castles in the center. Toon Town, The Matterhorn, The Mad Tea Party – these would be all things fans would suddenly want and Lego would be free to try and meet the demand, or not. Demand is a great problem to have for a manufacturer.

lego toy story 4

Well, at least we have Toy Story 4 sets to look forward to.

Lego and Disney obviously have a relationship and it certainly seems like it’s still pretty strong. It’s possible that Disney is hard to deal with when it comes to their classic characters and attractions. Maybe Disney made a lot of demands of Lego in regards to its take on Cinderella’s Castle. Square-Enix, makers of the Kingdom Hearts games, can certainly attest to how tough it can be to get Disney to approve things as it relates to its characters, Mickey in particular. And there is more Disney to come from the company, just no hint at anything like what I just laid out. Toy Story 4 sets will be arriving this spring which will include reissues of the Buzz Lightyear mini figure from 2016. He’ll be joined by Woody and others so fans who have the old mini figures will be able to at least add to them. And last year there were sets based on The Incredibles 2 so it was possible to add to them as well. Sadly, any sets based on Frozen 2 will likely be in the Lego Friends style, which is fine if that’s what you or your kids like, but they don’t pair all that well with traditional sets and mini figures. I suppose it’s always possible something like Sleeping Beauty Castle could be announced and maybe if there’s a break in Lego movie releases the opportunity for another Disney wave could present itself, but that seems unlikely at this point. For now, fans will have to try to supplement what they have with smaller releases related to new films while hoping something comes through the Lego Ideas contest and dream about what could have been.

UPDATE:  Of course, not long after this post went live Lego announced a new set that, while not from based on a Disney park, is in my wheelhouse:  Steamboat Willie. I considered taking this post in the direction of classic Disney shorts, but wanted to keep it focused on just Disney parks. A Steamboat Willie set is definitely something I’m interested in and I would love more sets based on classic shorts like “Mickey’s Trailer” or “Lonesome Ghosts.” I am guessing more won’t follow as Steamboat Willie is a tie-in with Mickey’s 90th birthday from last fall and that particular short is obviously quite famous and appropriate as a celebratory item. Where as the general public probably doesn’t care about a Mickey set featuring a camper.

UPDATE #2!:  Hot on the heels of the Steamboat Willie announcement comes the surprising announcement of Wave 2 for Disney minifigures! It contains some obvious inclusions like bagged releases of the black and white Minnie and Mickey that will be included with the steamboat. There’s also a Jafar as well as Uncle Scrooge and the nephews. They’re even doing princesses this time as Jasmine, Elsa, and Anna will see release too. Thankfully, they’re skipping out on Toy Story characters since they’ll be coming with the sets for Toy Story 4 this spring. Unfortunately, there is one rather large omission:  WHERE’S GOOFY?!