Podcasts of (Two) Weeks Ending November 21

I’ve had bloggers block lately and I’m not keeping up with my posts.  So, many apologies for having two weeks of podcasts for today.

What Next :: How Democrats Took Latino Voters for Granted

An autopsy on one of the main reasons why Democrats failed to gain seats in Congress.

99% Invisible :: You’ve Got Enron Mail!

How an archive of emails released to the public during the Enron scandal have become a resource for researchers and developers.

The Rewatchables :: Toy Story

The groundbreaking computer-animated film classic was released 25 years ago today!

The Story Collider ::  Stories of COVID-19 

A series of personal stories of the most significant scientific event in recent history

Futility Closet :: Friedrich Kellner’s Opposition

A German opponent to the Nazi regime performed resistance through documentation.

The Tomorrow Society :: Seth Porges, Writer and Co-Director of Class Action Park

The story of the most dangerous amusement park, that thrived in New Jersey in the 1980s, get the film treatment.

Best of the Left :: The Conservative Fever Swamp is Reaching Critical Mass

Trump is leaving office but the Republican party is permanently the party of racisms and conspiracy theories.


Movie Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Title: Toy Story 4
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Director: Josh Cooley
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

With Toy Story 3 tying up the Toy Story saga so well, the biggest question I had about Toy Story 4 is what reason does it have to exist. What stories does Toy Story have left to tell? It turns out that there are several smaller stories that are somewhat awkwardly tied together to make this movie.

First, Woody is questioning his purpose now that he’s no longer the leader of the toys and Bonnie doesn’t pick him to play with.

Second, to deal with the anxiety of starting Kindergarten, Bonnie makes a toy out of a spork and scraps named Forky who becomes her new favorite. Forky does not comprehend his existence and does not want to be a toy. The Forky plot is not as prominent as the trailers indicate.

Third, Woody reunites with Bo who has found freedom and empowerment as a “lost toy,” getting played with by kids who find her in a playground.

Finally, Gabby Gabby is a talking doll in an antique shop who was never owned by a child due to a defective voice box. She holds Forky hostage in order to get Woody’s voicebox.

All of these stories intertwine in a small town where Bonnie’s family stays in an RV campground near the antique shop. A park with a carnival and a playground sits between the two. The main plot involves Woody, Bo, and Buzz attempting to rescue Forky with the help of two carnival prize toys, Ducky and Bunny, and Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman toy.

Unfortunately, the core toy group of Jessie, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, and the Potato Heads, and even Buzz to a certain extent, are reduced in their roles in a busy movie. Gabby redeems herself and is never the villain of the level of Stinky Pete or Lotso. Her henchmen ventriloquist dummies are creepy but the fright factor is turned down. In the finale, Woody realizes that Bonnie does not need him and he can find happiness with Bo as a lost toy. It’s a moving farewell and certainly must be the absolute ending of the Toy Story series.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

Title: Toy Story 3
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Director: Lee Unkrich
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

At it’s heart, this movie is a love letter to the generation who watched Toy Story as children and were now young adults going out on their own. I was not part of this generation but nevertheless also found this movie ostensibly for children to be one of the best reflections on mortality in a movie. I took my then 3-year-old to see Toy Story 3, the first time I watched a new movie in this series as a parent. The toys’ experience in this movie is also analogous to the feeling of being a parent who is no longer needed as the child grows up.

Now that I’ve covered the sweetness and light, I should also note that Toy Story 3 can be straight up terrifying. Lotso and his henchmen running a daycare as a prison camp is intense. Big Baby and the monkey are super freaky. And it is nightmarish when the toys appear to face imminent destruction in an incinerator. It’s best to NOT watch this with young children.

The final scene when Andy gives his toys to Bonnie and plays with them one last time is perfection. I find it impossible not to cry. I also appreciate that Andy is sensitive, sentimental, and good with young children, qualities rarely seen in movie depictions of teenage boys. Toy Story is a perfect movie and Toy Story 3 is almost as good, with the perfect ending.

Or is it?

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Toy Story 2 (1999)

Title: Toy Story 2
Release Date: November 24, 1999
Director: John Lasseter
Production Company: Pixar Animation Studios

I love all the Toy Story movies but one of them has to be the weakest of the bunch, and this is it. It occurred to me that the big difference for Toy Story 2 is that it’s the one movie that doesn’t show the connection between children and the toys as Andy only appears at the beginning and end. Instead the main human character is Al, a toy store owner who dresses as a chicken in ads and is also a nerdy rare toy collector. As a villain he is rather, well, cartoonish.

Al steals Woody from outside Andy’s house and in a reversal of the first film, it’s up to Buzz to conduct a rescue. The movie parodies adventure and sci-fi tropes, and it’s clever and funny, but not particularly unique in the 1990s when ironic pop culture references were the rule.

I do really like the introduction of the new toys Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete. And the revelation that Woody was the star of a 1950s Western marionette tv show for kids – complete with a full line of merchandise – is well done. The show being cancelled because of the rise of space toys is also a nice tie-in with the Woody-Buzz rivalry. I freely admit that there are a lot of scenes in Toy Story movies that bring out “big emotions” from me. But nothing makes me bawl like the flashback sequence scored with Sarah McLachlan singing “When She Loved Me.”

Overall,Toy Story 2 is a good, fun movie but for me it’s the bridge between the two GREAT Toy Story movies.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Toy Story (1995)

Title: Toy Story
Release Date: November 22, 1995
Director: John Lasseter
Production Company: Pixar Animation Studios

I have a sentimental attachment to Toy Story. I wasn’t a child when it came out but a young adult working at my first “real” job. A group of coworkers in our 20s went to see this movie together and it was a start of about a year or so when I was part of a closeknit circle of friends, before people started splitting off to go to grad school or better jobs in other cities.

And the movie is really good too! The idea of what toys do when kids aren’t around is cleverly executed with a lot of heart and humor. Unlike most movies of the 90s, Toy Story doesn’t feel dated at all. The 3-D animation, revolutionary for its time, stands up well. The only big flaw is that they couldn’t do human faces well yet, but the creepy kid Sid gets most face time so it actually kind of helps.

I probably can’t be objective about this film, but it’s one of my all time favorites and as great as the sequels are, it is the most perfect Toy Story movie.

Rating: *****