Movies as Good as Pixar Movies

It doesn’t take much browsing on my blog to figure out that I’m a devout Pixar enthusiast (Disney included). But there are some movies made by competitors that come awfully close, if not hit right on target, to Pixar’s standards of excellence. Here are my favorite non-Pixar/Disney animated movies that you’re sure to have a good time with.

Shrek-2-card-2004-12Shrek 2 (Dreamworks)

I love the second installment of the Shrek movies. It’s hip, it’s fun, and the soundtrack is awesome. It’s a fairytale within a fairytale, and it doesn’t bash all the other fairytales like its predecessor does. And the pouty Prince Charming is just hilarious.

surfs_up_620x348_0Surf’s Up (Sony Pictures Animation/Columbia)

This one didn’t sit too well with critics and audiences far as I know, and I can’t understand why. It’s a very original animated flick told in the style of a documentary. Sarabeth says you’ve got to have a love for the beach and surfing to enjoy this movie, so she might be right. At any rate, I’ve always said it’s as good as a Pixar movie, if for anything, its originality.

1_0_2008_07_09_05_16_25_65625Horton Hears a Who (Blue Sky Studios/Fox)

This is a fun little movie based off of the Dr. Seuss classic storybook, which I hadn’t read before seeing it. It’s not as sophisticated as other movies, but it’s big, bright, and colorful. Definitely pulls out the child in me, and it’s no chore to sit down and watch it on a rainy weekend.

despicable-me-2-22543-1280x800Despicable Me (Illumination Entertainment/Universal)

There’s nothing truly awe-inspiring about this movie, but it’s fun – just flat-out fun, with a few quotable moments throughout. Another good one for rainy weekends. I think what draws me in so much is the adoption theme. That’ll get me every time.

81AjuXCw9UL._SL1500_How to Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks)

This one probably comes the closest to being on par with Pixar standards. It’s got everything you need to make an animated movie go from really good to exceptional – fast action, witty dialogue, no potty humor, emotional content, and the protagonists lose something dear in the end. I haven’t seen the sequel yet, but I’m sure excited to whenever we get around to it.

What are your favorite non-Pixar/Disney animated movies? 

Your Favorite Movie Teacher

The school year will be nearing an end soon and each of us has had a teacher at some point in our academic careers that have made a lasting impression on us. Let’s take a look back at a few movies that pay homage to our favorite kinds of teachers. Which one would have been your favorite?


Mr. Keating, Dead Poet’s Society

Eccentric and passionate, Mr. Keating would tell you to go after your dreams even if all the world were standing against you. He has an uncanny way of relating poetry, an otherwise dry medium to most of us, to our major milestones in life, big and small.

Best quote: “Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is … to woo women!”



Mr. Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

You wouldn’t want to have Mr. Holland as your teacher during the earlier part of his career, as it takes him many years to grow into his role and find his niche as a music appreciation teacher. But if, and only if, you actually showed any semblance of appreciation for music, he will go out of his way to expand your mind and your heart to appreciating all forms of music.

Best quote: Vice principal Wolters: “If I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.”

 Glen Holland: “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

(By the way, if I can recommend two movies for you to watch from this list, I couldn’t recommend Dead Poets and Mr. Holland enough.)



Mr. “Schneebly”, School of Rock

Sure, he isn’t qualified to be a teacher, he’s not even qualified for the subbing job he’s posing for. But he sure knows his material – as long as it’s rock ‘n’ roll. But underneath his crazy, quirky exterior, there’s a real talent for making his passion contagious to even the most reluctant students. After all, in the end, isn’t that what makes the best teachers?

Best quote: “I pledge allegiance… to the band… of Mr. Schneebly… and will not fight him… for creative control… and will defer to him on all issues related to the musical direction of the band.”


dangerous minds

Ms. Johnson, Dangerous Minds

She’s tricked into teaching a more unruly class than she signed up for, but she rises up to the challenge in this teacher movie that’s not for the faint of heart.

Best quote: “There are no victims in this classroom.”



Mr. Escalante, Stand and Deliver

His students are likely to drop out. Most success stories like this are because the teacher is teaching poetry, writing, music, you know something that sparks the imagination and brings enjoyment to life. However, how could someone do that with calculous, of all subjects?

Best quote: “You have math in your blood.”



Mrs. Gruwell, Freedom Writers

Another teacher up against the odds with a classroom full of would-be drop-outs, Her subject is writing and she successfully teaches her students about tolerance and the danger and stupidity of gangs and organized crime, linking them to the most notorious gang in history – the Nazis.

Best quote: “I’m a teacher. It doesn’t matter what color I am.”

The Thrilling Three

You’re all familiar with Disney’s phenomenal five (Mermaid, Beauty, Aladdin, Lion, and Frozen). But let’s look at the other end of the genre spectrum – suspense and thrillers.

There are three movies that I think are the masters of suspense, and they conveniently fall into three of the seven narrative conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. God, man vs. nature, man vs. science, man vs. technology, man vs. self, man vs. supernatural).

Let’s take a look at my top three picks.


Jurassic Park  (m v. s) –  You can watch almost any of Spielberg’s movies and rightly claim that it’s his best. Jurassic Park is certainly one such movie. He builds suspense in the first half of the movie by giving the allusion that something is about to go terribly wrong in the amusement park. And in the second half, when the electricity goes out, that anxiety and those nerve pay off. I still consider Jurassic Park to be amongst one of the greatest thrillers of all time. (By the way, who’s pumped about JPIV??)



Speed  (m v. m) – For man v. man, this was a toss up between Speed and River Wild. You’d think that River Wild would have come out on top, considering how badly Dennis Hopper butchers his character (and how naturally creepy Kevin Bacon is), but it’s just a little easier to believe in a highjacked bus than a family vacation gone wrong where the bad guys could very well just walk along the river to their freedom.


Twister (m v. n) – Am I really outdated for still liking this movie? I’ve seen plenty of disaster films from Dante’s Peak to 2012. But nothing has yet to come close to Helen Hunt’s desperation to get the Dorothy to fly and warn neighbors of the impending doom. Plus, the soundtrack is awesome to listen to when you’re driving through a wild storm in the summer.

(A fun fact: Those three movies are all related. Twister was made by the producer of Jurassic Park and the director of Speed.)

I’ve yet to come up with the ultimate movies for man v. God, man v. supernatural, man v. society, man v. technology, and man v. self (can I nominate my book The Man in the Box for this last one?).

Do you agree with my three picks? Do you have any suggestions for the other narrative conflicts (book or movie)? If so, list them below!

Review: Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks

saving-mr-banks-570A couple of weeks ago I posted my top 10 tear-jerkers. Well, make that 11.

Sarabeth and I watched Saving Mr. Banks this last weekend. Actually we bought it without ever having seen it (such is the amount of faith I put in Disney movies). It was worth every penny.

However, I feel a qualifier must be made. There are two types of people who will not like this movie at all.

1) Kids

2) Anyone who doesn’t care about Disney stuff

This movie, though it’s a Walt Disney production, will likely bore kids to tears, and if you’re more of a Dreamworks/Fast and Furious kind of person then I’d steer clear of this movie.

It was so refreshing to finally see old Walt himself (not “Mr. Disney”, mind you) portrayed on screen (and by none other than the great Tom Hanks).

I read a few comments from people on the Internet back when this movie was being marketed and many people complained that if they were going to make a movie about Walt Disney, they need to make it about his whole life.

Years ago I read Neal Gabler’s titanic biography on Walt Disney and I told my wife before I ever knew about Saving Mr. Banks that if they were going to make a movie about Walt Disney it’d absolutely have to be about the chapter of his life with Mrs. P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.

The battle for him to get the rights to make the film was almost epic, and it took him 20 years to seduce her to get her to sign over the rights.

Now, let me also make clear, I do not particularly enjoy the movie Mary Poppins. I think many of the sequences are too drawn out, and most of the scenes are just many long tangents from the bigger picture. I do own many of the songs, as they are exceptional. But as far as Julie Andrews musicals go, I far prefer The Sound of Music a hundred times over Mary Poppins. 

But I enjoy the redemptive ending of Poppins. And Saving Mr. Banks is really a movie about how the writers came up with that ending.

Director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Blindside) is known for being very factual in his movies, and only taking liberations when it will serve a bigger purpose. He does just that in Mr. Banks, and I look forward to what else he’s got up his sleeve for the future.

So, this weekend, after a hard week of work, watch Frozen (again) with the kids (you know you love it), then watch Saving Mr. Banks when the kids are in bed and have that box of tissues ready.

Top 10 Tear-Jerkers

There has been a lot of crying in our house lately.

Don’t worry – no one died or anything. It’s just our daughter’s way of communicating (she’s a month old).

But even before she came to live with us, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be a lot of crying in our house. Not from my wife as you’d expect. And not from our dogs – unless they have to potty.

But from me.

When Sarabeth and I are sitting on the couch watching a movie, she’ll know I’m crying because she can feel the couch do sort of this, shake   …….    shake   ……….. sh-sh-shake thing.

That’s because I’m whimpering, trying to keep it in.

She’ll look over at me and see my face all scrunched up like a funny-looking grandpa on the front of those good-spirited birthday cards.

But sometimes there’s just no stopping it. Even if I’ve seen the movie a dozen times.

Maybe you’re like me and you need an occasional cry.

If so, this list of my top 10 tear-jerkers is dedicated to you. 

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Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 8.08.08 PM

man in boxWork provided Robbie Lake the perfect escape from his family. But his life is turned upside down when he is unexpectedly fired. When he finds a new way of escape through a cardboard box, everything changes. The imaginary world of his childhood has evolved in his absence and is now more savage and hostile than even he could have dreamed. Robbie is drawn in by the excitement of his secret world, but will the cost of abandoning his family prove too high? 

THE MAN IN THE BOX second edition coming soon! Like it on Facebook.







10. Frozen

When Sarabeth and I went to see this in theaters a month ago, she asked if I was catching a cold when we were walking out to the car. I was not. I’d been sniffling from the opening of the movie because it was so refreshing to see Disney reliving its hay-day.


9. Up

First ten minutes. Need I say more? Actually, yes. That scene toward the end when he’s going through their adventure book … that doesn’t receive as much attention, but man, that just starts me bawling all over again – just as soon as I recovered from the opening!


8. The Rookie

Call it sappy, call it great acting, call it what you’d like. But when the manager calls Dennis Quaid into his office to tell him he’s been drafted by the major leagues, AND he’ll be playing in his hometown … it’s a pretty tough scene to get through, but in a good way.

7. Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons is mostly a goofy movie filled with fun stuff for little kids that I have to be in the mood for. But this movie’s centered around adoption, and the last five minutes or so are just perfect for any adoption advocate to enjoy. Plus, the song “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas is Ah-MAY-zing!


6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

“My friends, you bow to no one.”


5. We Bought a Zoo

This one caught me off guard. They played the widower father story very well in this movie. We were laughing pretty hard at the end of the credits because of how much it made me cry.

my life

4. My Life

The guy has cancer and isn’t expected to see the birth of his son. I mean, he doesn’t even get to teach his boy to shave someday!

the cure

3. The Cure

Spoiler alert: That cute kid from Jurassic Park dies at the end. Forget the tissues – bring out a mop!


2. Toy Story 3

The opening home video montage. Woody walking out on the gang. The incinerator scene. Giving the toys away. The last playtime. Take your pick. You’ve seen it; you know the feeling.


1. My Dog Skip

Another unexpected tear-jerker. I thought this was just going to be a cute little comedy about a boy and his dog, you know, like Beethoven or …Old Yeller. I know, I know, I should have seen it coming, but I just didn’t. Well, at least you’ve been warned.

Go on. Admit you cry. Share your go-to tear-jerkers below.

True Love at the Movies

There are many movies that claim to be romantic comedies – and that’s just what they are – romantic jokes. So on this Valentine’s Day, I want to pay tribute to those few movies that actually speak about true love.

Never mind the endless list of movies where the couple met yesterday and are forced into some silly circumstance outside their comfort zones and now 90 minutes later they’re sharing that “long-awaited” kiss as the sun sets behind them. (Thank you, Frozen, for addressing this.)

Here is a list of movies (and shows) that feature a more old-fashioned type of love. A love that is selfless and undying. A love that overcomes all odds to keep on living.

a beautiful mind

A Beautiful Mind

To some, this may just be a movie about a brilliant man with a psychological disorder. To others, it’s a really fascinating biography. Either way, it’s a movie not to be missed by anyone for any reason. But when I watch this movie, I see a love story at its finest. Watch it from the wife’s point of view. By the world’s standards, she had every reason to leave him, and few would have blamed her. But for a woman to choose to stay married to a man as impulsive and potentially dangerous as John Nash, simply out of love – that speaks volumes to me that Ron Howard and the makers of this film, not to mention the real life couple this movie portrays, really understand what true love can be.


Cinderella Man

Another Russell Crow and Ron Howard team effort. James Braddock, a real-life boxer who was forced to survive the Great Depression while protecting and providing for his wife and three kids, is a role model for every man everywhere. The way he lets his kids have the last bite of dinner. The way he gets himself beat bloody to provide extra change to pay the electric bill. The way he loves his wife through it all, through the absolute worst of times in the twentieth century. James Braddock is an incredible role model for us all. His message is that nothing – not poverty, brokenness, sickness – should ever come between you and the family you vowed to protect through sickness and in health.

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful

This classic foreign film about the gradual oppression of the Jews during the rise of Hitler will make you laugh (no joke) and cry at the same time. This film really does show that life really can be beautiful even in the midst of pure evil and ugliness all around. And the Beatles (for once) were right – that sometimes, all you need is love. The first part is classic Abbot-and-Costello-type comedy and the second half is pure tragedy. But through it all, it’s love that keeps this family alive and hopeful during one of the worst eras in our modern history.

my life

My Life

This is the fourth saddest movie in the world (just behind Toy Story 3 and My Dog Skip, and The Cure). Michael Keaton stars as a terminal cancer patient who only has a short amount of time to live. The catcher is that his wife is pregnant and, according to the doctors, he won’t live to see his son be born. His wife’s dedication and love for him shouts volumes through this film as a call out to all wives to be that help-mate you were called to be when you stood under that alter with your groom. It’s a worthy movie to watch to make you feel closer to your loved ones.

Man in Box

The Man in the Box

I’m going to cheat here, for a moment. This isn’t a movie (yet). However, the roles are reversed from My Life. In this fantasy/adventure book, the wife has cancer. And it takes the husband nearly until the end of the book to rediscover his love for her. I would highly recommend adding it to your Amazon wish list or Good Reads to-read list, as the author is in the process of revising it, tweaking it, adding to it, in hopes of boosting his book’s 4.3 Amazon rating to a perfect 5. (Oh, and you really ought to Like it on Facebook for a chance to win a free autographed copy.)


The Office

In the Toy house, this is the pinnacle of the greatest shows ever made. (We’re constantly watching it in cycles because I can only stand so much of HGTV.) But Jim and Pam have one of those relationships that you just can’t help but root for from the very beginning. They’re the kind of couple that just… work – no pun intended. You just don’t get much better romantic character connections than this.


Shrek the Fourth

Wha-?? Am I really recommending a Dreamworks movie? Well, after the absolute train wreck of the third installment of the Shrek franchise, I don’t know why or how I bothered to watch this at all. The only explanation is that Sarabeth must have talked me into it, and since I love her (theme of today’s post), I gave in. And though it’s not as good as the second Shrek, this fourth installment actually surprised me in an unexpected way. The first good thing the filmmakers did was exterminate any potential tributes to its predecessor (Shrek 3) that they could. In a way, they started fresh, picking right up from the second movie and gave it a better conclusion by reaffirming Shrek and Fiona’s everlasting love for one another. It’s the story most men at some point wish to find themselves in – a chance to return to bachelorhood. Shrek the Fourth is a cautionary tale about why it’s best to appreciate what you have sitting around your dinner table.



And how could I overlook one of the most remarkably romantic couples to hit the big screen since…. well, ever? In ten minutes the filmmakers meticulously stitch together a romantic life worth living as Carl and Ellie fall in love, get married, plan a family, and grow old together through the mundane occurrences of everyday life – yet, they somehow make every day an adventure. Even in her passing, Carl can’t seem to let her go. If only everyone can find this kind of romance, as I did with Sarabeth.

Have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and feel free to list your favorite true-love movies.

Oh, and keep praying for us. We’re hoping to bring Baby A. home from the hospital today… :)

From a Mermaid to an Ice Queen: Is Frozen Better Than Beauty?

Frozen-Wallpaper-disney-frozen-35897178-1920-1200These days Sarabeth and I go to the movies about three times a year. Once in the summer to catch the newest Pixar movie, and twice in December for the latest Hunger Games and Hobbit installments. Since there will not be a Pixar movie released this year (insert ultra-sad face here), I insisted we catch Frozen because of all the hype (thanks to many of your comments).

We all remember the glory days of Disney when they repeatedly put out hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. There were some other good ones that followed, but none that held a candle to the greatness… flawlessness… no, majesty of the Phenomenal Four. Somehow that majesty just couldn’t be recaptured, though Disney filmmakers searched far and wide for it: from the age of dinosaurs, into the depths of space, on the Hawaiian islands, down to the depths of the lost city of Atlantis.

Disney, it seemed, just couldn’t quite recapture that African sunrise, or convince audiences that carpets can fly.

It seemed that the great entertainment empire had thrown in the towel when it released the horrendous Home on the Range, an embarrassing cartoon not even worth a slot on TV (Sarabeth and I turned it off after ten minutes – but the soundtrack is surprisingly good, to Disney’s credit).

And then Disney, apart from Pixar, debuted its first CGI movie, Chicken Little. This was a far cry from the best, but it was a step in the right direction, set in a town where Mickey and the gang could very well live. Suddenly it seemed the Mouse wasn’t out of the game just yet.

Then came Meet the Robinsons – the first of Disney movies to open with Mickey Mouse Steamboat-willieat the helm of Steamboat Willy, which communicated one thing loud and clear: The Mouse is back. Still a far cry from the majesty of the great fairytales of 90s, it touched a soft spot in audiences, and especially in me, since the theme is based on adoption. It’s a movie I cannot get through the end of without crying.

The Princess and the Frog came hopping into theaters with even louder drums and cymbals (and a great soundtrack, to boot!). Not only was the Mouse back, but the enchanting fairytale world Disney had created was expanding.

And man, was there ever a greater uproar than when Tangled hit silver screens across the world less than a year later, screaming Disney is back for good! That magic, that music, that humor, everything old Walt himself would have approved of a thousand times over!

And now, Frozen.


Paperman-shortFirst off, let me just say that the short before the film was the most inventive cartoon since Roger Rabbit! (It’s not as emotionally-charged as Wreck-It Ralph’s “Paperman”, but it certainly was a fun treat.) It was so nice to see Mickey Mouse on the big screen for once.

Frozen, without a doubt, will breed a whole new generation of Disney enthusiasts. Frozen makes you believe in happiness and magic and music all over again. Frozen, I am pleased to say, has recaptured that long-lost majesty. 

It will be a long time before we see another movie as good as Frozen. 

Is it as good as Beauty and the Beast? It’s too soon to tell. It certainly had its share of flaws that Beauty lacks, but I can say without reservation that Frozen has earned its place on the same shelf as the mermaid, the Beast, the street rat, and the king of Pride Rock. 

Welcome, Ice Queen, to the most prestigious Disney family in history.

And may that family continue to grow for our children’s children to enjoy all their lives.


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