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Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Here they are, the Pixar films that got the whole craze started. The original Toy Story and its sequel have aged gracefully, and Disney is getting them out on Blu-ray (sold separately) as we approach the release of Toy Story 3 on June 18.

It's hard to believe that Toy Story was the first feature-length attempt at a CGI-animated story, because it's just so damn good; one would expect the first movie of its kind to have some weak spots. Apart from the human characters not quite yet being up to standard, Toy Story was a major technological achievement. The CGI world it created was convincing, and a marvel to behold.

In many ways, the sequel, in which Woody (Tom Hanks) is kidnapped by a toy collector, is better than the first. I still tear up during the Sarah McLachlan song when Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) is abandoned by her owner.

It's fun to look back and see how much the technology improved between the two films. The original Toy Story is 15 (!) years old, and the sequel is 11. However, they are still visual marvels, and stand proudly among all of the Pixar films that have followed. I can't wait to see what's in store for us with the third film, which will be shown in 3-D.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The new Blu-ray releases retain plenty of the classic DVD features (including commentaries and deleted scenes), but also include new sneak peaks at Toy Story 3. The discs come in combo packs that also include standard-DVD and digital versions.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Although well-done CGI is providing us with some of the more visually exciting and finely scripted animation in modern cinema, stop-motion animated throwbacks like this splendid Wes Anderson flick are still most welcome.

Based on the book by Roald Dahl, the film features George Clooney voicing the title character, a fox who is a newspaper columnist longing for the old days when he would steal chickens for a living. After moving into a luxurious tree near the factories of the notorious Boggis, Bunce and Bean, Mr. Fox starts plotting a return to his robbing glory days. He intends to illegally get his hands on many chickens and fermented cider.

This has all of the traits of an Anderson film: fantastic writing, offbeat pacing and awesome music. Anderson had some of his actors—including Clooney, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman—record their dialogue in organic settings rather than in a studio. This gives the characterizations a very natural feel.

The highlight for me is "Petey's Song," sung by Jarvis Cocker, which plays out while the fox and his friends happily steal from their enemies. The line after Petey sings his song constitutes one of last year's funniest movie moments.

The stop-motion puppetry is first-rate, and would've made Ray Harryhausen proud. Tim Burton has been doing stuff like this for years, but Anderson smoked Burton on his first try.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Excellent making-of short features, which include detailed looks at the puppetry and Anderson's technique for making the movie. Anderson actually filmed himself acting out the parts and sent the videos to his animators. There's footage of Clooney and Murray on location recording their dialogue; you also get an extended visit with Murray as he tours the set. It's easy to see that the man was mightily impressed with what Anderson was doing.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This is a very polarizing comedy. I've had people tell me that nothing made them laugh harder last year; others have blasted me for praising it. I think it has a terrific oddball vibe, ushered along by George Clooney and Jeff Bridges in hilarious roles.

Clooney plays a soldier who was part of a new-age military squad that tried to find peaceful ways to fight wars. Not so peaceful was his belief that he could stare at a goat until its heart stopped. He winds up traveling across Iraqi deserts with a depressed reporter (Ewan McGregor) on some sort of black-ops mission. Along the way, they cross paths with Clooney's former shaman (Jeff Bridges) and a fellow psychic soldier (Kevin Spacey).

Clooney and Bridges are at their gonzo greatest, and the film includes some of Spacey's best work in years. No doubt: Clooney has become one of the funnier actors practicing the trade, and he's willing to take on projects that lean toward eccentric. It's no surprise that he and Bridges also show up in the Coen brothers' movies.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get a featurette called Goat Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion and audio commentaries. There are also some deleted scenes and a making-of doc.


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