How is it that a movie studio that produces kid’s films can be responsible for so many of the best films in cinema?
Twenty years ago, that question would be directed at Disney. Now it’s more likely to refer to Pixar, Studio Ghibli, or even Dreamworks of late. What is it about children’s entertainment that has, time and time again, managed to capture the hearts and minds of adults as much as it has their offspring?
Perhaps it’s a result of these films rekindling our lost sense of childlike wonder and naively adventurous spirit. Perhaps it’s their universally accessible narrative simplicity, always ready to charm away our worries with the awe-inspiring visual splendor through which these tales are so often told.
Whatever the case may be, with thirteen films under their belt, the Pixar formula is one that’s proven itself to leave a lasting impression, transporting us to spectacular, gorgeously rendered and thoughtfully defined worlds — second only to the passionately heartfelt and funny stories of family and friendship embedded within.
What’s more, Pixar is able to achieve this mixture while emboldening children to think for themselves; to challenge the status quo; to recognize their true potential, as well as their limitations. As fun and charming and pretty as Pixar’s films are, it’s the complex ideas and emotions they explore that makes them truly special, affording youths the opportunity to confront the realities of the world around them in a way they can understand and cope with. While everyone else is content to pander to kids, Pixar knows that the best way to communicate with children is to treat them as equals.
But equality is not a trait shared by the current roster of Pixar films. Despite the technical virtuosity on full display with every production, it takes a lot more than stunning animation to make a film great, and that’s not a balance that Pixar always strikes — at least not recently. At one point it may have seemed like the studio could do no wrong, but that was a short-lived romantic notion, and hardly one that merits much deliberation. No, far more instructive would be to scrutinize their missteps in conjunction with their successes, and try to determine what exactly it is that makes any one of their works richer than the other. After all, what better way to understand what makes a story great than to study the best? Read More »
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This weekend saw the release of Pixar’s latest film, Brave, a movie that easily won the weekend, garnering an overall “A” CinemaScore from appreciative audiences. Still, at only 74 percent on RottenTomatoes (Pixar’s second worst), and a 7 out of 10 from Germain Lussier, it is clear there is a bit of room for dissent.
Out there in audience-land, did you notice something a little “off” about Brave? Perhaps there are lessons that can be learned, or conversations to engage in?
To provide some context, and on the off chance we have completely different taste, here are my top five Pixar efforts:
3. Toy Story
4. Finding Nemo
5. Monsters, Inc.
Until now, the only Pixar film I flat out didn’t enjoy was Ratatouille, though I admit to only having seen it once, and folks say I’d like it much more if I were to re-visit. Even Cars 2 had redeeming qualities. I can truly say I’ve never found a Pixar film entirely lacking, and that statement includes Brave. There’s no question the film had amazing visuals, setting a new standard for excellence within the animation genre. Unfortunately, the story lacked a bit of … what’s the word I’m looking for? Ooomph. As such, I’m compelled to break down where I feel the problems were, if only to restore everyone’s favorite animation house to the glory they so richly deserve.
One final note, just to head off the obligatory “comparing Brave to the rest of Pixar’s work isn’t entirely fair” argument, we’re in complete agreement there. It’s not fair, and in many ways Pixar’s own ambition and commitment to excellence have raised the bar for all movies. So no, Brave isn’t a bad movie on merit, it’s merely an average one, which animation houses make all the time without compelling anyone to write a 3,000 word article on the subject. But within the greater context of Pixar’s previous work, Brave does come up short, and I think we’ve got a bead on the reasons why.
Note: Massive SPOILERS follow, naturally.
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In the Summer of 1994, while deep in production on their first feature film Toy Story, the key Pixar creatives (including John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft) had a now famous lunch in a diner called Hidden City Cafe in Point Richmond. During this lunch meeting they ended up brainstorming the ideas that eventually became the films A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and WALL-E. The story has become mythical, a part of film animation legend and a cornerstone moment in Pixar’s history. It was even featured in the teaser trailer for Andrew Stanton‘s WALL-E.
Sadly, the cafe has closed its doors after over 20 years of service, with unconfirmed reports that it was shut down for rats (Ratatouille anyone?).
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For Disney and Pixar fans, if there’s one person they’d love to talk to about future projects, it’s John Lasseter. The Chief Creative Officer has his finger in everything at both companies, offering his helpful criticism and suggestions to even the smallest projects. Of course, he’s now out stumping for Brave, Pixar’s latest film, but as is usually the case, reporters can’t resist asking about other upcoming projects.
We currently know of four Pixar films in development: Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur and then untitled films about the human mind and Día de los Muertos. In a new interview, Lasseter himself offered detailed pitches on The Good Dinosaur and the human mind film, directed by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, respectively.
In other Pixar news, two new Toy Story TV specials will reportedly air in 2013 and 2014 and three more Toy Story Toons are on the way. Read about this all below. Read More »
Back in March, I spoke to the Mondo guys who said they had one more Pixar poster to make. It’s now been revealed. Not surprisingly, it’s Toy Story by Tom Whalen. And, not surprisingly, it’s gorgeous. The poster goes on sale at a random time on Thursday May 10. Check out the full image, the variant, find out about a screening and well as links to 7 (?!) other new Mondo posters after the jump. Read More »
The new Toy Story short, Small Fry, is set to premiere in a couple weeks in front of The Muppets, and that’s the first still from the new Pixar short, above. In Small Fry, Pixar director Teddy Newton voices a miniature version of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who replaces the full-size one. Some story info is after the break. Read More »
The Pixar movies have spawned a multi-billion dollar merchandising bonanza. And as kids know, in toy form these characters aren’t limited to playing their specific roles from the movies. Want some of the Cars to have different paint jobs and guns? That can happen. Want the Monsters Inc. monsters to be cuddly and cute instead of scary? That’s possible too. And if you want Rex and Woody to join Buzz Lightyear in an outer space adventure, putting them in spacesuits is completely legitimate.
Mattel is releasing a new line of Toy Story toys called Toy Story: Space Mission and to help with promotion, they’ve teamed up with Disney to make an official stop motion short film using the new toys. Watch Buzz, Woody and Rex take on Zurg after the jump. Read More »
Cool Posts From Around the Web:
With three uber-successful features over almost twenty-years, Toy Story and its characters have become an instantly recognizable part of popular culture. It’s hard to even hear the words “Toy” or “Story” without thinking of Woody, Buzz and the gang. Many Pixar fans know that “Toy Story” wasn’t always the title of the film, though. Originally, it was just the working title and Pixar was so stumped as to what to call the 1995 original, they posed the question to the entire company. Lee Unkrich, the director of Toy Story 3, co-director of Toy Story 2 and editor of Toy Story, took to Twitter to reveal some of the good – and bad – titles that could have described the world we’ve come to know as Toy Story. Read them after the jump. Read More »