Monday, April 26, 2010

The Myth Of Purity...

Ratatouille 5, Up 27, A Bug's Life 2 and on and on...


Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Monsters 2, sequels, sequels, sequels...

Is this the death of creativity at the Lamp? Has John Lasseter and Ed Catmull finally sold their soul to Bob Iger? Say it ain't so, Joe.

It ain't.

But that won't mean people won't try and say it is. I, like you, love the string of original films that Disney North has pumped out over the past decade and a half. Over that time there has only been one sequel: "Toy Story 2." In my opinion, it's even better than the original film. Other than that film Emeryville has produced a collection of original, unique and somewhat unconventional tales that have had audiences waiting in line every summer for a new Pixar film to grace the silver screen.

Now, around four years after the Mouse brought the company in as a permanent part of the family all the offspring are starting to look... remarkably alike. Almost like forgotten twins. Hmmm. Is this a coincidence? Does this mean the end of the era of Pixar? No, I don't think so. I do know that Iger and crew would love to have more sequels to all these classics, but there is no gun being held to the heads of Lasseter/Catmull. But there is a desire for more product. DreamWorks Animation is now on schedule to put out five films every two years and Pixar has been slowly churning away at producing one pic a year. In 2012 there will be two Lamp films for the first time. I don't see them getting up to as many as Katzenberg plans for his company, but I do think you'll see more films in the future. Perhaps one original and one "familiar" film every eighteen months or so. And I'm not opposed to sequels, just bad sequels. If there is a story there to tell, then I'm fine with them telling it.

That has been Lasseter's mantra all along. Not that they were against sequels, but that they wanted there to be a good story to tell. And so far I have no reason to question their motives. I'm sure the business end of the Mouse does ask/want more of these films, but as long as John and the crew believe in what they do and focus on telling great stories then I won't mind numbers being at the end of a title. I don't think we'll see any more Toy Story films, though. This one is pretty much the closing chapter to that tale. But that doesn't mean Woody and Buzz are going to be retiring. You just won't see them in those films anymore. I'm sure they'll find other jobs in the company. It's a big organization and there are many divisions that would love to have those characters work for them (television, shorts, ads, the parks, ect.).

And then there is the sequel that everyone wants to see. Out of all the projects announced, the one everybody expects still hasn't happened. The Incredibles 2. Well, remember that Pixar is a creative, director driven studio and this is Brad Bird's baby. And Bird is a little preoccupied right now. He's been trying for the longest time to get "1906" up and going and he may be filming the next Tom Cruise M.I. film (Warner, get him to do Superman, pleeeeeaasse!). So unless he frees up time and has a story he believes in, or he give the nod to Pixar/Lasseter that allows them to turn the characters over to someone else don't expect it to happen anytime before 2013-14 at the earliest. If at all.

And not all the films are sequels. Remember that "The Brave" is scheduled for 2012 as well as MI 2. That's the film formerly known as "The Bear and the Bow." And they've got a deep production schedule of films that move further out all the way to 2014, not all of which has been announced yet. More original films will come, but sequels are a part of Pixar and have always been a part of Hollywood. All the way back to the silent days. Rudolf Valentino followed his highly successful "The Sheik" in 1921 with a much demanded sequel in 1926 called "Son of the Sheik." Hollywood has and always will make sequels. So it's not as if it were a shocker that a film studio made more of something that people liked. It's the film business with a focus on business. If they don't make money, they won't make more of something. And there needs to be a desire for people to want to see something before they're willing to make it.

That said, not everything deserves or needs a second helping. I know for a while they tried to make a sequel to "Blade Runner" and it was totally wrong to do so. I loved the film "Highlander" and the ending to that film made any sequel totally transparent as to the blind greed of show business. But again, it's a business. There has never been nor will there ever be a time when it wasn't/hasn't a business as well as an art form. There is no purity in that all they ever wanted was to make art. When John and his small band of cohorts set out to make animated films back in the late 80's it was for the pure love and joy of it. But they weren't planning on doing it for free. It's nice to think that people do things and make art for the Nobelist of intentions, but it's also very naive. Films cost money and they need to make a great deal back to pay for themselves. I have no problem with them making a mint as long as they create something worth the price of my admission. So long as the films Pixar comes out with continue to entertain me like they always have, then I'll be happy to pay for that ticket. And so will many others. Lasseter understands that when they start creating something that bores the audience then they've failed.

I'll trust him to know when that is; he's got a pretty good record so far...

21 comments:

Deckard said...

There can be only one... Highlander I.


And they must NEVER make a film sequel to Blade Runner. I can't believe they did it in the books with Blade Runner 2: Edge of Human. Fan fic garbage.

Cory Gross said...

"Now, around four years after the Mouse brought the company in as a permanent part of the family all the offspring are starting to look... remarkably alike."

I noticed that from the beginning. Fish-out-of-water, pop-culture savvy comedies about things that are funny because they're just like people and pause four beats before the punchline is Pixar's bread and butter. Toy Story, Ant Story, Fish Story, Automobile Story, Monster Story, Robot Story, Rat Story... And on top of that, it's the same movie that every other CGI company makes. They've mired CGI worse than Disney ever mired 2-D. It's only been relatively recently that Pixar seems to be willing to branch out into other kinds of stories.

This is definitely a place where I'm out of step with most of the rest of society. To me, Pixar is just all obnoxious characters, sly references and the same bloody story over and over again. I don't get why people like them so much.

Kevin said...

Dreamworks makes the worst animated films, full of cheap pop culture with no heart or story, or quality for that matter. Pixar makes quality films and always will, as does Disney. The characters and stories aren't the same, A Bug's Life is another version of Seven Samurai, a rat going after his dream, a robot love story, a friendship between human and monster, a film about two unlikely friends who learn to accept each other, a father looking for his lost son, how on earth do the stories sound the same? I love Pixar for everything. A sequel to Blade Runner? Never. It's bad enough people do remakes, all of them bad. Pixars always made stories in original and new ways. Dreamworks has ruined CGI, them and Robert Zemeckis. Pixar makes better films than anyone else, why else would they be nominated for Best Picture?

Reuben said...

Well, I would say that the reason people like Pixar so much is because their movies are extremely good. They certainly do not make the same movie every other CGI company makes. Just compare, say, Monsters, Inc. to Bee Movie and Ice Age. One of these three is an emotionally involving well-told story. Pixar's movies aren't funny because the characters act just like people - they'd still be funny if the characters were people. (Like The Incredibles.) Maybe the movies do share a theme of discovering and treasuring what's really important, but that theme is so universal basically any good story will have it. It's the nature of self-discovery.

I would also argue that Pixar has "mired CGI worse than Disney ever mired 2-D." Disney (at least in the '90s) only made musicals about royalty. Still, the "miring" of 2D wasn't Disney's fault - it was the fault of the other studios who assiduously copied Disney, instead of thinking for themselves. Honest question: what would you like to see Pixar do with CGI? I really would like to know.

(Sorry for sounding so harsh - I just wrote this pretty quickly!)

Anonymous said...

"And I'm not opposed to sequels, just bad sequels. If there is a story there to tell, then I'm fine with them telling it."

I agree. :)

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure the business end of the Mouse does ask/want more of these films, but as long as John and the crew believe in what they do and focus on telling great stories then I won't mind numbers being at the end of a title."

I think profit motives have more influence now than before the acquisition. The only logical reason for Cars2 would be to fuel its huge toy franchise with new characters. It's not exactly a strong story generator.

"And then there is the sequel that everyone wants to see. Out of all the projects announced, the one everybody expects still hasn't happened."

I've never expected Incredibles2. Long ago, Bird caught a nasty case of Timburtonitis, from which few have rarely recovered. I'd be very surprised if Bird ever returns to animation, once he tastes the sweet nectar of live action. He may publicly state he wants to do animation again, but I suspect he privately wants to ditch it, just as Burton has done.

Anonymous said...

... Which is why Tim Burton's next film is animated...

Cory Gross said...

Well, I would say that the reason people like Pixar so much is because their movies are extremely good.

That's why I pointed out my divergence from the mainstream. I don't think Pixar movies are good. I think they are slicker and better at what they do than the competition, but that doesn't mean they're good.

They certainly do not make the same movie every other CGI company makes. Just compare, say, Monsters, Inc. to Bee Movie and Ice Age.

Yes, things that are funny because they're just like us, pop-culture references, that pause before the punchline in what I suppose one could generously call a joke. I'm not sure which of these ones is supposed to be the one with "heart" though.

If it's any consolation, I do blame the other companies. Especially Dreamworks. I've blamed Dreamworks since the beginning for not following up on the potential laid out in Prince of Egypt for graduating Western animation into a serious medium. Now they, and everybody else, is intent on using CGI to try and replicate The Pixar Formula.

I would also argue that Pixar has "mired CGI worse than Disney ever mired 2-D." Disney (at least in the '90s) only made musicals about royalty.

Not true, which is why I made the qualitative statement. Disney's product has been remarkably diverse and only gets stuck in the catch-22 where everyone complains that they only make princess movies and then refuses to see anything that's not a princess movie. Pixar, by making the same movie over and over again and finding incredible commercial success by doing so, has lead every other studio by the nose. The result is that CGI animation is an unwatchable genre when it should have been a magnificent medium.

Honest question: what would you like to see Pixar do with CGI? I really would like to know.

Serious action, drama, horror, anything. Why not John Carter of Mars and 1906? What's stopping them from making a film like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Voices of a Distant Star or Sita Sings the Blues?

My experiment to demonstrate Pixar's relative lack of creative daring is to compare their first 10 films against Disney's first 10 films and Studio Ghibli's first 10 films.

Disney: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, and Melody Time. Okay, I grant that Disney started playing it safe towards the end when there was a world war on.

Ghibli: NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, Ocean Waves, Pom Poko, and Whisper of the Heart. Wow, they got a WWII drama in there.

And Pixar? Two movies about toys that are funny because they're just like us, one about monsters that are funny because they're just like us, one about fish that are funny because they're just like us, one about bugs that are funny because they're just like us, anotehr about superheroes that are funny because they're just like us, and automobiles, rats, robots... I haven't bothered to see Up, so maybe that's different. Don't know, don't care.

Pixar has chosen to play it safe, which is understandable. Daring use of animation as a medium in the West tends to make for critical successes and box-office failures. Why not just recycle ideas and make more sequels?

Jones said...

I have yet to see a CG animated movie with an emotional impact on me. CGI can do some great things, but nobody has really used it yet. I hoped that Rapunzel would be the first CG movie to create images other than that of funny animals, and the stills were great - but the first moving pictures I have seen did not impress me at all. Somebody should finally have the courage to really use the incredible tool that CG software is (I´m pretty sure the movie would not be a success at the box office, but hey, why can´t a huge company like Disney take a risk once in a while?

Cory Gross said...

I'm so embarrased!

I managed to bung up my list of Disney films because I was only looking at the animated ones. Let's try that again...

Disney's first 10 films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, Dumbo, Bambi, Victory Through Air Power, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Song of the South.

So what has Pixar been waiting for?Do they need an engraved invitation to try on a Fantasia or a Grave of the Fireflies?

jedited said...

I won't get into the Pixar argument. I will however say that I have liked every Pixar movie with the exception of Rat.
But my actual comment is, this post is why this is my favorite Disney blog. Honor, unlike a number of other Disney blogs, is a realist. He understands that Disney is a money-making enterprise. They are not a charity or an art-house film company or a non-profit. That doesn't mean that they can't make GREAT movies, but that means they need to make money.
He also understands that while he may not like HSM or some of the other Disney channel offerings, he does understand that those offerings are BIG money makers. And money is what fuels DCA's extreme makeover or Disney's return to hand-drawn animation or expansions in the other worldwide theme parks.
Thank you Honor for not being a Disney foamer.

jedited said...

OK I lied. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to chime in.
To Cory Gross, I'm with EVERYONE else. I have NO idea what you want from Pixar. I think that MOST of Pixar's movies have been risks. And I thought that MOST of them would fail.
A Bugs Life SEEMS safe, but that's ONLY because Ratzenberg stole the idea for his HORRIBLE Antz.
Monsters Inc sounded like a bad idea. Monsters as good guys? One of the main characters is a green guys with one eye?!?
Cars also sounded like a bad idea. Really? The Chevron cars are in a movie?!? What other animated film was ENTIRELY without any living creature? (side note: Cars is my favorite Pixar movie)
Ratatouille? What the heck is a ratatouille?!? An animated movie about french cuisine?!? Made by a RAT!!!
WallE sounded like a REALLY bad idea. A robot on the earth alone? The movie is silent for the 1st 1/3of the movie?
And UP. The 1st sequence in the movie has a death? The main characters are senior citizens??
I think that most of these movies are NOT about the same thing. MAYBE they have similar themes, but there are really only 12 different story themes.
And I think I speak for MOST people that Pixar HAS taken risks.
Maybe like a lot of purists, you won't be happy until Pixar makes something so esoteric and unwatchable that it bombs at the box office. Then you will think that Pixar is a GREAT animation studio.

Anonymous said...

"Thank you Honor for not being a Disney foamer."

Honor is a tool. You ARE a lemming.

Anonymous said...

and all of u need to get a life.

Anonymous said...

"... Which is why Tim Burton's next film is animated..."

Yes, Burton has made a few animated films. Frankenweenie will be his first since Corpse Bride in 2005, and World of Stainboy in 2000.

But... what was the last animated film Burton directed (not produced) before those two? I'll give you a hint: it happened almost three decades ago.

Four animated films (two shorts and two features) from 1982 to 2011, almost thirty years. Burton has made far more live action films and always has. But everyone wants to view him as an animator. Why is that?

Brad Bird wants to direct live action real bad. He definitely has Burtonitis. Once he gets his wish, I see him following in Burton's footsteps, and sticking with live action for over a decade, if not longer. Just as Burton did.

Anonymous said...

Honor, is Jim Hill at all credible? He's got a story on his site now about a Muppet resurgence, and he's quoting some very shaky data. He claims there have been a lot of complaints from WDW park visitors about the Muppet 3D attraction being closed down for refurbishment. But from what I know (park worker, currently on vacation) that attraction is very sparsely attended, so I find his claim kind of hard to believe. Ditto on his claims about Muppet merchandise. Having worked at both the attraction and the nearby store, Muppet merch is a poor seller, at the parks at least. I've had my doubts about Jim Hill's credibility for some time now. It seems more hype than substance, unlike the reportage here (which is much appreciated, by the way).

Cory Gross said...

"To Cory Gross, I'm with EVERYONE else. I have NO idea what you want from Pixar."

To quote myself: "Serious action, drama, horror, anything. Why not John Carter of Mars and 1906? What's stopping them from making a film like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Voices of a Distant Star or Sita Sings the Blues?"

Or is this the new Pixar-fingers-in-ears-la-la-la-can't-hear-you thing? Rhetorically asking what I want from Pixar like I'm some incorrigible nitpick and then ignoring when I give an answer, citing actual examples of people using computers to make animated films that are not pop-culture laden comedies about things that are funny because they're just like us? Or maybe it just comes from this blindspot where you can't see how Pixar makes the same movie because the plots are different, even though the characters and the jokes are all exactly the same.

As for the risk, well, I think the thought process was "Wow, we made a boatload on anthropomorphic toys... let's keep anthropomorphizing things!"

steve said...

Cory Gross-

If you want and/or waiting for Pixar to be all of those things, you're going to continue to be disappointed. Pixar makes the movies Pixar wants to make. If you knew anything about the company, and the people who work there (ie: run the place) you would know this. The fact that Pixar is a FOR PROFIT studio means they will make movies that appeal to a WIDE audience. Their movies cost a LOT to make, they want that money back. I don't know how you can say that some of their movies haven't had "serious action or drama", unless you want to provide your own definition of what those are. Cause I can think of just about every one of their movies that have "serious action and drama". As for horror? Don't hold your breath.

And you want to bring up Disney breaking the mold? Yes, Disney did with Fantasia. But when that flopped, he jumped right back onto what worked with Dumbo and Bambi and every other "anthropomorphic" movie after that. So that argument you brought up is null.

As far as Ghibli, they're not an American studio, and they're aiming for a different audience, have a different culture, and have a completely different nuance to their storytelling.

Pixar leads the way in American animation, at least for the 10 years or so and there is very little you can bring up to argue that. They're not your cup of tea, that's great. Everybody has an opinion and it doesn't mean you're wrong. But to flat out say they're not good movies is your opinion. There is no FACT in that.

steve said...

p.s. This is just my personal opinion, but I don't think you'd be happy with any STUDIO movie. Independents seem where you might get some satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

Honor Hunter, please don't follow suit with the other cynics out there by becoming another Iger-basher! Please don't do it!

Anonymous said...

You suck Honor, you pretentious piece of crap.

It ain't?

How can you be so sure? How would you know? Are you inside of Lasseter's and Catmull's minds?

Stop kissing Pixar's ass, they have had mediocre films in the past. Ratouille? Cars? And yes, they are selling out by having more sequels. Monsters Inc. 2? The ending to the first one wasn't good enough? There's nowhere to go but make up a pathetic reason to have a sequel or even worse a prequel. What? Mike and Sully are sad because Boo grows up and forgets about them? Sounds a lot like Toy Story 3 huh? You complete tool.

Pixar is selling out with the sequels. Whatever happened to it's great originality? Gone are Pixar's golden age. I knew it well. John Lasseter is sinking Pixar just like he can't save Disney. Will somebody help him out? He is only one man.