Simone and Pixar and the movie peter

17 Jul

I took Simone to Brave last week, her second movie in the theater. (Despicable Me was first; I didn’t like it. There’s a scene where an elephant is shrunk with a laser beam and Simone thought it had been exploded. She screamed, “No! No! No!” in the crowded theater. I felt horrible.) She liked Brave, although it scared her in a few places and at one point, during a thunderous night fight between two bears, she insisted that we leave. In the lobby, she demanded we go back inside. It was cute.

Her new mantra is, “I want to go to the movie peter!” She loves it. She takes after me. As I’ve said in other places, I was sort of raised on movies. Some of my earliest memories are of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Gus, and The Apple Dumpling Gang. Star Wars. Star Trek II. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Candleshoe. (Throw in the Bible and comic books and G.I. Joe and cartoons and summers with my cousins in the creek and a soupcon of hellfire and damnation and the specter of a late-Soviet Union comeback and an overactive imagination and you have my childhood, in under a hundred words.)

Brave was . . . interesting. I’m not going to write a full review, but it was a very beautiful looking movie—with swooping shots across craggy vistas and hilly grasslands—but a step down from Pixar’s other films. My hunch is that the movie was rushed a little, to stave off the increasing cries of chauvinism leveled at the now ultra-profitable subsidiary of Disney. The story follows a princess in the Scottish highland clans who must marry one of the princes of three neighboring clans. The main characters are the princess, her mother, and a witch and they run the show, grapple with the real issues of running a household, a nation-state. The men are drunkards, brawlers, and fools. This was and is probably true, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie wasn’t devised as a stopgap. It feels concocted.

The hero of Pixar’s latest, showing off her archery skills for a congress of numbskulls and louts.

The movie was fine, pretty good, okay. Simone liked it, but she didn’t love it and I didn’t either. It feels as if they are going through the motions. It doesn’t feel special. It lacks magic.

Pixar was one of the great story engines through the 2000s. Every movie was good, and The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Wall-e were superb. Up was uneven, but the first ten minutes are rhapsodic, heart-rending. Pixar’s output was creative, funny, intelligent, warm and rousing. Taken as a whole it’s an astonishingly consistent body of work. I’ve said in other places but their output was historic, really, and should be included with the other big movie movements of the last fifty years, including the British and French New Waves, and the New American Cinema of the 1970s.

That light is really a great totem of glowing cash.

Cartoons or no, their shit was good. So good, that Pixar improved the quality of everyone else’s animated films. There was a time when only Miyazaki made animated movies that were as sophisticated in their pacing, direction and design as their adult counterparts. The oughts brought us Shrek, Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Ice Age, Robots, Monster House, The Tale of Despereaux and Kung Fu Panda to name a handful. Pixar paved the way, and credit is due.

With quality came success, and with success came a name-brand, and with a name-brand came oodles of cash. Pixar is enormously, freakishly, scarily profitable. They’ve had no financial duds in thirteen films and have netted enough cash to fund revolutions in a handful of unstable South American countries.

But things are starting to slip. Cars 2 was, by all accounts, terrible. Their three holy trinity of talented dudes—Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, and Brad Bird—have moved on to big budget blockbusters. And the company now seems more interested in recycling their existing characters, basically seeing their art as products. Toy Story 3 is excellent, I’ll grant that. It’s so powerful to the imagination of a child that Simone has never made it through the middle section, each time demanding we turn it off. It brings tears, and honestly I have a hard time watching it without the weepy feeling and I have a heart of stone.

The scene that breaks Simone up, every time.

But the idea that they can leverage existing characters into derivative sequels is untenable and sort of tacky. I’m certain that there will be sequels to either Nemo, The Incredibles and/or Ratatouille in the next five years, and maybe all of them. Brave II: Braveheart, or something like it.

It’s understandable. The cost of their movies keeps inching up, which increases the pressure for their movies to be sure-things. This is, of course, what has happened to most of Hollywood. It’s why they keep making sequels; movies cost too much nowadays because of the spectacle, and thus the bean counters across the world want to minimize as much risk as possible.

And, as Francis Ford Coppola said once in an interview, “You can’t have art without risk. It’s impossible.” He should know.

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