Tag Archives: animated movies

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.


When did our best movies become cartoons?

16 Jul

(Sitting in a Brooklyn apartment and worried about Simone who is fine but just sick enough to keep me anxious and uptight and she isn’t crying which is good but I can hear her breathing through the double doors if I crane my injured neck and my thoughts are crystallizing around the notion that I just might go my whole life with a vague feeling of dislocation and that our childhoods can do immeasurable harm and for some people adolescence never ends and that I write not out of boredom but fear)

One of Simone’s first words is Poppins. She says it when she picks up the case to one of her favorite movies, Mary Poppins. It’s adorable. She runs in a circle and jumps up and down. She spins herself dizzy and shoves the dvd case into my face.

She’s crazy for movies, so much that we had to put a two-week moratorium on watching any, which prompted many of the tantrums I mentioned in an earlier entry.

How many spoonfuls of sugar will let me fly?

(Her other words, for the record, are: apple, blue, balloon, train, spoon, shoes, paper, pancake, papa, ball, more, please [we’re great parents] eye, want that [maybe not so great], and I tired.)

Anyway, it’s been an interesting experience revisiting the children’s movies from my youth. Some hold up well, while others are painful to watch. (I’ve been taking notes.)

But I’ve noticed something.

If you look at the best movies of the 1980s—off the top of my head Blue Velvet, Back to the Future, Raging Bull, After Hours, Ran, Once Upon a Time in America, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Conan the Barbarian, Pixote and Wings of Desire—none of these are cartoons. I suppose Akira could justifiably be on some people’s list, just not mine. And I know Ralph Bakshi has his fans, but all of his movies have problems.

No, Fievel, you're not welcome here. The Cossacks are waiting for you at your old home. Now run along.

Same for the 1990s: Pulp Fiction, Chungking Express, Goodfellas, Deconstructing Harry, Boogie Nights, Bottle Rocket, Jacob’s Ladder and Swingers, again off the top of my head, and no cartoons. Toy Story could be included, but it wouldn’t be on any list of mine.

I wonder why this movie's been forgotten . . .

But, if you rated the best films from the last ten years, half a dozen could be on the list, including Wall-e, The Triplets of Bellville and The Incredibles.  (And an argument could be made for Ratatouille, Shrek II, Finding Nemo, The Secret of the Kells, Up, Antz, A Bug’s Life, Persepolis and Spirited Away, and these are just the movies I’ve seen. Monsters, Inc., Steamboy, Cars and Ice Age are all supposed to be good movies, too.)

Taken as a whole, it’s an astonishing array of quality films, and collectively better than their live-action counterparts. They’re also cooler.

So, what’s going on? When did our best movies become cartoons?

One argument is competition. Pixar and Dreamworks both make quality cartoons, and the competition between them, and Disney, too, now that Pixar has separated from them. Another argument is the prolonged adolescence of so many men these days. The third argument is the market. As our culture becomes more and more youth-centered, movies are, like everything else, moving towards those with disposable income. A fourth argument has to do with television. Cartoons on television were far superior back in the day than they are now. Creators like the artists on the old shows, through innovation and technology, can now make longer, feature-length films.

Worth two hundred Bad Boys II.

But the quality of the films is what makes this an interesting question. The first ten minutes of Up is as moving, touching, heart-rending, and realistic a portrayal of a marriage as any movie ever made. Cartoons these days are funnier (Shrek 2), more thrilling (The Incredibles) and more formally daring (The Triplets of Belleville and Wall-e) than live action films. I hate to say it, but they constitute a movement as important (and interesting) as the French New Wave.

I don’t have an answer. I’m too worn out.

Back to Simone. Her favorite movies at this moment, in order: Shrek, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, and Pete’s Dragon. We tried Wall-e and The Incredibles, but they didn’t do much for her. So it’s back to Poppins. The moratorium for movies had ended, but we’re keeping her to thirty or so minutes once a week. (Which is, of course, a big fat whopping lie, but we try.) Her tantrums have mellowed, her vocabulary is expanding, her personality remains inquisitive and sweet.

Movies might just be good for you after all.

(Just look at me, sitting in a Brooklyn apartment and worried about Simone who is fine . . .)