July 29, 2014

The Challenge In Letting Go Of ‘John Carter’

JOHN CARTER

The concept of an infinite number of universes parallel to our own has some vague scientific backing behind it, but is mostly just fun to consider without presuming there’s any real logic involved. If you buy into the theory, then there’s a parallel universe where Dewey did defeat Truman in 1948, where the Buffalo Bills didn’t lose the Super Bowl in 1990 against the New York Giants due to a wide-right field goal, and so on. Thus, there might even be a parallel universe where every aspect of our current one is the same except for one thing: here, John Carter was a success at the box office, not an eternal punchline. It’s been over 2 years since John Carter was released in theaters after decades of development, and it left theaters almost as quickly. Although it was not the most painful flop in recent memory (any movie that grosses nearly $300 million worldwide deserves a tiny bit of credit), and although it has a dedicated subset of fans, John Carter is almost akin to a modern-day Ishtar: a movie known for its financial failure to a wide audience, even if that’s not equal to its creative quality.

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The Greatest Feat of ‘WALL-E’

WALL-E

A few weeks ago, this column discussed the concept of risk-taking at Pixar Animation Studios. Recently, one of the studio’s head honchos, Ed Catmull, admitted that the growing reliance on creating sequels as well as original films is in part because sequels were financially less risky. Perhaps, when considering the cost of marketing as well as how much certain movies or characters make in merchandising, that may be true. But simply looking at the box-office takes of Pixar films proves that Catmull’s statement is faulty: as daring as their stories may be, no Pixar film can be categorized as a flop. As much as we may presume that original storytelling is riskier than relying on sequels in financial terms, at Pixar, it’s almost as if they can tell whatever stories they want and people will pay no matter what.

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The Pixar Perspective on The Pixar Moment in ‘Finding Nemo’

Finding-nemo-disneyscreencaps_com-257

Of the various behind-the-scenes stories that have now become apocryphal to the Pixar legend, it’s hard to beat the one associated with Finding Nemo. In the final few years of his time at the top of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner was convinced that Pixar’s winning streak both at the box office and with critics was about to end with this animated feature, the first led by director Andrew Stanton. Eisner couldn’t possibly fathom, he told shareholders, how this movie about a clownfish desperately scouring the ocean for his missing (and only) son with a forgetful blue Tang at his side could ever hit it big with audiences worldwide. When he made these comments in 2001, he did so based on a work-in-progress screening that was, in three respects, vastly different from the final product: Marlin was voiced by William H. Macy, instead of Albert Brooks; the angelfish Gill was, in spite of being the leader of the fish in P. Sherman’s aquarium, lying about his sordid past; and Stanton chose to dole out a series of flashbacks explaining what happened to Nemo’s mother, Coral, instead of beginning the film this way.

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The Pixar Perspective on Formula

Toy Story 3 Colorscript - Image 4

When Pixar Animation Studios unveiled its first feature film in 1995, it represented a rebellious pushback against a formula that some people might not have been conscious of until watching Toy Story. Only then were audiences reminded that not all mainstream animation needed to have Broadway-style songs, straightforward leading characters paired with talking-animal sidekicks, or the like. When The Little Mermaid was released in November of 1989, it felt like the culmination of what Disney animation and its rivals were trying to accomplish in reviving the form for a younger generation; movies like The Great Mouse Detective and An American Tail had paved the way, but didn’t approach the same qualitative cohesion as the story of Ariel and her dreams of being human. But within 6 years, its story structure, characterization, and aural composition were no longer even mildly groundbreaking. The same happened with Pixar and its films; even though Toy Story owes a great debt to the buddy comedies of the 1980s, its combination of unique visuals, childhood nostalgia, and action once felt fresh and new.

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Go Inside A Pixar Braintrust Meeting For Upcoming Film ‘Inside Out’

Inside Out

The Pixar Braintrust is a respected group of directors, writers, and executives at the company who provide notes and advice to a film’s creative team during the development process. Consisting of John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, and others, the group has been credited as one of the reasons for the studio’s success. In Catmull’s upcoming book, the president of the studio discusses the importance of the Braintrust by highlighting a meeting held to discuss Docter’s upcoming film, Inside Out!

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Watch “Storytellers” Oscars Ad Narrated By Pixar’s Andrew Stanton

Photo By Al Seib, Los Angeles Times

At the Oscars this year, no Pixar films were nominated for awards but the studio and its filmmakers were present in the spotlight, through montages featured in the show and TV ads playing during the telecast. Most notably, a new Google ad made its debut, which focused on its search engine, and had Pixar filmmaker Andrew Stanton providing narration on how to tell a story. Watch the ad after the break!

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The Pixar Perspective on ‘Star Wars’

Up and Star Wars

The gravitational pull of the endless Star Wars franchise is inescapable in modern cinema. Though there have only been six live-action films in the series, the vast ocean of toys, theme-park attractions, animated TV series, books, and more make it impossible to avoid, even before there were rumors of a new trilogy. After the Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm in the fall of 2012, the rumors became truth: within just a few years (now under 2 years), a new trilogy of Star Wars films would be unveiled, following up on the events of Return of the Jedi. Since that time, it’s been assumed that Disney wouldn’t just make new live-action films in that galaxy far, far away. Why not make more animated films, or spin-off series, and so on? For now, at least, these are rumors.

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The Pixar Perspective on Taking A Break

Inside Out

Over the last decade or so (possibly even less than that), one trend in Hollywood has been planning ahead (often too far ahead). Marvel and their Cinematic Universe is a good example of this, as they set dates for future projects, from the upcoming Ant-Man in July of 2015 to an untitled project in May of 2016, well before such minor issues as a script or cast members are set in stone. The most obvious current example of this is the impending Star Wars sequel directed by J.J. Abrams. Its existence was announced before a director, a screenwriter, or a cast were. (As of this writing, though plenty of rumors abound, there are still no officially announced cast members, in spite of the film being set for release in December of 2015.)

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D23 Expo: Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Others Reflect On Pixar Films And Source Of Their Inspiration

Pixar Panel

John Lasseter kicked off Disney’s massive D23 Expo with a look at what is coming next in the world of Disney and Pixar animation. The packed arena presentation was easily the highlight of Day 1 and offered fans a first look at the company’s upcoming slate of animated offerings. Pixar’s highly anticipated roster included next year’s The Good Dinosaur and 2015′s Inside Out. However, it wasn’t all forward thinking taking place on Friday. Late in the afternoon, a handful of Pixar creatives took some time to look back.

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D23 Expo: ‘Finding Dory’ Story Detailed, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, and Ty Burrell Join Cast

Dory

Finding Nemo was never one of the films that fans assumed would see a sequel (cue chants for The Incredibles 2). That is a point that Andrew Stanton and Produer Lindsey Collins underlined today at the D23 Expo, stating that he is usually averse to the thought of sequels. However, he also stated that if a good idea came along, he would be willing to entertain it. That happened two years ago for Finding Dory, the sequel to Nemo, as Stanton was able to develop an intriguing storyline. Learn what he cooked up after the break!

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Disney Wanted Pixar To Make A ‘Finding Nemo’ Sequel

Finding Dory

Over the course of its 27 years as a full-blown animation studio, Pixar has released a mind-boggling number of classics. Even more impressive is that the films have also been a huge hit with audiences around the world, with nary a flop. In an age where many high-profile (and expensive) films fail to rake in enough cash at the box office, the studio has set an unbelievably high bar for both itself and rivals. Given the number of great films under its belt, sequels are understandable, as both audiences and the filmmakers get the opportunity to see memorable characters again, while also likely creating a project that will be more successful at the box office than original films. The risk associated is finding the right balance between original film and sequel, which Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton believes the studio will have in the coming years.

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D23 Expo: Panels Take You Inside ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ ‘Toy Story of Terror,’ And Pixar

D23 Expo 2013

At the D23 Expo in 2011, Pixar had a huge presence, as it was the studio’s 25th Anniversary. The first scene from Brave was previewed almost a year before the film’s release, character art from Monsters University was unveiled, 2014′s The Good Dinosaur and 2015′s Inside Out were announced, and a retrospective panel was held with the talented pool of Pixar directors. With the 2013 iteration of the convention just over one week away, the schedule for Pixar panels has just been released. After the break, find out what the studio has in store for show attendees this time!

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The Pixar Perspective on Impatience

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

It’s been just over a month since Pixar’s newest film, Monsters University, opened wide across North America. While the financial response has been solid—at this point, it seems safe to assume that Monsters University will end up as Pixar’s fourth-highest-grossing film domestically, just behind Up—the critical response was slightly more mild, though not outright negative or contentious. (The film has a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65 out of 100 on Metacritic; neither are bad numbers, of course, and this column has recently pointed out the shakiness of using these critic-aggregation websites as the foundation of an argument against Pixar’s perceived decline. But the rapturous response of some of the studio’s recent films is, by and large, not present for Monsters University, earned or not.) The attitude among some film lovers is either that Pixar’s golden days are permanently over, or that a lack of qualitative consistency is going to be the norm from now on.

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The Pixar Perspective on Making Two Films a Year

Finding Dory

Late last week, the Walt Disney Company decided to expand our knowledge of their inner workings just a little bit, specific to the future of their animation studios. Anyone who may have been concerned, for example, that Walt Disney Feature Animation would be going the way of the dodo (this writer is among them) could breathe a bit easier because of this news story. In some ways, the entire story is fairly random—why Disney chose to announce its animation slate through 2018 at the end of May 2013, we may never know—but it’s got plenty of information we can parse through. Specific to Pixar and this week’s column, the topic of concern is multiple films in one year.

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The Pixar Perspective on the Death of Cinema

TOY STORY

Depending on who you listen to, cinema is dying. Or cinema is dead. Pining for the fjords, or soon to be buried, don’t forget: the medium of film is in serious trouble. Recently, director Steven Soderbergh—who’s been very public about retiring for the last couple of years, and is finally heading out after his HBO biopic about Liberace premieres later this month—gave an address at the San Francisco International Film Festival, holding court for nearly an hour on how the difference between cinema and movies has opened an immense and irreparable divide between art and commerce, one that few filmmakers can bridge. Over the weekend, this video was posted around the Internet; in it, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle categorized the problem he saw with mainstream cinema as being the “Pixarification” of films.

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Thomas Newman All But Confirmed To Score ‘Finding Dory’

Finding Dory

The animation, characters, and script may get a lot of the glory in Pixar films, but it would be a mistake to overlook the role that the music plays. A prime example would be the opening sequence in Up, which took a somber turn right after we fell in love with the characters – it broke our hearts, but combine that with Michael Giacchino‘s superb score, and we were left devastated. Composer Thomas Newman has collaborated with director Andrew Stanton twice before, is reportedly working on next year’s The Good Dinosaur, and we have just learned that he will likely return for Finding Dory. Find more details after the break!

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The Pixar Perspective on Breaking Into Live-Action

Mission Impossible

As unlikely as it may have seemed a few years ago, or even a few months ago if you were stubbornly holding out against the truth, there will be a sequel to the 2003 Pixar classic Finding Nemo, opening in 2015. Of course, more than 30 months from its release, we know very little about Finding Dory, aside from that title, its release date, the involvement of Albert Brooks and—in a more pronounced fashion—Ellen DeGeneres, and little else. But that title can, if nothing else, allow us to assume we have a general notion of what the film will entail: instead of the harried, neurotic Marlin searching the ocean for his son Nemo, he’ll have to do so for the unlikely friend he picked up on that first journey, Dory. These are the facts—at least based on Disney’s recent press release—but those meager crumbs have inspired a great deal of worrisome Internet fervor in the last couple weeks.

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The Pixar Perspective on the Importance of Continuity

Monsters University - Teaser Poster 2

Over the last year or so, there’s been a trend online where people create short videos in which they list a series of problems they spotted in a mainstream movie, from Skyfall to Looper to The Dark Knight Rises. These videos all have received a disturbing amount of traction, as if their creators deserve a pat on the back for seeing what the rest of us, apparently, didn’t see or chose to ignore. These bite-sized excuses for modern film criticism are created by people who presume they’re being insightful, which is far from the truth. Better still, when they’re called out for their unnecessary whining, as happened when Looper’s director, Rian Johnson, got audibly frustrated at one of these videos, they half-heartedly shield themselves behind the “Oh, it’s just a joke!” excuse. Among Pixar films, Brave avoided this nitpicking—at least on such a grand scale. But if this video is any hint, we may need to batten down the virtual hatches because the nitpickers are already unloading on Monsters University. [Read more...]

The Pixar Perspective on Female Directors

Brave - Merida & Queen Elinor

Over the last two decades, Pixar Animation Studios has been able to top its competitors by reaching an almost unattainbly high level of quality. Pixar isn’t worried, it seems, with topping DreamWorks, but topping only what they’ve done in the past. Those rival studios—really, any studio making a family film, animated or not—are judged against whatever Pixar makes, but the Emeryville, California company raises the bar mostly so they can clear it before anyone else does. We may become rapidly disappointed at their output when they release something like Cars 2 after Toy Story 3, but it’s only because when Pixar delivers on a promise of brilliance, they do so in such unbelievable, ridiculous, unexpectedly moving ways. Their various consecutive runs of quality are unparalleled in the modern film industry, which they’ve worked hard to be separate from. Pixar works with Disney, fully ensconced in the culture of Hollywood, but being placed hundreds of miles north makes them feel totally separate, even now. And yet, there is one disturbing trait they share with the greater film industry, one that needs to be fixed soon: Pixar has a woman problem.

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Albert Brooks Returning To Voice Marlin In ‘Finding Nemo 2′

FINDING NEMO

Since the revelation that Andrew Stanton would be returning to Pixar to direct a follow-up to Finding Nemo, many have wondered what the plot for the second film would be. Will Nemo go missing again? Will it be a sequel or a prequel? Will Darla grow up to be a perfectly normal adult? Much of the success of the original film stems from the touching story and the talented voice cast, including veteran Albert Brooks. It has now emerged that Brooks will be returning to voice Marlin. More after the break!

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