Watching business decisions get handed down from on high is always maddening, with the context for such choices being obscured from public view; all that can result is rampant speculation. So it is with the surprising announcement a few weeks ago from the Walt Disney Company that it was shutting down Pixar’s Canadian studio, located in Vancouver, British Columbia. The studio, which employed over 100 animators, had worked primarily in shorts related to preexisting properties, such as the Toy Story shorts Small Fry and Partysaurus Rex, as well as some of the Cars shorts released straight to DVD and Blu-ray. As of now, one of the reasons being bandied about for why the shutdown occurred is that a number of the tax loopholes that existed in the past in Canada have been tightened, giving Disney less profit on this extension of one of their most financially fruitful branches.
Planes is not a Pixar movie, but it badly wants to be. More to the point, the Walt Disney Company wants you to think that Planes is from Pixar. Though the Pixar Animation Studios logo does not appear in the film—and it shouldn’t, because the movie was animated by the people at DisneyToon Studios, even if the short film that inspired Planes was created by those at Pixar’s Canadian studio—there are more than enough hallmarks of Pixar’s work present within that could fool you. The first thing on screen after the Walt Disney Pictures logo is the moniker “World of Cars,” with the last word designed a la the title cards for Cars and Cars 2. John Lasseter, the head of Pixar Animation Studios, Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, and the man who’s almost singlehandedly spearheaded the Cars movement to the point where it has its own land in a theme park, co-wrote the story for Planes and is its executive producer. To cap it all off, John Ratzenberger, long known as Pixar’s good-luck charm, makes a cameo appearance. (No, he doesn’t voice the Mack truck from Cars, but a different character, even though cars exist in the world of Planes. Try not to think about it too much.)
The Internet is rife with theories that have to deliberately skew or ignore certain facts, or else these arguments would knowingly fall apart. No topic is free from such needless conjecture, including the films from Pixar Animation Studios. The backlash borne from the last few films Pixar has made—up to and including their newest, Monsters University—has spawned a number of editorials and a few dreaded not-a-word “thinkpieces” trying to get to the bottom of the problem. The question at the root of the “problem,” of course, is one that can’t be answered on a grand scale, but must be given some texture: “Why are Pixar’s films not as amazing as they used to be?” Of course, this argument could be more accurately phrased as, “Why doesn’t Pixar make movies I, the writer of this editorial, like anymore?” And it’s important to be vigilant, watching for the flaws inherent in these articles.
The cornerstone of the Walt Disney Company is nostalgia. Every film they make, every character they create, every world they concoct furthers the notion that looking back at your past, dreaming of a time when everyone said it was truly wondrous to be alive, well before the minor frustrations of the future took over, is the best possible way to approach life. What are Disney’s theme parks if not various ways in which to embrace youth, either your own or the country’s? So many of their movies call to mind a vision of the “good old days,” a manufactured simulacrum that makes us wistful, wishing we’d been around at the turn of the century, say, or that we’d known as we lived our childhoods that we should cherish them appropriately. The irony is that the more technologically groundbreaking Disney films—and especially Pixar films— are, the more nostalgic they become.
Everything in pop culture that we embrace goes through cycles. Something is introduced to the masses, who fall in love with it, and then, after a requisite amount of time, a backlash arises. This is different from a piece of art, whether it’s a film, TV show, or book, being analyzed and criticized from a subjective point of view. Instead, that which is initially beloved begins to wear thin on some members of its audiences even if they are the ones who changed, not the art itself. (Take, for instance, the current season of AMC’s Mad Men, which has received countless plaudits in the past but is now receiving more unfriendly reactions because it’s inherently the same show, unchanging in its sixth year.) Backlash can be vexing, but it is not uncommon. And so it makes sense that the last couple of years, for Pixar, have been full of such a negative turn.
Quoting the late Walt Disney is fairly commonplace in the world of the Disney theme parks. Anywhere you walk in Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you’ll see a quote attributed to Disney, whether or not the quote is totally accurate. (He may not have said, in so many words, “If you dream it, you can do it,” for example.) One quote that is prevalent and does belong to him can be spotted in a plaque at the gateway between the entrance plaza to the Magic Kingdom (or Disneyland Park) and Main Street, U.S.A.: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” In short, if you allow yourself to submit to the cloistered theme-park worlds within, you are essentially engaging in a potent, immediate form of escapism.
When comparing Pixar Animation Studios to DreamWorks Animation, as we are all so wont to do, there are a number of very easy lines of demarcation. The former studio has, to this point, only released one movie a year, while the latter is prone to releasing two or even three over any 12-month period. DreamWorks Animation films are typically littered with pop-culture references tailor-made to placate those parents suffering next to their kids in the movie theater; Pixar films rarely go for the easy cultural gag, and are often so successful that adults may end up enjoying the overall product more than kids. (It is telling that the use of the 80s song “Dreamweaver” in Toy Story 3 stands out so much as an exception to this rule.) Perhaps the most frequently brought-up contrast, though, is in casting: DreamWorks’ animated movies are perceived as being frontloaded with famous people, where Pixar movies are cast with whoever’s right for the role, famous or otherwise.
Consciously or not, we often look for the existence of the human in the art we consume. Sometimes, that presence is visible, and sometimes it’s just outside of the frame of the filmmaker’s camera or the words on the author’s page or inches away from the artist’s canvas. But we want and expect some form of humanity to be present in what we watch or read. In film, this manifests differently in live-action versus animation, the latter of which has been criticized for the “uncanny valley” effect, when human characters are rendered in such a way that’s off-putting, distracting for perhaps being too realistic, uncomfortably human. Pixar Animation Studios has not yet fallen into the uncanny valley, but it’s interesting to watch the evolution of their computer-animation technology from as far back as their pre-feature shorts up to Brave, in part because so much of their work is infused with the presence of humans even when none physically appear. Except for the films in the Cars franchise.
‘Disney Infinity’ Series 1 Power Discs Revealed – Homages To ‘Up,’ ‘Dumbo,’ ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Mickey Mouse,’ ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Mulan’ And More
Many have stated that Disney Infinity is simply the Disney corporation’s version of Activision’s Skylanders, a franchise that has earned over $1 billion from sales of its game as well as character figures that can be beamed into the game. While Disney Infinity also allows players to purchase and send characters into the game, its power discs that unlock items and power-ups differentiates it from Activision’s blockbuster game. The starter pack for Infinity will include one power disc, but other discs will be sold in blind packs. After the break, take a look at 20 power discs that will be included in Series 1!
Amazon currently has both the Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box Collection and Cars Director’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD box sets discounted by 50%. The Toy Story set is 10-discs and collects all films of the trilogy in Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy formats. The complete 11-disc Cars set holds the two feature films, along with Cars Toon: Mater’s Tall Tales. Additionally, the recent 8-disc Lion King Trilogy set is 50% off as well. This is the last day of the deal, so act fast! [Read more...]
Once in a while, as I scour the depths of the Internet, I come across some great images that display how creative people can be. This morning, I encountered a picture that I’ve dubbed ‘Snow CARS.’ Where was it taken? I’m not even sure when it was taken. If it was recently, given the blizzard that crippled the northeastern United States, it is possible the image was taken there. I’ll leave it up to you to decide:
Cool photo, right? Now that it’s been done, the ability to create characters from CARS using snow seems obvious.
After the release of Cars in 2006, Pixar has been releasing shorts set in the Cars universe, entitled Mater’s Tall Tales. Each story revolves around Mater telling what is seemingly a tall tale about himself. On Friday, July 30, a new “Cars Toon” is set to premiere on the Disney Channel, “Monster Truck Mater”. This is now the sixth episode in the Mater’s Tall Tales series, following such episodes as “Unidentified Flying Mater”, and “El Materdor”. The official description for the episode follows:
Last week, Movieline reported that Pixar was putting out a DVD-spinoff of Cars entitled Planes. The site ran it as an exclusive and did not provide a source for the information. Overall, I think the news got blown way out of proportion after the mainstream media picked up on the story. Some began to question Pixar. “Why?” they asked. “How could Pixar go into the DVD-sequel business when they were doing so well?” was another common question. How quickly we forget about a feature such as Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. [Read more...]