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.
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.
Pixar Animation Studios is the exemplar of originality in Hollywood. This is what we remind ourselves when we get frustrated that they’ve announced a sequel to Finding Nemo or a prequel to Monsters, Inc. If those sequels turn out to be more like Toy Story 2 instead of Cars 2, then good for all of us. But when we think of Pixar, we think original. They may pay homage to animated and live-action films from across the globe, of course; however, what the animators and filmmakers in Emeryville, California do has always been based on original ideas. Today, after considering a recently unearthed report, it’s time to ponder the opposite: what if Pixar did traffic in adaptations of preexisting material?
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.
Depending on your age and attitude, it has become very difficult over the last month to not be cynical about the state of affairs at the Walt Disney Company. Though Disney appears to be, financially, as high as they’ve ever been, the company is cutting costs left and right, up to and including letting long-time employees go. Some of the more high-profile layoffs have targeted, inadvertently, one hopes, touchstones of many a Millennial child. Last year, people thrilled at the idea that Disney was now in league with the seminal video-game company LucasArts as part of buying Lucasfilm as a whole. A few weeks ago, those same people were depressed to hear that Disney shuttered the company for good, essentially outsourcing future video games. And now, Disney’s axed a number of their most venerated employees in the hand-drawn animation department, cementing the notion that hand-drawn animation is persona non grata at a company that built its reputation on that illustrative vision.
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.
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...]
Over the last year, a fast-growing and nearly deafening debate in the film world is that of Pixar Animation Studios vs. Walt Disney Animation Studios. For a long time, the two heavyweight fighters were Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, because Disney Animation was churning out titles such as Brother Bear and Chicken Little, not remotely close to representing serious competition. Since the success of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, though, people have once again sat up and paid attention to the studio that started it all, seeing in its new breed of animators a serious challenge to Pixar’s creative and financial dominance. Now that Pixar’s had two consecutive features creatively falter to varying degrees—Brave was better than people give it credit for, but it never reached the vertiginous heights of Up or the raw emotion of Toy Story 3—and because they have a couple sequels at different stages of production, the knives are out, thanks to a built-in yet outlandish level of impatience.
Mattel and Disney have teamed up to create a new Toy Story short, but not the kind we are used to seeing from Disney/Pixar. This short was created using the “Toy Story: Space Mission” toys that were recently released. One of the greatest things the “toymation video short” has going for it is that a child does all the voices for the characters, including that of Buzz, Woody, and Zurg. Similar to Andy in the Toy Story feature films, this takes us inside the mind of a child and exposes us to his imagination. Take a look at the video here and learn some cool facts on how the video was made! [Read more...]
Last week, we learned that Disney brought in Pixar to help out Tron: Legacy. Now, The Hollywood Reporter is saying that Disney flew out to Pixar’s campus in Emeryville and did a table read on Wednesday for the previously announced Muppets film. The article states that some of the members of Pixar’s well-known “Brain Trust” were present to offer advice. [Read more...]
EW is reporting that after the primary shooting was completed for the upcoming Tron: Legacy, Disney decided to show an early cut of the film to John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, who were instrumental in the emergence of Pixar. Then, Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt and Pixar director Brad Bird were brought in to help write the re-shoots that were set to occur for the film. [Read more...]