It’s the most controversial time of the year. Awards season is officially underway, with various organizations beginning to announce nominations and even winners for what they consider to be the year’s best films. Where awards shows go, controversy follows closely behind, as bold choices are often made for which films, filmmakers, and actors are celebrated. On Monday, the Los Angeles branch of Association Internationale du Film d’Animation, also known as ASIFA-Hollywood, released their list of nominees for the Annie Awards, an event that many consider to be the biggest night for film and television animation. Pixar’s Monsters University and Toy Story OF TERROR! landed a combined 17 nominations. Find more details about what is in store for Pixar this awards season after the break!
'Monsters University' News
A fairly common trend over the last few years has been a growing frustration among some people at the idea that the Christmas season is beginning earlier and earlier. Holiday music starts playing well before Thanksgiving, decorations go up near the beginning of November, and so on. In the world of film, the closest parallel is that of awards season (or the ever-expanding length of the summer movie season). There was a time when the Oscars were presented near the end of March. These days, it seems more likely that the Oscars ceremony might soon come near the beginning of February or beforehand. That, of course, has a ripple effect: every other awards body announces its victors before the Oscars, with some organizations starting, this year, as early as two weeks from now. But even the Oscars are jumping the gun, at least in terms of announcing some features and shorts that have made it onto their shortlists and longlists. Those lists include potential nominees for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short. For Pixar, there’s good and bad news within those lists.
As the calendar turns to November, the awards race begins to heat up in Hollywood. Although the most notable of the awards shows, the Academy Awards, does not take place until March 2014, every studio aims to stay in front of the pack, especially as the holiday season is often stacked with films looking to capture the attention of critics and awards voters. Monsters University will be competing with Disney Animation’s Frozen to receive nominations in the Animated Film category, both of which the Academy stated have been submitted by Disney for contention. However, the Academy has also announced that Pixar’s 2013 short, The Blue Umbrella, did not make the shortlist of animation shorts advancing to the next stage and will not be competing for an Oscar.
Pixar may have a problem with a lack of female representation among its directors, but that’s not the case with many of its female characters. The concern over the disparity of active female characters in mainstream filmmaking has grown (rightly) louder over the last couple of years; though this has been a problem in big-budget films for a very long time, it’s become truly galling because it shows a perceived lack of progressivism in a culture that is often painted as being potentially too progressive. No doubt, there is a disturbing inequality in the number of male versus female directors, writers, and producers in Hollywood. Pixar may not be perfect, but to presume, as some have, that it is similarly failing in representing strong female characters in its films is wildly inaccurate.
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.)
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.
Over the last few days, the Internet has been abuzz regarding this article, in which the author posits a so-called “Pixar Theory,” the notion that every one of Pixar’s films are connected and take place in the same, eventually apocalyptic universe. There is, unfortunately, no way for this writer to tackle that theory in any great detail without sounding like a Debbie Downer. Jon Negroni’s argument is, in essence, a Pixar fan’s attempt to out-do the conspiracy theorists on display in Room 237, the excellent 2012 documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. So we can, on the one hand, acknowledge the ballsiness of Mr. Negroni’s concept and the amount of thought and time he put into its existence, but it’s almost too easy to poke holes in the theory.
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.
WARNING: This article will discuss, in at least moderate detail, the last act of Monsters University, so the spoiler-phobic should consider themselves…well, warned. Again, major spoilers ahead!
Each of us reaches a point in our lives where we are forced to come to terms with the limitations of life. We all have dreams as children, of becoming astronauts, or movie stars, or athletes, in spite of the harsh reality that few of us—if any—will ever achieve those goals. If you grew up during the early 1990s, you might’ve thought, “Well, I’m going to be the next Michael Jordan. That’s just how it is,” while shooting a free throw or two into the basketball net in your backyard. Or maybe you thought you’d be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger while playing with a Terminator action figure. The odds, however, are stacked against the majority of us. The flashiest jobs are the ones we gravitate towards in our imaginations, but the humdrum avocations are the ones we’re likely to end up working in.
We’re only a few days away from a very exciting time of year for Pixar fans, the release of their newest film. For their fourteenth effort, as you are no doubt aware, Pixar is looking back with a prequel to Monsters, Inc. called Monsters University, in which we see how Mike Wazowski, James P. Sullivan and the rest of the Monstropolis crew became the adult monsters they were in the 2001 movie through their collegial exploits. And so, why not spend today’s column looking back at that original movie for another monthly look at a Pixar moment? The world of Monstropolis, sometimes more teased at than revealed in full, is a fascinating parallel to humanity, yet its apex is a series of doors to our world.
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?
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.
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...]
Great movie trailers are something of a lost art. While we are overloaded with ads for every new big-budget movie these days, they’re getting more obnoxious, cacophonous, and ruinous. Depending on the movie, you can go onto its website or YouTube and see a handful of TV spots—most of which repurpose the same shots, action, and dialogue, but tweak them ever so slightly to stand out—as well as teaser trailers and full trailers that often lay out a movie’s entire plot. If they don’t, they’re almost certainly going to show you some of the most impressive bits of action or the funniest jokes. It feels as if we’ve been clucking our tongues at trailers that spoil the films they sell since the advent of the Internet. So why, exactly, should we watch trailers for movies we know we’re going to see? [Read more...]
According to Variety, Paramount shuffled some release dates around yesterday, which is fairly common in the film industry. Disney and Pixar have surely taken notice as zombie film World War Z, which is being adapted from the popular Max Brooks novel, has been pushed from this holiday season to June 21, 2013, a date that Pixar’s Monsters University originally had all to itself. If the change holds up, it looks like monsters will be battling some zombies for the box office crown that weekend. [Read more...]
At a 20th Anniversary screening of City Slickers on Friday night, Billy Crystal had a chance to speak about his upcoming role in the prequel film, Monsters University. Returning as the voice of the hilarious Mike Wazowski, Crystal spoke with Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex blog, who moderated the event. Apparently, the actor had just finished working on an extensive voicing session for the film, and his voice was a bit hoarse. Read on for some thought from Billy Crystal on the highly anticipated Monsters University! [Read more...]
Scott Clark, who has previously served as a supervising animator on such Pixar films as Cars and Up, is back at it again as he announced earlier today that he is “supervising the animation team on Monsters University.” The only other crew member that has been officially announced for the film is Dan Scanlon, who is directing the film for release in 2013. [Read more...]