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 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.
Last year was a solid year for animation, consisting of several popular hits including Wreck-It Ralph and Brave, along with less-seen but still quality films such as ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. All of the above were deservedly nominees in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars, but no clear winner was in sight. Pixar’s Brave had picked up momentum in recent months, taking the top animation prize at the Golden Globes. After sitting out the category at last year’s Academy Awards, Pixar was looking to reclaim the spot that it had all but claimed ownership over in recent years.
A few weeks ago, Brave won best animated film at the Golden Globes, the Pixar film’s first major award of the season. With the Academy Awards just two weeks away, the question was whether Brave would be able to maintain momentum. The BAFTAs, often referred to as the overseas version of the Oscars, were held earlier tonight in London, and it looks like good fortune remains on the film’s side as it took home the prize for Best Animated Film. Watch the acceptance speech after the break!
Last year, Pixar received awards and nominations for its short film, La Luna, which was beautifully directed by Enrico Casarosa. However, the divisive Cars 2 largely remained on the sidelines, making last year the first time Pixar’s feature film had not been a factor in awards season. Brave received far more favorable reviews in 2012, and last night captured the Golden Globe in the Best Animated Feature Film category. Find more details and watch the acceptance speech after the break!
Almost two years ago, word leaked out that Brenda Chapman, who was to be the first woman to head up a Pixar film, had been replaced as director of Brave. The reasoning provided by Disney for the removal was “creative differences.” Chapman stayed at the animation studio while Brave was in production, but then quietly headed for the exit after the film was released in theaters. For the first time, she is speaking out about her removal, describing it as “devastating.”
Brenda Chapman was a well-known personality in the industry before she arrived at Pixar, as she was the first woman ever to direct an animated film from a major studio (The Prince of Egypt from DreamWorks Animation). She had also worked in the writing department on Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Chicken Run. Excitement was in the air when she was hired by Pixar, considered by many to be the best in the animation business. She was to be the first female lead director at the studio when she came up with the idea for Brave before she was replaced by Mark Andrews. Now, a report has emerged that she recently left Pixar. [Read more…]
With most reviews written today for Pixar films, there is this innate drive to compare the studio’s latest with its fantastic catalog. The Pixar name has become synonymous with more than just great animated films – a story that is layered so that both children and adults can enjoy it, characters that you can relate to, smart and creative humor, beautiful visuals – over the last decade, Pixar has become a brand that brings in droves of people expecting another great film. The challenge that arises from that expectation is that instead of weighing the films on their own merits, they are endlessly compared to the films that came before. Brave arrives in theaters tomorrow with much hype about whether it makes for a film worthy of the Pixar name – Pixar film or not, Brave is first and foremost an impressive feature, with a compelling mother-daughter relationship that sits at its core. After the break, you can find my full spoiler-free thoughts on the film. [Read more…]
Back in April, I was invited to Pixar to preview the first half-hour of Brave, and speak in-depth with several of the filmmakers. I had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s production designer, Steve Pilcher, who worked on the film for almost seven years. That may sound like a frustrating amount of time on one film, but Pilcher loves what he does. After the jump, read my exclusive interview with him, where he talks about the job of a production designer, the change in directors that Brave went through, the mythical aspects of Scotland, the importance of mystery to the film’s look, and more! [Read more…]
With about three months until the release of Brave, the marketing for the film is now starting to push into the halls of movie theaters. Sure, trailers and posters for the Pixar film have been a mainstay in theaters over the past several months, but now standees have also started to pop up. Now, standees don’t sound all that cool, but the design of these cardboard cutouts is actually quite creative. Take a look at the great Brave theater standees after the jump! [Read more…]