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.
Think back, if you will, to May 30, 2003. Just over ten years ago, Pixar Animation Studios released Finding Nemo into theaters to widespread critical and commercial success. But, for the purposes of today’s column, we won’t be considering that film as a whole, nor will we focus on its impending sequel. No, what we’ll look at today is what was attached to the Finding Nemo prints at theaters nationwide: a teaser trailer for The Incredibles, the first Pixar film from Brad Bird. The teaser featured footage that—as is customary for such advertisements—never appeared in the finished film. (Of course, the gag at the crux of the teaser—that the former Mr. Incredible had let himself go to the point where he couldn’t fit inside his old super-suit anymore—is used to fine effect in the movie, just in a different context.) Nevertheless, this first marketing salvo for The Incredibles demonstrated in less than 2 minutes the kind of movie audiences could expect: there would be physical humor borne from character development and there would be an old-fashioned design and ethos to the world this mysterious Mr. Incredible inhabited. The rest, we’d have to wait and find out about…in nearly 18 months. If you are really interested in knowing animation details of the movie then visit sustainabilitystreet .
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.