Sunday, May 31, 2009

Silly Rabbit, Pixar Is For Kids

About 15 minutes into Up I found myself in a certain situation. I was desperately fighting back tears. Desperately. I've found myself in this situation a lot with the more recent Pixar films.

Let me just say how amazing this is. Especially with Up. That the characters can look so cartoon-y (square fingers, anyone?) and yet still be able to tear your heart out. Kudos to Pixar and director Pete Doctor for excellent storytelling. Let me preface all this by pointing out that I'm still writing about the first 15 minutes. Specifically the love story montage. It was magical. Some of the best storytelling I've ever seen. And when I watched it, I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of a theater filled with screaming kids watching a cartoon with stupid 3-D glass on. But then Up slides into familiar territory. It's like someone burst into the room and yelled "hey, wait a minute! This is a cartoon."

Don't get me wrong. Up was a good film. But it was like watching a really smart kid phone it in.

Pixar is no doubt at the top of the game, but I'm not sure it's at the top of its game. I appreciate that Pixar continues to redefine animation, but I feel I'm being served little morsels instead of really big chunks. I think it's time for them to do something truly revolutionary.

If you've seen the movie already, you know that Toy Story 3 is up next for them. And completely contrary to this entire post, I'm very excited for that. But after that, I'll be looking for something more. They've whet my whistle with Up. And now I'm ready for them to serve up something truly spectacular.


Burbanked said...

The family and I are making plans to go this evening, so I'm excited to see it. Thanks for the spoiler-free review-like thing.

I was a bit reluctant to get excited about TS3, thinking that maybe there'd be nothing to tell and nowhere to go. But damnit if that quickie teaser didn't just plot me right back into 1995. I feel like a giddy schoolgirl, and I've never been all that giddy.

Them folks at Pixar? Sorcerers, I tells ya.

PIPER said...

Yeah, I almost clapped out loud when I saw that they were doing a Toy Story 3. I guess I know what to expect when seeing that. With Up, they led me one way and then switched it up. Only I wanted them to keep going in the direction they were set. Hopefully you'll understand when you see it.

JA said...

Totally agree, Piper. I liked it all but the start was much stronger.

Kramer said...

Seems weird to nit-pick a Pixar movie, but Piper you bring up a point I've secretly wished for with Pixar for some time: a truly adult film from beginning to end. I don't know if biz decisions will ever let them, but in my dreams I'm holding out for some lower budget pixar b-studio where they do 40-50 million dollar films instead of 150-175 million dollar films that would let them cut lose, not just with story telling, but with the animation style, music, etc. too.

In that vein it'll be interesting to see what they do with Newt. (summer '11) It's about a nearly extinct lizard looking for the last of his kind to mate with. Except when he finds her they hate each other. Seems quirky and slightly adult, but we'll see where they take it, especially in the 2nd half of the film, which is where most Pixar films tend to get pretty kid friendly.

PIPER said...

Not sure how "adult" they'll get with a newt, but who knows?

Looking back Bird got pretty dang close with Ratatouille.

Kramer said...

Maybe "adult" is the wrong word. Then again their next film stars a cowboy named Woody...

You know what I mean though.

Bob Turnbull said...

I know what you're saying here and I agree with the premise that the first 15 minutes of "Up" (not to mention the first 25 or so of "WALL-E") are superior to what follows, but I still can't fault Pixar for anything here...It does turn into a "standard" family film (silly humour, chases, common themes, etc.), but nobody does that kind of thing better and very few ever have. I loved Dug and that bird and Russell and pretty much everything...

But yeah, I would love to see them unleash their full talents on a more mature film too. They can do so much without dialogue that they really should try an entire film without it.

brian said...

Props to the Pipes:

Pixar is no doubt at the top of the game, but I'm not sure it's at the top of its game.

Great writing, sir.

brian said...

Props to the Pipes:

Pixar is no doubt at the top of the game, but I'm not sure it's at the top of its game.

Great writing, sir.

PIPER said...


I can't disagree that they do family fun like no other. But I think about the film Bolt and I think that was a pretty good film. And that was good family fun. But with Pixar, I expect a little something more. I expect a little more risk involved.


Thank you, sir.

Burbanked said...

Not sure how much I agree now that I've seen it, Piper - because this is yet another seriously strong Pixar movie. You're asking them to be revolutionary - I'd suggest that every time they make a movie that absolutely focuses on story EVERY BIT AS WELL as the action IS a revolution. No one can do it like this, not even close.

Are there cartoony, kid-oriented action beats? Of course - but throughout the film there's also a permeating sense of sadness, of loss. Russell's longing for a father. Ellie's absence in nearly every frame - her empty chair, her picture, the bottlecap. She's everywhere and nowhere all at once in this movie and you never forget it. That first 15 minutes sets it up with all of the brilliant Swiss watch-like efficiency that Pixar's become famous for, and then they spend the next hour-plus paying it off like gangbusters.

THE MAN IS LITERALLY DRAGGGING HIS PAST AROUND. That's not familiar territory in a film like this. That's visual + story x action + metaphor = so very very very > BOLT or KUNG FU PANDA or any of the increasingly plentiful knockoffs.

The day my kid told me he wanted to own BOLT, I died a little. It's fun but it's empty. PANDA, too. There's never an earned emotional moment in those movies, not a single one. At their most shallow, Pixar movies remain in another league enirely. In your lifetime, you'll see Lasseter winning a Best Film Oscar - not just animated film. That's when you'll know that the revolution's been going on this entire time.

All of that having been gushed, however, I agree with Kramer that I'd LOVE to see a Pixar movie with no kid component at all. When they were going to break with Disney I was giddy with anticipation that this would happen.

Burbanked said...

(after all of that, should I comment again simply to correct the word "entirely"? am I that vain, do I worry that much about people thinking I don't know the difference or how to proofread?

no, I'll leave it alone. nobody cares. ah. feel better now.)

PIPER said...


Damn. Well said. This isn't so much a ding on Up as it is a longing for more "mature" fare. It seems like they've got the chops for it and I want them to really explore it some more.

But I will say the entire section with Muntz in the blimp did feel very traditional. It was like "cue the bad guy." It felt like it didn't really belong. It would have been interesting to see how the movie would have gone with no conflict with a bad guy.

Burbanked said...

I'll agree that Muntz is a bit one-dimensional...for a Pixar character. But at the same time he fulfills a very specific function in his significance to Carl's shared past with Ellie; he's yet another obstacle that Carl must overcome in his efforts to let go.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Brad Bird got pretty close with the Incredibles, too.

The only time Pixar has disappointed me was Cars. I always felt that it was Pixars attempt to stick Disney with an aborted idea before leaving, but then they got bought.

Considering that they're owned by Disney, they get away with a lot. I didn't think Wall-E or Up didn't go far enough - I was impressed with how far they went.

PIPER said...


Cars is terrible and you might be right with your theory on that.

To me Brad Bird was an excellent addition to the Pixar crew. Iron Giant is still one of my favorites of his.

My problem is that with Wall E and now Up, I felt I was led in a certain direction. One that suggested a more sophisticated approach. But then it pulls it back for more family fare. I'm not disappointed in it, I was just expecting more.

Fletch said...

Echo echo echo.

100% agree with your entire post, and I'm right there with both you and Paul RE Cars being the worst. I can't believe some people like that the best of all of Pixar's work. My opinion of them goes down when I hear that.

Apropos of nothing, I thought the pre-show short was the weakest in some time. I know they're mean to be more playful and all, but it was too sugary sweet with not much else.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

The pre-show short creeped me the fuck out. Those clouds were just strange looking.

PIPER said...

Fletch and Paul,

I agree. I didn't care much for the opening short. Especially compared to the magic show short before Wall E. That was excellent.