My book The Victorian Planning System: Practice, Problems and Prospects is now available from Federation Press.
My book Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs is out now through Palgrave Macmillan.
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Tag Archives: pixar
Here’s the new trailer for Pixar’s Up:
I like this a lot. As many others have noted – as early as the appearance of the first concept art – this whole project has a strong Miyazaki vibe. Again, Pixar seem willing to nudge their material in a slightly more whimsical direction: perhaps they did, in fact, learn something from their excursion into formulaic mediocrity with Cars.
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
Note: this review includes spoilers and my usual rambling ruminations about animation in general.
“There’s something warm and inviting about most animation in just about any classic Disney animated feature, and computers are just never going to pull it off.”
– Thad Komorowski, reviewing WALL-E
Pixar’s WALL-E is a refreshing change of pace. When almost all the productions of their rivals involved a group of animals teaming up and sharing an adventure (a format that even Pixar’s last film, Ratatouille, shared), Pixar have instead gone for a science fiction parable. The result retains their patented sweetness, but gives it a welcome sense of renewal. Pixar’s recent output had been invigorated by the recruitment of the immensely talented Brad Bird, but there was a feeling that Bird’s contribution to The Incredibles and Ratatouille might have been camouflaging a slide in the studio’s work. Certainly Cars, on which Bird did not work, was relatively dull and conventional. WALL-E, however, was written and directed by one of Pixar’s in-house talents, Andrew Stanton (who directed Finding Nemo and co-directed A Bug’s Life), and it shows that there is still a creative spark at Pixar beyond Brad Bird.
The site has had, until yesterday, another quiet few weeks, what with one thing another. Whenever I go through one of these periods where I don’t have time to get something substantial up (or where, as was the was the case over the last week or so, I’m labouring over something that starts as a short post and ends as a great big one) the temptation is always to keep the page ticking over by posting the various silly things and rumours on this page. But then I get self-conscious about how lightweight some of this stuff is.
After I’ve just published a “proper” article or post, though, I’ve got no such qualms. So on the coat-tails of my piece on Film Theory, it’s time to catch up on the frivolous stuff from the internet.
Pixar’s newest film, Ratatouille, sees the studio’s gun director, Brad Bird, try his hand at saving a troubled production. The result is a somewhat messy and not completely satisfactory film, but still one that sees the studio expanding the horizons of the form.
Bird is an exciting figure. He worked with Disney in the 1980s, and was mentored by legendary animator Milt Kahl, before becoming one of the key creative personnel in the early years of The Simpsons. He then directed the acclaimed (but underseen) The Iron Giant for Warner Bros before joining Pixar to helm The Incredibles. It’s a career progression that moves from a start under one of animation’s great figures, to a key role in the renaissance of television animation, and then a shift to theatrical features just as that area was growing moribund again after a revival in the nineties. As everyone else’s features have grown more and more alike – with jive-talking animals, fart jokes and pop culture gags galore – Bird’s films have remained distinct. They stand apart from even the generally superior films produced by Pixar: while the other Pixar films show a clear house style that is very much driven by the sensibilities of Toy Story director John Lasseter (and which in Cars had started to slide towards mediocrity), Bird’s films are distinguished by their more adult tone and adventurous subject matter.
In the lead-up to the Oscars, there’s always a lot of discussion around what will win, the overwhelming majority of which centers on the “big five” awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress). And whatever you think about the Oscars, there are usually some interesting features battling it out, even if they aren’t quite what you might think are actually the best films. (“Best Picture Made in America, By a Big Studio and Seeming Important Without Being Too Challenging” might be a better name for the night’s biggest award).
But how’s this for a strange little Oscar Contest? Best Animated Feature has three nominees (down from five because less than sixteen films were eligible): Cars, Happy Feet, and Monster House. I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with the okay-to-mediocre Cars and the surprisingly bad Happy Feet. I haven’t seen Monster House, and from most reports it’s actually pretty good. But it is a heavily motion-captured film (as, to a lesser extent, is Happy Feet), which means that however good it might be, its pretty dubious as an example of the best of the animated form.
Cars (John Lasseter, 2006)
The latest Pixar film, Cars, is an enjoyable animated film that should leave audiences pretty happy. I want to say this up front, because this is going to sound like a negative review. For while Cars is a good film, it is also the first Pixar film that falls short of excellence. It is therefore much more interesting to talk about what doesn’t work in Cars: by now, we all know what’s good about Pixar’s films, but this is our first look at a less-than-excellent one.
The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
Brad Bird’s The Incredibles is the latest in the extraordinary winning streak of the Pixar animation studio, but it is also a film that challenges everything we thought we knew about Pixar films. In their first five features (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, and Finding Nemo) a house style emerged based largely on the sensibilities of John Lasseter, director or co-director of three of those five films, and generally we know what to expect from the studio. Their features are unashamedly kids’ films, albeit ones rich enough to entertain all ages. They use non-human characters (toys, insects, monsters, fish) for their central cast. They centre on a pair of “buddy” heroes (Woody and Buzz, Sulley and Mike, Marlin and Dory), or a troupe of friends who all work together. The tone – warm, gently sentimental, and without cynicism – strongly recalls the best of the early Disney animated films. This consistency in approach surely derives from the use of in-house directorial talent, with the directors other than Lasseter (Lee Unkrich, Pete Doctor and Andrew Stanton) having learnt the ropes working alongside Lasseter.
Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton), 2003
Here’s one for those who like conspiracy theories: during 2003, Steve Jobs (head of Pixar animation studios) and Michael Eisner (head of Disney) were renegotiating the deal that allowed Disney to distribute Pixar’s films. With four straight hit films under their belts – Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc – Pixar had a strong bargaining position, and Disney expected their cut of the profit from Pixar films drastically reduced. Yet in 2002 and early 2003, rumours circulated that the upcoming Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, was not up to the standard of its predecessors. This put a small, but significant question mark over the future of Pixar – was their strong negotiation based on past glories, rather than a realistic assessment of what might be to come? Were Pixar due for a fall? Ultimately, the negotiations dragged on until Finding Nemo was released – whereupon it received universally positive reviews and eclipsed Disney’s The Lion King as the highest grossing animated film ever. Pixar’s status as the studio that could do no wrong was protected, and the cloud over the negotiations lifted. But here’s the question – could Disney possibly have started the bad buzz on Nemo to force their hand?