I know because I used to think they were amazing. I loved a lot of their movies. In a way, I still do, to some extent. They’re usually good at telling a heartwarming story with a bit of touching humour, sometimes for the kids, sometimes for the adults. They’re good like that, accomodating for a wide age bracket. They built up a reputation for themselves as the premium animated feature film company the world over. They break records, they win awards, and people go batshit insane over how cute and clever and poignant they are. But with that reputation, something was bound to slip eventually. I mean, when your main competition is Dreamworks, it’s not that hard to be the best.
Now, I’m not saying Dreamworks is shit, but its standard is nowhere near that of Pixar. Towards the start, they were putting out similar sorts of concepts. Antz (Dreamworks) compared to A Bug’s Life (Pixar), or Shark Tale (Dreamworks) compared to Finding Nemo (Pixar). That’s ok, I don’t have a problem with that. But every time I saw a Dreamworks trailer it just looked dumb. Just the sort of thing you’d expect out of a film that fails to grant its child-viewers with some form of intelligence. It’s not stimulating. It’s all fart jokes and poorly executed one-liners. It’s like the kids’ version of Family Guy. Again, not a problem, I’d just like to illustrate the point that Dreamworks is no class act. I do, however, have a soft spot for their collaborations with Aardman Studios for Chicken Run and Flushed Away.
I suppose if we’re looking at the American animation heavyweights, Blue Sky Studios would be the next name to bring up. If you’re a little fuzzy on these guys, they’re the guys that did Ice Age. And Ice Age 2. And Ice Age 3. And Ice Age 4 will be coming out this year too. And they did that shitty Rio film. Maybe it’s because I’m not six, but I get the impression that some of the guys making these films aren’t even trying. Ice Age probably should have been put down a long time ago. And this comes to my main problem with Pixar. Anything that’s really popular, regardless if it’s good or not, will get sequels. If the sequels are popular, they’ll get more sequels, regardless of quality. And if they’ve got a good formula, they stick with it.
Shrek was the breakthrough franchise for Dreamworks. Oh, hey, it’s got Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy saying funny things and being subversive with our fairytales! Cool. Don’t make three sequels, a spinoff film, and copious piles of merchandise. Please. And just when Shrek is starting to wind down, holy shit, it’s Jack Black as a panda saying funny things and being subversive with western animation by being about eastern culture! Oh, that Jack Black is a funny man. One sequel was enough. Please don’t beat the shit out of the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Dreamworks seems to rely too much on franchise films and celebrity voice actors.
Did somebody say Cars? No…? Owen Wilson? Cars 2? From the guys that actually managed to pull off a trilogy in Toy Story without appearing to be saturating the market with shitty marketing gimmicks and merchandise. From the guys that made Up, and Wall-E. There’s talking Cars. And there’s this one car who is totally awesome and he thinks he’s hot shit. Then he goes through a rough patch then comes out on top. Hooray for Owen Wilson, the Underdog. And he even let the hillbilly rustbucket be his friend. What a nice guy! The thing about Cars was that it was the least critically acclaimed out of all the Pixar films (but still somehow better than pretty much anything Dreamworks ever did). And they decide that Cars is the film out of all the other Pixar films post-Toy Story to do a sequel. You’ve got to be shitting me. Kids love it. They buy the toys, the backpacks, the refridgerator magnets, the sippy cups, the cotton onesies, the combs, the lunch boxes, the flavoured yoghurts, the hats, the shoes, the posters, the bedsheets, the stickers, the nappies (and they don’t see the irony in shitting in them).
They should have spent their time and money on something like Up, or Wall-E. Do you know why Cars 2 wasn’t nominated for an Oscar? Because it’s pure marketing gimmick. It’s an add on to a franchise. Shit, even Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots were given a sympathy nomination, even though everybody knew Rango was the obvious choice. Why Rango? Because it did what Pixar films have done in the past. Go for originality, and branch out to a wide audience. And it was fucking weird. Johnny Depp doesn’t say funny things. He says weird things and is subversive with plot. The film treats its audience like intellectuals.
If I haven’t made myself clear already, I think Pixar’s best films were Up and Wall-E. Even though Wall-E got hell preachy with the whole environmental angle and the obesity/laziness thing going on. That was their last two films before Toy Story 3 and Cars 2. Before that, with the exception of the Incredibles (gotta throw a bone to Brad Bird), all their films have been playing it safe. They’re all about talking objects or animals. And Dreamworks is pretty much the same. And Blue Sky Studios. Fucking hell, guys, your creative team is getting paid way too much. If the reception of your films have taught you anything, it’s that the riskier, more creative ideas usually pay off better than the films about the talking blanks. I’ve made this point numerous times before, but there’s a finite amount of objects and animals in this world you can make talk for the entertainment of children.
I’ve even gone off the traditional Disney films because of the whole patriarchal princes and princesses thing. You know the one, where the women are all like “save me, save me!” and the men are all like “I’ll save you!” and good conquers evil, and blah blah blah, happy times, the end. There’s nothing quite like a bit of conventional conflict/resolution to reinforce gender/cultural stereotypes.
While I hate to use the word ‘feminist’, I’ll take a kick-ass female protagonist over a whiny bitch any day. That’s why I go to Studio Ghibli for my childhood animated fantasy fun-times. Well, they’re not exclusively for children (see Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies), but they’ve got nontraditional representations of gender (the characters actually have depth), the worlds are imaginative, and the narratives have an appeal to all ages and don’t rely on snotty schoolyard humour to win over the audience. I know this probably won’t last forever either, but at least they’ve got variety and ambition and critical acclaim on a consistent basis.
I’m keen on checking out more Pixar films as they come out, but if it’s based around talking animals or objects, or is a sequel of a film based around talking animals or objects, I’ll be more inclined to give it a miss.