logan j. fowler contributes a special guest blog about the influential animation studio …
About minutes into Wall-E, you have not heard a word of human language. Yet, you sit there, wondering what will happen to this curious little trash robot and his new found sleek counterpart, Eve. As the true climax of the movie begins to unfold, you begin to applaud Pixar for doing something so radically different.
Well, that’s what I was thinking anyway.
With three movies released before the year 2000 (Toy Story, Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2), Pixar had made a footnote in the entertainment industry. Combining gorgeous CGI animation with witty scripts, memorable characters, and stories both kids and adults can enjoy, the company could’ve just kicked back after that hat trick.
But it didn’t. And we, as the audience, should be ever grateful.
Beginning in 2001, we were given a new universe, filled with colorful and zany creatures. As any child will tell you, there’s always a monster somewhere in their room. This film exploited the myth and gave us the best Pixar duo since Woody and Buzz: Mike and Sully, the stars of Monster’s, Inc. While light on the dramatic fare that Pixar would experiment later on it’s film series, Monster’s, Inc. was another gem in the Pixar library, giving kids a cuddly hero with Mike, who would be later introduced to a cute little toddler named Boo, and turning the myth on its ear that kids weren’t afraid of monsters, monsters were afraid of them. But Mike begins to have a soft spot for Boo, and as the film nears its end, we are given a chase with Sully and Randall, the villain of the film, among rails of doors (which lead to various children’s bedrooms), high above the ground.
Wow. Moving on …
In 2003, Pixar took us under the sea, as we met a bunch of various species of aquatic life, from clown fish to crabs, in Finding Nemo. A little fish dares to break the hold his father has over him, resulting in him being kidnapped and placed in a fish tank way above sea level. His father, Marlon, does everything in his power to find him, while being accompanied by a fish with a short term memory named Dory, who is instantly quotable (whale talk, “Squishy,” “What’s wrong Mr. Grumpy Gills?”) and the comic relief who provides laughs while this poor father searches for his missing son.
While the kids get a wonderful look at aquatic life and get to laugh along with Dory, parents see the real life situation of kids getting older, and needing to be understood in their growing wants. It’s a film that really made Pixar known as the company that could do no wrong.
But why stop there?
In 2004, Pixar gave us the ULTIMATE super hero film. Demonstrating how an action/family film can be done, the company distributed The Incredibles, a movie that was everything Marvel’s Fantastic Four live-action film should’ve been but wasn’t. Focusing on the family aspect of The Incredibles, the flick combined a James Bond/comic-book feel and for the record, while light and silly in moments, the movie was DARK. When Elastigirl/Helen/Mrs. Incredible tell her kids that they need to protect themselves or the bad guys will kill them, Pixar proved that they are not just putting out the product for children. As far as I know, a lot of kids prefer the lighter fare when it comes to the Pixar films, but when I ask adults, the result is pretty much the same: The Incredibles IS the finest example of a superhero movie that is out there. Fun, action-packed and dark, all wrapped up into a PG movie. Also don’t forget Edna Mode, voiced by the film’s director, Brad Bird.
This is Pixar six movies in: They have given us original, non-formulaic, material to watch, with light kid friendly fare but an adult message behind it. They only real drop, I feel, in the library, is the next film.
When 2006 “rolled” around, Pixar released Cars. All of a sudden, kids were sporting Lightning McQueen gear, quoting him, and loving it. Mind you: These were mostly boys, but as you may very well know, most boys love cars. Especially ones that go fast.
What unfortunately happened here is that Pixar ripped a page of the movie cliche book: Lightning McQueen, surrounded by fame and loving it, gets lost in a place surrounded by a series of eccentric vehicles, and wants to “race” back home. Meets a car that was just like him, a winner, this new car becomes his mentor, McQueen falls in love, and decides to become part of this new found community of vehicles. He is the “Doc Hollywood” of cars.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Cars is a heck of a lot better than a ton of other animated films, and even at it’s worst, Pixar still held onto being the best. Cars is extremely entertaining for what it is, and is a gorgeous film. McQueen is an entertaining car, and the town of outcasts are witty, and the movie provides some breathtaking animation. However, even though my creativity is light years away from the writers at Pixar, it’s a story that we have seen before in other formats.
But, in 2007, they went back to just trying something different and seeing if it stuck. Pixar, then, gave us Ratatouille, which was a tale about a rat trying to be a cook.
Yep. This story takes place in the gorgeously animated city of Paris, and we learn that Remy the rat loves to cook and to sample flavors, and his dream is to be a professional chef. He gets his chance when he comes face to face with Linguine (yes, really his name), the son of a famous chef. Apparently Linguine learns that Remy spiced up his soup, and with that, Linguine takes Remy to train him to become a better chef in the kitchen.
Now, obviously the underlying humor here is that a rat would not dare be allowed in the kitchen. Also, there is a moral that no matter what your obstacle, you can do something. Brad Bird, who gave us The Incredibles, adds another gem to his work, putting Pixar again in the animation domination lead (like it ever fell behind anyway).
But a year later, in 2008, Pixar dared to be different. After the lighter fare of Ratatouille, Pixar gave us Wall-E. From the previews, it looked like a cute little robot that all the kids would love and the adults would be dragged to see. However, this movie didn’t top critics lists as one of the best movies of the year for nothing.
Wall-E gives us a sample of cute for a while, then pulls back to show us the bigger picture: Earth is, in a matter of speaking, falling apart. Humans live in space in a massive ship, they are bloated and lazy, and the robots are left to clean our planet. When Wall-E discovers a plant, the only remnant of life on Earth, it is up to him and the humans to return to Earth to rebuild. While I won’t spoil how it ends, the film does get very dark at points, and while some consider it too preachy, it tries to open your eyes to the danger our planet and ourselves is/are facing.
While Wall-E was pretty dark, the following summer, in 2009, Pixar gave us, what I think, it’s funniest and darkest film combined: Up. I won’t spoil it for you, just watch it ok?
Anyway, I have to give credit to Up for introducing to two of the funniest Pixar characters: Russell, the ever-adamant boy scout, and Dug the Dog, who has a collar who allows him to actually speak. They join up with our hero as they dodge talking dogs, the cruelest villain in a Pixar movie since Syndrome of The Incredibles, and time.
I honestly would say this film ranks a close second behind my favorite movie in the library and in general, The Incredibles.
Up is, I’ll say it, not an easy movie to take in, especially if you are kid. It pulls no punches, gives it to you straight and will leave you feeling sad and downtrodden for the characters you meet. However, this movie sums up why I dedicated this whole entire document to the company that created it.
Pixar is a company that even with all its success, continues to break ground in the films it makes . From the apocalyptic presence of Wall-E, to the unbelievable but humorous scenario that Ratatouille portrays, to the punch to the gut that Up showcases 10 minutes into the film, Pixar is not making films for kids alone. The cartoon images are there, and the comic tones are in place, but behind them is a movie appealing to the child in all of us, longing to go on an adventure, to laugh, to cry, to learn. To be entertained. Pixar Animation Studios has provided these feelings to us time and time again and I know my money will never be wasted when I put it down for one of their movies. As Toy Story 3 looms on the horizon, I cannot wait to see what adventure Woody, Buzz and Co. will set out on.
And I can’t wait to see what Pixar will do for cinema in the next 10 years.
Just please: The Incredibles 2? That’s all I ask. 🙂
Thanks for the greatness.