"We Doubt Younger Boys Will Be Excited by the Main Character"

Yeah, that's pretty much the only demographic Hollywood pays any attention to. They've successfully managaed to focus on the 13-year-old male so exclusively that the rest of us have finally tuned out. I can't imagine the last time my grandparents went to see a movie in the theater.

This is a very good article on Pixar's Up, but haven't I read this twice before already? It's the new Pixar Narrative, in which the plucky artists square off against the businessmen in suits. Despite enormous successes in the past, the small studio continues to grow and stretch and push the boundaries of the medium, commercial concerns be damned. The stories are becoming more nuanced and emotionally complex, the characters moving further away from the cliches of the Hollywood animation feature, the animation medium in this country is finally growing up to the level of the world's masters. And audiences have attended in smaller and smaller numbers.

This will always be a concern, given the $7.4 billion Disney paid for Pixar. It goes without saying that all eyes will be peeled on those box-office numbers. The movie business is a cruel money game, and at the end of the day, money is the only thing that matters to the suits.

It's such a bizarre notion, really. A studio movie - both Ratatouille and Wall-E - breaks $200 million in US theaters and is considered a "failure." Pixar makes gobs of money. Disney makes gobs of money. But the suits were expecting the pile to be even bigger. So, in their world, it's a loss, and the pressure builds and builds to make the next feature a "safe" hit.

Still, this NY Times article is interesting, even though it's the same tut-tutting article that we've read twice before, preceeding the releases of Ratatouille and Wall-E. The stakes this time are especially high, for it may determine the creative future of Pixar. That's really the concern for me.

Let me explain. Right now, Pixar has a trilogy of films in which they seriously tried to break the mold of animated movies in America. This is a period of creative growth and maturity, first with Ratatouille, then with Wall-E, now with Up. I've called this "Pixar's Rubber Soul Phase." I still think the phrase works, and I'm a great supporter of these movies, not just because they're entertaining themselves, but because of the future they promise for American animation.

At this point in the story, we would be leading from Rubber Soul, to Revolver, and finally to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolution. Paradigm shift. That would be fantastic if it was allowed to happen. Frankly, our popular culture is long overdue for another revolution.

But this future lies in doubt. It simply may not ever happen. It's quite possible that, years from now, this will be seen as Pixar's creative peak, the moment when the rising tide of possibility and hope finally crested and fell back.

Hollywood is a business. Don't forget that. They are in business to make money, lots of it. And Pixar hasn't been meeting expectations. Declining box office returns, declining ticket sales, and fears of alienating the audiences? These have become problems to the suits. And through it all, the artists continue, with gleeful defiance, to continue to make the movies for themselves, not the suits.

Merchandizing! Merchandizing! Where da real money from da movie is made! How in the name of the Almighty Dollar to you sell toys for a movie starrring an grumpy old man? Where is the Happy Meal in that? Where is the Nintendo Wii spinoff? What five-year-old will be asking Santa for the Up toys? Santa, Santa, I wanna be an old man when I grow up!

Well, gee, Timmy, I think we can deliver on that one. Just wait a few decades and nature will take care of the rest.

So whether we like it or not, after 2009 there will be a reckoning. And it all rests on the success on Pixar's latest left-of-field experiment. You wanted to hear John and Paul sing, "Love Me Do?" Well, they're adults now, and they're going to play, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." Are you game? Or will you balk and stay home? Your decision may very well decide the future of animation in this country.

After this movie comes the next phase, a troubling phase. The sequels. Pixar will release Toy Story 3 next year, with "Cars 2," and "Monsters, Inc. 2" following close behind. You want the old hits? Well, kids, you're getting the old hits. And there's no doubt you'll get to see them again, and again, and again, and again....if the suits have their way.

You can see how this story ends. Disney is faced with a choice. The riskier, more complex films, or the safe hits. The corporate conglomerates that own the Hollywood studios solved this artistic dilemma years ago. They chose the safe hits.


Geoff N said...

The North American grosses of Ratatouille and Wall-E rank 6th and 7th respectively, ranked ahead of only Toy Story and A Bug's Life. However the last two came out in 1995/1998, so when you factor in budgets and ticket inflation, they actually did better then the most recent two.

However, while the grosses of the last two films have both just made it over 200M (206M/223M)their Foreign grosses have actually been higher then some previous efforts. Ratatouille'a 400m+ plus in foreign markets puts it 2nd to only Finding Nemo and Wall-E with 310M sits behind only Nemo, Ratatouille and the Incredibles.

So looking at the numbers, Foreign markets have been much more accepting to Pixar's latest efforts then North America...why am I not surprised?

Finding Nemo may be Pixar's top grosser, but I actually find it to be one of their weakest efforts. (compared to their other films) I put it ahead of only Cars and maybe A Bugs Life. I was surprised to see Wall-E was directed by the same guy. (Andrew Stanton) It's still a good film overall though. =)

As for "Up", it is directed by Pete Docter, who did Monsters Inc., which might still might be my favorite Pixar Film, definitely Top 3.

Doug said...

I apologize for posting yet again but, your Beatles analogies are pretty neat and I wanted to continue it a bit, if I may.

Perhaps after Pixar goes out on its tour binge (or world tour)and does all its greatest hits in its sequels, perhaps they will have gained enough pocket change and credibility in the suits eyes to decide - Hey, we're a studio band now. We don't like touring. You're not hearing us when we tour, so we're going to stay in our little box and experiment. Perhaps then we'll get to see what they can really do, see all the things they've been tossing around in the late nights after the show. Naiive I know.

Its amazing to me that a studio with that much profit under its belt is still forced to prove itself. It reminds me of how Terry Gilliam has to beg, steal and borrow every time he embarks on a new film. But, afterall as you say, Hollywood is in the business of making money from someone else's art and vision. And they need to make alot of it.

Chris said...

Ah, Disney . . . Animation as we known it (good or bad) would never have existed as it is without the man, Walt Disney. I appreciate him. I really like him. I respect him. But the company called Walt Disney . . . My God, what a colossal failure!

I shouldn't be so naive, but this company (as all companies) is a machine designed for devouring money. This is why I get so angry when Studio Ghibli is described as the Japanese Disney Studios. No only is it a ridiculous America-centric comment, anyway, but it's also so far from the mark that it's absurd.

There is no greater proof to the stupidity, greed, and stupidity (did I already say that?) of releasing this little piece of a digital verstile disc: Bambi 2! A straight-to-video production of one of the seminal classics of animation. Bambi 2! Can I just say that just one more time? . . . Bambi 2. Can you imagine a Citizen Kane 2 released directly to video. Or how about a revisit to the world of The Seventh Seal in the spectacular straight to video production of The Seventh Seal 2! Now wouldn't you love all your unanswered questions answered in the amazing production only available at your local video store, Princess Mononoke 2!!

Bambi 2 was the single, final, ultimate straw that shattered -- no pulverized -- the camel's back in my opinion. That single act was proof positive that Disney (the company) has thoroughly destroyed American animation forever.

Pixar is a wonderful studio. (I don't think they always achieve greatness, however. Finding Nemo was just a normal clichéd Disney movie for me.) But I fear their future under the control of Disney. Toy Story 2 was an amazing creation that frankly surprised the hell out of me. Will Toy Story 3 continue that surprise? Who can say?

Geoff N said...

@ Chris

Yes, the Disney sequel-a-thon is a rather dark period in film history. (let alone Animation history)

It's one thing to do a sequel/prequel to more recent films like the Little Mermaid (at the very least they retained the original voice actors) but when you start doing "sequels" to Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella, then you've jumped into the realm of sacrilege. Not only were these films bad, but they suffered from gross continuity issues that contradicted the original films.

At least now under John Lassester he has put a permanent stop to the Disneytoon Studios Sequel-Fest and canceled a sequel for "The Aristocats". (I can only imagine the "plot" for that film") Under his watch, all he allowed was a prequel to the Little Mermaid, which apparently was one of the more less offensive films and contained some semblance of effort.

Although, I will admit that I did actually enjoy "Aladdin: Prince of Thieves". Probably because it had the original voice actors, specifically Robin Williams, and he was unsurprisingly very entertaining.

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