Pixar Movie Poll Resuls, And Where They Go From Here?

Which is Your Favorite Pixar Movie?

Toy Story - 3
A Bug's Life - 0
Toy Story 2 - 2
Monsters, Inc. - 9
Finding Nemo - 4
The Incredibles - 12
Cars - 1
Ratatouille - 6
Wall-E - 5
Up - 9
Pixar Shorts - 0
I Like Pie - 4

Total votes: 55

Okay, this poll has been closed for some time now, so I'm long overdue on posting the results for posterity. Let's see how it all turned out. Maybe I'll put this one up for another vote in another six months. We'll see if the voting is overly in favor of the more recent movies, or whether everyone honestly thinks Pixar's movies are getting better.

I always stay out of these polls, because I don't want my opinions to influence the results. That said, I have a soft spot for the original Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc. Of the third-wave Pixar movies (Cars forward), I think Ratatouille is the best. There's a lot to like from Pixar's "Rubber Soul" phase, but it's clearly been an adolescent phase, lots of growth, lots of struggling, very uneven but still very entertaining.

Sometimes, I find myself really enjoying Pixar's short film experiments before Toy Story. There's a spirit of discovery in those works that the later, more formulaic features lack. This is why I included the shorts in the poll. The recent forays into silent film in Wall-E and Up call back to these roots, and they also happen to be among the finest moments in the studio's canon.

The Rubber Soul era has ended; next on the lineup are sequels to Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters, Inc. The next original Pixar feature, three years away, is the first directed by a woman, which is an important step forward. But it's going to be a Disney fairy tale. A step backward.

Pixar still needs its revolutionary breakthrough, their Horus, their Heidi. Ratatouille came the closest, the latter movies seem to be holding back. This break in the production schedule should give the brain trust an opportunity to step back and determine where, exactly, they want to go. For they are now at a crossroads. One direction is the safe path, towards predictable formulas, safe routines, easy profits, and the warm embrace of the Disney brand. The other direction is far riskier, less safe, less reliable to make money. But through that path lies the salvation of American animation.

To put it easier, it's like this. The hard path takes us towards the husband-and-wife story in Up's first act. The easy path takes us towards the loud Star Wars-fueled chase scenes of acts two and three. Wall-E had grappled with the same dilemma, and wasn't able to resolve it. You either liked the first half or the second, but not both, and certainly not equally. There's a real and definite pecking order.

Where will Pixar go? Nobody knows. They could go either way at this point. And there's no question that the public would love more and more sequels. They've been conditioned to it. But for a studio that imagines itself the American Ghibli, playing it safe isn't good enough. They must continue to push forward. They must create their own Horus, their own Heidi. But it will not be easy. If creating art instead of commerce is truly the goal, they will have to risk failure. Nobody ever truly asks to be ahead of their time, but art demands it. The artform must evolve. Animation must finally break free from its babysitter ghetto.


James said...

Disney/Pixar will never lose it's commercial style. There's too many hands involved in the process and their studio is too corporate and sterile. Just look at their foray back into traditional animation. The Princess and the Frog just looks like a retread of Aladdin. Full of forced acting, set-up emotions, and dumb jokes. Pixar is not innocent of these.

Even Miyazaki and Takahata are commercial filmmakers. They're just less manufactured and more mature. Like a post Ran Kurosawa, Miyazaki's past his prime. However, Disney/Pixar will NEVER EVER make the likes of Princess Mononoke or Grave of the Fireflies. I'd bet my life on it if I could.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Good observations. Hopefully, I won't look back in couple days & realize I wasn't too harsh.

Malik Ming said...

These observations always sadden me, not only because Pixar will apparently never reach the zenith you'd love them to, but also because I continue to really, really love their films. I'm the one being fooled over and over again, and while I'm not alone, the realization shreds a painful light on my own immaturity and how I may not do the animation community any good in the future.

Still, reading your entries, and looking more deeping into the writings of Michael Barrier, Michael Sporn, and Mark Mayerson, among others, teaches me a lot: you all are steadily making me rethink animation and film, and pulling me towards a much higher plane of art and art appreciation, and for that, I thank you.

Today I finished watching Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. As an aspiring filmmaker, it was inspiring, but it made me wonder: is there, or has there ever been, the animator's equivalent of Stanley Kubrick? Bill Plympton, maybe?

James said...

Overall, I think Disney/Pixar animation's motto has become "let's entertain". Most American animation movies suffer from this. They're mostly unnatural movies. For every laugh there's to be a tear. Their laughs are achieved through intentional gags and tears through dramatic sympathy. And it has to fit in Disneyland. That's why they can never make anything overly violent or end tragically.

Ghibli movies have achieved the same though heart and drama seem to be more of a focus. Their more obvious gags often rely on some sort of cartoonish exaggeration. Their handling of story and characters seems more sincere to me. There are exceptions but rarely do I ever feel like I am watching an obvious piece of constructed entertainment with Ghibli's movies.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Excellent points by everyone. Interesting that you brought up Kubrick. I just watched Dr. Strangelove on Youtube last night. I'd say Kubrick and Kurosawa are my all-time favorite film directors.

It's very easy to get caught in the "what-if" trap, especially with the movies. But that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, I fear. The wisest thing to do is simply accept movies on their own merits and expectations, not ours. This is true for much of life, even though it can be difficult.

The bottom line for me in regard to the Pixar movies is formula. This is, I think, a consequence of their brain-trust style of creating stories, and there's no doubt it is extremely successful for them. I don't wish to see Pixar's vision pushed in any specific direction. I would prefer to see their vision broadened, expanded.

The most likely scenario would involve a few successful blockbusters financing smaller, more experimental works. Perhaps this is an avenue for their short films. I there is a greater latitude when working with shorts, certainly less financial risk (movies are a business, after all). I only wish to continue to be amazed and surprised by the new, and frankly, I find that happening less and less. The four-beat pop song structure looms larger in my mind; the innovations and creative risks, as brilliant as they are (Up confronts miscarriage, disappointment, and death, fer cryin' out loud), appear to shrink in comparison.

Maybe it's just me, maybe I'm just getting older. Feel free to disagree all you want.

James said...

I take back my tragic Disney ending statement for some exceptions: The Little Matchgirl may be their closest thing to Grave of the Fireflies. I still don't think they'd dare it in a feature length show though... besides Old Yeller.

Doug said...

I expect quality of structure both in animation and story from Pixar. I've come not to expect anything too earth shattering. I always know that its going to be "good" but to expect something personal and profound from a company that has soooooo much riding on its shoulders is to be let down.

I look to smaller studios and adventerous directors to make the truly groundbreaking stuff.

mario8bit said...

If only pixar could make an artistic movie once every six they make. Give the whole vision to a select person and see what they can make. Of course it is risky, but that's why they would make 5 commercial sure fires for every 1.

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