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.