Friday, June 18, 2010

Watching Pixar grow up

Have you heard? Pixar is coming out with a movie this summer. It's a follow up to their modest hits, Toy Story and Toy Story 2. I've heard it's okay (100% on RT after 77 reviews on Thursday night).

It's shocking to consider that Toy Story, Pixar's first major release, hit the silver screen fifteen years ago. Not to date myself too terribly, but I was scantly out of grammar school at the time. As I've personally grown up, developing my taste in film, my outlook on the world, and approaching something resembling maturity, Pixar has done the same. All the evidence you need is in their release slate to date.

Toy Story (1995): Like all other films to follow it, Toy Story started with a simple question: "what if?" What if our toys could walk and talk, but only when we weren't looking? The themes of Toy Story are simple - jealousy and friendship, and the resolution comes down to looking at a situation beyond yourself - Woody goes after Buzz because it's the right thing to do for Andy. Make no mistake - the storytelling is sophisticated, but the morals provide more food for thought for younger viewers.

A Bug's Life (1998): Our "what if": what if bugs could talk? Again, the themes dealt with are not terribly complex, namely, Flik, our outcast inventor, has unique talents that aren't recognized by the rest of the colony. What we learn is that everyone has something to contribute, no matter how strange their contributions may seem at first. An important lesson and lofty sentiment for a youngster, but not necessarily for their parents.

Toy Story 2 (1999): What if our toys could talk some more? Friendship again is important in the sequel, but responsibility and hubris take the center stage when Woody learns he is a valuable collector's item. It's with their third film that Pixar begins to dive into more sophisticated thematic territory.

Monsters, Inc (2001): What if there really were monsters under our beds, but they were just in the midst of an energy crisis? Monsters, Inc is obviously not the first film from Pixar to have children play a role, but here, Boo is also in need of protection rather than just the companionship Andy needs. Again, responsibility is a major theme, and we can see our little CGI studio maturing in the subjects it tackles. Additionally, the way that the energy crisis is solved, by thinking outside the box and finding new, more efficient sources of energy, is even more amusingly prescient today than it was in 2001.

Finding Nemo (2003): What if fish could talk? Finding Nemo doesn't reinvent the wheel with it's "what if," but it is undoubtedly the darkest Pixar film to date with the opening death of Nemo's mother. Again, we're shown that all of us have unique talents and value no matter what society might make us think at first. With Finding Nemo, we see a combination of themes explored in Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc: responsibility, contribution, and friendship.

The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006): The next two installments from Pixar are not bad by any means, but after the ground gained by the previous films, seem to just go through the motions. Again, loyalty and family are explored, more compellingly in The Incredibles than Cars. This is Pixar in the creative throes of adolescence. You can tell they're on the verge of exploring new territory, but not quite ready to find their footing.

Ratatouille (2007): What if rats could talk? And cook? The thematic elements of love, unique gifts, and loyalty aren't new, but Ratatouille is the first of Pixar's films to intimately explore the lives of (mostly) normal human characters. Additionally, the fact that much of the film revolves around cooking as an art form is a decidedly sophisticated step towards maturity of story elements. Pixar is growing up.

Wall-E (2008): Pixar has a major growth spurt with the release of Wall-E. Now all-too-familiar themes of unique talents paying off and responsibility play into a love story that is wrapped in a potent social satire. Not since 2006's Idiocracy has our culture of lazy disposable consumerism been so effectively lambasted. Pixar had something to say, and the critical community noticed. There was some consensus that in a field of Best Picture nominees Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Wall-E would have held its own.

Up (2009): Although some were turned off by the whimsy and accused the story of being haphazard, I think even the biggest critics of Up would be hard-pressed to deny the power and maturity of the way Up tells the initial part of its story of Carl and Ellie. I've personally seen this film close to a dozen times, and that now-infamous montage still gets me choked up. What if you tied a bunch of balloons to your house? What if you found an exotic bird in a strange land? What if your childhood hero turned out to be your enemy? These are all more progressive "what ifs" that Pixar presents us, but they pale to the central "what if" of Up that literally keeps me up at night: what if you spent your entire life without accomplishing the one thing you wanted to with the only person that mattered to you before they slipped away? Up would have been a worthy competitor for Best Picture even in a field of five, my friends.

Toy Story 3 (2010): I've purposely kept from reading reviews as I don't want to go into Toy Story 3 with any expectations beyond the simple plot I already know. Andy is grown up, and about to leave for college. While I'm not sure what the thematic elements may end up being beyond the usual, that basic premise is a beautiful metaphor to how far Pixar, as a studio, has come.

Pixar is growing up, and they know they have to put childish things aside. Making simple statements about friendship or the importance of being true to yourself simply won't cut it any more.

I'm certain that even if the themes they explore continue to mature, Pixar will never abandon the child-like playfulness for which we've always known them. Enjoy Toy Story 3 this weekend, folks. I think you won't have much of a choice.

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1 comment:

  1. To be very frank, Toy Story 3 Movie is one of the best Animation Film of 2010.