Monday, June 24, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Monsters University is fine, and Pixar is doomed

Scared? They should be
Not sports, obviously. Hey, it's late June. Going to be a fair amount of this.

So I took the daughters to go see the latest from Pixar this afternoon. It was early enough to avoid full price, hot enough that the AC was of value, and came after about 15 hours of yard work this weekend; I earned some sitting time where I didn't have to entertain the spawn. But the fact that these qualifications came along tells you, honestly, just how far Pixar has fallen. Instead of a widely anticipated event, it was a good excuse for a couple of hours out.

Pixar has been around for a couple of decades now, and has honestly done more to reinvigorate G-level entertainment that anything in the history of American cinema. Their attention to detail, commitment to quality, and protection of the brand has been outstanding. And ever since I became a dad, 13 years ago, they've been a welcome part of my parenting entertainment mix. I knew I was forever changed when I found myself fighting off tears in the opening of "Finding Nemo" (Mom's dead!), and that I was looking forward to seeing the movie more than my kid.

Unlike Universal / Dreamworks, Pixar did not cram in ridiculous adult asides for cheap jokes. Unlike Disney, they didn't crank out direct-to-DVD sub-par sequels to cash in on equity. And unlike everyone else in kid land, they used technology to raise the bar on quality, rather than lower the price on production. They've been one of the finest American corporations of this generation.

And, well, their latest film is fine. It's got really nice moments of comedy. It worked for my 7 year old, my 13 year old, and me. It still has wow factor on the animation for the art majors; fur still looks good enough to pet. The voice cast is rife with people who make you happy to see cashing a check (Nathan Filion! Dave Foley! Charlie Day!). And yet...

Well, it's a prequel. Not exactly rife with the challenge of "Up" or "Wall-E". Playing before the movie is a preview for "Planes", the utterly by the numbers spin-off from "Cars", which might be the worst thing the company has ever made. The animated short ("The Blue Umbrella") is highly reminiscent of other, better shorts (Disney's "Paperman"). Everything looks and feels, well, pretty derivative.

You know, like they were owned by Disney (they are now) and putting profit and short-term decisions in front of the brand.  Or as if they were no better than their competitors now.

"Wreck-It-Ralph" was the last movie that I took the kids to; it's a better movie than "Monsters University" in, well, just about every way. Pixar didn't make it. There's nothing about "Planes" that makes me want to see it. "Despicable Me 2" comes out in a few weeks, and my kids are more enthused to see that (for the minions, naturally) than they were to see this movie.

And, well, remember that I liked it. The central message of having to use flexibility to achieve your dream, and that it's not just a matter of trying really hard, isn't a bad thing for kids to hear. Also, that inherited talent without effort won't get it done, either. I'm a little less in love with the idea that college isn't very necessary to be good at your job, but given the cost of "A" level schools versus "B", OK. The humor is smart without being off-putting or broad, and the nice little subversive moments don't make little ones feel like they need something to be explained to them. It doesn't feel unnecessary or gratuitous. Just not, well, very necessary.

In the final analysis, and Pixar will make worse movies than this, very soon... You don't get to take Disney's money without eventually becoming Disney. And no one needed another Disney. But at least by being Pixar for so long, they got others up to their level.

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