Friday, November 19, 2004

CRITIQUE: The Incredibles and Children's Animated Features

The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird, his second after The Iron Giant. Although it's Disney's film, it's amazing how much Pixar got away with. If you don't know, Pixar and Disney don't like each other. Disney, the grandfather of animated features, has gone stale. Their formulas no longer work, and it's time for a new boss. That boss is Pixar, which, someday will become as stale as Disney, but until then, we will enjoy their films.

The movie is wonderful. Why? From the ground up it was planned to be well and the rest of the pieces fall into place (unlike Hollywood these days). The script, is well written. Three act stucture that works, likeable characters with flaws, character's actions have consequences, and a nice and tidy plot.

The biggest applause I give is how Pixar did NOT create a kiddy focused film, but rather created something that was layered for kids and adults. Let me try to explain why I feel this is a better approach for this. Children's movies and shows these days tend to have a perfectly-moral main character. The bad guys are evil without any ambivilance or reasoning to their badness. What this does to most people after a certain age, is create a fantasy world of perfection. In other words, boring. Now let's think about if we start adding hints of morally challenging concepts into a script. It becomes more adult themed, but when a child watches it, there are lots they don't understand, but enough that they'll love the action, the characters, and the funny one-liners that they do understand. Later, when they mature, they'll go back to these movies they loved as a kid and they'll get even more out of them as an adult. The result? Movies with longevity and a wider audience.

Then from script, we go into the visuals. These visuals were well thought out. There are many articles on the humanizing comfort theory, most noteably, roboticist Masahiro Mori. In short, the theory is that the closer robots look like human, without being human, it starts to look eerie, and we get uncomfortable. Pixar did their homework and designed characters that looked like comic strip humans, which worked out wonderfully.

I would like to point out that this is the exact OPPOSITE as a forthcoming movie, The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis. While they are falsely touting it as a major animation acheivement, they are trying to make it lifelike as possible. The risk? It may look fake and cheesy, which is starting to surface in some reviews. I'm unsure why Zemeckis went this route, especially since he barely captured any of the numerous facial gestures and emotions from the actors. He could have easily gone real-life with blue-screened sets, a la Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Problem with Disney, as said by Pixar:

The next speaker was Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of Finding Nemo--a thoroughly engaging guy who gave a talk on his work and the Pixar way in general. He showed some amusing voice-casting tests in which the studio did new animation to existing soundtracks with actors they were considering using (Al Pacino as Hopper in A Bug's Life and Billy Crystal as Buzz Lightyear, for instance), and outlined five rules that the company developed when creating Toy Story:

1) No Songs
2) No "I Want" Moment
3) No Happy Village
4) No Love Story
5) No Villain

Stanton mentioned that at one point, Disney brought in a famous lyricist (apparently Tim Rice) as a consultant on the project, and he recommended that the studio add songs, an "I Want Moment," a happy village, a love story, and a villain.

Another Pixar rule: "Like your main character." By way of example, Stanton showed some early Toy Story storyboards and soundtracks in which Woody *wasn't* likable at all. In the end, the character had some of the imperfect character traits the unpleasant Woody had shown, but they were no longer dominant.

I'll go on to add that Disney is such a heartless, no-integrity, shallow bunch of executives, because in their contract with Pixar, they state that Pixar gets first bid for any projects that Disney wants to do. SInce DIsney owns the rights to Toy Story, Disney said to Pixar, "Hey, make Toy Story 3 by 2005, and Toy Story 4 by 2006?" Pixar declined, because there's no way any studio can do great work in two years. Disney says, "Ok, then, we're going to make it somewhere else without you." DIsney is now forming their own 3D studio, after shutting down their old 2D studio and firing gobs of fantastic artists, which they'll never be able to get back.

Disney's blindness towards good plot and mental-challenging concepts will produce short-lived features, such as Toy Story 3. It's a very executive thing to do, get the money now, and dilute the integrity of the franchise.

Diluting the franchise is something that Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fought valiently against (see article here), whereas Berkeley Breathed succumbed to the mountains of cash, thus diluting and ending Bloom County. But I must say, Bloom County is cool, and may someday have a revival.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

CRITIQUE: I (Heart) Huckabees

(Warning: Some small spoliers)
Overall, the movie was good.

It's a movie with a basic plot, but shrouds itself in existential philosophy. At times, it's hard to understand, but the characters themselves are attempting to figure things out, which helps viewers not use so much of their brain power.

It's about a man, Albert, who is trying to figure his failing life back together. He hires a firm and they help him out. He ends up winning in the end.

But what the writers do that is so interesting, is that the plot is shrouded in Albert's trying to analyze his existence, through unusual means. And through unusual characters. In addition, the plot is cyclic, stepping into a deeper exploration of choas versus order.

It's deep, but there's good characters in it. And written very well. At one point, I thought they were getting into Albert's antagonist, Brad, too much. But when thinking about the idea behind the movie, they had to show it in order to get to Albert's conclusion and understanding of what was happening to him.

Seemingly chaotic, everything had a point in this movie.

What would have made it better? I think a better way to show that Albert was figuring things out on his own, by watching Brad's life fall apart. Too much attention on Brad may have not carried my sympathy for Albert all the way to the end.

But overall, a good movie. Recommended.