It’s a Bird…

Tuesday, 18 May 2004 — 12:50pm | Animation, Film

Play a word-association game in sets of three and in two moves, someone is bound to mention Krypton’s finest. But as far as superheroics go, it’s only a one-step removal to Brad Bird of The Iron Giant, whose Pixar project, The Incredibles, has a new trailer. As has been the case all year, nothing has come close to unseating it as my most-anticipated film this year – but that’s not to slight some other very major blips on the more immediate summer radar, particularly the month of June, with the quadruple-whammy of (in chronological order) The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Terminal, De-lovely and Spider-Man 2.

Interestingly enough, the trailer to The Incredibles credits it to the same studio that delivered Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo; A Bug’s Life is conspicuously absent. Oh, how quickly we forget; pray tell, is it because the insect flick is the one errant statistic in the Pixar streak that did not manage to break $200M domestically, or something far more sinister, like trying to bury the gaffe that all of the ants have four legs?

One wonders how Monsters, Inc. will be treated years down the road, when the “From the makers of…” shortlist fills up even more with the likes of The Incredibles, Cars and Ratatouille. Like A Bug’s Life, Monsters was a run-of-the-mill Pixar film in the sense that it was merely wonderful, as opposed to a life-changing experience on the order of the two Toy Story films and Finding Nemo. Both drew comparisons to similarly-themed PDI offerings released earlier in the same year, Antz and Shrek, both of them hits in their own right – and case studies alpha and beta of PDI’s and Pixar’s differing philosophies.

PDI seems to go for the immediate returns, capitalizing on popular culture, aiming straight for the hardest laughs – but with the price of what plagues most of the comedy genre this day and age, which is that certain elements get stale by the third or fourth time through. In spite of the initial praise for Antz as an edgy response to a Pixar that was still growing up, its staying power has waned.

As for Shrek, PDI’s crown jewel and by all means an excellent work of pop art, I saw it again last week for the first time in over a year, and with divergent feelings. Much of it is still very good; the castle sequence, the transformation, and the more serious bits still resonate as they always did, and nobody can deny that the animation is lovely to this day, thanks to some exceptional character design. The toilet humour does not fare so well, nor does much of the music, which should have been tackled entirely as an original score from the outset, as the little of the score we hear makes some of the movie’s best scenes what they are. The spoof of The Matrix, once the best of its kind, comes off almost as a hump to get over. One should normally avoid making such comparions, but while Shrek beat out the lighthearted Monsters, Inc. for open laughter and heart at the first viewing, and took home the corresponding Oscar, the latter is easier to watch again.

What Pixar seems to do with every one of its films is establish a sense of lasting power, something that can rarely ever be appraised in the crop of reviews during a given movie’s initial theatrical run. The returns – and here, I mean that in the sense of the degree of entertainment provided – are not of the diminishing sort.

This, of course, leads me to a requisite discussion of the PDI offering formerly known as Sharkslayer, which was perhaps unwisely renamed Shark Tale to avoid confusion with the Calgary Flames. So far, Shark Tale has been pretty low-profile – in fact, there has been little to go on aside from this trailer – but one can expect a promotional blowout to accompany the opening of Shrek 2 later this week. I may end up eating my words as I initially did with Shrek three years ago, since it was a case of a film’s quality far exceeding that of its portrayal in advertising, but Shark Tale – which is not nearly as edgy as originally promised, especially with the modified title – is a film to be sceptical about. It appears to be swimming straight for standard PDI territory with its celebrity voices, hip-comedy tone and more expressionistic design aesthetic, but the Nemo comparisons will be unavoidable. See, it’s already hard enough for any movie to follow an act like Finding Nemo, let alone do everything short of picking a fight with it. The Incredibles already scared Dreamworks into bumping this movie up a month, which will not avoid an animation duel this fall where hopefully, the audience will emerge the ultimate winner.

At some point in my life I want to see Pixar earn history’s second Best Picture nomination for an animated feature, the first being the certainly deserving Beauty and the Beast. It should have been Andrew Stanton and Nemo, but let’s see if Brad Bird can do the trick.

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