Kung fu pandering

Sunday, 12 July 2009 — 6:09pm | Animation, Film

Every now and then I chip away at a series of critical essays about why Pixar Animation Studios is head and shoulders above everybody else in modern commercial American cinema. I will probably never finish it. It has expanded to the point where I’m not sure whether to stretch it just a little further to cover the studio’s entire feature-length output (and a few of the shorts for good measure), or condense it by scrapping the more platitudinous arguments; because a lot of what Pixar does right is, in my mind, obvious.

It is far more succinct to inspect an example of animation done wrong. And so I present John Kricfalusi’s illustrated horror story about a pitch meeting with DreamWorks executives tragically dispossessed of a clue. Here is the DreamWorks process:

  1. Pick an “arena”—like woods, or the sea.
  2. Put funny animals in it.
  3. Match every species with a celebrity voice.

Is anybody surprised?

(For the record, I found Over the Hedge, Kung Fu Panda, and the first Shrek to be capable entertainments: there was a competence to them and an ambition to do more than game the market for laughs. With the tacit exception of the short-lived distribution deal with Aardman that gave us Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I’m not sure if I can say that for anything else with the DreamWorks Animation stamp.)

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6 rejoinders to “Kung fu pandering”

  1. I can’t help but think of this cartoon.

    Sunday, 12 July 2009 at 8:43pm

  2. Bill Benzon

    Have you read any of Mike Barrier’s (rabid) anti-Pixar stuff? I don’t agree with it, quite. But let us just say that Up did not fill me with glee.

    Saturday, 18 July 2009 at 8:38am

  3. Thanks for the tip – I’m sifting through Barrier’s commentaries right now and may say more about him once I have a more systematic sense of his work.

    I was extremely pleased with Up. I’ll readily concede it to be emotionally lightweight fare next to some of Pixar’s other films (Andrew Stanton’s in particular), but it may be because I never received it as a film that lived or died by its ability to be “silly but touching”. I understood Up as a nostalgic synthesis of 1930s American pulp adventure and the work of Hayao Miyazaki, both of which are concerned about fun and wonderment above all else. This isn’t to say that Miyazaki’s films lack emotional subtlety, of course – consider Princess Mononoke – but it’s very clear to me that Pixar’s staff derives their value system from his work.

    Saturday, 18 July 2009 at 9:18am

  4. You might want to take a look at some of the remarks Barrier collected on Up, including some remarks of mine – these are remarks that various people have emailed to Barrier. There’s a fair bit of comparison between Up and Miyazaki (Howl’s Moving Castle) and classic Disney (Dumbo). Here’s Barrier’s own review of the film.

    On the general topic of Pixar, Barrier seems to dislike CGI almost as a matter of principle. More specifically, he thinks CGI character animation is lousy. Barrier’s big on the importance of character animation.

    Saturday, 18 July 2009 at 12:47pm

  5. I can’t speak for all animation, but I have never been let down by a Pixar film (with the greatly notable exception of CARS, which fell prey to the Shark Tale process of celebrity voices over actual narrative). I’ve always gone in expecting to be entertained, and have always left enthralled beyond expectation. Pixar understands that movies flow best from characters and story, not gags (although their gags are some of the best in Hollywood). I wish more live-action films were put together with such care and grace.

    Wednesday, 22 July 2009 at 7:02am

  6. You havent posted in a while! I hope everything’s ok out there.

    Sunday, 23 August 2009 at 10:26am

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