Grecian Formula for the Mouse?

So, it’s been a several weeks, you had time to checkout American Gangster and Beowulf, possibly in 3-D possibly not, and have finally gotten around to seeing Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie. And you probably thought, ?That was an okay movie. A unique look to the animation, decent story, pretty good voiceover work.?

Fifteen years ago, circa 1992, however, you might have thought it was a very good, perhaps nearly great movie. Perhaps even mind blowing. Remember when you used to go see the newest Disney animated feature and were pretty much guaranteed a good to great movie that ?the whole family could enjoy??

During what could arguably be considered Disney Animation’s Silver Age, that started with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, and continued with a string of hits including The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991)[the only animated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture], Aladdin (1992), Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999).

In other words there was pretty much Disney?and then everyone else. No matter how much you liked Don Bluth’s work, which inlcuded All Dogs Go To Heaven and The Secret of NIMH, among others or even Nickolodeon’s animation like Rugrats: The Movie, or claymation, or the Muppets, none of them gave you the feeling you had just watched a great feature film, which just so happened to be animated.


Well, the world keeps turning, and in 1995, smack-dab in the middle of Disney’s run of excellence, the animation world shifted on its axis. A new studio, purchased by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs from George Lucas’s Lucasfilms and creatively headed by John Lassiter, Pixar released the first computer animated feature-film Toy Story.

It was a technologically revolutionary movie but at its core, and by extension all of Pixar’s subsequent releases, one that adults could not merely enjoy, but that they could wholeheartedly embrace. It’s my thesis that the writers at Pixar have taken a page or two from the Golden Age of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. That is to say, they write strictly for adults, and depend upon the look of the film and the sight gags to keep the kids entertained.

(I’m watching Pepe LePew the other day, he’s pretending to fire a machine gun at the cat he is pursuing while they are both flying through the air. He shoots and then calls to her, ?You have been pierced by the ak-ak of my love!? Even in the fifties or sixties, I don’t think a lot of kids are making that connection.)

With their update on a classic style of storytelling (honoring the very ACME of cartoon art?sorry, that was horrible, but I could not resist) Pixar began an unprecedented string of modern day classics that has yet to be broken, earning seven Academy Awards and unprecedented amounts of box-office dollars for animated features. Consider it’s world-wide box-office: Pixar’s lowest grossing movie was it’s first, Toy Story, and still brought in $361 million dollars; it’s highest was Finding Nemo earning an astounding $865 million.


It is a run that rivals the best runs Disney has ever put together. Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and Ratatouille. By the way, if you aren’t hanging around for the final credits in these movies, vous etes un imbecile!

Just how good are they? Well, I absolutely LOATHE car racing and I LOVED Cars (I laughed, I cried, yadda, yadda). Ratatouille is just out on DVD, I challenge you to name a recent movie where you laughed out loud more. Besides the empirical creative genius on screen, the Museum of Modern Art in NY paid tribute to the company two years ago by holding an exhibition of artwork. Need I say more?


Disney’s jumped back into the fray with the new animated/live action hybrid, Enchanted, which some critics are saying is the freshest and funniest Disney release in years. Could be, but for the last 12 years, watching the lights go down and seeing the wobbly lamp bounce across the screen and then what follows has been the epitome of enchantment. If there had never been a Roger Rabbit, with its mix of live action and animation, or a Shrek with its combination of characters from different animators and skewering of fairy tales, Enchantment might have had more of that ?gee whiz? feeling you get with a Pixar movie. Me, I’m going to go watch Ratatouille again.


Yes, I know Pixar was considered a Disney company; but they operated independently until just recently. Starting in 2006, there was a merger between Pixar and the Disney Animation Studios. It remains to be seen if the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole, or if the Pixar genius will end up somehow diluted by The Mouse. Though will John Lasseter taking over and reviving the traditional animation studios at Disney, you get the feeling that it will be Disney animation that sees the most rewards from the merger.

What can’t be denied however, is that Pixar has never succumbed to the phenomena of celebrity voice casting, that has pervaded every animation movie since Aladdin. Even though Dreamworks animation has certainly had some success with films like Shrek, Shark Tales, A Bee Movie, etc. don’t their movies feel sorta cheap and lurid? It’s like the difference between dating Natalie Portman and Britney Spears. Sure both are impressive, but one of them will inevitably leaving you feeling empty inside.

Finally, anyone who has been following the developments of 2008’s Wall-E feels like this may be their best outing yet. Only time will tell, but the second trailer and all the early marketing promotions have just been marvelous.

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