Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Is Pixar a victim of its own success?

11 comments
Brave is good, but can't match the thrills of The Incredibles or the heart of Toy Story 3. Photo / Supplied
Brave is good, but can't match the thrills of The Incredibles or the heart of Toy Story 3. Photo / Supplied

This Thursday sees the release of Brave, the 13th feature film from perennial hitmakers Pixar, the digital animation company behind such modern classics as The Incredibles, Up, Wall*E and the Toy Story movies.

Brave tells the story of a Scottish princess hemmed in by her royal duty who attempts to break free from her depressing fate by employing the help of a witch.

Her actions have grave consequences for her family though, consequences the trailers have managed to not give away, which is nice.

Brave is colourful, pretty and technically proficient. It's a fantastic film from any angle except the one that compares it to Pixar's previous successes.

Next to the thrills of The Incredibles, the heart of Toy Story 3 and the emotional heft of Up, Brave just seems kinda ... small.

Is it wrong to apply such comparisons? For audience members above a certain age, it's difficult not to.

Does this make Pixar a victim of its own success?

Pixar head John Lasseter has always been very forthcoming about the rigorous creative methodology Pixar employs - every story or design element is reconsidered innumerable times by a group of top Pixar creatives before getting the sign-off.

It's led to some of the great modern animated movies, but it doesn't seem to allow much room for a singular vision, rendering auteur theory somewhat redundant in Pixar's world.

Pixar may generate great films, but knowing they're the product of a committee first and foremost can't help but introduce an element of cynicism into the equation. Although the same could perhaps be said of all studio filmmaking.

The perception that no one person is indispensable was greatly enhanced when Brave's director (and the originator of the project) Brenda Chapman was fired midway through the production due to "creative differences" (she still received the primary director credit on the finished film).

The most refreshing thing about Brave is that it is a story about mothers and daughters - notable in Pixar's world where there haven't been nearly as many iconic female characters as male. Chapman's firing would seem to undermine this aspect of the film somewhat, especially considering she is the first woman to be put in charge of a Pixar film.

It's not the first time Pixar have dumped a director from their own movie - the same thing happened with Jan Pinkava, who originated Ratatouille before Pixar took handed the project to The Incredibles director Brad Bird during production.

Pinkava received a co-director credit and got a shout-out in Bird's speech when the film won the Best Animated Feature Academy Award.

This kind of ruthlessness with talent may well be key to Pixar's sustained success, but it makes it much harder to view the company as the hub of creative wish-fulfilment it often paints itself to be.

I used to find the films of Pixar's main rival Dreamworks insufferably addicted to cheap pop culture referencing - films like Shrek The Third and Bee Movie couldn't hold a candle to Pixar's output. But they have really upped their game in recent years with critical and commercial hits like Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon.

Both those films are better than Brave in my opinion. But Brave is still leagues ahead of the two films that have really tarnished Pixar's legacy: Cars and Cars 2.

A passion project for the car-obsessed Lasseter, the original Cars charmed very few people over five-years-old, but made a mint at the box office and even more in merchandising.

It is thought this latter fact is the reason Cars 2 came into being, which while an improvement on the first film, also didn't manage to justify its existence in the Pixar cannon.

So the sheen is coming off Pixar a little bit, but maybe that'll help their future product get more of a fair shake from audiences. Although lowering our expectations seems like the wrong way to go about it. In my mind a visionary failure is still better than a group-think success.

I'm still on a Prometheus high which makes me want all future films to be bigger and more ambitious than ever. Wall*E was great, but didn't satisfy my desire for Pixar to make a space-movie. That second half was all over the place.

Their next film after Brave is a Monsters Inc prequel, which could be fun. Then there's 2014's The Good Dinosaur - God I hope they don't talk - and 2015 will see the film currently known as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind. Inception for kids?

This last one is pretty intriguing, but I'd still rather see something along these lines. A sequel to The Incredibles would be nice too.

* Do you think Pixar are victims of their own success? What's your favourite Pixar film? What do you think they should do next? Are you amped for Brave? Comment below!

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 02 Oct 2014 20:49:14 Processing Time: 464ms