Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brief Thoughts on Disney and Pixar

I was one of the many animation fans disappointed to see that Brenda Chapman had been removed from her chair as director of Pixar's Brave (previously-titled The Bear and the Bow). She's been replaced by Mark Andrews, which is a shame considering that Pixar was crowing about having their first female-driven-and-directed film. Keeping an eye on the arguments over this move, it really does seem like Pixar is second-guessing themselves instead of maintaining the illusion that they're a director-driven studio. Seems like the dew is off the lily on that image.

I have to say that I'm not thrilled with John Lasseter at the moment. He really did seem like the creative key at Disney, but with the exception of The Princess and the Frog, I haven't really loved much of Disney's animated output over the last few years. Lasseter's decision (as creative director at Disney) to remove Chris Sanders from American Dog and turn it into the dull, uninspired Bolt was something that really stung, being such a fan of Sanders and loving everything I'd read about the concept. I'm also not a fan of the advertising for Entangled, which is almost aggressively boy-friendly. And then Newt--which had some truly wonderful concept art--got dumped by Pixar and Brenda Chapman was taken off of Brave. Now, with the exception of Brave, everything in development at Pixar seems to be a sequel (including Cars 2, which I am not looking forward to, since I felt the original was one of Pixar's weakest films).

What drives me nuts is not that Brenda Chapman, as Pixar's first woman director, was unceremoniously removed from this honor. What bothers me the most is that she was behind this project from its inception on. When the driving creative force is shoved aside for what I assume are business reasons (did it not fit into the usual Pixar box?), it usually seems to be a mistake. Not always; Ratatouille is a decent (though, I think, overrated) film even though Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird. But I'd love to see what Pinkava wanted to do. And after Chris Sanders was turned out so that we could all get to see Bolt, it makes me wary. Because Bolt was so insipid. And Tangled looks like it's gone from the story of Rapunzel to the story of Rapunzel the Minor Supporting Character because if this stuff isn't sold at boys, no one will go, or something. A better title would be Mangled. And I should point out, Glen Keane was removed as director by John Lasseter.

The problem I have with John Lasseter is that he really seems to err on the side of this quaint folksiness over any other story quality. He has this folksy Americana sensibility, and that's fine, but it's not something I need to see in every story. I thought Toy Story 3 was pushing it a little bit, and too many times in Cars it seemed to substitute for a story. It reminds me not of the fresh, creative, Snow White-era Walt Disney, but the later, Davy Crockett-era studio that Walt seemed to have no real stake in. John Lasseter and Pixar are starting to seem settled, less hungry, less passionate about taking chances and more interested in just perpetuating themselves. And that can be very boring, and very frustrating.

Brenda Chapman is, I think, too talented not to land on her feet. Maybe she'll go back to DreamWorks, where she co-directed The Prince of Egypt a decade ago. I know she's still at Pixar for now, but Chris Sanders seems to have done well over there with How to Train Your Dragon (which is currently in the mail from Netflix en route to my home). I hope Doug Sweetland--who directed my favorite Pixar short ever, Presto--is doing well at Sony.

I can't legitimately comment on films I'll never see--Brenda Chapman's Brave or Chris Sanders' American Dog--and claim they were great. What I can say is this: I was excited about them. I was genuinely excited. But now I'm not excited about Brave. And I'm not excited about Cars 2 or the seemingly unnecessary Monsters, Inc. 2. I'm not interested in those movies. And Bolt was mediocre at best.

Fear of failure means an aversion to risk... I'm starting to expect less and less of Pixar these days...

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