Okay, so I didn't like Up all that much. I didn't hate it. It was certainly better than Cars and I know I tend to expect too much from PIXAR films, so I'm not angry or anything.
And sure, at least it was better than Transformers.
But should that really be our standard?
Let me tell you why I didn't dig Up and then tell you why it matters: It wasn't the dogs who can't talk without special collars but who can fly planes. It wasn't that the great explorer from the beginning of the film somehow garnered an unlimited budget and sci-fi toys that would make Captain Nemo light a cigarette. It wasn't even the fact that his transformation into the villain was utterly and totally spontaneous and unbelievable (or that at the end of the film he's supposed to be over 100 years old but can still go toe-to-toe with our senior-citizen hero).
And it wasn't the annoying kid, the annoying bird, or the annoying voice of the villainous dog.
It was that so many people agree with all of the above but then shrug and say, "But I looooooved it. It was soooo cute."
I was talking with my composer friend just a few days ago and we were discussing how ABC kids Television and the Disney Channel use music not to serve a good story but to compensate for a bad one. Like TGIF's Family Matters or Full House, there comes a time in the show when the "touching music" starts that tells you how to feel, no matter how lame the previous 15 minutes were. This music is usually added to the rockin' interlude before and after commercial breaks to give you a jolt of energy before the laugh track kicks in.
Now, my friend is an amazing composer. He's done great music for great stories. And the people who do the ABC/Disney stuff do fine work and work hard...but I garuntee you they long to do something else. They'd all love to work for PIXAR. (They all probably long to work with my friend).
But PIXAR, the pioneer in computer animation, has gotten so good at creating lush, believable and completely compelling environments that they have, perhaps accidentally, wandered into a new world of story-telling temptation:
They are now tempted to do visually what Full House did musically.
And this is where Transformers and Up actually have one thing in common: where Transformers uses explosions and Megan Fox's thighs to cover up for a horrible story, PIXAR can now use fluffy clouds and cute birds to cover up for their average story.
Because lets praise it: Up, while not the greatest thing ever, is a elegant concept. And the first 10 minutes should be cut and submitted for best short film for the Academy Awards.
But I don't need to have a touching moment every 5 minutes in order to appreciate a good story, and when the film keeps bombarding me with cutesy "aw" moments I start to get nervous like someone is trying to steal my wallet.
This phenomena begins to devolve the story into a "how much can we get people to feel" game rather than a "what are we trying to say" game. One is sentimental, the other is substantive.
PIXAR is known throughout the world for it's substance. Michael Bay is (usually) not. I'm fine with one inspiring the other...I just want to make sure it's the former inspiring the latter.
Posted on Mon, June 29, 2009