Jul 22, 2008


Hate to break it to you guys, but I didn't love it. I liked a lot of it, but something left me dissatisfied. I recently watched Ratatouille, another Disney/Pixar production, and had the same reaction. Certain moments are wonderful, but the whole leaves me rather cold.
Racking my brains to see why I am such a killjoy, these are my conclusions:

• I have yet to see a Pixar movie where the human characters have some edge, some charisma. I call it the Mickey Mouse vs Daffy Duck theory. Mickey Mouse is a cloying little creature -- he is essentially good and therefore, boring; Daffy Duck is a sociopath, a deeply narcissistic nutjob. I am wholly in the camp of Daffy Duck. The Pixar heroes, however, have Mickey's kitschy genes. They are always these blobs without edge, these American innocents. The meanies are not much better. There is no joy in them. They get talented actors to do the voices and, in some cases, the characters are unmemorable ciphers. This is the case with the two lovers in Ratatouille. The guy is simply not funny. They got Janeane Garofalo to voice the female cook and they took the bite and the sass out of her, which is quite an achievement.
The heroes tend to be immature bumbling idiots, while the love interest is the feisty (or actually quite aggressive) female who is so much more mature and no-nonsense than the nerdy guy. She always needs to be melted, her defenses stripped away by the shy, painful advances of the poor guy. If this is not a myth, I don't know what is, but it is the currency in American movies today, including Pixar's. It is certainly an improvement over a dumb blonde, but it is starting to get super stale. And it worries me about the panicked state of the American male, that they are so cowed in the presence of females.
Now, Wall•e is truly adorable. Sweet and efficient and quirky, he is a great silent film comedian (and strongly indebted to E.T, particularly the voice, which is lovely). I just wish they would have spent more time developing his quirks. Eve is gorgeous, an egg shaped, white metallic wonder, (as one critic said, she could have been invented by Apple), but her character is boring. The fact that she is quick with a trigger doesn't mean she has an edge. She is kind of a humorless scold. She is no match for Wall•e in terms of charm, and that's a pity.

• Having said this, the way these characters are infused with feeling is quite marvelous. You can see Wall•e fall in love and the process is movingly realized. (SPOILER ALERT)
There is an amazing scene towards the end where he loses his personality/soul/memory. He becomes a lump of junk and you realize all the life the animators have infused him with. It is kind of show-offy but it is really stunning.

• It doesn't matter whether the story takes place in Paris or in a depleted Planet Earth or in space. The stories are always deeply conventional bromides. "Believe in yourself", "Love conquers all", "It's good to be special", etc. Not that there is anything wrong with these sentiments, but they are tired, and no amount of fabulous animation can disguise them. Now, if the writers would expend the same amount of creativity in the stories as they do in the conjuring up of the settings, and the creation of characters, these movies would truly be artistic genius. Since animation is the realm of the impossible, they tend to come up with stunning worlds. Axiom, the starship where humans are lounging away from Earth, is wonderful fun. My favorite scene in Ratatouille is when the mouse is carried away by the rapids in the Paris sewers. The way the water moves and swallows him is truly a wonder. But then there is something formulaic and mechanical and constraining about the obligatory chases and the set pieces and the conventional plots. The animation is so rich and complex, and the stories are so basic.

• Every time I see a Pixar movie, while I may marvel at the increasing technical excellence (and wonder why they still can't make truly enduring human characters), I end up pining for conventional animation; for the expressive power of the line of the flat drawing. (I strongly recommend Persepolis.)

• My favorite Pixar film so far is The Incredibles. It is not only gorgeous, but it is a very sly poke at Bush and the loss of standing of America in the world, quite a topic for an animated film.
Wall•e is an overly didactic cautionary tale about the environment. Even though we all harbor green sentiments, nobody likes a lecture, no matter how couched it is in splendid animation. My sister reports that the Mini Enchiladitos, who are rabid and discerning filmgoers, did not like Wall•e. I don't blame them; it isn't really a movie for kids. It does poke some harsh criticism at our lazy, spoiled American ways, and it presents a very sobering and scary future where the Earth has become a giant landfill, but it's some nerve for Disney to be giving us lip about all the junk we buy and about the evil of giant corporations. I wonder if they are not giving away plastic Wall•es in the Happy Meals as we speak.

• Lastly, the movies are too long. Animation is very difficult to sustain in a long format. The way Pixar solves this conundrum is by piling up the action sequences at regular intervals., but the adult mind is so cluttered that one gets bored. And if I got bored, I wonder about the children. Wall•e also has a jerky rhythm. No sooner do they indulge in a beautiful, lyrical scene (and there are two or three of them, magnificent) when they seem to remember they have to get to the crazy action. It doesn't flow.

Before the film they showed a Pixar short about a magician and his ravenous, and therefore uncooperative, bunny rabbit. Although it was executed with all the Pixar gloss and panache, it was a classic violent cartoon in the vein of Tom and Jerry or the Warner Brothers cartoons. It was fast, funny and exhilarating. The kids loved it.

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