Monday, November 25, 2013
Anthology of Awesome
In the recent years, Pixar has shown that they are a studio full of people who are only human… Sometimes things don't work out, sometimes stories may not work out, sometimes films may have to be shown the door… Or the way to the shelf. The Disney studio faced problems like these after their Golden Age came to an end almost a year after the United States had entered World War II… Also, time does these things. And reality… The Disney studio just couldn't make Snow White-level brilliance each time out…
In the last three years, Pixar has removed three directors from their films, shelved a film and delayed another film. When you have to release at least one big budget animated film that'll mostly likely cost around $200 million (and that's not including marketing!) every calendar year, you know you'll have problems. People seemed to have assumed that they could do no wrong with this kind of system, hence the ridiculous, overblown, doom-and-gloom outcry following the releases of Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University. To me, what has happened in the last three years at Pixar was simply, like I said, reality.
Andrew Stanton himself even said this a few months back, that schedule and having a film ready for each calendar year was not good for the studio's resources. That's not PR sugarcoating, that reveals a legitimate problem. There was a time when you couldn't get a Pixar animated film every summer. Toy Story 2 came out around Thanksgiving 1999, Monsters, Inc. opened at the beginning of November 2001. Finding Nemo hit cinemas in the summer of 2003, with The Incredibles following in fall 2004. Cars? Had to wait till summer 2006 for that one. This all happened that way for a good reason. Why?
Yep, beating the dead horse again. "You can't rush art!"
With The Good Dinosaur opening exactly two years from now, Pixar will have all the time to really fix what wasn't working now with a new director on board. Cars 2 and Brave, from everything I've gathered, were in need of salvaging. The Good Dinosaur seems like a case of Jan Pinkava's Ratatouille, it probably just wasn't working under original director Bob Peterson, which I hate to say because I think anyone at Pixar has a legitimate shot at directing a feature-length film.
Feature-length film, you say?
This year, Pixar took their first stab at a half-hour television special, the brilliant and wholly satisfying Toy Story of TERROR!, which was directed by Angus MacLane. He also directed my favorite Toy Story Toon, Small Fry and the WALL-E home media-exclusive short BURN-E. (A cute, but mostly forgettable short for me.) Now I have no idea how he'd pull off a feature, but he sure knocked it out of the park with this special. When it ended, I simply thought "MORE!"
Specials and short films are a fine way to keep the Toy Story franchise chugging, because a fourth film is something I don't want. No one really does, maybe except for people who normally type things like "OMG when r they makin a Toy Story 4?"
Anyways, when skimming the dark waters that are Cartoon Brew's talkback sections (some of the comments I see on there, to be honest, really make me cringe!), I came across an interesting comment suggesting that Pixar should make featurettes out of stories that aren't working, much like how Walt Disney and his crew did so for many proposed features.
One fine example is The Legend of Happy Valley. Put into pre-production in 1940, it was to be a feature-length Jack and the Beanstalk retelling with Mickey, Donald and Goofy… After the war, and after realizing it couldn't work as a full-length film, it would be reworked into a roughly 30-minute featurette, a segment of Fun & Fancy Free, one of the studio's postwar anthology features. The other segment in that film, Bongo, was also conceived as a feature around the same time. One that would perhaps be something of a semi-sequel to Dumbo, featuring some of the minor characters. A little shared universe of sorts! Another one is The Wind in the Willows, that became a segment in a two-piece anthology film: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad! Then there's Winnie the Pooh… Walt realized that the stories couldn't work as a feature, so featurettes were made instead! Then corporate Disney strung them all together in the mid-1970s to make a buck…
Everyone expects Pixar to break ground or to try something different with each film of theirs, and so far, they have done so. While some people are just now trying to insist that every Pixar movie is the same (I don't care if the leads are mismatched buddies, the stories are all different), this could be the time to blow away the skepticism and make an anthology film… Something totally unexpected.
Now first of all, I want The Good Dinosaur to be a feature. I want Newt to be a feature. I don't want those two to end up being segments in a two-parter called The Newt and the Dinosaur, or whatever… Those were conceived as feature films from the beginning, I want them to stay that way and end up being great films.
I'd like to see Pixar come up with a roughly 15 to 30-minute long film, because Toy Story of TERROR! proved that they could tell an excellent story within a shorter running time. A film that isn't based on characters from one of their movies. Something original, just an original short… Kind of like a Silly Symphony or a stand-alone Walt Disney cartoon like Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom or Paul Bunyan. Something like that…
I think that would not only be super cool, but it would also show that Pixar is willing to expand. Walt Disney went beyond animation; he entered the world of television with enthusiasm and a real creative drive. He entered live action with the same mentality, a lot of great and good films were made as a result. Classics like Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, Mary Poppins. His television program was excellent, bringing forth memorable segments, stories and hey… A huge phenomenon! Davy Crockett, anyone?
But back to anthology films… Pixar could make standalone featurettes, or tie a few of them together in some way to create an omnibus film. Something like Fantasia or one of those Disney package features, or for non-Disney examples, Heavy Metal or Metamorphoses. It's such a cool idea, but a tricky and risky one at that. But hey, Pixar has taken many risks. This would be an interesting one, even if it doesn't turn out to be all that good. The risk would be quite something to experience…
I would certainly be game for a Pixar anthology film, because the individual stories could boast very strong storytelling and the good thing is, the stories don't have to be shelved or cancelled for good if they weren't to go over well as features. They could be great at shorter running times, I'll take that over questionable feature-length versions any day. At the same time, they can make original content for television and also use the short format to continue franchises so that they don't have to make feature-length theatrical sequels.
Future Toy Story specials are things I'd look forward to, not a fourth movie. A Monsters-themed television series or featurettes? I'd like to see those, I'd like to see more of the monster world and what lies out there beyond Monstropolis… In fact, I wanted to see more of that world when I was young! Maybe a Cars TV series could work too, because that's a great way to keep that series going plus it would kind of rock the franchise out of the Mater's Tall Tales doldrums. That film's world is so big, why don't they make spin-off shorts about cars that have nothing to do with Lightning McQueen and friends? Shows, spin-offs and shorts are much easier to swallow than a roughly 95-minute sequel… Plus they'd be a lot more economical for them and Disney as well!
I think it's a good step towards expansion, and it may take the pressure off of the production of features as well. Walt did short films before features, but continued to produce short films after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While the quality arguably dipped on some shorts in the 1940s, many of them turned out solid or in many cases, great! But when Walt got into live action, we still got good-to-great animated features that are beloved classics: Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, the list goes on…
Pixar tackling the shorter format would make for great events from them. Just because they're not full-length films doesn't mean they can't have any merit. Wouldn't you want awesome 30-minute films from Pixar to go alongside the features? I know I sure would! A feature every 1-2 years with lots of other content in between? I'd love for that happen!
As for live action… Well… That's another story!