Friday, September 25, 2009


Pixar has killed animation.

I think I've said once before that I appreciate animation, and there are things possible in the medium that live action can't do. Cell animation, in the right hands, is often shockingly beautiful. Unfortunately, this has become less common as CG movies have become the go to source for animated family fare. The blame for this can be pegged squarely on Toy Story, which was a good, and successful film, and set other studios in a rush to copy it. As a result, there have been about a million trend-following and ultimately lazy CG pictures. Just going from the Cars DVD, Disney created something called "Meet the Robinson", which was just crap. It looked ugly, it looked half-hearted, and it made me yearn for the days when even the lazier crap would at least look good.

Pixar has also saved animation.

While competing studios might be unimaginative and lazy, Pixar isn't. The opening race scene is pretty much visual candy, every frame dripping with detail, quality and subtle in jokes. The crowd looks like a mix of individual cars rather than an indistinct mass. It's fast paced, full of detail, visually spectacular and shows the way with CG. It pushes the state of the art - visually - and it shows just what is possible in the medium - visually. It's since been usurped by subsequent Pixar features, naturally, but you can tell that care went into the product, and it does things that are not possible in live action. Since that's what animation is about, if more studios would follow Pixar's example and put as much care into their animation, maybe CG wouldn't be such a black mark on family films.

Note, however, that I conspicuously avoided mentioning the story. Whatever the visual splendor, the looks don't make the picture. Cars is effectively the stereotypical model of film. Lots of visual panache, but an empty head. The story is effectively by the numbers, Owen Wilson is the voice of a conceited race car called Lightning McQueen who is forced by contrived circumstances to learn about the value of friendship, humility and community. It's a script pulled from the redemption story guide book, with the only unique aspect being how everyone's a car.

That doesn't work either. While it leads to a number of increasingly clever in-jokes - if you know about cars, you can see the care put into some of the details - it actually doesn't make any sense. Yeah, Toy Story was about living toys, but while fundamentally impossible it still is an interesting and imaginative idea. The rest of the Pixar oeuvre makes a similar amount of sense, the real world turned a bit more fantastic with a touch of imagination and an interesting idea. This just raises weird questions, mostly related to the sheer impossibility of a universe consisting of only cars. It's like Maximum Overdrive went horribly awry.

So Pixar laid down a bunt here, and for all its visual majesty this isn't actually that good. Even if it isn't, it's still better than the Meet the Robinsons, or the Shark Tales, or any number of lazy, half-hearted 3D crap that's pushed on the kids of today. The weakest Pixar movie still manages to be better than the best Dreamworks seems to have on offer. If other studios put the care Pixar does into even their worst scripts, maybe this CG trend will be worthwhile outside of Pixar's studios. Given how successful some of that crap is, I somehow doubt it.

I suppose I can't be extremely mean, it is my 2 year-old nephew's favorite movie.


  1. With this one, I'm forced to remember all the improbable and often terrible cartoon movies I watched as a kid. Clearly the only quality control animation studios had in the 80's was a guy making sure all the cocaine they were snorting was "the good stuff".

    So, to that end, I put it out there that Cars might be a silly idea and the story stupid, but stories have to be stupid for kids. At least it isn't the heart-warming story of a baby ram or sheep or something who spends his life seeking vengeance on a wolf who murdered his family or something, my memory's hazy on that one, I saw it when I was 7.

  2. I think my disappointment with the story is partially derived from Pixar's stories usually being very good. Wall-E is frigging amazing, for example, and the rest of the ones I've seen have been very good (so I'm eagerly anticipating seeing Up). So it's disappointing when it's just a by-the-numbers script.

    That, and it reminded me of Maximum Overdrive, which is never a good thing.

  3. It's cool dude, to be honest Cars is the only Pixar film I have not yet seen all the way through, just bits and pieces here and there. Actually Pixar can be quite dark, especially given films like The Incredibles and, as I understand, certain elements to Up. Either way, I am going to find this damn sheep movie and tell you all about it because it's about time I reconciled with this childhood-scarring entertainment (see also: Watership Down).