|"You know where I work? I know where I work. Fairyland." (original tweet)|
Though Pixar is owned by Disney, I think a lot of people associate whimsy and the fairyland with the latter only. Look at Pixar's mascots: a lamp and a ball. Even their logo is simple, but still charming and quirky. In Disney legend Glen Keane's words:
"Pixar is 'Wouldn't it be cool if?' Disney is 'Once Upon a Time.'"But there is nevertheless a spirit of magic and whimsy alive at Pixar that makes it a wonderland of sorts. It's a weird fairyland. Just look at some of its characters: bugs, cars, fish, monsters, rats, and toys. Of course other animation studios have featured these kinds of protagonists; but even with the unconventionality and oddity, Pixar maintains a certain charm. Ratatouille, despite its subject matter (rats in the kitchen, rats touching food, rats in general, gross gross gross), is so lovely.
Pixar is home to contemporary fairy tales. Traditional fairy tales are already weird and fantastical. But what Pixar has done, is stay true to that Walt Disneyism, that fantasy and reality often overlap. The settings in each of the films are relatively simple. And in these unexpected, mundane places, the most extraordinary things can happen.
Toy Story trilogy
In all three films, a child's bedroom is in the focus. There's also an arcade, an airport baggage terminal, a plane, an elevator shaft, a daycare center, and a garbage dump. And in Sid's room, there's the misfit toys. They're these really great mutant hybrids that turn out to be heroes.
A Bug's Life
In the tiny world of ants and other bugs, a world explodes in color and beauty. There's the ant hill, as well as the city, which is underneath a basement. And a sombrero for the grasshoppers. These are miniature worlds we wouldn't give a second thought to, or that we would even avoid. After all, bugs creep and crawl in dark spaces and corners. Yet the artists at Pixar were able to transform these places into magical ones brimming with life.
Monsters, Inc. & Monsters University
Ricky Nierva, production designer on Monsters University said that "Monsters, Inc. was about celebrating the best of the American workplace. Monsters University is about capturing the spirit of the university." Though Monstropolis is an entirely different universe, the workplace and university are seemingly normal and ordinary. Then of course there's the ingenious idea of children's bedroom doors being portals in and out of the monster and human worlds. All the legends about monsters in closets and under beds never went into much detail about where the monsters came from. In Monsters, Inc., we have a whimsical take. And what's great is that the monsters are still slimy, scary, and ugly.
The big blue. The ocean is so vast and astounding, and much of it is unexplored. It's filled with wonder and mystery which makes the talking fish not at all out of place. And as with every single Pixar film, the story that unfolds inspires just as much wonder as the visuals and the setting. You wouldn't expect some of the action to take place inside the belly of a whale, but it does, and with emotionally resonant results.
Now this is the one Pixar film that departs from tradition. It's not exactly charming or whimsical, but it is top tier quality. Brad Bird was the outsider when he came to Pixar and directed this film. There's more of an adult underpinning to it than previous features, and John Lasseter was thrilled to have him on board. In Brad's words, John didn't want to become complacent; he wanted a new film to shake things up. But The Incredibles does exist within a fantasy framework because of the superheroes. And in true Pixar fashion it celebrates wonder. Is there anything more satisfying than Dash discovering he can run on water for the first time? Also, one of the reasons the film works so well is because the ordinary struggles of a family mean as much to the audience as the superhero action does.
Cars & Cars 2
Quite possibly the most fantastical films of the Pixar canon. The sentient cars exist in an universe which is devoid of humans. Cars may not exactly be whimsical, but there's a weirdness to it. They are talking cars with eyes in their windshields! Most people hate these films with a passion because of the main characters, completely forgetting that personifying unlikely objects is part of Pixar's modus operandi. Sascha Unkseld's "The Blue Umbrella" is their most recent example, but earlier ones include the shorts "Knick Knack" and "Red's Dream."
A film about rats that is surprisingly charming and beautiful. And these aren't your standard, cutesy cartoon mice either. Remy, Emile, Django and all the rest look real. That's part of the reason I refused to see this film at first, because they looked too much like rats. There's a lot of authenticity because Pixar isn't afraid to show off what's ugly, and can make it beautiful. I found myself loving Remy. The film is set in Paris, one of the most romantic and gorgeous cities in the world. Certainly not ordinary, but not a fantasy world either.
Earth is ugly and dirty and covered in trash. Wall-E is Charlie Chaplin's Tramp in robot form. He's an endearing little creation that's universally adored. Wall-E might be loved, but the post apocalyptic world he's now living in isn't. So we go to space; that final, haunting frontier, with its stars, nebulas, moons, planets, and space station. Here is where humanity has relocated to after poisoning their first home. Wall-E is the most hopeful of Pixar's films because second chances are given. It's a powerful love story illustrated through two robots who teach humans how to love as well. And also to value the Earth.
I think this is Pixar's most whimsical film. There are the balloons flying Carl and Ellie's house, Kevin, and the talking dogs, which also make it rather unconventional. But grief is the driving force. Carl is motivated by the death of his beloved to tie balloons to their home and fly away. It is completely original, which everyone believes has been lost at Pixar, but we'll get to that later.
Here is the film most people believed was the most like Disney in its execution. And it featured that staple Mouse House heroine, the princess! (Nice try, but Merida is not the first Pixarian princess, Atta and Dot are). Two research trips to Scotland resulted in the stunning landscapes, which could be either warm or stark. There's also the added mysticism and mystery of the lands. Brave functions as a traditional fairy tale but with the added bonus of an authentic mother/daughter relationship, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the uglier aspects.
Now Brave is often accused of not being original enough. A princess movie? A rebellious princess movie with a girl who doesn't want to get married? Pixar? Yes everyone is quick to point out just how weak and "unoriginal" this film is. The troubled production does account for some of it, but it is still a worthy effort by the folks at Emeryville. Even more than that, it's outstanding. Pixar quality through and through.
Brave is also one of the films that people cite as "proof" of Pixar's "decline". Other offenders are Cars 2 (naturally), Finding Dory, and Monsters University. It seems Pixar has just plum gone sequel crazy! (Cue massive eye rolling). Don't remind these people who find sequels contemptible of Pixar's upcoming slate aside from Finding Dory.
- The Good Dinosaur explores the possibility of dinosaurs never going extinct. It's about time dinosaurs got the Pixar treatment. Most of them were actually quite ugly, and a world in which they still exist is a very tantalizing concept.
- Inside Out will take audiences inside the mind, in what promises to be an innovative film from the same mind that spawned Monsters, Inc. and Up.
- The Dia de Los Muertos film will focus on the Mexican celebration, and will hopefully include an element that has been missing from Pixar's films thus far: the macabre.