Book Review: To Infinity and Beyond

To Infinity and Beyond

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (Chronicle Books, 2007) by Karen Paik is exactly the type of book you’d expect it to be, nothing more and nothing less, and so cautious as to be boring. Such might also serve as an adequate assessment of the studio’s last couple of films.

The first three chapters of the book are dedicated to Pixar’s big three—Ed Catmull (the tech guy), John Lasseter (the art guy) and Steve Jobs (the business guy)—and the story of their individual paths that led them to Pixar. It is followed by a look at Pixar’s early day as a hardware and software manufacturer, TV commercial producer and maker of short films. The bulk of the book is devoted to the studio’s features, with one chapter offered to each film from Toy Story through Cars. The book concludes with a chapter titled “Pixar Joins with Disney” which is a frank account (as far as corporate vanity books go) of the drama of the past few years which led to Disney’s eventual acquisition of the studio. Throughout, there are also spotlights on Sound, Voices, Music and RenderMan.

As a coffeetable book, it is handsome though hardly spectacular. The front and back cover, with their Buzz Lightyear stickers pasted onto cloth, strike me as not only a surprisingly thrifty approach for such an expensive book ($75 cover price), but also something that doesn’t evoke the proper image for a studio that has pioneered computer graphics. Interior layout is clean but bland; the artwork printed here is largely redundant if you have the earlier ‘art of’ volumes devoted to individual Pixar films. Among the types of visuals that can’t be found in those other book are some photographs and caricatures of the artists. Another type of art unique to this book is the inclusion of final rendered stills from the films, which is good or bad depending on your perspective.

Personally, I had a surprising reaction to the film stills. Looking at them on the printed page, without the benefit of movement or story, I was struck by how overwhelmingly primitive the finished artwork is in Pixar’s films. No doubt the graphics in their films have evolved in terms of complexity, lighting and rendering over the past decade, but the final imagery has not become any more aesthetically appealing from the days of Toy Story. The graphics in Pixar films remain literal and sterile with little sense of humanity or warmth in the finished characters or backgrounds.

While it would be easy to blame such graphic shortcomings on the nature of digital art, the lack of appeal is not so much a technological issue as it is about Pixar’s unwillingness to use the computer as an artistic tool. To date, the aesthetic development of CG has largely been left to smaller commercial studios and independent animators. A studio like Pixar excels in characterization (and occasionally story), but when it comes to graphics, they are more similar than most like to admit to other deep-pocketed and overly cautious CG studios like DreamWorks, Sony and Blue Sky.

There is, however, little reason that Pixar should be incapable of incorporating the type of visual imagination that is evident in their pre-production art into the finished movies. Certainly both the technical and artistic know-how exists at the studio; only the will to combine the two is lacking. While their film credit sequences often make a half-hearted nod to graphic respectability (ex. Monsters Inc., Ratatouille), it would be something else entirely to see such artistry integrated into the CG body of their films.

Pixar completists, and those who want a better sense of some of the production challenges that artists faced on each feature, will want to consider adding this book to their bookshelf, though if you’re an owner of the studio’s earlier ‘art of’ books, it’s doubtful you’ll find much in the way of visual inspiration. What you’ll find is a lot of the same pre-production pieces (or similar enough that they may as well be the same) and a fairy tale account of the studio’s rise to prominence with lots (and lots) of obligatory back-patting amongst crew members. Personally, I’m looking more forward to another book on the horizon: David Price’s The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, which will hopefully offer the in-depth history of the studio that many of us want. That book will be released next May.


  • Michael

    “The graphics in Pixar films remain literal and sterile with little sense of humanity or warmth in the finished characters or backgrounds.”

    I am literally amazed at this remark. I am sure there are others who find the Pixar characters have no “appeal” or “humanity” but my guess is, they are in the vast minority. Not unlike those who look on UPA as the apex of “warmth” and “humanity” in animation.

    Give me a break.

  • Chris

    The Grim Eater has spoken.

  • http://www.hobbit1978.deviantart.com Mr. James

    Wow, I’ve never heard my opinion of Pixar reinforced in such a well-thought out, intelligent analysis. I was wondering why Cars left me flat and you fit the nail on the head with this little report of Pixar’s lack of imagination when it comes to their actual on-screen “art”.

  • Firoz

    I find the visuals in Pixar’s films quite pleasant to look at, but I agree that visually they seem quite conservative. If you had never seen a Pixar movie and put all their characters in a single film, you might never guess that stylistically they all come from separate movies.

    All the major animation studios (Dreamworks, Pixar, Blue Sky) have incredibly talented artists – it’s such a shame we don’t see more divesity of graphic styles. The behind-the-scenes artwork fires your imagination far more than what ends up on the screen.

    I dislike Dream Works animated CG films, but to their credit, they do not seem bothered about having visual continuity between their films in the way that Pixar does. This is a good thing, even though Dream Works films are not particularly pleasing aesthetically!

    I have never understood why animation studios have a ‘house style’. Audiences certainly don’t care for it. The idea of building a ‘brand’ is ridiculous in the context of a film (at least I think so). Imagine if you went into a bookshop and every picture book was rendered in the same style. Why should it be any different with animation? With an infinite variety of styles at your fingertips, why purposefully limit yourself to specific stylistic conventions? (You can see the same stylistic straightjacket in Japanese Anime too)

    I suppose when you spend 60-70 million dollars (or more) making these films, you are never going to get something that’s too stylised. (Althought it doesn’t seem to stop bland or unmemorable designs either!)

  • Mike Konczewski

    I don’t understand the backhanded jab at Pixar’s films in the first paragraph, calling them “cautious as to be boring.” I seem to remember this site raving about “Ratatouille”, the last film from Pixar, and there were similar positive comments about “The Incredibles.” So what changed?

  • http://billfieldtrip.blogspot.com/ Bill Field

    No, really, Amid, what do you REALLY think… HaHaHa

    But seriously, I applaud your frankness. Pixar is the top grossing feature producing animation studio these days. That being said, when you say the stills look primitive, I think of UPA, South Park, Jay Ward, in limited cases, HB and even Bakshi. Most folks will think negatively to the term, primitive, I don’t. Most of what I do fits there, too- But then, I take it to mean limited palette, perspective, not complex character design, but NOT excluding good, smart, innovative qualities. I’m glad you call it that—because, as complex as the Pixar product is perceived, it’s not. Pixar is 2D—just pretending to be 3D, what I’m saying is, until Ratatouille, I wasn’t sold that they made hardly any use of the 3D process, they were thinking 2D. Every feature has had at least one sequence that was on the right track, but Rat really had an entire film that used 3D properly-taking full advantage of it. Yeah, it IS a shame what the “3D”productions are slowing to a snail’s pace the release of 2D films here and abroad, that don’t get the promotional budgets that they deserve, but, it will change, the best is yet to come-in both 2D AND 3D.

  • http://www.myspace.com/brandontoons Brandon Pierce

    I’m going to take a wild guess and say that ‘A Bug’s Life’ is completely ignored in this book, like it always is when someone tries to talk about Pixar’s films.

  • Eduardo

    Pixar’s films are starting to show the same problem that many other studios have: the technical staff promoting their technical prowess over the art and imagination of artists whose skill is visual story telling. The technical contributions are incredibly important to the making of these films, but when technical begins to drives the artisitic vision, the films become “sterile.” I guess this is one reason why visual effects companies (even good ones) have yet to produce successful animated features. Here’s hoping Pixar staves off this encroachment as long as possible.

  • Mike

    I wish Jerry had written up this review because I don’t think I have a big enough grain of salt to get any useful information out of Amid’s review.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    I’m glad I read this, as I didn’t know anything about the other book coming out. As far as Amid’s take on Pixar, it’s his take on Pixar. It’s nice to know that there are some non zealots out there. I don’t agree with all of it, but I can see where he’s coming from. “The Incredibles” still stands out to me as their best film (mostly because of character development), but not everything they do is the second coming of Pinocchio. In my eyes, “Cars” was probably their weakest film.

  • Rev. Woodrow Pace

    Thank you for these comments. My hope is that they will encourage the makers of Disney/Pixar films to let go of some of their tendencies to photo-realism and the often distracting complexities of realistic fur and hair. I rather enjoyed the stylized simplicity of Wilbur Robinson and cast. What I would really have liked, however, would have been an attempt at digitally moving around Joyce’s splendid watercolors. But I digress.

    I am no animation professional; I merely enjoy the medium/media immensely. From this perspective I have to disagree with the total assessment of Pixar you offer. For example you state, “Certainly both the technical and artistic know-how exists at the studio; only the will to combine the two is lacking.” Given some of your other related commentary I hesitate to admit that by far my favorite Pixar movie to date has been ‘Cars’. In my opinion limited by experience, that movie contains the most convincing work yet from any studio that uses computer technology as a medium capable of producing unique quality art. I’ll just list some memories I have of the film to illustrate: the reflections off the colored uneven metallic surfaces, the engine vibrations indicated in Doc’s chrome detailing against the blue body panels, the neon lights iconically depicting the glory days of Route 66, the glowing clouds of dust under the big sky sun, the crystal clear shades of night during the journey west and the hyper-fast moving yet completely readable images of anything NASCAR. The perfection (as opposed to a realism) of these moments leave me breathless every time. I have similar hopes for the space saga ‘Wall-e’.

    That being off my chest now, here’s hoping for the likes of Tyrus Wong, Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, Tim Burton, Gerald Scarfe, Mike Mignola or Walt Disney himself, to be invited in with a compelling idea for a new art direction.

  • purin

    Did I watch the same movies or am I just just not cultured enough to think badly of them?

  • http://www.tommyday.com Tommy Day

    With the heart Pixar movies have, I can accept their supposed “sterile” graphics. I can’t accept the films that other studios continue to crank out, as pretty as they may look. Surf’s Up and Bee Movie being exceptions.

  • Adam

    I’ve also wondered why Pixar characters all seem to populate the same world. If CGI is as limitless as some claim, prove it. Show us humans who don’t look plastic, a variety of visual technique and rules, and characters dripping with the ever-elusive appeal. That’s the nail on the head right there. Appeal is everything, even more important than story IMHOFWIW.

  • Dave

    Wow, is this a review of the book or just an article on how much you don’t like Pixar?

  • Mr Cow

    Looks like someone didn’t get their reel accepted by Pixar.

    :)

  • http://www.windupmagic.com Jay Taylor

    Hey guys,

    I actually agree with what Amid is saying. Strictly speaking, the visuals of a Pixar movie aren’t that different from other cg movies out there. I mean, look at A Bee Movie. It looks like it could’ve easily been made by Pixar!

    CG anything is rarely appealing, but I have seen a few examples. IMHO, cg lends itself towards the abstract, rather than organic.

    I really don’t keep up with cg though. I prefer basically all other forms of animation! :)

  • intergalactic

    I appreciate your honesty and bluntness Amid.

    As well I had thought about picking this book up but I figured as much and in reading your review it sounds as if I wasn’t far from the mark.

    But I will say this if your books read anything like that review you just wrote I’ll be picking them up for the art and pictures and not so much the words.

    Drab…very drab.

  • http://chuckrekow.com Chuck R.

    I agree that Pixar’s films are stylistically “safe”, but you could say that of any successful animated feature in the history of the medium. The Incredibles is very much like 101 Dalmatians in it’s approach to character design: safely-stylized appealing human characters. Both films are highly entertaining, but I’ll contend that The Incredibles makes more incisive commentary about people and their behaviors than Dalmatians or any other animated film to date.

    Pixar knows what they’re doing. They make highly entertaining films with excellent tight stories (the best anywhere in cinema) They know that art has to be in the service of the story for this to work.
    There are thousands of ways to make pretty stills, and Amid’s book chronicles many of them. The reason Cartoon Modern is such a godsend, is that it spares us the agony of sitting through hours of graphically exciting, but emotionally disengaging animation.

  • http://www.animationbrad.com Brad

    The question of style is a big issue. My opinion is that Pixar is still holding the bar in terms of visual style of 3d CGI films. While other animated films have tried to push visual style, they are often criticized for doing so. Disneys ‘Hercules’ comes to mind. (although not pushed anywhere near Gerald Scarfe’s designs) The film was picked on for its ‘cinnamin roll’ ear shapes. The studios feel that an ‘extreme’ or unique visual artistic style would push an audience away, and frankly, I’m not sure that this isn’t the case. During my screening of Ratatouille, many people up and left during the amazing 2d credits at the end of the film (credits are credits, I guess). Many people refuse to see films that are in black and white, just ‘because’. Some people I know didn’t wish to see Wallace and Grommit because the mouths looked ‘funny’. If anyone can push a style, I feel its a large branded company that can afford to take some risks, but has enough name behind them to pull an audience.
    Thanks Amid for pushing the art.

  • Animation Pimp

    Amid is correct.

    what I love about some of the reactions is that typical polarized attitude. I dont see many people actually taking care to discuss what amid said…instead the bulk of you just say diss Amid’s character/mood/temperament. These are the same people who likely spout about the rights to free speech too… but yet don’t actually want to hear any of it unless it’s their own –or the prevailing popular view.

    I’ve enjoyed Pixar’s storytelling, but the animation/design has never really done much for me. this obsession with mirroring the real world is so predictable and bland, but it’s safer that way isnt kids?

  • Erik

    “I mean, look at A Bee Movie. It looks like it could’ve easily been made by Pixar!”

    Are you freaking serious?! Look at the animation on the girl in Bee Movie and then Colette from Ratatouille- you can tell who had traditional animation background vs coming off of spider man 3 (photo realistic) I won’t even go into character designs.

  • Ryan

    Oh dear. Has that time come, when something has been successful for too long, so long in fact that we are not allowed to like them anymore. Cars did nothing for me, but Incredibles and Ratatouille are definitely at the top of my list, not only for fave pixar films but for favourite films of all time, purely for character and story, but I find them visually pleasing on top of that. Congrats Amid, you’ve found something else you dont like. The list of likes must look fairly empty right now.

  • http://www.travisgentry.com Travis Gentry

    Wow. I don’t even know where to start. Pixar is light years away from other studios in terms of artistry. No warmth? Sterile environments? Did you -see- Ratatoullie? For god sakes, the thing oozed atmosphere and artistry. Every shot was like a painting – not a 3D computery rendering you’d find at Dreamworks or Bluesky, but a rich, fully realized painting. And they stylize their characters in such a wonderful way that other studios are trying to mimick them. Meet the Robinsons is a good example, but half the characters in that movie looked like they came from Jimmy Neutron. I just don’t see the validity of saying Pixar’s work just isn’t artistic enough. While I wouldn’t mind seeing them experiment with a different look, you can’t say they didn’t push the artistry of what they did to it’s absolute best.

  • http://www.travisgentry.com Travis Gentry

    Animation Pimp, Pixar doesn’t try to mirror the real world. They caricature it, and they do it very, very well. There is so much style in their character designs. Look at the Skinner character design in Ratatouille. It’s absolutely beautiful and in no way is trying to mirror the real world. I hate to be such a Pixar geek, but I just can’t believe people taking jabs at their artistry when people like Dreamworks and Bob Zemekis deserve it so much more.

  • Paul N

    Wow – Amid makes a provocative statement about something animation-related that doesn’t measure up to his personal standards. How unusual…

  • Banarne Apmansson

    Amid’s review is fair and reinforced, and is an article of opinion. Nothing “bad” is said here of Pixar; it is easy to make the kinds of observations Amid has made into something more objectionable than they are. The reality is that Pixar/Disney is a HUGE product-generating corporation. Amid is not critical of the corporation, but merely acknowleges that it is in fact a big business, and the work they are generating is typical of what you find in a company trying to sustain mass appeal.

    No one would argue that Pixar is working almost exclusively in a single established style at this point, one that arguably seems to exist in the same place for all of the films. It is not a stretch to take any of the characters out of their films and put them into any other in the Pixar portfolio; they all seem to fit together into one big Pixar meatball. It is arguable that this universe-building is what makes Pixar special. It is also arguable that these repetitive tendencies allow for films from other studios -which are very much like Pixar-to look and feel a lot like Pixar films.

    The story at Pixar is always heralded, and, in some cases, used to excuse their familiar design and visual approach. Looking at the history of cinema in a very superficial way, there is little story-wise to separate the Pixar narrative from any other family-oriented narrative in cinema, save for the one-time groundbreaking presentation of the CG universe they pioneered and now seem to be sustaining on life-support.

    If this suggestion seems to be absurd, ask yourself some things the next time you pop-in a Pixar film:
    1. What is happening of consequence? Is it possible for these characters to contract an illness or mortal wound? To go berserk? To become depressed? To become handicapped?

    2. What are the female characters doing? Are they believeable representations of women, even if only in caricature? Are they interesting and important, or more cute and sassy?

    3. Is the narrative dominated by male relationships with no dynamics?

    4. Are the relationships between Mike and Sulley profoundly different than those of Nemo and his dad, Buzz and Woody, the Owen Wilson car and the Paul Newman car, Mr. Incredible and Dash, Remy, Emile, Django, etc., etc., etc?

    5. Are we pretty sure that the main characters will all exist mostly unchanged from the beginning to the end of the story, even before the screen opens?

    This is just a jumping-off point. The reality here is that Pixar has an obligation to maintain it’s brand. It’s a lot more like McDonald’s than Andy Warhol’s Factory, and those of us who are Pixar enthusiasts need to cough that up, because it AIN’T ground-breaking cinema. It is entertainment for children that adults may enjoy peripherally. There is a rich history of world cinema, animated and not, full of interesting films for everyone; films full of real pathos, humor, tragedy, and characters that define generations and, even in caricature, have sustained resonance in the world and in our minds.

    It is possible that for some, these types of characters can be seen in Pixar films, but this is hardly comparative or recognisant of the history of cinemain general, nor is it knowlegeable of the history of animated films. Anyone suggesting that Pixar is heading-up a new camp of animated auteurism is not being fair in recognizing it’s corporate approach to churning out movies. My two cents :0)

  • Ryan

    “1. What is happening of consequence? Is it possible for these characters to contract an illness or mortal wound? To go berserk? To become depressed? To become handicapped?”

    Jeez I know….not to mention why dont we see these characters go to the toilet, and how come we never really see them sleep or play with themselves. Man, it’s like they are avoiding things that dont add to the film in any way.

  • http://www.windupmagic.com Jay Taylor

    Erik – I wasn’t talking about the animation. Pixar’s animation isn’t the topic here! It’s the “look”, the design, etc. Take a still from bee movie and a still from bugs life, and they’ll look very similar!

  • Chuck R.

    Ban Apman, I couldn’t disagree more. If you can find better-crafted stories, and characters anywhere in Disney history, animation history or film history, I’d like to see examples.

    It’s to Pixar’s credit that it’s films are so appealing to adults and kids alike —they are a rare breed — true family films. Okay, so they all eschew blood and gore (how formulaic) and none of them rely on gratuitous sex (how utterly predictable and plebian.)

    When the Pixar love-fest was at it’s peak (Nemo?) I could predict that as soon as the quality ebbed half a notch (Cars perhaps) or they got to their eighth picture, the critics’ gloves would come off and the carping would begin just for the sake of being contrarian.

    When The Incredibles came out, Amid’s review was nothing but gushing praise of every aspect of it. He should explain this about-face. Is it elitism, or did that critic in Ratatouille just strike a nerve?

  • Azz

    I’d just like to know what amid’s example of good CG artistry is. As far as I can tell Pixar are the only one’s trying to push CG into visually appealing areas. did you see Ratatoullie? Some of the shots looked like paintings!

  • Banarne Apmansson

    Chuck R., I couldn’t disagree with you more :0)

    There are a ton of great films with real pathos, humor, transcendence, great writing, all without sex and violence. Look at Bicycle Thief by Vittorio De Sica. Full of humor, drama, devastation, jokes, you know, the “goods”. Well written and it isn’t even in English! And, not to ruin it, but the guy doesn’t get his bike back in the end!

    Or more recently, how about Little Miss Sunshine or The Straight Story? If you see Pixar’s brand of storytelling as being the finest in cinema history, then you are really overlooking the history of cinematic storytelling. Eastern Europe and Canada both have a wonderful output of animated films without sex and violence, more engaging and developed than what is allowed in the studio factory.

    It seems foolish to name-drop – we all know animation here – but come on, if you can’t see a profound difference from a Pixar film to the storytelling in a film by Igor Kovalyov, Priit Parn, Caroline Leaf, Frederic Back, etc, then I would argue you are too much of a fan of the films that Pixar produces to see their output relative to the entire world of cinema.

    As fans, we need to put that out there, because if we do, they might make better, more different kinds of films. If you are already really excited about the work Pixar does, imagine if they pushed their beautiful stuff and hard work out into other areas!

    Additionally, I would argue that a studio with so little input (in the story department, anyway) by people OTHER than white men ages 22-52 is bound to stagnate. 50 more of my cents…

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com Zekey

    You know guys, Amid might be referring to Pixar’s earlier works. Incredibles AND Ratatouille were both recent. And lets be honest, Andy from toy story isnt exactly the prettiest thing in the world or anything.

  • Travis Gentry

    1. What is happening of consequence? Is it possible for these characters to contract an illness or mortal wound? To go berserk? To become depressed? To become handicapped?

    Ughh… this makes no sense to me. Why should they? Would it add to the story if Sully suddenly needs therapy for manic depression? Should they start making after school specials? I just don’t get the point of this question. If it’s not a story about those things, why put them in?

    2. What are the female characters doing? Are they believeable representations of women, even if only in caricature? Are they interesting and important, or more cute and sassy?

    I’d say interesting and important and cute and sassy. How about the mom in the Incredibles juggling a family and marriage? The only girl chef in Ratatouille trying to make it in a male dominated industry? And since when is cute and sassy a crime? 90% of the male characters also exist to be cute and sassy, not interesting and important.

    3. Is the narrative dominated by male relationships with no dynamics?

    I would agree that a central female character is overdue.

    4. Are the relationships between Mike and Sulley profoundly different than those of Nemo and his dad, Buzz and Woody, the Owen Wilson car and the Paul Newman car, Mr. Incredible and Dash, Remy, Emile, Django, etc., etc., etc?

    I would say yes. A father-son relationship is very different thing than a buddy, mentor, or co-dependent working relationship. While I agree they are very male-centric relationships, they aren’t all the same thing and I think they show that in the movies by the way the characters relate to one another.

    5. Are we pretty sure that the main characters will all exist mostly unchanged from the beginning to the end of the story, even before the screen opens?

    I’m pretty sure that the character will go through some sort of change by the end, as is the case in almost good stories. This is one thing that Pixar always gets right. Feel free to provide an example of a central character that doesn’t change through the course of a movie.

  • Banarne Apmansson

    Travis – It is entirely strange to have characters exist apart from the realities of life. Doing so is common in children’s entertainment. It makes as much sense for these characters to have real problems as it does to have problems that are made-up. Real problems posed create real tension, real humor, and real pathos.

    Because the characters in Pixar films are immune from existential issues, it renders the interactions and conflicts to be without compromise. Consider each film, and the central conflict and ask yourself if you could have guessed the outcome or not, and you will see what I am getting at.

    For example, is it possible to imagine Mr. Incredible losing a member of his family? At some point, that is at stake, correct? But, in reality, before even seeing the film, we know it is not going to happen. The family will be in tact at the end as they were in the beginning.

    Though Nemo’s mom dies in the first 4 minutes of the film, (fitting as we never get to know or relate to her) do we have any doubt at all as to whether or not Nemo will be found? I agree that the dynamic between a father and son and buddies are different, but not in Pixar films. Not at all. This is a product of a nearly all male story department, which is common in the factory world of animation production, of which Pixar is a major player.
    You can’t put apples into a blender and get grape juice.

    In regards to your comments about the female characters, they are not interesting or real; generally, they are a man’s idea of a woman and represent those stereotypes. They are either caricaturistically “strong women”, having to appear gruff and loving at once, and of course, curvy (as in the case of Ratatouille and Incredibles), old and matronly (bug’s life), dead (Finding Nemo), Crazy (Finding Nemo), or completely perpheral and 1-dimensional (all of the films).

    None of the Pixar characters are gay, black (save for FROZONE, whose name alone should draw some sideways glances), asian, fat, female, short, or ugly WITHOUT being a stereotype or gross mis-characterization. This, again, is a product of the hiring practices of the company. I know for a fact that a small percentage of the folks at Pixar are minorities, even smaller percentage of them make it to the ranks of story. I think they have one female director. It only makes sense that they are continuing to generate the same kinds of films. In fact, it would be impossible for them not to. Think about it.

  • Michael

    ” I know for a fact that a small percentage of the folks at Pixar are minorities”

    Wait, are you saying a minority of the people at Pixar are … minorities? How’d that happen?

    On a more serious note, what is your point? Is it that Pixar is keeping “minorities” (God how I loathe that expression) out, or there aren’t enough trying to get in? And if either, why?

    Otherwise, your argument seems to boil down to critiquing Pixar films not for what they are, but for what they are not.

    Let’s discuss them on their own merits, eh? It is simply ludicrous to ask questions like “Is it possible for these characters to contract an illness or mortal wound? To go berserk? To become depressed? To become handicapped?”

    Is it possible for them *not* to? Well, yes. Again, what’s your point? It’s not necessary for a character to do any of those things and still be a compelling character. (cf most films, in fact.) What’s more, it’s not the intentions of the filmmakers, clearly, to explore those issues (though I’ll tell ya what, if Brad Bird decided to, he’d shut ya up in about a second.)

    “If you see Pixar’s brand of storytelling as being the finest in cinema history, then you are really overlooking the history of cinematic storytelling. ”

    Nobody’s saying that, and enough of your absurd straw man arguments.

    The bottom line is that there are all kinds of good (and great) films (and filmmakers). The kind of movies the brain trust at Pixar makes have, to date, been made by folks whose own tastes skew toward a certain type of story which, thank goodness as far as I am concerned as a parent, have a very broad appeal.

    I do not believe this is calculated or “playing it safe” (as I don’t know how young the audience for 1906 will skew!). It’s just the nature of this (relatively small, despite previous comments and compared to Hollywood studios) particular group of artists.

    Incidentally, since you seem to have a handy scorecard, how many “minorities” did Da Sica shoehorn into Bicycle Thieves (the actual name of the film)? Didn’t notice too many. Did Cassavettes have enough “fats and asians” for you in “Faces?” I don’t remember too many non-Japanese in “Seven Samurai,” “Yojimbo,” “Ikiru,” “Red Beard” or pretty much any Kurosawa film, and what’s more, for the lion’s share of his post-war career his films dealt with the same core issues in different ways.

    I really find your critique to be sophomoric sophistry at its worst, and your possession of the “facts” is at fault, so I’d invite anyone reading your posts to take those, at least, with a grain of salt.

    Meanwhile, best of luck enjoying “Bicycle Thieves” with your two-year-old son, if you have or ever have one. I am sure he will find it knee-slappingly hilarious and every bit as compelling as “The Incredibles.”

  • Chuck R.

    “Otherwise, your argument seems to boil down to critiquing Pixar films not for what they are, but for what they are not.”

    Right on, Michael! To be fair, Amid’s initial point (i.e. the styling) has some merit. Banarne, you seem to want animated versions of films you like that Pixar has no business (or interest in making.) I’ll give you the same advice I’d give Geena Davis: “if you need x number of minorities to enjoy your movies, you pony up the cash and make them.”

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Banarne Apmansson – your comments have been among the most sensible and intelligent I have ever read on here.
    Everyone thumbing their nose at these thoughts is missing the point completely.

  • Sara

    I can understand completely the opinions expressed here, but I think you guys are looking too much at the specifics of the films. When you accept something for what it is, without looking for things to criticize, it’s much easier to enjoy. What does it matter if something isn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary as long as it’s enjoyable? When you watch one of their movies, you experience something wonderful. The stories and character designs are excellent, in my opinion, and I find Ratatouille to be one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Their movies don’t have to be revolutionary to be good. They’re still the best out there right now, by far.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    You can see the same stylistic straightjacket in Japanese Anime too
    Yeah and you can also see people breaking out of it left right and centre and making successful, innovative and creator-driven animation while the western animation community sits around moaning about pixar on the internets

  • Banarne

    Michael,
    Thanks for the reply. The US release of the film Ladri di biciclette was actually title “The Bicycle Thief”, while it was called “Bicycle Thieves” in the UK and DVD releases.
    Do your research:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_Thieves
    Second, I am sorry you loathe the word “minority”; it is obvious that you have never had to live as one.
    And finally, to the point, there is no assumption as to whether or not Pixar is trying to keep minorities out of their offices. They are definitely not featured in their films.
    Your comparison of Pixar films and the films of De Sica and Kurosawa on the basis of minority appearances is ridiculous, given that those countries had, at the time those films were produced, very MINUTE immigrant populations! America is a country of immigrants, and this is not reflected in any of the Pixar films.
    I saw THE BICYCLE THIEF when I was very young, and I found it every bit as engaging as I did Bambi, and if you, a parent, find your kids are having a hard time with watching good movies, then maybe you need to work on your parenting style :0)

  • dan

    “A studio like Pixar excels in characterization (and occasionally story)”

    occasionally?

    FAIL

    while you are it, write a review about the earth being flat, and we’ll take it just as seriously

  • Marc G.

    There’s nothing wrong with making a film in a mainstream style. If Pixar started making movies that looked like National Film Board of Canada animated shorts, its box office gross would be measured in pennies.

  • Brian McEntee

    I applaud Amid’s critique – not because I completely agree with it all, some of it I do and some not so much – but because public critique is useful and positive. If you have read any of the old internal Disney memos from its “Golden Age” you’d find just as sharp criticisms of the films we now all deem classics expressed by everyone, including Walt.

    Let’s please all be adults about this.

    My hope would be that Pixar engages in tough critical conversations internally about this new book and many of the things Amid mentions regarding it and their films, and that they take what he expressed to heart. We all learn by our mistakes, and receiving criticism, though difficult and unpleasant, is an important part of that growth curve. Reacting defensively rather than thoughtfully stifles that creative growth.

    I know a lot of the Pixar folks. They’re big kids. They can handle it, so lets not pillory Amid or each other for having different opinions here. Disagreement is fine, but some of these personal digs are beneath you good folks.

    Peace.

  • c.tower

    It seems to me Barnarne’s problem isn’t with Pixar so much as it’s with popular entertainment in general. (A piece of advice: if what you describe is really what you demand in your fiction, do yourself a favour and throw out your TV right now!) ;)

  • Gordan

    Animation Pimp:

    “this obsession with mirroring the real world is so predictable and bland, but it’s safer that way isnt kids?”

    I know…I’m also tired of all those rat cooks every time I go to a restaurant and those annoying anthropomorphic cars having absurd discussions on the Ottawa/Gatineau highway every bloody day. ;o)

  • Emily

    Wow,

    I thought Amid was mainly commenting on his impression of the book, not of Pixar films. I took what he said to mean that looking at the book (in particular) he felt the film stills to be sterile. His comment seemed to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to what he saw in the book?

    I would think to make the same kind of statement on the evolving (or non-evolving) look of Pixar films would require more thought/information to back it up than what was provided.

    I took a look at this book over the weekend and I was also a bit dissapointed by its bland overtone.

  • Chuck R.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t care to look at stills from any animated film. It’s the whole package that counts: the design, yes, but also the movement, the storytelling and the sound.

    I don’t know what the book looks like or why there are so many frame grabs in it, when all the Pixar “art-of” books have been full of hand-drawn pre-production art. I appreciate Amid’s initial comments, and I too would like to see Pixar throw a real left-curve (as long as the quality remains) but I disagree with the view that there’s been little evolution from Andy to Geri to Mr. Incredible, and complaining about the lack of minorities in films populated by toys, cars, bugs and fish is simply assinine.

    At any rate this thread has gotten way off track, several critics have joined the Pixar pile-on and most seem to be more interested at jabbing big business than making solid points about filmmaking or storytelling.

  • tyler hornbuckle

    Amid-

    You’re a hater. It’s not the 1960′s anymore. Flash and 3D are part of the culture and Pixar’s movies are a zillion more times more appealing than let’s say Bee Movie. It’s time to realize that you’re hater, and there’s a growing population who dislike your feedback. Thanks for nothin.

  • Rev. Woodrow Pace

    Choosing to stick to Amid’s observations regarding Pixar’s graphic style, or as he opines, their lack thereof, I had to comment on my first perusal of ‘Ratatouille’ on DVD. The disc both validates the theory and debunks it. The short, Your Friend The Rat, is a spectacular call back to the educational cartoons saturated with the genius pencil marks of Ward Kimball. It’s hard not to notice, though, that whenever the style is overtly graphic the animation medium is something other than 3D Computer modeling. So I asked myself some questions: Would a fully dimensional and rendered Linguini dismembered on screen to depict a Tex Avery like surprise rend the audience from the intended emotion and create within us something entirely different? Would scores of atmospheric well lit sailing ships crossing the Atlantic be too much for eye to behold? Might not sharp angels, graphic shapes, clashing colors and unnatural movements confuse the mathematical logic of necessary logarithms and cause smoke? In other words, can the computer convey an artist’s simple but convincing line or brush stroke making it exist simultaneously on planes x, y AND z while not making it look like something I can see out my window?

    Pixar somewhat answers these questions on the aforementioned disc with the character of Gusteau in his deceased form. Because he is a figment and does not belong to the physical world around him, by his very nature he must break that world’s rules. He’s translucent, constantly moving, at times smooth, at times jerky and is (I don’t know how they got the computers to handle it) sometimes completely amorphous. In one frame during a particularly excited flight he was reduced to an inordinately large smear of his dominate colors with no identifiable graphic shape at all. I want to shake that animator’s hand!

    What can 3D computer graphics do for graphic art? Well, reasonably and responsibly, experiments should be done to find out. Who better than Pixar and Disney to do this?

    Finally, a related question: When are ‘Lorenzo’ and ‘Destino’ going to be released in home entertainment formats? They would offer some frame by frame studies that use computers differently for sure.

  • Michael

    Banarne:
    “Ladri di biciclette” translates literally from the Italian as “Bicycle Thieves.” You can look it up. As that is what De Sica called it, I think it is safe to say that is the actual name of the film regardless of what titles distributors later placed on it.

    Secondly, on this term “minorities.” You have no idea who I am or where I come from yet you make assumptions not unlike those made by some people toward the very “minorities” you defend. Oh, the irony of political correctness. To explain, I find any generalizing or lumping together of a disparate group of people objectionable. As in, “look at those minorities over there.”

    Third, you miss my point. You are making an argument that is illogical and anti-artistic if you are asserting that the number of “minorities,” as you call them, featured in a work has any bearing on its artistic qualities. I think your issue, as others have noted, has little to do with Pixar specifically, but is more a social critique and not a particularly fresh one at at that.

    Certainly we can all agree that we should live in a more inclusive world — what could be simpler or more human? — but setting as a quid pro quo a standard of minority inclusion as a basis for an assessment of artistic achievement is absurd, except in obvious cases where a piece’s intention is to directly address issues of race or gender.

    And in general I have a problem with a critique that makes assumptions — for that is all they can be — about the process and intent of the artists. What matters is the piece. Not what isn’t in it that I would like to be in it, how I would have made it, what I think or assume the artists were thinking when they made certain choices.

    The piece has been created, and in my view should be judged on its own merits, not on how well it measures up to my preconceptions of what it should have been, or my standing prejudices as to what does or does not constitute a successful piece. I understand that people will differ on this point but I personally believe that judgement based on unmet expectation or abritrary prejudice is unsubstantial & of no lasting merit.

    I too saw Bicycle Thieves when I was very young, as well as many other fine films, and my son will do the same when he’s old enough to appreciate them. If you are claiming, though, that your attention was held and you had any cogent understanding of Bicycle Thieves (or Umberto D, or Open City and so on…) at the age of two, I put it to you that you are being, at best, disingenuous. I don’t know how many people would disagree with me when I suggest that the films of the neorealists, for example, would be less than fully appreciated by the average toddler.

    Finally, you’re extremely offensive in suggesting there is something wrong with my “parenting style,” ironic emtoicon notwithstanding. I assure you however that there is someting wrong with your strawman-laced, factually inaccurate and assumption-laden style of debate.

  • Michael

    Woodrow:
    Excellent observations. I find it funny that “Your Friend the Rat” comes out amidst this discussion. There’s no doubt, it seems (and it’s clear to anyone who’s looked at the various “Art of …” books) there’s a wide spectrum of styes at work at Pixar, whatever one may say of the features.

    Good questions too — where IS Destino?? I thought it was going to be on one of the Disney Treasures DVDs. Not so far . . .

    And where is the Platinum Pinocchio for that matter? I had heard October 2007, then nothing. And I see that 101 Dalmatians has a platinum package coming out, and sheesh… 101 is a lovely picture, but it’s no Pinocchio.

  • Kate

    I feel a bit late to the game–I’ve only just found this blog this evening! After sorting through the comments, even though I haven’t read any of this particular poster’s reviews before I get the feeling that this is not anything particularly shocking.

    Personally, I love most of Pixar’s work–I love seeing the smiling faces leaving the theater, I love seeing people who have no interest in animation going to the theater specifically to see it, and I love most of all the art! The art which is fun, and bright, and cheerful–and different! I check quite a few of the concept teams blogs, and there is a large variety of work going on–beautiful stuff I don’t see many other places. Just an opinion, but there it is.

    The reason I comment now, however, instead of lurking around a bit more is because of one specific comment left above about the women seeming flat in these movies. I have to say, as a human female, I disagree. I have seen many animated movies, and while I would love a female lead in a Pixar film, they have created more dynamic female characters in an animated feature than any other studio I can think of. Many mothers I have spoken to simply adore Mrs. Incredible–I do not think she is a flat ‘what a man thinks a woman is’ type of character at all. She worries, she if funny, she loves her family and is insecure and strong–all in two hours, mind–she would do anything for her kids–are these characteristics of a traditional mother? Yes. Because she IS one–she IS a mother.

    Our female in Ratatouille made me smile as well–when she reached for the mace I grinned in the theater. I don’t really need to go on and on on my soapbox, but I can say, as a girl, I don’t need you to stand up for me or my gender, sir.

    I know, I know… what a trite thing to say. Clearly what a man might think a girl who thinks she knows what she’s talking about would think to say… or something :P

  • Jorge Garrido

    I’ve always felt that design was Pixar’s weak point.

    The best CG designs ever were Kellman’s designs for Madagascar, and they’re one of the weaker studios. Those designs still didn’t save the movie from mediocrity. I wish they’d get designs that good into stories as good as Pixar’s.

    I mean, I love The Iron Giant, too, but the character designs are terrible.

  • Banarne Apmansson

    Kate,
    I am curious as to why you believe me to be a man? I feel I have written nothing to indicate my sex one way another. To be clear, I am a woman, and I am not “standing up” for anyone; I am merely pointing out the lack of dimension, (despite the three D’s) in the Pixar women.
    I appreciate your post, but find that I don’t agree with you at all.

  • BT

    All I gotta say is “The Art of Robots.”

    Okay, maybe it’s not fair, but every time I read Amid being a curmudgeon about some beloved icon of animation I can’t help but wonder how this same guy was forgiving enough to write an entire book about Robots. It boggles the mind.

    The criticisms of the book do sound fair, and while the lack of warmth and humanity claim is ridiculous, I do agree that Pixar is for the most part fairly conservative in their design. It would be nice to see them occasionally mix it up design-wise and experiment in the way that, say, Triplets of Belleville or Nightmare Before Christmas did. On the other hand, I think Ratatouille is the most gorgeous looking CGI movie to date, so I’m not gonna complain.

    I think the reason the review rubbed a few people the wrong way, though, is the classic Amid technique of writing a fairly outrageous claim as if it is a widely agreed upon fact and that he will be shocked when people disagree. What? Pixar is beloved for their warmth and humanity? The Simpsons is one of the most popular animated shows of all time? Pizza is known as a delicious dish?

    You have to learn to get a kick out of that if you’re going to read Cartoon Brew.

  • Banarne Apmansson

    Michael,
    I am amused at how comfortably you dillute what I am saying to nothing more than fallacious argument. It is in fact YOU who have drawn the straw man, here, by saying:

    “but setting as a quid pro quo a standard of minority inclusion as a basis for an assessment of artistic achievement is absurd, except in obvious cases where a piece’s intention is to directly address issues of race or gender”

    If you carefully reread my posts, you will see I neither implied nor said this in any way. REPEAT: I NEVER SAID THAT. You have reduced my comments to being simpler than they are. At no point did I say that all-inclusive works are, by definition, better because they are universal.

    At no point did I say a minority requirement should be satisfied to make a film that is worthwhile.

    My suggestion is now and has always been that there is a relationship between the output of Pixar, and the people making the films there. This is reinforced by the fact that their films feature very similar storylines, modified to add different types of people and objects, and their designs (back to the original post) show a repetitive stagnation. This is not something you have a problem with, and, in fact, you seem rather hot-headed and frustrated with the fact that this is bothersome to others. I apologize for my opinions making you so angry, but I assure, this is nothing to be upset about.

    Additionally, you have completely glossed over the fact that the hub of your original argument – that De Sica and Kurosawa didn’t use MINORITIES – is a mega-bonerly thing to say, as the immigrant populations of those countries were minute when those directors were making the films you name-dropped.

    Also, you evoked the straw man again when you said:

    “If you are claiming, though, that your attention was held and you had any cogent understanding of Bicycle Thieves (or Umberto D, or Open City and so on…) at the age of two, I put it to you that you are being, at best, disingenuous”

    Look at that big wasted paragraph! ONCE AGAIN, I neither said nor implied, at any point, that my appreciation of THE BICYCLE THIEF (as it is called here in America) was PROFOUND at a young age.
    A 2 year old watching the Incredibles does not have “cogent understanding” of the film. A child can be captivated for hours by an ant on a stick. If you can’t sit with your kid through THE BICYCLE THIEF or any of the other films you have name-dropped, then yes, your parenting needs a workout. How hard can it be? A film is flashing light on a screen; kids love that stuff!

    If you find this to be fallacious, just give your kid a beetle to play with or turn on a strobe light and play some Black Sabbath for him/her. Tell me if he or she doesn’t have a great time!!!!

  • Franklin

    What I want to know is, WHERE is my copy of “The Fabulous Art of Brian McEntee?” His paintings for “Beauty and the Beast,” “Brave Little Toaster,” and espcially “Cat’s Can’t Dance” are AMAZING.

    GIMMIE!

  • Kevin

    My opinion of Amid is that he’s a horses behind. Anyone that labels any Pixar film boring, loses any credibility, without having to say another word!

  • Chuck R.

    “If you can’t sit with your kid through THE BICYCLE THIEF or any of the other films you have name-dropped, then yes, your parenting needs a workout.”

    Wow, now I hear that good parents plop their kids in front of whatever, until they glaze over. I guess I’m doing all the wrong things.

    To all the Pixar detractors, has it ever occured to you that Pixar is making films that mean a lot to themselves? I’ve seen all 3 of Brad Bird’s films and read many of his interviews and I think he’s telling stories that incorporate deeply-held beliefs and observations, and it happens that audiences worldwide have found a certain warmth, sincerity and emotional depth in these films and have embraced them —as I have. Isn’t that what artists and entertainers are supposed to do? Isn’t it best for Pixar to tell the stories that inspire them, and leave other types of stories to the Bakshis, Scorceses and Spiegelmans of the world?

    Banarne, you can swim upstream and try to convince mainstream America that we’re all cultural simpletons and we only thought we were entertained in a dark theatre when we were truly bored, but wouldn’t it be easier to say that you don’t care for Hollywood-style films with slick veneers and happy endings and leave race and gender out of it?

    And why do so many of you elitists out there assume that just because some of us are able to enjoy Pixar and Disney, we don’t have the mental capacity to appreciate Chomet, Murnau, The Bros. Quay, and Leaf (who incidentally still has to prove she can hold an audience for over 8 minutes)?

    Kate and Michael: Here’s to having a good time at the movies! (without the help of Big Brother.)

  • http://pediatristsplayground.blogspot.com Kevin Martinez

    Of course, IF anyone were to say anything critical about, say, Mind Game or the Triplets of Belville, Amid’s head would blow up like Bikini Island.

    There must be a ashortage of Cartoon Network shows/Dreamworks films to rake over the coals if we’re down to sniping at Pixar now.

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    Fascinating discussion. The fact that Pixar could generate all this passion is a positive sign as far as I’m concern.

    As a guy who had the opportunity to labor inside Pixar for a few years back in the nineties, I found the whole experience far more gratifying than my return to Disney.

    Though not perfect by any means, Pixar Animation Studios has a creative energy this old guy admires. I do not exaggerate when I say every other studio is still playing catch up.

  • dan

    Sorry, I stopped reading when you called Pixar’s work sterile.

    ” I do not exaggerate when I say every other studio is still playing catch up.”

    Amen to that, and they always will be.