Pass the Popcorn: Things Are Looking Up – Or Are They?

UP 1

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Well, I’m going to owe a lot of people their money back on this post. Bowled over by the new Star Trek film (which you should really go see if you haven’t already) I overconfidently predicted that it would be the best movie of the year, and offered a refund on the price of the blog post to anyone who felt differently at year’s end. My reasoning at the time – as I explained in the comment thread – was as follows: “Take a look at what else is on the docket for this year. See anything that’s likely to be better?”

Guess what I had completely and totally forgotten about?

When I realized that a Pixar movie was coming out this summer, here’s what I felt like:

UP 2

But who knows? Pixar has been less than stellar in the past – remember A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc.? Both are better than the average family movie, but to say that is damning with faint praise.

And UP comes to us from a relatively untested creative team. It was written by Bob Peterson and co-directed by Peterson and Pete Docter. Both have accumulated some secondary credits at Pixar – Peterson got secondary writing credits on Finding Nemo and Ratatouille; Docter got “story” credits on both Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc. and Wall-E; both have worked on Pixar shorts, direct-to-video projects, videogames, etc. (Peterson was also the voice of Ray the science teacher in Nemo and Roz the bureaucrat-cum-deus-ex-machina in Monsters.) Neither seems to have done much outside Pixar.

Between the two of them, there’s only one topline credit before UP. Guess what it is?

Docter directed Monsters Inc.

Let’s see how far back we have to go before we find a Pixar movie with a similarly untested creative team:

Wall-E: Written and directed by Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo

Ratatouille: Written and directed by Brad Bird of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant (a masterpiece you really must see if you haven’t yet)

Cars: Written and directed by John Lasseter of Toy Story & Toy Story 2

The Incredibles: Written and directed by Brad Bird of The Iron Giant

Finding Nemo: Written and directed by Andrew Stanton of . . .

. . . well, OK, I guess the last time we had an untested creator at the helm, we did pretty well, didn’t we?

But guess when the last time before that was? Monsters Inc. Directed by Pete Docter.

I suppose I’m being overly pessimistic. It’s partly because I don’t want to have to shell out all that money on my ill-advised guarantee.

But I have another reason to suspect UP will be no good – I loved the teaser trailer.

No, seriously. Up until now, I have hated every teaser trailer I’ve seen from Pixar. I hated the teaser for Finding Nemo. I hated the teaser for The Incredibles. I really hated the teaser for Cars. I don’t remember seeing the teaser for Ratatouille but I didn’t go in with high expectations so I can’t have liked it if I did see it. And I was, I guess, nonplussed by the teaser for Wall-E – by that time I had learned that hating the teaser was actually a good sign, so that changed my whole outlook on them.

So up until now the teasers have been awful and the movies have been great. What does it say that the teaser for UP made the movie look really good?

This is the second of what I guess will be an annual series of Pass the Popcorn entries on Pixar. I don’t think I can top what I said in the first edition, so I’ll stop here.

Except I will note that the plot synopsis for Toy Story 3 has changed pretty radically since I first expressed such trepidation about it. Before, there was a whole paragraph, which I don’t remember in detail but it was about Woody and Buzz getting thrown away after Andy grows up. Now it’s just one sentence, and Woody and Buzz are ending up in a day care. That sounds much more promising.

7 Responses to Pass the Popcorn: Things Are Looking Up – Or Are They?

  1. Brian says:

    I’ve never understood why you are down on Monsters Inc. I think it’s great. Arguably the funniest of the Pixar films. Monsters was SO much better than Cars.

    True, Bug’s Life is just ok.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Agree that Monsters is better than Cars. Disagree that Monsters is (even “arguably”) the funniest Pixar movie. How can you watch Toy Story 2 (“I am your father!”) or or the Incredibles (“It is NOT a graduation! He is moving from the FOURTH grade to the FIFTH grade!”) or even Ratatouille (“Yeah? Well . . . you’re pretty thin for a guy who likes food”) and say that?

      I’m only “down” on Monsters in the sense that I think it’s good, well above the average family movie, but below the average Pixar movie (which is a high standard, I admit).

  2. rory says:

    Saw UP yesterday. Not as good as Star Trek. Not as good as Toy Story, Monsters, or Cars. Not bad though.

  3. Marcus Winters says:

    Greg — you owe me my money back.

    Up is on the edge of the top teir of Pixar flicks. It will be very challenging for kids, so I’m not sure how well it will do after the first week, but it is definintely the most ambitious Pixar film, and maybe the most touching.

    As I see it, the teirs are:

    Spectacular — Increadibles, Finding Nemo, Toy Story 1, Toy Story 2

    Amazing — Ratatouille, Up

    Very good — Wall-E,

    Better than average (oh, better than 80th percentile) family film — A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc,

    Horrible disapointment — Cars

    Oh — anyone know why they didn’t have a short film before Up? Those have always been so good before the Pixar flicks.

    Also, looking to the future — I’m so excited, about another Toy Story, since TS2 proved that sequals in this franchise can be done well. Anyone know what gave them the idea to put a sequal to Cars in the works? My hope is that they are planning to make up for that terrible film with an actual Pixar quality movie with the same characters — my fear is that they are going to make another piece of junk. You will be able to tell by the number of lines given to Mater.

    • Greg Forster says:

      1) The check is in the mail.

      2) No short? That’s an outrage! I’m heading down to Disney headquarters with a torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. Who’s with me?

      3) Cars went over very, very well with the little boy market. I’m not as down on Cars as you are, but in your favor I will note that standards are extremely low in the little boy market because there’s no competition – nobody in Hollywood knows how to entertain that market.

  4. Marcus Winters says:

    yeah — but the junk that non-Pixar-Disney and others do speaks to the little boys just fine — no one knows how? Um — just put in some flashy action sequences, doesn’t that do it?

    The benefit of Pixar is to speak to a kid audience while also having a meaningful story and an actual point — “big city bad, small town good” is fine for the other studios, but absolute trash from the company who gave little kids topices like: death (TS2), being replaced (TS1), the conundrum that everyone is special, and so no one really is (Increadibles), and then follow that up with most people AREN’T really so special, but truly special people can come from anywhere (Ratatouile), etc.

    Cars was a lazy movie — speaking only to the little boy crowd is a lazy move — we should demand more from Pixar. We did — and they have now delivered 3 times since then!

    • Greg Forster says:

      Well, OK, “entertain” was the wrong word. I meant nobody in Hollywood knows how to produce anything for little boys that does anything more than just entertain them while they’re sitting in front of it.

      I don’t know whether Cars was deliberately intended to reach only the little boy market. I’m just observing that they did, in fact, reach that market, which is why it’s now a franchise they’re milking the heck out of. I fully agree that the movie’s failure to reach any other market is evidence that it is not up to Pixar’s usual standard. Whether that’s because of laziness (i.e. not trying) or incompetence is a question I leave to the philosophers.

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