Brave Pixar and the Search for Failure

Hit after hit, Pixar has proven themselves to be groundbreaking technicians, artists, animators, storytellers, and filmmakers. Each and every film unintentionally created a template that other animation studios (even Pixar themselves) blatantly copy to create the next brand-x animated hit. But lately, critics and fans of Pixar seem to be on a witch hunt, eagerly looking at each film released as proof that Pixar is no longer making great films.

Last weekend, Pixar released Brave, a story about a young girl who desires to change her fate so that she doesn’t have to deal with an over-controlling mom. However, the journey of the story is about the price of disobedience, the consequences of control, and a strong message that both a child and a mother can change. Visually beautiful and enjoyable from start to finish.

3D Technology

I saw the film in 3D, and even though I desperately wanted to hate the fact that I was watching a 3D film, I loved every moment. Aside from a few sequences that were a little too dark, I felt that this was the best 3D film I have ever seen.

Dolby Atmos

The film was released as part of Dolby’s launch of Dolby Atmos, a new sound technology that incorporates ceiling mounted speakers for a smoother surround sound and another way to get $3.50 per ticket. You can read my critique of Dolby Atmos in this post, but all in all, the visuals mixed with the immersive sound quality of the Dolby Atmos system made for a truly unbelievable experience.

La Luna: The Short

I love the shorts Pixar releases with each feature. La Luna, a heart-warming look at a multi-generational work crew that cleans the moon of the stardust, was gorgeous and touching. Amazing in 3D as well.

The Verdict: Pixar is Here to Stay

While success stories are essential to the American culture, we don’t like companies and individuals that are consistently successful and constantly prove their worth. We like our failures epic and in the spotlight, but the frustrating thing about Pixar is that they aren’t failing, they just aren’t perfect anymore because I think they are doing greater work in developing the future of the company and the industry.

What They Are Doing Right

  1. Pixar is working on developing the next directors and leaders of the company. Look at the names of the latest directors and co-directors and you’ll see Bob Peterson (Up), Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), Mark Andrews (Brave), Brenda Chapman (Brave), and Steve Purcell (Brave). You could make the argument that the top dogs are off doing other things leaving the company to the less talented directors, but the beauty of Pixar is that amazing and talented people work throughout the entire company from the top all the way to the bottom. They are simply training the next generation of Pixar leaders. And that excites me!
  2. Gender diversity in the director role. Brenda Chapman, co-director of Brave, is the first woman to be listed as a Pixar director. Good for you Pixar. I found the princess that much more believable because a woman was co-directing the show, instead of a male pretending he was a princess.
  3. Continuing to define what 3D animation is and will be. Pixar has always been the perfect marriage of art, science, technology, and business. Each film gets technically better and better. If you don’t agree, watch Toy Story, then see Brave. Pixar is continually raising the bar, they are refining their internal processes, and they are doing the work they want to be doing.
  4. Letting directors dabble in live-action. Stanton’s John Carter and Bird’s Mission: Impossible 4 were great examples of animated film directors transitioning into live-action directors transforming genres for the better. The films weren’t perfect, and in the case of John Carter, critically smashed, but they brought something back to cinema that has been missing since the destruction of every marketable novel, game, and comic book since the 50s.

What They Are Doing Wrong

  1. Sequels. While I understand the business-sense of releasing sequels about the characters people know and love, I hope that the sequel-to-new-characters-new-ideas ratio remains in the favor of the new. Now that Pixar is part of Disney, for the love of all that is holy, don’t start releasing straight to online videos. Please.
  2. Learn how to market your films. I think Brave was the first Pixar film to be marketed correctly. Every other film, in my opinion, was not marketed well. Hence, the surprise when people went to WALL-E or Ratatouille and were blown away by the story. When was the last time you fell for a rat chef or a robotic garbage collector anyway?

Brave was a good film. It wasn’t great, but I would see it again. I would even own it. For the people that think Pixar is going downhill, their legacy is in the work they are doing behind the scenes. As an animation lover, I am excited to see what they do next, the people they develop into the next directors of the medium I love and enjoy, and I am excited to see them rise from the critics’ ashes thrust upon them as they do what they do.