June 21, 2013

Pixar

Is Pixar bleeding talent?

I just read that their three most recent films don't have the old magic. Two of them were sequels (or prequels) and two of them flopped. When Disney bought the place, I wondered if it was the end of the miracle machine. And now it seems it is.

Lasseter seems to have his mind on other things. And based on his CV, it looks like Brad Bird no longer works there. (Which would be a huge loss; Bird was responsible for The Incredibles and Ratatouille.)

When you acquire a place like that, there are material assets (i.e. the software, the rendering farm, the library of releases) which have value, but looking forward the primary value is the talent. But that can easily be a wasting asset if you handle it wrong. It doesn't take too much to set off a stampede for the door, and then the talent is gone.

Did that happen, (partially or fully)?

UPDATE: Speaking of that, seems like the same thing happened when Disney acquired Henson. The magic is gone there, too.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Entertainment at 09:45 PM | Comments (12) | Add Comment
Post contains 181 words, total size 1 kb.

1 Well, it depends on the point of view, really.

The first Cars was Pixar's first "normal" type of animated film.  It wasn't bad, by any means, just fairly normal with only some of the Pixar charm.  The important detail is this: Cars was Pixar's most profitable film and by a huge margin.  Why?  Toys.  Monster amount of toy sales.  Something like 6 billion USD.  Huge, huge seller, which is why it got a sequel.

The issue is that Cars 2 dropped the pretense of being a critical darling and just went for a good, fun children's action romp.   While Cars 1 is actually more like Girls und Panzer.  The story is pretty straight forward (one is a sports story, the other is Doc Hollywood + a sports story), but the technical geekiness was through the roof, matched with solid writing. 

Brave was one of those movies that got "saved" like Ratatouille.  On retrospect, it was pretty noticeable where they patched up the movie from descending into far too much introspection.  A mother/daughter "coming of age" drama can be done really well, but you consign about 1/2 of your audience to sheer boredom.  So it's a pretty enjoyable kid's action flick.   Pixar probably doesn't get enough credit for making major changes to director staff if the movie is going wrong.

Pixar's problems were known to begin after Wall-E, and this was before Wall-E released.  Most everything before Wall-E was from designs and narratives created by the original brain trust.  Further, they worked out the major details while they all were a lot younger, with a lot more time and a lot more energy.  Plus a lot less responsibilities.  ( I believe most of them were worked out in a coffee shop before even Toy Story came out)  The benefits of youth, energy, camaraderie and lots of time help the creative process.

A lot of the problem seems to be that Pixar's talent has actually gotten farmed out.  Andrew Stanton did John Carter and has another live action picture in the works.  Brad Bird is off doing something else.  These are pretty big talents that are off doing other things, which hurts Pixar.   Plus there's the issue of turning out 1 high quality film per year.  The tech has gotten more expensive (as the visual requirements keep going up) and it takes a lot of work to come up with creative stories that fit the Pixar mold. 

Though Pixar's real problem, from a Hollywood point of view, is that most of the movies are "terminal" in their story.  They only produce 1 story to tell.  It drastically helps the narrative structure at the cost of making sequels.  While that has produced a lot of great movies, over time it limits the ability for "sure-fire series you want to see again" issues.  When you have a yearly production schedule, that's going to wear.

Posted by: sqa at June 22, 2013 02:11 AM (ehYGU)

2

The weird part is that Disney's last movie, "Wreck-It Ralph" was one of their better ones in years, which had all of the magic of Pixar or early-90's Disney.  "Tangled" was pretty good, too. 

Disney struggled for years, too, then kind of came back, then struggled again, and seems to be coming back.  I don't know if they've pillaged their subsidiary or it's just a matter of these things moving in waves.

Posted by: CatCube at June 22, 2013 05:29 AM (/ZhTU)

3 Diseny's own movies got better... by putting Lasseter over the top of all of the Disney animation works.  So they improved the entire animation department at a bit of cost to Pixar.

Good management is always needed, but finding a good executive is very, very hard.  And even when you get one, you burn through them pretty quickly.

Posted by: sqa at June 22, 2013 02:52 PM (ehYGU)

4

It hurts to say this.

Most of Pixar's best stuff came out while Steve Jobs owned the place, and to some extent it's a manifestation of the legendary Jobs obsession with being "insanely great". Jobs wasn't as concerned with merchandising as he was with getting an awesome primary product.

And then he got distracted running Apple again, so the creative people (like Bird and Lasseter) at Pixar could do their own thing without having a lot of over-the-shoulder-looking from above.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 22, 2013 04:16 PM (+rSRq)

5 I'm going to watch "Planes" although I didn't watch either Cars of Cars 2. Of course.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at June 22, 2013 05:09 PM (RqRa5)

6

I just took a look at the blurb for that. For a Disney film, it sounds good. If it was Pixar I'd use it as another example of how the mighty have fallen. It probably will be good entertainment for kids and the odd airplane otaku, but it isn't taking any chances.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 22, 2013 05:55 PM (+rSRq)

7 My understanding is that Wreck-It Ralph's production had a ton of Pixar alumni in it, despite not being Pixar.  That would explain why it was, IMO, on a par with the best Pixar movies, and much better than the recent bunch.

( Seriously, it got robbed at the Oscars.  It was much better than Brave.  How many movies actually do an study the concept of heroism in depth, including all the false paths, stumbling blocks, and temptations? )

Posted by: metaphysician at June 22, 2013 06:37 PM (3GCAl)

8 "Planes" is a spin off from the Cars world, but it's not actually a Pixar movie.  There's no Pixar branding on it nor is it done at their main studio. 

Though the truly important thing to come out of Pixar is, oddly, the result of Wall-E.  To make the movie of Wall-E work, the animators had to understand physical animation in a new way.  They, by their own production diaries, spent months studying Charlie Chaplin.  They simply found a way to do visual storytelling in 3D animation a whole lot better.  They've developed a Pixar "style" to animation in much the same way popular anime production companies have a style.  This style has also moved over into the Disney side of things as well.

And, yeah, Steve Jobs not being over Pixar didn't help matters.  Not that he ever actually did all that much with them, as he had actually gone back to Apple before the A Bug's Life had even released, but his presence at the "top" of the hierarchy would always have an effect.

Posted by: sqa at June 22, 2013 08:19 PM (ehYGU)

9

 Seriously, it got robbed at the Oscars.

I know.  When I heard the results, the only thing I could say was, "Really!?"

Posted by: CatCube at June 23, 2013 06:08 AM (/ZhTU)

10 I went to IMDB, it looks like the two in-progress films that list Brad Bird as Director are "1906" and "Tomorrowland," which both seem to be Pixar/Disney projects (with Warner Bros? as well for 1906).

Am I misunderstanding trade-speak for "We're passing this project on to some other company?"

Posted by: pgfraering at June 24, 2013 07:59 AM (PgNb6)

11 Planes is not out yet, but it already had a turbulent history, being cancelled, proposed direct-to-video, and then reinstated for a theatrical release. I did not realize that it wasn't a Pixar movie, so I suppose it is not very relevant to the topic, then. It is almost like AIC took over GONZO for Strike Witches 2.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at June 24, 2013 08:44 AM (RqRa5)

12 I think the magic left Henson because, well, Jim Henson is dead and Frank Oz is is nearly 70.

Posted by: Boviate at June 25, 2013 07:48 AM (9Q4+8)

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