Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purists' Anger

Over the years I've heard complaints about how the animation business just isn't what it used to be, how the quality of films has tanked, how all the studios care about is a buck and the bottom line, etcetera.

Decades back, I listened to Disney artists gripe how management was lousing up Walt's cartoon legacy by putting the feature library on .... [drumroll] ... VHS!

To hear some of them talk, it was the end of civilization as upright carbon life forms knew it. But the studio made a hell of a lot of money putting its longer cartoons on video tape, and so the studio continued the practice. And before you could freeze frame the Playboy centerfold in The Rescuers, most of the back catalogue was on cassette. (The horror!)

So here we are in the 21st century, and the purists whine on. Amid of Cartoon Brew gripes about how an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature is a bad idea, but guess what? The Oscars stopped being about "Best" around 1936. Today, more than ever, the little gold man is there to goose the grosses of nominees, and as such, I think "Best Animated Feature" is a splendid idea.

If it adds fifty million dollars to DreamWorks Animation or Pixar's final take, then I'm for it, because more animators and tech directors and pre-visualization artists will be drawing paychecks when the next animated feature is greenlit for production.

And lately Rope of Silicon has wondered if Pixar, shining fountainhead of creativity, has jumped the shark by making all those icky, unoriginal sequels.

My answer would be "not hardly." As Kevin Koch points out, plots are made and remade. As there was Dances with Wolves, so is there now Avatar. Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (the copyrighted title from the 1922 epic) begat The Adventures of Robin Ho0d in 1938, and a string of Robin Hoods thereafter. And Shakespeare wrote Hamlet from an earlier play (how unoriginal of him.)

Live with it. The practice has been going on since ancient Athens started constructing buildings with marble. It won't be stopping anytime soon.

But sequels are beside the point. What counts is the quality of the tale retold. If Cars VII grabs an audience by the shirt front and compels tears and laughter, nobody cares if its version #7 or sequel #20. And if a movie bores opening night theater-goers stiff, being the First of Its Kind won't help a bit.

So let's stop mewling about purity and originality, shall we? Studios are in the business to make a profit. And if they have to destroy the idealists' fantasy of the high road to do it, they'll cheerfully obliterate miles of asphalt without batting a greedy eyelash.

No creator is ever given a blank check anyway. Everyone is constrained by the system in which they find themselves. Charles Dickens wrote serials. Jay Ward had miniscule budgets on 1960s television; James Cameron had tight schedules and money with the first Terminator. The trick is working with whatever literary form or television show or movie you've got and turning it into something that entertains and delights. (And also make the congloms big bucks.)

If you're clever enough, and lucky enough, to succeed, then you'll be invited back to create yet another profitable success. Whether or not that first one was pure and original or not.


Anonymous said...

Wow...NOBODY out there knows the real reasons why Pixar's making those sequels, is there? It's getting scary.
Think Iger's going to have to go public with some dirty Eisner laundry, just for diplomacy's sake, or the fan idiots just aren't going to quit.

("Cars VII"?? Oh, please. If you knew the reason they were making 2, you wouldn't be making the joke in the first place.)

Anonymous said...

Don't even MENTION Amid!

All your doing is giving him more power over the geeks and fans by peaking interest on HIS blog.

I'm SURE that he's just kicking up dust to keep readers glued to his ramblings so he can keep riding the wave of ADVERTISERS he has on that blog.

The "Brewers" used to brag about how THEY were purists for animation and would NEVER "sell out" to having advertisements like on Google.........NOW look at them!!! There are ads all OVER that thing!!

No one seems to notice.

Every once in a while when he runs out of things to say.....he'll throw out an outrageous comment like the one about the Animation Oscar being a bad idea......and then he kicks back (with a minimal amount of effort in responses to it all) and watches the "hit" count SKY ROCKET...while all the time laughing his way to easy street.

Anyone else NOTICE his "technique" to keeping you adhered to his blog????


Anonymous said...

So, what *is* the real reason for the sequels, oh wise Anonymous #1?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I would also like to hear the "real" reason for the Pixar sequels revealed by Br'er Anonymous. #1.

I assumed like everything else in the industry it's about making money, lots and lots of money. Pretty simple.

But pray tell, enlighten us.

yahweh said...

Unfortunately Jerry has allowed his once good reputation to be sullied by being too closely associated with that schumck who actually seems to hate most mainstream animation unless they pay him to write about it.

Alex Dudley said...

So they're not making Cars 2 because the toys are selling well?

The Anonymous Coward said...

I don't know why Jerry has let that worm Amid leech onto him. He makes Cartoon Brew so less credible.

Anonymous said...

Hey, anything that makes the Pixies look like the big hypocrites that they ar is fine with me.

Used to be that they'd say Pixar would never bow to the demands of the marketing department and executives unlike other studios. How they were strictly a directors' dream, how artists run the place.

That argument as of today is dead. And I am dancing all over its grave. Reality, it seems, is it is always about the money. Stop pretending one studio has a monopoly on artistry.

Anonymous said...

I've never SEEN "The Adventures of Robin Hold."

Is that an adult film? Or a mis-spelling? (and yes, I'm kidding).

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but without striving for quality, you really have nothing either- no movie, no audience, and no box office. Why must striving for quality be denigrated to 'whining purists.' You either are in it to make the best film you can and think about the money as a close second, or you are in it to make the most money you can, and try to keep the best movie you can a close second.

Just do your job. Let the business side strive for their priorities, let the art side strive for theirs.

As for the labor side, let's be honest - the only priority is to keep the most people employed for the best negotiated benefits for the group. That's really all labor could have to say on the matter no regardless of how many other opinions about the art/business are published. No need to slag the art side for being 'whiners' when they are just being true to themselves. Kind of like when I hear business interest calling labor leaders 'whiners.'

Mike said...

Don't know why anyone would complain about a "Cars II". It's not like "Cars" was that original to begin with.

Justin said...

Who cares the reasons behind Pixar making Cars 2? As long as it is a good movie and fun to watch I'll still go see it.

Steve Hulett said...

Wow...NOBODY out there knows the real reasons why Pixar's making those sequels, is there?

So what is the real reason, Oh Wise One?

I always thought it was Mo-Ney, even BEFORE Disney bought the joint. But I could well be wrong. I get around so little.

Well... said...

To be fair, the Pixar gang never had a problem with sequels per se, it was sequels being made without the involvement of the original creators that got their panties in a bunch. (Circle 7, Morill-era Disneytoons)

Steve Hulett said...

I've never SEEN "The Adventures of Robin Hold."

Is that an adult film? Or a mis-spelling?

If you're going to mock me for typos, then you're going to be mocking me a lot.

But for your information, there WAS an "Adventures of Robin Hold," I believe. Errol Flynn made it in Cuba just before he died.

The title was changed to "Cuban Rebel Girls" at the last minute.

Artist formerly known as God said...

I'd rather see a "Monsters Inc" sequel. And sequels to "Incredibles" would be a good idea as well.


Anonymous said...

So what is the real reason, Oh Wise One?

WellSaid seems to be the only one picking up on Pixar wanting to bury the toxic dumpsite of Circle 7, and seeing that nobody else gets their hands on TS3, Monsters 2, or the hinted-at Bugs Life and Incredibles 2's ever again.
(I mean...thought even the non-Mouse people here would know that?)

As for Cars 2, that's more conjecture--Pixar doesn't do sequels unless they have inspiration, and this one sounds more like Disney's idea:
I'd never seen the media columnists so orchestratedly smear a movie on its opening as when Cars first came out and didn't turn out to be the "flop" they'd claimed it would be. Can't personally say what Iger must feel about that; I just remember his first PR speeches about Disney's new developments having Cars in every paragraph :)

Anonymous said...

To be fair, the Pixar gang never had a problem with sequels per se, it was sequels being made without the involvement

Actually, there were a lot of little public digs about competitors having to do sequels, and how Pixar focused on original films. In private, the little digs grew to outright mocking. But that was a few years ago, before they ran out of original ideas.

Oh, and Cars 2 is "Disney's idea"? Uh, Pixar runs Disney. When it comes to animation, the buck stops with JL and EC.

Steven said...

This whole controversy about sequels comes from a self-righteous boast by one of the majors they they don't do them,(I don't remember exactly which one). The true believers picked up on it, and now it's a "controversy."

There are a lot of good reasons to do sequels of popular films, especially when they have open ended stories which lend themselves easily to continuing story lines. Fans of the film love the characters and want to see more of them, so what? It's also economical; you have a huge head start in terms of the design and development.

What I don't understand is the kind of thing that Disney DTV does. They will make a sequel from any property, popular or not. Did we really need a "Fox and Hound II" or "Brother Bear II," etc? I'm astonished that these things make money.

Anonymous said...

**I'd rather see a "Monsters Inc" sequel. And sequels to "Incredibles" would be a good idea as well.**

Me too. They were much better films than "Cars". "Cars" was stunningly boring. Unless you're a car-crazy 7-year-old boy...

Anonymous said...

"Unless you're a car-crazy 7-year-old boy..."

To be blunt that is Pixar's main demographic...okay, sorry, also fish crazy 7 year old girls

Anonymous said...

Non of you seem to mention that part of the reason for Cars 2 is the synergy to get the public interested in the mega cost Carsland at DCA. I huge cost for an entire 'land" based on the most unoriginal of Pixar movies.

Anonymous said...

They are making a Cars 2 because:
A. They have an idea for what they think would make a good film.
B. There is an entire land with three rides (sorry Disney purists) I mean attractions in it that is supposed to open in 2012 at Disney's California Adventure.
That would be about the right time for the sequel to come out? I do.

Anonymous said...

Did we really need a "Fox and Hound II" or "Brother Bear II," etc?

No, but there were reasons for those, too:
A) The sequels started out as Copyright Extension, when it looked as if old 40's-50's Disney films might sink into public domain, unless new films were made re-copyrighting the original character designs in the 00's.
B) New films like Mulan and Brother bear were sequelized to "establish" themselves as valid franchises out of the gate (including Stainton's idea to automatically get "Chicken Little" and "Meet the Robinsons" sequels into production before the films were finished).

But then the copyright laws were extended and the old films were safe, so
C) After "Bambi II", Disney realized that parents bought sequels anyway even if kids had never heard of the films--So why not use sequels to synergy-promote new re-releases of the obscure forgotten films that -needed- a little more sales recognition, like Fox&Hound and Aristocats?

And that was pretty much the state of the industry before Lasseter shut down the studio.

Anonymous said...

The sequels started out as Copyright Extension, when it looked as if old 40's-50's Disney films might sink into public domain, unless new films were made re-copyrighting the original character designs in the 00's.

This shows woeful ignorance of copyright law. Doing a sequel has absolutely nothing to do with when the original goes into the public domain, under ANY version of copyright law we've had.

Anonymous said...

Pixar makes sequels only when they believe their sequel story idea is better than the original story and the director embraces it. I fail to see how that is not in line with a "director/artist driven studio"

from Brad Bird:
"At Pixar, the bottom line is the story that you’re telling. And Pixar does not look at sequels as a financial plan. We feel we have a relation ship with the audience and that they believe in each movie we put out. We believe completely in every movie we put out. If I can come up with a story that is as good or better than that first film, then I’d love to return to that world, but it would have to be story first."

And if the studio is going to increase it's output to 2 films a year, then sequels may be the best approach without completely burning out their entire staff several times over.

Cars may have sold billions in merchandise, but Disney actually sees only a smaller portion of that profit in licensing fees. ( And Lasseter loves toys, so if anyone would be excited to see more cars toys produced, if only for his collection, it would likely be him.

Mike said...

I hear Brad's next picture is a sequel - "The Incredible Boeuf Bourgnignon".

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