Cameron, don't feel bad about your post! It prompted me to write the lengthy reply below, so if anyone finds this fruitful (or offensive!) then it was because of your very honest and brave reaction that spurred it.
Dangit, Kazu, how'd you manage to make me mad? I hardly ever get mad about anything, especially in matters of art, which heaven knows are terribly relative to the observer...yet you did. How?
That's a great question. No one should ever have to feel defensive about these films. Yet so many people do. If someone truly loves something, they will feel no need to defend it, because that love exists between that person and the object of love themselves.
With these new Pixar films, it's hard to ignore the strange feeling of entitlement that runs as an undercurrent to their productions, so I'm going to go right out and talk about something that's been bothering me about the latest two films they've produced. Strangely enough, I'm actually reminded of a time when I was in elementary school...
A new kid just moved into my neighborhood, and I was the first friend he made. Along with my little brother, we would spend afternoons playing at the local park or playing video games at my house. When school started, he quickly realized that the popular surfer kids at our school tended to enjoy picking on me, and he decided he wanted to be friends with them. One day at recess, when I met him on the playground, he decided to punch me in the stomach and start a fight. At the time, it confused me until I later realized what was happening... He was going through the motions to get approval from the bullies and it had nothing to do with whatever stood between me and him. Suffice it to say we were no longer friends after that. At a 10-year high school reunion (we also went to the same high school), he actually came up to me and apologized for what happened that one day.
Now, that may sound like a sad story, but it's not, because I did the same thing to someone else a year later. I actually tripped a guy that my friends liked to pick on in order to look cool in front of others, and to prove he was lower than me on the playground pecking order. It's one of the moments in my life I'll never forget, and still regret doing it to this day. The point of all this is that the feeling I had before I tripped that guy, the feeling that my friend probably had before he punched me in the stomach, is the very same feeling I sense lightly emanating from the last two Pixar films. It's really faint, but it's there. That sense of fear of being accepted by others overriding any sense of individual thought or emotions. It causes people to get defensive, and it breeds division.
I only have two real villains in my life. Fear and guilt. I find that most everything bad that happens in life is fueled by an inability to control these uncomfortable emotions. So if I see anything that tends to breed these feelings, I tend to look very negatively on it. If you look at the stories of both Ratatouille
, you will notice that much of characters' actions are motivated by fear and guilt. From Remy feeling sorry for Linguini - who fears losing his job - being the impetus for the story in Ratatouille
(compounded by the fact that the penultimate goal of their journey is the approval of a harsh critic), to Wall*E's incredibly loud subtext engaging our own fear and guilt about what we're doing to this planet (coupled with EVE's guilt over her treatment of Wall*E being the linchpin for their love story), the last two Pixar films are driven by the same kinds of emotions that drive people to do bad things. This is fine in a film like The Verdict
, where we're supposed to go through these missteps with the characters to get a sort of rugged emotional cleansing when we realize that turning around and doing the right thing is harder when you mess things up, but when a storyteller simply uses these emotions to drive plot and avoids engaging in a proper dialogue with these issues, then I think it's all just careless and selfish communication. They don't help you fight your feelings of fear and guilt, they only activate them in order to service their plots. In the case of Wall*E
, their fear also kept them from going all the way with a brilliant concept.
Many children (who, no matter what anyone says IS the focal audience for these particular films) are actually intelligent enough to see through all this and are less thrilled with the new films for their lessening of emotional truth (since vocabulary and social context are still at their earliest stages of development, emotions become a child's compass), but seeing adults belittle the children for being too "dumb" to understand these films is probably what saddens me the most. Things like Harry Potter and the early films of Pixar did so much to bring generations closer together, and here we have Pixar coming back to turn it around, with a bunch of nervous artists cheering them on. And for what? Critical acceptance and alleviating the fear of failure? It makes me sad, and brings me to wonder if they'll ever realize why Finding Nemo
was their biggest success.
Anyway, Cameron don't feel bad about your comment. You should never feel afraid to express your opinion about something. With Amulet and all of my other works, I'm always very interested in hearing critical reviews, negative or positive. Nothing can ever be truly universally appealing, so I am interested in seeing how different audiences react.