Pixar’s (nearly) unbroken streak

I want Brave to be good. 

 My younger daughter and I have a standing date every year to see the newest Pixar movie during its first weekend in theaters.  Already today I’ve seen so-so reviews for Brave, but don’t want to give them much credence because these same two reviewers also gave so-so reviews to Cars, and I loved Cars anyway.  I’m like a child on Christmas Eve who has asked for a really expensive present – brimming with hope but trying hard not to be unrealistically optimistic.                    

 I adore Pixar movies.  Not only does their dazzling 3-D animation mimic the “cinematography” and artful “editing” of great films, but also their content is built around the fundamental core elements of great literature: theme, character, story, and plot.  Year after year, Pixar has continually exceeded my expectations, astonishing and delighting me with every new film. 

 Except for last year, with Cars 2

 That’s why I’m a little nervous about Brave.  Was Cars 2 an anomaly or does it mark the beginning of the end for Pixar’s remarkable record of excellence?  Although plenty of reviewers have already pointed out Cars 2 ’s flaws, I’d like to contribute my two-cents’ worth now. 

 Two things went seriously wrong with Cars 2, and I can hardly believe that John Lasseter, the creative genius chiefly responsible for Pixar’s string of innovative successes, allowed them to happen.  I was going assign the blame to Brad Lewis, the first-time director who ended up sharing co-director credit on the film with Lasseter (and who left Pixar shortly after Cars 2 was released).  But then I read a New York Times interview in which Lasseter asserts somewhat defensively that Cars 2 is a great movie and that “it’s clear that audiences have responded” to it.  Either he doesn’t believe it and is trying to convince himself, or he truly feels that nothing is wrong.  Whichever, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge there’s a problem.

 Pixar’s first mistake with Cars 2 was to forget its audience.  You don’t release a G-rated movie with scenes of torture and killing, not even in animated form.  You just don’t. 

 Pixar’s second mistake was to lose focus on those fundamental core elements of theme, character, story, and plot that have been so key to creating “enchantment” in its films, (to use a word cropping up frequently in reviews).  Despite exotic locales and impressive action sequences, Cars 2 failed to “enchant” me.  In fact, I don’t remember anything at all about any new characters introduced in that film, except that one of them was voiced by Michael Caine. 

 When I watch a movie, I am more than willing – quite eager, actually – to suspend my disbelief and engage with the story on whatever terms it requires of me.  Unfortunately, Cars 2 was boring, and that is one term of engagement that few moviegoers (including myself) will tolerate.

 So, please, please, please . . . let Brave be good!

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. My blog is a space for playing with ideas about creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and the nature of "insight."
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