If you believe conservative media conspirators, the only reason a majority of film critics have embraced Pixar Animation Studios’ WALL-E is because of its anti-corporate take on our environmental future (or lack thereof). But in a recent piece comparing Pixar to competitor DreamWorks, Film Comment (article not available online) argues that the movie’s magic—like its studio—is all about old-fashioned storytelling.
“Why are Pixar films so vastly superior to DreamWorks’ sorry output?” Ken Jones asks, setting up his piece in the magazine’s July-August issue. It’s because Pixar, which also produced Cars, The Incredibles, and the Toy Story movies, respects “their audience as sentient human beings rather than average consumers. There is no compulsion to check off categories (up-to-the-minute hipstermism, fart jokes for the kids, blueish double-entendres for the teenagers and adults, a barrage of visual and aural cues that keep the action cynically grounded in hip-hop/mall/Internet culture), none of the relentless calculation that renders the average commercial product, animated or live-action, nothing more than pricey yet expendable box office fodder.”
Jones argues that the creative forces at DreamWorks, which recently released Kung Fu Panda, are so driven by profit and opinion polls that they’ve scared themselves out of taking risks or challenging audiences. As a result, their movies lack the sense of wonder essential for escape. “It’s not that Pixar is less concerned with turning a profit,” Jones writes, “but that they care about making movies as much as they care about making money.”
Listening to WALL-E writer and director Andrew Stanton talk about the project on a recent episode of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, you can’t help but conclude Jones is on to something. His tales about creating the characters and storyboarding the film make it clear that Pixar’s creative teams are given an unusual amount of freedom, as well as the time and resources necessary to execute originality. They’re also encouraged to challenge cinematic convention.
Stanton also addresses the political storm around his hit, which New York Times columnist Frank Rich concluded, unintentionally adding fuel to the echo chamber’s fire, was no less powerful than The Inconvenient Truth. The animator convincingly claims that when writing the script there was no “liberal” agenda. The circumstances simply fit the story arc of his main characters, who aren’t environmentalist, politicians, or blowhard pundits—just romantic robots in love.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Internet Group.