Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In Praise of all things Pixar

One of the frightening aspects of Netflix is that it allows us to rent a film we will probably hate, just to prove our deepest fears and give us something to Blog about.

This week, we rented "Madagascar".

What is it about DreamWorks that makes their animated features seem so...smarmy?

Whenever my family catches the latest Pixar release, we usually leave the theater feeling upbeat, entertained, and even a little thoughtful.

If we subject ourselves to fare from DreamWorks, we end up feeling let down, worn-out, and just a little bit used.

Why is this? How can two studios working with similar technology, with access to the same talent pool, come out with such completely different levels of quality?

I think it comes down to a question of Attitude.

With Pixar, it's always about the story.
With Dreamworks, it's always about the stars.

Compare the cast list of, say, "Finding Nemo" (Not Pixar's Best Film, but a good example of why The Director calls them the "No-Losers" Studio...) with the list from "Shark Tale" (One of the worst pieces of self-indulgent tripe I have ever vomited through.)

Finding Nemo: (Pixar)

MARLIN - Albert Brooks
DORY - Ellen DeGeneres
GILL - Willem Dafoe
NEMO - Alexander Gould
BRUCE - Barry Humphries
BLOAT - Brad Garrett
CRUSH - Andrew Stanton
SHELDON - Erik Per Sullivan
FISH SCHOOL - John Ratzenberger

Not exactly no-names...But we don't jump out of our seat and say, "Hey! That's Erik Per Sullivan doing that voice!" In the movie, he's just, "Sheldon."

Shark Tale: (DreamWorks)

OSCAR - Will Smith
LOLA - Angelina Jolie (Aaaaaargh!)
ANGIE - Renee Zellweger
LENNY - Jack Black
DON LINO - Robert De Nir0
LUCA - Martin Scorsese
Katie "Current" - Katie Couric (PLEASE! Just kill me now.)

See the difference? Pixar spends about three years, writing, boarding, & even pre-editing. Then, finally, they cast the voice actors to match the roles, famous or not.

Dreamworks grabs a bunch of snobbish, Hollywood elite and spends about a week throwing together a two-bit story line around whatever animal-manifestation of the stars' personae they can come up with. ("I know! I know! Let's make Robert De Niro a Mafia Shark!")

Then, to make it worse, they all appear with Katie Nut-Job on the Today show to say,"Hee-hee...look at us! We made a CARTOON! Isn't that just SOooooo Cute?"

Here's more evidence:

The Incredibles: (Best Pixar film...EVER.)

VIOLET PARR - Sarah Vowell
EDNA MODE - Brad Bird
UNDERMINER - John Ratzenberger

Until last night, my son didn't even know that Samuel L. Jackson played Frozone. That's how good the movie was.

Madagascar: (Uhhhh....DreamWorks)

ALEX THE LION - Ben Stiller
GLORIA THE HIPPO - Jada Pinkett-Smith
MELMAN THE GIRAFFE - David Schwimmer ( Ross Gellar)
MORT - Andy Richter
KING JULIEN - Sacha Baron Cohen
MAURICE - Cedric the Entertainer

Once again, the film just seems thrown together to give the actors, (not even the characters) something to do.

Oops, and there's Pinkett-Smith this time, again on the today show, with Katie slobbering all over her...
"Oh, Jada, (Tee-hee) You're just SO thin and beautiful...Was is Hard for you to play...(Chuckle, snort) a...a... a HIPPO?"

(The entire today crew breaks down in an orgiastic display of in-group back slapping.)

Which brings us around to the issue of promotion.

Pixar: Cute, clever set-up shorts of the Characters in the MOVIE.

Dreamworks: Shots of the STARS with Headphones on.

Yes. I GET it already, Will. You're in the studio, doing voice-over for a freakish looking fish, that they had to make look JUST LIKE YOU so I wouldn't miss the fact that you made a STINKIN" CARTOON!

OK, catch my breath. This was supposed to be about "Madagascar"

The Penguins were good. There. I said it...

...and I didn't even recognize the voices who played them.

Bottom line...
Pixar sets out above all to make Great Stories into Great Films.
Their goal is to entertain us.
DreamWorks sets out to give Will Smith and company a cute, new toy to play with.
Their goal is to entertain themselves.

Take note,
Bob Iger.

Please don't mess up the franchise.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't sugar-coat it, Allan. Tell what you really think...

The Blond

10:28 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Yeah I saw Shark Tale and Madagascar and they were...ok..i guess...maybe....but they did not even compare to Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. or Incredibles at all. I wonder how good the new Pixar movie Cars (or what ever it is called) will be.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Reinman said...

A perfect summation of many a late-night rant-fest.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Jilb said...

I've seen the light.

I'll take Madagascar off our Queue.

Thanks for the no sugar-coat.

3:09 PM  
Blogger dangeresque dan said...

Nice post Simon.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Graceland King said...

Dude, as we have had his argument before, I was preparing a new line of defense for Dreamworks. But the only thing I got is Shreck. Not Shreck 2. Then it occurred to me, you're right. As I see it, Shreck is the only good one they made. But if you look at non-animated films, Dreamworks beats Herbie and Co. hands down.

4:28 AM  
Blogger JC said...

You are right. But, Madagascar is one of the very few full length films my duaghter will watch and not get stressed out over. It's ironic you posted this, becuase I'm taking it back to Blockbuster today and plan on buying it from them...uh...just to make the birthday girl happy. (I can't help it, the penguins are so funny...that linux joke is halirious!)

10:31 AM  
Blogger the devine one said...

Good use of weasel words.

DreamWorks shouldn't even make animated films. Yuck.

And thank you, by the way. I could NEVER figure out that darn blow fish's name in Finding Nemo! Bloat! Ha! Sorry. Thanks.

1:17 PM  
Blogger dangeresque dan said...

I always thought Tom Arnold was the school teacher in Nemo.

8:44 PM  
Blogger jac-atac said...

"If we subject ourselves to fare from DreamWorks, we end up feling let down, worn-out, and just a little bit used"...How true, how true. I must say, I definitely felt worn out after watching "Shrek 2," as well. It had so many allusions to other media that it turned out to be one big, messy parody without much heart. Quite excessive.
We hope Pixar will retain its integrity during its new season of business.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Post! New Post!
The Blond

11:35 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...


4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i totally agree with you!

and yes! i love pixar movies! :) i'm just surprised that you haven't updated your blog. you should write more. it is every informative and entertaining. :)

12:09 PM  
Blogger Tigress Shira said...

Jack Black & Angelina Jolie? They vocalized in Kung-Fu Panda!

3:13 AM  
Blogger Colonel Havoc said...

Exactly. However, I will say that Kung Fu Panda was a far superior product to, say, A Shark Tale.

Even though JB and AJ were in it, and everyone knew it,mthe story was still much more focused on the Animated Characters, themselves, and not the stars.

Thanks for reading!

5:42 AM  

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