How Pixar kicks the Blockbusters Butt

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Pixar, the little company that could, released a fairly well shared (few billion maybe?) post on their own rules of story.  You can catch it here if you missed it first time round. Number #2 You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different, might be one for Hollywood to stick on the fridge door.

Or this.. (just in case the stick-it doesn’t do the trick).

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY vs X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: THE ART OF THE PREQUEL

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I seem to be almost completely alone in my stance against X-Men: First Class with only Empire magazine amongst the critics, echoing my thoughts. They awarded it just three stars and noted:

A more steadily paced, character-driven story which focuses more on the Xavier/Lehnsherr relationship would have made for a much, much stronger entry in the X-canon. Just as the ’60s backdrop is squandered, so is the chemistry between Fassbender and McAvoy. ~ Empire Magazine

I have had to resist the impulse to bold underscore italics those ‘much’s. In a rushed and poorly thought through attempt to cash in on the superhero summer, the filmmakers forgot the one immutable truth of the prequel. One, it should be noted, even the Star Wars abominations managed to remember.

YOU MUST SUBVERT THE STATUS QUO

In rule #6 they say, What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them.  In the prequel that means upsetting the world they have built, the roles they have eked out and settled comfortably, along with the audience, into.

This movie in essence was exactly the same as all the others. Charles was the leader of a group of fledglings mutants prepared to fight to protect their rights while proving they weren’t a danger to mankind, even if that meant standing against their own. Magneto is a violent yet charismatic loner, who views human beings as disposable and dangerous to his kind. So far so familiar. But hey they throw in the twist of ‘they work together’. Actually its a temporary alliance and we are never left in any doubt of its temporary nature.

 You known all along why I was here Charles, but things have changed. What started as a covert of mission, tomorrow mankind will know mutants exist. Shaw, us, they won’t differentiate. They’ll fear us. And that fear will turn to hatred ~ Erik Lenscherr X-Men: First Class

Charles and Erik meet in this film and part in this film, allied only to stop Shaw. Where have I seen this before? mmmm…

How does it look from there Charles? Still fighting the good fight? From here it looks like they’re not playing by your rules… Maybe it’s time to play by theirs! ~ Erik Lenscherr X-Men 2

Charles and Erik are never friends and it is difficult to understand, beyond blind Pollyanna optimism why Charles would persevere given the sadistic violence Erik shows. Yet film after film they continue to give us the temporary alliance of the frenemies, all conflict built out of this belief in their tattered friendship, a friendship that this origins film categorically shows never existed.

But then, the film makers don’t seem to have a clue what film they actually made. The official taglines reads:

Before they were archenemies, they were the closest of friends

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Maybe they don’t have a lot of friends?

They should have hired writers who do, because this is the film we should have been given. Pixar knew that. Their tag line might have read, before they were the closest of friends, they were archenemies.. Actually it reads From the moment these two mismatched monsters met they couldn’t stand each other, and gives us the truly sublime Sully-uses-Mike-as-a-glitterball sequence.

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They make it look easy and they do it all without undermining anything they set up in Monsters Inc. Mike may now be the class swot who’s best pals with slimy Randy, but we always knew the one thing that defined him was his desire to win. He still gets excited if half his left toe gets into an official picture. The movie thrusts Sully and him together, two mismatch halves and we see how they became the Champion screamers we first knew them as.

TOY STORY vs THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E: THE BUDDY UP

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Films live and die on character. This is a truth that extends to even the most seemingly plot driven and formulaic. Get character right and you have a blockbuster on your hands, ignore it and you end up with the kind of opening weekend drizzle Guy Ritchie just suffered. As the man who reinvented the wisecracking action genre says..

Although we came out of it as a sort of monster-of-the-week format, it was clear that the interaction was the thing that people were latching onto ~ Joss Whedon

It doesn’t have to deep. It can happily squat in the land of caricature. In fact there’s a powerful argument for embracing the broad brush approach in the Buddy Up. It’s the extremes of the characters and how their polarised approaches rub up against each other that creates the dynamic and comedy we love.

Man from Uncle doesn’t really get anything right – Armie Hammer and Alicia Viknders half baked romance might be slightly sexier than Bo-Peep and Woody, but its certainly not sweeter. Cavil’s American accent distracts and adds an odd stiffness which adds to an overall prissiness that never quite squares with rogue with a heart of gold. While Armie, despite bad Russian accents belonging permanently in the farce camp, gives a general impression that he thought he was doing Bourne: the Cold War Years. His expression throughout suggests he’s just chewed a wasps nest and his actions especially given his size in comparison to his petite love-interest, seem uncomfortably violent.

But its the dialogue that really fails. The BuddyUp is all about the banter. Given the right words the chemistry between the two men might have ignited, just as it did between Woody and Buzz.

Buzz: Toy?

Woody: T-O-Y, Toy!

Buzz: Excuse me, I think the word you’re searching for is “Space Ranger”.

Woody: The word I’m searching for I can’t say because there’s preschool toys present.

A decade on and most of us can still quote Toy Story. Two weeks on and I can’t remember a word from The Man from Uncle. I consider that one small mercy. Still so-bad-I-can’t-ever-scrub-it-out, might have been better than what we got.

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WALL-E vs INTERSTELLAR: POST APOCALYPTIC FUTURE

Wall-e is a love story that saves us all. Interstellar is a story of love saving us all. One offers easy solutions, cheap visual effects in place of logic, simple trite mammy-always-said truisms. The other offers depth, heart and surprising home truths. Guess which is which?

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Interstellar’s biggest problem lies in its realisatioin of the future.  Visually it’s a world of decay, turning to dust before our eyes and in this they weave an almost perfect vision, not leaving a square inch of film without a thick layer. Literally and figuratively. There is certainly consistency, there simply isn’t any development, the dust just keeps on rolling. We have early scenes of dying crops, followed later by more scenes of dying crops. Early scenes of coughing people, followed later by more coughing people. Though someone does get out their stethoscope to confirm the coughing was caused by the endless dust storms and wasn’t just their dinner going down the wrong way.

Why are all the crops dying? It’s not global warming. They’ve successfully disconnected from the hot button topics of the day, which might seem refreshing, but just ends up random. The planet is dying because it’s dying. And no one seems to worry that if all the crops are dying on earth without reason, then they’re surely equally likely to die on a space ship?

Wall-e manages to be fresh without disconnecting from sanity. It’s a world with all the problems we have now writ large. We’re fat, we’re lazy, we’re tuned in, turned on, used up. And we totally don’t care. Until an eager little robot in love knocks a guys jumbo juice cup over. And our cruise ship amongst the stars starts to seem like the Titanic. With a cholesterol iceberg.

Who knows what the real future will hold but film needs to be able to hold water. Story relies on connectivity. Connection to us in the here and now, and connection within, to each other. Like a chain of dominoes, one development leads naturally to another, and each one reveals a little more. More about the world, we see how little interaction the future us’s have when just the slightest touch shocks. And in that another love story is born, a falling in love with life. Which reveals more about character, which reveals more about plot, as the captain discovers when he finally decides to stand up and be a man.

captain

Interstellar asks us to believe in one incredible leap after another. A dial watch can be encoded with the most sophisticated equation known to man. A daughter will realise her dial watch is encoded with said equation because books fell to the floor a few times when she was a kid. A scientist will spend his entire life telling a lie because the secret project no one knows anything about at least gives people hope…

Maybe Pixar should include #23 Gobbledygook can work as a language but should never be used as plot.

 

 

 

 

 

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