I recently saw the Disney/Pixar masterpiece that is WALL-E. I’ve always respected Pixar for their relentless pursuit of quality in choosing to make movies that are not merely entertaining, but thoughtfully artistic, while challenging animation conventions and pushing the limits of CGI quality.
WALL-E is a really unconventional movie. The basic storyline is pretty ordinary: a lonely robot makes an unlikely friend. Its genius lies in how this is played out. For instance, the near-total silence of the first half not only powerfully drives home the magnitude of WALL-E’s aloneness — it makes his new, but short, friendship feel all the more poignant. You can actually feel his distress when his new friend suddenly shuts down.
I was struck by the boldness of the filmmakers (I remember thinking “Do these guys actually expect to make money on this movie?”) I haven’t seen Dreamworks’ “Kung-fu Panda” yet, but as far as I can make out, it’s the same old tiresomely predictable fare: lots of slapstick comedy, delivered by a star-studded cast, plus/minus a hip soundtrack. Disney, using few or no stars, often chooses rather to focus on great stories & an almost magical movie experience. Just compare Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo & The Incredibles with Shark Tale & Shrek 1-3.
It comes down to 2 differing perspectives on doing business profitably. One merely follows the market, the other keeps its ideals in view. One company churns out commercial fare. The other attempts unforgettable art. The one safely gives us what it thinks we want, appealing to our screams of “Entertain us!” The other takes its chances at challenging us, at trying to rouse our dying sense of wonder.
Sometimes I wonder who will win out…