Big Hero 6: The Secret Pixar Film?

Sometimes when I’m watching or reading something Big Hero 6 related, the movie will be erroneously called a Pixar film. Even diehard Disney fans and people who extensively research and review animated films make this mistake from time to time. I know back in 2012 people made comments on how Wreck-It Ralph felt more like a Pixar film than Brave did, but this is the first time I’ve seen a Disney film actually mistaken for one.

Does this mean Big Hero 6 is good enough to BE Pixar?

Pixar’s early movies (up to Toy Story 3) are best known for the following: beautiful animation, creativity, heart and humour, intelligence and originality. Big Hero 6 has amazing and detailed animation that is able to create a whole new world, it looks at hypothetical uses of technology and takes them to incredible heights, and it has amazing heart and humour (when I went to see it in theatres there were lots of parts where the audience laughed out loud). It’s not QUITE as smart as some of Pixar’s offerings (some people noted it is a bit predictable), and it isn’t wholly original (it is based on an obscure comic and does fall into some superhero conventions) but it certainly not safe and boring and dumbed down.

So, yeah, it definitely could be seen as Pixar quality (I know my Mom thinks so, and she’s pretty picky about what movies she likes)!

But I think the major reason why Big Hero 6 is sometimes seen as Pixar film is that it’s rather unique from Disney’s fare. Disney is best known for making Princess films (like Frozen) and talking animal films (like Zootopia). The movies that are different (like Wreck-It Ralph) tend to fall under the radar after awhile. To put it into perspective, both Zootopia and Frozen raked in over a billion dollars and have huge fanbases; Wreck-It Ralph made only about $470 million and does not have a big following anymore (we’ll see if a sequel revives it).

Big Hero 6 is different. It’s a superhero film (a new genre for Disney) that was able to be both a critical and commercial success (not as successful as Zootopia but much more so than Wreck-It Ralph) and is still quite popular. People know it’s connected to Disney, but since it’s a huge hit that’s not a Princess film, a lot of people assume it must be Pixar (which dipped their toes into the superhero genre with The Incredibles).

I also think a major reason for people making this assumption is because a lot of ACTUAL Pixar films coming out right now haven’t really been as well received. The sequel/prequel films have gotten a mixed reception and within this decade, there have been only three (yes, three) original Pixar films: Brave (dismissed as a generic Princess film), Inside Out (that actually was successful) and The Good Dinosaur (the less said about that film the better). You can tell that people might look at an original animated film that’s so well made and think “that HAS to be Pixar. They HAVE to be making movies like the ones of my childhood. They HAVE to still be good”.

I just find this very interesting. A little frustrating (I don’t like it when people get animation companies mixed up, it can be seen as a lack of respect for the genre), but still, interesting. And ultimately, as someone who loves this movie with all my heart, I’m glad it’s considered by some to be on the same quality as movies like Up and the Toy Story films. ūüôā

To end this off, let’s look at some important and excellent lessons Big Hero 6 teaches us:

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The End of Pixar’s Glory Days

From 1995 to 2010, Pixar was the undisputed champion of Western Animation. They were hailed as one of the most innovative and creative studios out there, winning Oscar after Oscar and making classic after classic. They arguably reached their zenith with Up and Toy Story 3, which both got nominations for Best PICTURE, and the latter becoming the highest grossing animated film at the time.

Then, in 2011 (just a year after Toy Story 3), their reign started to tumble with Cars 2, their first film to earn a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They’ve been getting fewer Oscar nominations, critical reception has been mixed to negative, and audiences are generally not as hyped for Pixar as before (with the notable exceptions of Inside Out and maybe Finding Dory). But basically, the message is clear: Pixar has lost its magic touch.

Some people think that once Disney bought Pixar, they defanged the company to make it more marketable. Well, they are likely right about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar harming it…but probably not for the reasons they think.

John Lasseter, who was then the Executive Vice President of Pixar, became the Chief Executive Officer of both Pixar AND Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ed Catmull is president of both companies, and they both have to report to Bob Iger, but Lasseter is ultimately in charge of all the creative choices of the movies. He picks which movie pitches go into production, he is the driving force behind the creative process.

As soon as John Lasseter was put in charge of WDAS, the company, which was then in a serious rut, started to improve, and now they’re making critically acclaimed hits that have become beloved by audiences, without necessarily dumbing them down. Notice how some people are starting to say “Wow Disney finally learned how to make Pixar movies!”, and John Lasseter is precisely because of it.

Given all the projects John Lasseter has to work with, I think he’s is stretched thin between the two companies, and has been focusing more on WDAS than Pixar. Before Pixar was bought by Disney, John Lasseter was more directly involved in the filmmaking process, writing, directing, producing, and even animating their projects. Now all the films are being made by newcomers, some of whom don’t have the talent of the veterans (it’s no surprise that Inside Out, the movie to get the most praise, was directed by Pete Docter, who had been with the company since the very beginning). He’s definitely not as involved as he was before.

And honestly? Whether he wants to admit it or not, I think he’s moved on from Pixar.

I mean, he’s worked at Pixar for a long time, and now he’s in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the company that he grew up with and made some of his all time favorite films. You’d probably be more enthusiastic to work there, too. Just look at the way he talks about the creative process of WDAS films. Just look at how PASSIONATE he is in the making of these films. And most of all, compare the quality of WDAS compared to Pixar as of late. It’s pretty clear that, even though he’s in charge of both companies, he’s showing a bit of a bias, whether he is aware of it or not.

I think at this point, John Lasseter should be left solely in charge of WDAS and get a veteran architect of Pixar to run it instead. That might be best for both companies.

Now, this is mostly speculation on my part, but because Pixar is becoming weaker while Disney Animation has been getting stronger than ever, I’m pretty sure it’s because of a CEO who is stretched thin and would rather commit to one studio than the corporate overlords thinking Pixar should be more marketable. Sure, Pixar is making more sequels, but they are still making movies that deal with complex themes, they just lack the edge they had before.

Let’s hope Pixar can get back on its feet soon. Apparently after Toy Story 4 there are no more plans for any sequels and prequels, which is good, and Coco does look promising. I just hope they’re able to retain their good image and not end up going from one of the most beloved companies to the most scorned.

Animation Companies and Identity

Ah, Illumination Entertainment. Well known for films such as Despicable Me, The Lorax, The Secret Life of Pets, The Minions and Sing.

What’s that? You don’t particularly care for any of those movies? You think they’re cheap knockoffs of DreamWorks style movies? Well Illumination doesn’t care because after only 7 films they have made a combined total of $1.9 BILLION. (x)

Holy crap! How did a low budget animation studio become a recognizable brand name in almost no time at all?

The biggest reason, of course, is marketing. Illumination makes sure their films are very well advertised (just look at the Minions marketing blitzkrieg). But the reason why their films have consistently remained successful is because they have a clear identity. They all have simple animation and character designs, they all have pop culture references, they all have their own brand of humor, and they’re all fun family films that don’t require a whole lot of thinking for. Basically, all Illumination films have a similar theme and tone.

By contrast, look at DreamWorks Animation (their current sibling company now that NBC Universal has bought them both). DWA’s profits have always flip-flopped, and by the time they were purchased by NBC they were in serious financial trouble, having to lay off hundreds of employees. Why? Because they’ve never been truly consistent. DreamWorks can range from beautiful works of art (How To Train Your Dragon) to generic kids stuff (Monsters vs. Aliens) to “WTF am I watching” (Bee Movie). When most people think of DWA they think of snarky, in-your-face movies with pop culture references, so when they’re faced with a How To Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, it’s enough to cause whiplash. And while Illumination movies tend to be generic, they also tend to be cute, harmless, and safe. DreamWorks can just come across as bizarre. You can watch more on how DreamWorks has an identity problem HERE.

By contrast, Pixar has a clear identity of making high quality, heartwarming, clever and original content that has given them massive success. They do get some backlash for making more generic or lower-quality films (The Good Dinosaur is their lowest grossing effort) and for making too many sequels, but not too much to the point where they get into financial trouble.

Laika also has a clear identity: unconventional, artsy stop motion flicks. This has won them massive critical acclaim, but not a wide audience appeal. Warner Bros. Animation, which has always struggled to find its audience and rake in money at the box office (their only theatrical feature length original film to win any prestige is The Iron Giant), has mostly settled on making LEGO movies, which has proven to be a hit.

I think identity is also a huge indicator of how Disney has gone through peaks and valleys during its 90 year reign. At their core, they’re a company that retells classic stories for a modern audience, and when the audience would change with time, so would they. One of the reason the early 2000’s was a bad decade for Disney was because, in addition to being overshadowed by Pixar, their movies were all over the place. Different animation styles, tones, and themes, and weird premises. Now, the animation is cleaner, softer, and more detailed, their genres and premises are simpler, and they deal with themes that are relevant to today’s society, such as female empowerment, mental health concerns, and prejudice.

In today’s age, animation companies are brands, and the audience comes to expect something specific from them; if they don’t get what they asked for, they won’t support it. It sucks that animation companies aren’t allowed to explore and have a wider range like live action companies, but until animation gets more respect as a medium, that’s going to happen for awhile. Identity can make or break an animation studio, because you can end up as a reigning champ like Pixar, or wind up being bought out and STILL end up in trouble like DreamWorks.

The Incredibles and Big Hero 6 are Opposite Ends of the Superhero Spectrum

On November 5, 2004, Pixar, which up until that point made films focused on toys, bugs, monsters and fish, released their first feature film with human characters:  The Incredibles.

It was an enormous hit with critics and audiences alike,¬†with everyone clamoring for a sequel (it will come out…eventually). It expanded the superhero genre and showed that original superhero characters can be just as beloved as iconic comic book ones.

Interestingly enough, while live action superhero movies would see a boom (thanks in large part to Disney buying Marvel), there wasn’t a slew of theatrical animated superhero movies. For awhile, there were only really two movies that might’ve fit the bill: Megamind (which slipped completely under the radar) and Despicable Me (but at this point is more of a spy franchise than a superhero one, when it’s not focused on the minions).

But then Walt Disney Animation Studios, the first born child of Pixar’s parent company, developed their own superhero movie, inspired (very loosely) by an obscure Marvel comic book. On November 7, 2014–almost EXACTLY ten years later–they released Big Hero 6.

This film was also a huge hit (one of WDAS top grossing films), with lots of fans and demands for a sequel (it is getting a TV series, no word on a theatrical sequel yet).

It’s easy to immediately want to draw similarities between the two. After all, both films’ teaser trailers involved the heroes trying to get ready for heroics but had trouble fitting into their costumes because of their girth. But while there are a¬†few similarities, in actuality, these movies are polar opposites.

The Incredibles is about a white, heterosexual nuclear family, with a focus on the altruistic older white male father figure; Big Hero 6 is about a mixed race adopted/extended family with the focus on a young mixed race boy who needs help getting on the right path. TI is set in the past (I think it’s implied to take place around 1970 or so); BH6 is set in the future. TI portrays technology in a mostly negative way and has a robot as a major antagonist, whereas BH6 portrays technology in a very positive and integral light (when used in the right hands) and features a robot hero. TI is long and rather slower paced, BH6 is shorter and very briskly paced. TI is dark and edgy and has a more complicated narrative, BH6 is light and soft with a simpler story (but still has a very heavy theme). TI is very violent and death is fair game, BH6 encourages nonviolent solutions to difficult situations. And most importantly: TI is about those born with superpowers, whereas BH6 is about ordinary people who achieve superpowers through science and technology.

And that’s the biggest thing that separates these two movies: Big Hero 6 leans more liberal whereas The Incredibles leans more conservative.

The Incredibles is a great movie, and is smarter and more intense than a lot of other animated family films, but it does have¬†this weird elitist/anti technology theme that permeates it. There’s this awkward¬†moment where Mr. Incredible goes on a spiel on “rewarding mediocrity” that has no bearing on the plot and just feels kind of forced. And for some reason, Syndrome stating that he’ll sell his technology so that “everyone can be super…and when everyone is super, no one will be”. Umm…why is this a bad thing? I’d be afraid of people misusing the technology, but for a lot of people, awesome tech can really improve people’s lives. For a lot of autistic, mentally ill, and disabled people, technology can be integral to their lives. As you can see, the¬†anti technology theme in this movie has not aged very well at all. You can read more on how the movie swings more conservative (intentionally or not) HERE¬† (be warned, it’s a little harsh) but basically, natural talent and Supers are put on a pedestal whereas people who try to empower themselves and be rewarded for succeeding in other ways are¬†almost demonized.

Big Hero 6, on the other hand, looks at the notion and tells it to piss off. Hiro is a natural genius but he is NOT shown as being somehow ‘superior’ to others. The students (of all races, genders, and ages) are encouraged to nurture and grow their talents, abilities, and interests.¬†Even Fred, who doesn’t seem to have any particular special abilities or skills, is shown as special and important. Everyone can be super, and that’s not a bad thing.

I just find it very interesting that these are two animated superhero films from Disney¬†that have wildly different themes, messages, and tones. I suppose ultimately that’s a good thing, since you wouldn’t want both films to be generic superhero flicks or for BH6 to be a complete TI ripoff, but it kind of says a lot on just how different Pixar (on a good day) and Disney really are.

That said, both films have one major similarity: the importance and value of family and friends, and how they can help you get through difficult times. And I think that’s what makes both films so great, and sets them apart from other superhero films in a special, positive way.

This Is Why We Don’t Have Disney Villains Anymore

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So coincidentally (?) both Doug Walker (the Nostalgia Critic) and Lindsay Ellis (the former Nostalgia Chick) both released a video discussing Disney Villains within the same week. Both asked pretty much the same question: what happened to the traditional Disney Villain that we all love (and love to hate)?

I feel now is the time to actually EXPLAIN (rather than theorize) why the new Disney Villains are so radically different from the dastardly evildoers from the past: it’s because of John Lasseter.

See, the main reason why Disney Animation is taken seriously again is because John Lasseter was placed in charge of the studio and is the executive producer of every film. You know how people say that Pixar and Disney Animation are getting harder to tell apart? That is exactly why. And as a result, we no longer have Disney Villains TM. We have Pixar Villains.

You can probably name all sorts of great Disney Villains TM, but you’ll have trouble naming great Pixar Villains off the top of your head. The only villain who really sticks out in people’s minds, both in sheer evilness and in relevance to the story, is Lotso from Toy Story 3 and maybe Syndrome from The Incredibles. Beyond that? Not much.

See, the fine folks at Pixar don’t particularly care for villains. Pete Docter himself stated that he hates traditional baddies because he doesn’t find them realistic, noting that everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing. This is why Inside Out has no real villain and the antagonist of Up‘s role is more symbolic (he embodies what Carl could’ve become without love).

That’s another thing about Pixar villains: almost all of them are symbolic antagonists, representing what the hero COULD’VE become if they went on the wrong path.¬†Stinky Pete and Lotso both represent what the heroes could’ve been like if they allowed the bitterness of being separated from their owners get to them. Chick Hicks is what would happen if Lightning McQueen let his ego get to him. Syndrome is a dark parallel of the Supers. Chef Skinner is an example of a chef more interested in the money than in the passion for it. AUTO is what happens when a robot is bound by their programming. Mor’du is an example of a desire to change fate gone horribly wrong. And in some cases, the villain reveals turn out to be a surprise.

So yes, there’s definitely a trend here.

By contrast, most classic Disney Villains are there to actively influence the plot and be the ultimate evil the hero has to defeat. Until recently that is. And you notice something? The recent villains are ALSO dark parallels to the heroes that aren’t revealed right away.

Turbo is also like Wreck-It Ralph in that he leaves his game to better his life, only he refuses to care for others and puts his livelihood over others; Ralph at first was almost like that, willing to get a medal above anything else even if it meant endangering his game, until he met Vanellope. Hans, like Anna, is also in the shadow of his older siblings, but instead of making amends with them, he seeks to make himself feel important by taking over another kingdom. Yokai is mostly meant to be similar to Marvel Villains, but he also shows what would happen if Hiro did not let friends into his life and became a bitter man seeking revenge. Bellwether and Judy are both affected¬†by Zootopia’s prejudiced system, but whereas Judy seeks to change it, Bellwether manipulates it to suit HER desires. And Tamatoa even admits that he was inspired by Maui’s tattoos to become beautiful before beating the shit out of him.

It’s easy to see a Pixar influence here. This way, instead of being a battle between good versus evil, it’s more about the story of a hero’s internal conflict and flaws and how they grow with the power of friendship. The (sometimes more realistic) villain is meant to put them to the test.¬†And sometimes, if the hero proves to be a fundamentally better person than the antagonist, they’ll spare them or even help redeem them. That said, they should probably avoid putting red herrings and twists in their films from now on.

So does this mean we’ll no longer have great Disney Villains TM? I don’t know. Tamatoa definitely made me nostalgic for the great baddies of Disney yore, but he was only in the film for about five minutes. It’s ¬†hard to say. I don’t mind the current trend of villains, but I also wouldn’t mind having another traditional baddie again. The important thing is that, no matter what, we’ll ALWAYS have Ursula, Jafar, Maleficent, Hades, Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, and the like. Nothing can take them away from us. No, not even live action remakes.

Why Does Finding Dory Keep Getting Snubbed?

Image result for finding dory

Ah, Finding Dory. The highest grossing animated film of 2016 and the sequel to one of the most beloved films of all time. Why has it not gotten any major awards?

Seriously, it’s only won at the People’s Choice Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. Not very major. It did not make a big splash at the Annie’s and only time will tell if it will win anything at the Visual Effects Society. It got snubbed at the Golden Globes (for Sing of all movies) and again at the Oscars.

I’m a little miffed. What gives? I mean, it’s not like people hate the movie, it has a 94% critical score and 85% audience score on rotten tomatoes (the only people who seem to hate the movie are IMDb reviewers, but honestly, IMDb reviews are where humanity and good taste go to die). Why is it not getting any serious recognition?

Well, I have a two theories.

One, and perhaps the most major one, is Pixar sequel/prequel fatigue. When people want to watch a Pixar film, they’re hoping for something completely original, nothing derivative, familiar, or continuing of a previous project. The only sequels that people honestly want are Toy Story and The Incredibles sequels. Notice how, after Toy Story 3, no other Pixar sequel/prequel has been nominated for an Oscar or won any awards. The last Pixar movie to win an Oscar was Inside Out, an original movie. The message is pretty clear.

Second is that, honestly, Zootopia is eating up all the praise. This is actually a trend I’ve noticed throughout the years; ONE animated film would typically get all the recognition and praise and awards, while the rest would get a passing glance. That’s not really fair. 2016 had a lot of good animated movies, but because Zootopia is original and has a ~*timely message*~ (that people apparently forgot when it was time to vote), it gets all the awards. I’m not saying Zootopia is a bad film, it’s pretty good (even if it’s not my fave), but I don’t think it needs to win everything.

Still, I’m pretty mad about this because, when you get down to it, Finding Dory is a really important film. Sure, it’s not as grand or epic as Finding Nemo, but it’s LEGIONS better than Brave, Monsters University, Cars 2, or the goddamn Good Dinosaur. It’s a movie that deals with loss, disability (and how, while it is part of you, it does not define you),and, as Ellen DeGeneres put it, helping others in need. It takes important and heavy themes and handles it in a graceful manner (if this movie was told with humans, let’s be honest, it would be too depressing). The scene where Dory is reunited with her parents is probably the most beautiful Pixar moment ever. And yes, I stand by this, but it does a better job handling mental illness better than Inside Out. While I like Inside Out‘s main message of how it’s okay to cry and important to talk about your feelings, Riley is barely a character, Joy is aggressively unlikable, and poor Sadness is treated like a burden until the very end (and Joy doesn’t even apologize to her). Finding Dory focuses on the character with the mental problem, addresses the hardships she faces, but empowers her by giving her solutions and allowing her to stand up to those who doubt her. She’s positive, she’s optimistic, she never gives up. She’s seriously one of Pixar’s best characters (female or not). But, because Inside Out is ~*original*~ it gets all the praise.

So yeah. I guess the reason why I’m bothered because disability is often a neglected issue and the movie that talks about it the most candidly has been getting snubbed (and for some people, seen as ‘boring’).¬†We’re okay with films that handle allegorical themes (Zootopia) or where the metaphors are ableist (Kubo and the Two Strings and¬†linking goodness and appreciating the beauty of the world with vision) but the movie that respectfully talks about disabilities is not worthy. And that’s just a shame.

Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s more important for an animated film to stand the test of time than to get all the awards, and that’s something Finding Dory will likely excel in. I’m just upset that it didn’t even get a NOMINATION for a Golden Globe or Oscar, which is something that it deserves at the very least.

Holy shit.

 

Whenever a Disney/Pixar film is about to be released, even if said film is more dark and/or serious, the teaser for it is always light and comedic in tone. Not this time.

There’s a distinct lack of music, instead relying on a heartbeat and the sound of the cars revving and the crowds. The colours are muted. We focus on the wheels of the cars; we can’t see their faces. There’s a conspicuous shot of one car in particular that’s speeding ahead. We see that Lightning McQueen is in the lead,¬†but is looking rather dirty and worn out. And then there’s the dramatic crash, and it looks BAD. Again, we can’t see his face, but we hear his heavy breathing, and how he’s falling apart. Then it fades to black, with the emblazoned words “FROM THIS MOMENT EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE”. Then there’s a beat, and we see the franchise logo and release date.

Ho. Ly. SHIT.

This is a masterpiece of trailer editing. In less than a minute we are treated to an intense, dramatic, compelling glimpse at the story, and just how bad the situation looks for the characters. It grabs your attention and gets you interested in what’s going to happen.

What makes this stand out is that it’s fucking Cars. Cars! The Pixar franchise that gets derided all the time for being more about profit than storytelling. And here it is, turning everything on its head.

So what does this mean? I can’t imagine that they’re actually going to kill Lightning McQueen off (he’s too profitable), but I think what’s going to happen is that he’s going to be seriously disabled/incapacitated. In that he won’t be able to race anymore. That would actually be a really compelling storyline, as well as an important one to help people cope with serious injuries and traumatic experiences.

I really do hope this movie is going to deliver after such an awesome teaser. I’m definitely intrigued for what’s in store for this franchise!