Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I’m always hesitant to see Pixar movies for some reason. I think that it’s partly because the trailers are always so saccharine sweet that I withdraw a little. Or because I am so aware of the Disney Animated Movie Formula. (Child or childlike main character gets separated from parent figure, has various adventures, realizes the value of love, and is reunited and finds happiness.) I realize that the Formula is as good a narrative structure for children’s movies as any and that the lessons are timeless and particularly poignant to kids in early developmental stages. I just don’t care for it.

But I realize all of this is just prejudice and that I shouldn’t blame Pixar for what Disney’s marketing department does. Whenever I have watched a Pixar movie I’m reminded that the folks at Pixar are hellishly good at what they do and the prejudice is unwarranted. The de facto standard for a good children’s movie for a long time has been to entertain both children and adults. Unfortunately, a lot of kid’s movies try to take the easy way out. Like a Soviet factory with an order for 10,000 shoes making 10,000 left shoes all in the same size because it fills the order with the least amount of effort, they try to just cram two movies together. They entertain the adults with cynical asides in the dialog while spoon feeding the kiddies bright colors and poop jokes. The original Shrek was probably the best example of this kind of two-tiered approach. Your five-year-old could enjoy the cleverness of bubbles in the bathtub while you marveled at the undertones of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s revenge on Disney evoked by calling Pinocchio a “possessed doll”. The worst examples are everywhere. Characters in children’s movies who wink at the camera and almost provide MST3K style commentary on the action. It’s lame and a cheat and evidences a lack of imagination in the creators.

Pixar shows how to make a real children’s movie that adults can love with Wall-E. It is neither saccharine nor maudlin and there isn't a cynical wink in sight. Instead it's genuinely sweet and moving. It's also virtually a silent film but so good at it that you don't notice until people start talking in the last third. There are some people who didn't like the environmental message but, while I think that anything can be overdone- even working for a clean planet, if you are threatened by the idea that continuing to turn everything we can into landfill as fast as possible is a bad idea, I have to wonder what is really motivating you.

To risk a cliche', Wall-E is a wonderful movie for children and the child in anyone. It teaches lessons about love, sacrifice, and conservation. It's also genuinely funny. Well worth seeing if you haven't.

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