What American Animation Has Lost

What American Animation Has Lost
Posted by on Feb 22, 2016

American animation has lost something. While not detrimentally important, if not addressed at the studio level it could vastly narrow the variety of content. American animation has lost it’s sense of artistic aesthetic. To be clear I don’t believe this is something exclusive to American animation. It’s more of a large studio problem. America just happens to have a lot of big animation studios.

This loss of aesthetic largely came about with rise in CG animation. However, it’s not restricted to this type of animation. Let’s back up for a second and let me explain exactly what I’m talking about.

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What sets animation apart from live-action more than anything is that everything is hand-crafted for that film. From the landscapes to the faces on the characters. While live-action still has visual development (costumes, sets, etc). Production is still largely restricted by making it look as realistic as possible. Even when you look at films that are grounded in fantasy (Pan’s Labrynth, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) you’re still held back by realism.

Not too say that this bad. In fact, it is down right amazing when you are able to create a world that looks real no matter how ridiculous it might actually be. However, when you no longer have to hold to reality there are some interesting directions you can take.

When you have absolute control over the medium you can make your world more accurately represent the story. The most recent best example does actually come from 3D. Mostly in the form of the design of the emotions from Inside Out. For the most part, each character was designed to reflect their personality. Sadness small, blue, and modeled after a tear drop. Anger was red, blocky, and rigid. Fear was all squiggly, bent out of shape, and all around spastic. So on and so forth.

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Joy, Sadness, and Disgust could have been modeled more distinctly but that get’s into a much different discussion about diversity and women in the industry. The point is, the characters were able to be shaped to their personalities. This doesn’t even take into account the design of the rest of a films world. However, this is restricted to Riley’s mind world. The outside has to reflect reality as closely as possible. This isn’t necessarily case for every 3D film but it’s quickly becoming the trend.

Another example from 2D animation would be Atlantis: The Lost Empire. When your in the surface world, you have a lot of hard edges. Lots of squares and triangles. In many ways, it mirrors rigidness of Milo’s world. One where everything is straightforward and defined. Thus no room for his fantastical voyage to a lost city. Plus, the surface world is cloaked in darker hues further adding to the depressing tone. Sure, it may look like our world but the artist’s were obviously not going for photo-realism.atlantis-the-lost-empire-19

Now when Milo first enters Atlantis, we get much brighter hues and less rigid shapes. Thus marking the joy Milo initially finds and signifying his crossing of the threshold. These sorts of design choices in animation can add an unconscious depth for the audience. A layer that helps suck the audience in even more.

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So what does this all mean? Well like I said earlier, this isn’t necessarily just an America problem. It’s more of a problem with big animation studios. Looking at Studio Ghibli films, they tend to all have similar design aesthetics as well. This basically means that when a studio gets big enough, design becomes a branding issue. When your films at least look similar, it’s easier for the audience to recognize a studios work. Since it becomes about branding, it basically means your films are easier to sell.

In much the same way certain directors can have their own distinct, recognizable styles (Zach Snyder, Quentin Tarantino) so can studios. Why is this a problem? Simply put, the art of the medium gets pushed aside in favor of money. You can’t really fault anyone for this because after all, it gets movies made.

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The real question is how can we we have both? A money making movie that still has a more unique look and feel. Maybe we can’t but, no matter what, it won’t happen until technology get’s a little further. What makes different styles easier in 2D rather than 3D is because there is no barrier. None. As a 2D artist, you take what’s in your mind and put it on paper. It’s literally that simple. The only thing standing in your way is your own artistic ability.

When it comes to 3D, you’re blocked by the level of technology and your own personal experience of the technology. Take hair for example. Hair is incredibly hard for 3D since you’re basically trying to animate millions if not billions of individual objects. That puts a tremendous strain on the computer and software. With 2D, you can get away with treating hair as one object. If you do that with 3D, you basically get a beanbag chair strapped to somebodies head.

So, what is the solution here? Frankly, there isn’t one. A reason, I suspect at least, why 3D has lost it’s distinct design aesthetics is because it’s more expensive. For 2D, you can change aesthetics on the fly. For 3D, there are a lot more steps between initial idea and final product. Plus, if you want to switch styles half way through, you pretty much need to start from scratch.

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Until technology get’s more advanced where the barrier between artist and 3D gets thinner, we’re stuck. The best thing to do now is to enjoy the films being made and continually come up with ideas that push the technology.

Damn it Pixar: An Inside Out Review

Damn it Pixar: An Inside Out Review
Posted by on Jun 26, 2015

At this point in time Inside Out has received critical praise since before its premiere and has already smashed the record for an original opening weekend. This is for a good reason. Inside Out is everything we love about Pixar in one film. Creative ideas, new perspectives, memorable characters, and most importantly the emotional impact of a world shattering meteor.

As I watched Inside Out I was continually emotionally punched in the gut. Hence the “damn it Pixar” in the title. After all, I can only cry so many times in a film. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start with the cast assembled for this film. While there are numerous notable actors lending their voices, I’m going to focus on the five emotions. With comedy veterans Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, you can’t really go wrong. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t seem to coast on the talent of its stars and is instead elevated to higher plain.

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Amy Poehler channels more than a little bit of Leslie Knope (Parks and Rec) for Joy. Phyllis Smith absolutely nails Sadness and also seems to channel some of her character from The Office. Bill Hader plays Fear who could easily be replaced by Flint from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Mindy Kaling as Disgust is divinely inspired casting and a summation of all the cool people we’ll never be. Finally, Lewis Black as Anger is just about as perfect casting as you can get. With a solid voice ensemble, this film is definitely putting the right foot forward.

Beyond the voice cast, we need to talk about the story. Following the emotions of Riley, a girl moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Struggling with leaving her friends and old life behind, she is forced to adjust to a brand new life. Of course this is an emotional time and sends Riley’s five emotions into turmoil. This is a story that everyone can relate to. Whether it was a move or some other life changing event that occurred when you were a child, everyone can think of something.

Fear (voice of Bill Hader), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) and Anger (voice of Lewis Black) guide 11-year-old Riley from Headquarters, the control center inside her mind. Directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”), Disney•Pixar's "Inside Out" opens in theaters nationwide June 19, 2015. ©2014 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Fear (voice of Bill Hader), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) and Anger (voice of Lewis Black) guide 11-year-old Riley from Headquarters, the control center inside her mind. Directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”), Disney•Pixar’s “Inside Out” opens in theaters nationwide June 19, 2015. ©2014 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Through this story, which takes about two or three days, we learn the importance of each emotion. Fear keeps us safe from dangerous situations. Disgust helps to ensure are social survival. Anger helps us to stand up for ourselves. Joy steers us towards what makes us ultimately happy. Sadness helps us understand pain and how to ultimately process it. These are slight simplifications but I only want to delve deeper into the two central emotions of this film, Joy and Sadness.

From the get go, Joy acts as the leader of the group. After all, if we asked what was the most important emotion, how many people would say happiness or joy? What Inside Out does so brilliantly well is accurately depict the importance of all emotions to our development, including sadness. They accomplish this most effectively by having two worlds. The outside normal world and the one where Riley’s emotions are. This create a unique cause and effect relationship that helps to showcase why Riley acts the way she does.

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It is done so well that you will not be able to stop yourself from empathizing with Riley. From my own personal experience, I could see myself when I was kid acting out in the same ways. The pain and confusion felt by Riley was very real to me. This emotional conflict drives the narrative and leads to some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming moments in Pixar’s history.

All of this to say, I do not think that Inside Out is Pixar’s best film. It is definitely in my top 5 but not the best. Not for any one big reason but more just little things that subtracted a few points here and there. Really though, it’s apples and orange. Inside Out has earned a spot in Pixar’s greatest hits and has helped bring Pixar out of a creative slump. Not too bad after a two year absence from the box office.

Why I’m Worried About The Good Dinosaur

Why I’m Worried About The Good Dinosaur
Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

I’m going to just state the obvious here, dinosaurs are awesome. If there is one fact that is the most universally accepted, it’s this one. If you weren’t aware, we recently got to revisit Jurassic Park as Jurassic World. It has smashed box office records and continues to rise. I don’t want to talk about that film. Instead I want to talk about Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. Pixar’s own film of Jurassic proportions.

Pixar’s upcoming film is already getting rave reviews and is even being touted as one of their best yet. However, it’s not the only Pixar film this year. The Good Dinosaur tells the tale of what the world would look like if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. Not a bad premise and full of possibilities. Yet, with the first trailer I have my concerns. I’m not going to go into the multiple issues happening behind the scenes because we might frankly never know. Instead, it’s the premise that has me worried. I’ve talked before about what I think is the difference between telling a story and creating a world. Specifically how Dreamworks best work happens when they create worlds and Pixar’s is when they tell stories. So far, TGD seems to be a perfect example of why Pixar is bad at creating worlds.

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As I’ve said before, the easiest way to create a world is to simply ask a question. In this case, it’s what if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. What would the world look like then? The short teaser trailer gives us just one or two glimpses of this. A T Rex running with buffalo and an Apatosaurus being ridden by a human. This isn’t a bad idea at all, the problem I have is that Pixar isn’t the right studio for the film.

Lets take a look at some of Pixar’s greatest hits. Films like Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, Wall-E, UP, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and the entire Toy Story trilogy. What’s pretty much the only thing consistent about these films? They all take place in a world very familiar to ours. The only two slight exceptions I would consider would be Monsters Inc. and Wall-E. However, both are still in worlds immediately recognizable to our own. Monsters Inc. just substitutes monsters for people and Wall-E just speeds up the clock. The point is, all of these films occur in our world. It’s pretty much why the Pixar theory is even able to somewhat make sense. I know I didn’t list all the films but take any Pixar film and this idea applies.

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Do you know which two films are considered the worst two Pixar films? Cars and Cars 2. What would you say is different about these 2? They were both directed by John Lasseter who directed Toy Story 1 and 2. They both had a pretty awesome voice cast and honestly had a pretty cool world around them. So why did they fall apart? There could be any number of behind the scenes reasons but my theory is that Pixar built a world instead of telling a story. The difference between interpreting the world through a different perspective and creating a world based on a perspective.

When you create a world, like in Cars, you lose that perspective. Toy Story is from the perspective of our toys and taking a look at growing up. Monster Inc. is from the monsters in our closet and that the things we fear aren’t all that scary. Finding Nemo shows how our personal actions could have unforeseen consequences and the importance of family and friends. Cars is about what the world would look like if cars were the dominant species. Do you see how that kind of falls flat? Sure, there’s an underlying message about what true success looks like but it gets lost by the need to show how this world looks and functions.

So far, TGD looks to show us what the world would look like if the dinosaurs were the dominant species. See why I’m having some concerns about TGD? Now, it is still far to early to pass judgement. Frankly, it’s a safer bet to just assume Pixar will be able to pull it off. It just looks like their going to fall into some old pitfalls. To Pixar’s credit, it does look like they are trying to avoid another Cars.

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It doesn’t appear that the dinosaurs have built anything like our own human world. If they stick within the boundaries of a world we already know, then I think TGD has a good chance. Not only that but if they inject TGD with the signature Pixar emotional weight, it’ll be fine. This was part of the problem after all with Cars, Cars 2, and Monsters University. There wasn’t much if any high emotional stakes that usually helps Pixar films to transcend both child and grown-up audience.

All this to say, I’ll still be giving Pixar my money at the end of the day. But if the next TGD trailer shows dinosaurs riding buses, I’ll be very worried.

How to Build a World

How to Build a World
Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

In the past I have talked about world building and it’s benefits for creating a compelling story. Recently, this idea has come back into my mind for a number of reasons. Marvel’s announcement about adding Spider-Man to the MCU is chief among them. However, my new year’s resolution this year was to re-watch all of Walt Disney’s theatrically released animated films. I’ll detail the experience more when I have actually finished watching all of the 50+ films. As I watch these films, I get to thinking about world building and it’s use in film. Particularly with how Disney has handled it so far. Before that, let me tell you what I think is needed to build a truly wonderful world.

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Most recently, one of the best worlds built from scratch has got to be John Wick. Originally seen as your basic B-level action flick, its masterful world building helped elevate the narrative to another level. What worked so well is that the directors didn’t bother spelling everything out. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything but they essentially introduced elements that obviously had a history but they didn’t tell the audience. They just introduced it as it should be and left it at that. How this helped them is it let the audience to fill-in the gaps.

They introduce a concept such as a currency only mean’t for hitmen and assassins. Instead of giving us some sort of explanation as to how this currency works and its worth, they simply just use it. This currency then becomes this cool gimmick throughout the film that continually piques the audiences interest. It also allows the audience to speculate how these characters gained their varying levels of wealth with this currency. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are left to wonder how widely this currency can be used. Is it global? Can it be used as bribery for politicians? We are literally left with endless possibilities. To create a successful world, leaving a little mystery to allow your audience to explore is key.

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What’s also important is having a distinct visual style. Take Big Hero 6. It’s a world where San Francisco and Tokyo have been merged. Here you get distinct combinations of iconic examples of American and Japanese culture. The visual style, as with just about any animated film, is also very distinct. Characters are more caricatures than realistic with features that support or clash with their personalities.

Go Go Tomago looks like a bicyclist or a sprinter. She has the legs of someone who was always pushing to go faster. I mean seriously, just take a look at what Olympic sprinters look like. Her mentality of a tough, fearless, speed demon is only supported by the way she looks. Wasabi on the other hand has an opposite relationship. He looks like your typical strongman, hulk, bruiser type. Broad shoulders, barrel chested, and just big all around. He looks like someone who is called in when someone needs a buddy to help them out in a fight. However, his personality clashes with this perception. Out of the entire group, he is by far the most neurotic and least likely to want to jump into a fight.

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These visual cues, whether directed at characters or scenery, are key to develop a world that the audience can get lost in. It allows the audience to fill in the gaps of what else could be going on in the world.

While having a sense of mystery and a clear visual style is important, nothing can be more important than your question. Every successful world can be boiled down to one question that the world gets shaped around. How would an underground assassin network operate? What would it look if the most advance technologies we have, were accessible and affordable to the entire public? What would the world look like if dragons were real? I bet you can figure out which movies I’m talking about here. This question may not be your starting point, but I believe it is a sign of a well crafted world.

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After Earth, while terrible, had a single nugget that piqued my interest. What would the world look like if humans were suddenly at the bottom of the food chain? Starting there I can see a story forming. What if one day we found that the various species on Earth suddenly seemed to turn on humanity. Where not only animals are no longer afraid to actively defend against humans and their machines, but hunt them down. Amazon forest crews would find themselves fighting off hordes of monkeys who have developed poisonous saliva. Cities would find themselves overrun by the natural wildlife as they refused to be scared away. Throw in plants growing more aggressively and you have yourself a situation that would cause humans to want to flee earth. That right there seems to be a start of a more compelling story than what we got in After Earth.

My observations are not an official, peer reviewed basis for a theory that required months of research. I have simply watched a lot of movies and started to to piece these things together. Most films can be observed this, especially that of the animated genre, and I find two ways to break them down. They either have a strong narrative or a well-built world. Not to say they can’t be both, it’s just that they tend to favor one or the other. For instance, most of the Pixar films would land in the narrative category. This makes sense since they have essentially built their company around how to tell a story. On the other hand, the better Dreamworks films tend to have stronger worlds.

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Why I bring this up is because Disney tends to ride the line. Sometimes it works out well, other times it doesn’t. It seems they have tried both and mostly have had average success on either side. However, those that do the best are usually those that have a stronger narrative base (Frozen, Lion King). What I find interesting though, is that they have created many worlds that are truly unique. Big Hero 6 is the most recent while Treasure Planet is a place I eagerly want them to revisit.

So in conclusion, before this piece gets out of my hands, Disney has tried many different story-telling styles. From world building to strong narratives they, more than most, have tried both. Recently, they are getting their groove back with John Lasseter at the helm. I can only wait in anticipation to see which side of the line Moana and Zootopia fall on.

The Next Animation Renaissance

The Next Animation Renaissance
Posted by on Jan 22, 2015

Animation is my favorite genre of film. For a multitude of reasons that I will get into, it simply has always captured my attention and imagination. I might be a little biased growing up in the Disney renaissance of the 90’s. Nonetheless, animation has changed in the past decade on both the small and large screen. It has been elevated to include more then just childish humor and is far better for it.

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First off let’s talk about the technology. As just about everything, animation has seen a huge benefit from the rapid advancement in technology. Even if you are comparing animation from only a few years ago. An excellent example is the Toy Story Trilogy. Going from the first to the last, you see a very clear advancement in detail and overall richness in the animation. Taking movies such as Big Hero 6, the progress of animation is even clearer. Why is this important? Simple, it allows animators to fit more into a single scene. Whether that’s something as ordinary as more blades of grass or as entertaining as including some hidden easter eggs.

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With more detailed animation comes the risk of the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is essentially a point in animation where it is one step below photo realistic. It quite frankly creeps out the audience. This reaction is so negative that it actually turns people off of the content. This is where animation style is key. Animation is not hindered by realism. It’s part of the reason why it’s one of my favorite genres. Their characters can be as human as you want. Lets take Big Hero 6. It has people but they aren’t hyper realistic. They are more caricatures whose features help to accentuate the characters personalities. So, while animation continues to be more detailed, it has built in methods to circumvent the uncanny valley

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Second is the level of the story telling. I would cite Pixar as the first sign of this idea. Pixar has made story paramount. They use story as the base and build off of it. They rarely make cash grabs and they are always using their stories to push the limits of technology. In the recent book Creativity, Inc., we get a unique inside look into the development of Pixar and their feature films. Putting the story first is something that I believe to be unique to animation. I’m not saying it can’t happen in other genres of film, it’s just more important to have a good story in animation. What it comes down to is the cost of an animated film.

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For example, lets compare The Avengers to Toy Story 3The Avengers cost 220 million dollars to produce. That is not a cheap movie and had more than a few incredible scenes that were the definition of blockbuster spectacle. On the other side, you have Toy Story 3. It required no traveling to shoot at other locations, costume pieces, or just about anything else a live action film would need. It cost 200 million dollars to produce. Now, money is not the only cost in making a film. Time is also incredibly crucial. Toy Story 3 took  approximately 4 years to completeThe Avengers took about half that time. You can see how animated films can require a similar amount of money to produce and can take even longer to actually finish. This all means that animated films have a smaller margin for error. This is where a strong story comes in. No matter what the medium, a strong story is easy to sell and will always succeed. Animated films don’t have the luxury of doing reshoot’s on the fly. Animators have to go in having a nearly crystal clear picture of what they want so that they don’t waste anytime creating their film.

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The last sign of a new animation renaissance is the infused messages. For a long while, animated films were seen as children films. Things are changing. With the advancements in technology and story telling it allows these films to transcend their assigned genres. To clarify, the animated films I am talking about are those that are still targeted at children and families. We are starting to get films that aren’t afraid to tackle truly adult or grown-up subject matter. Whether you look at Up or Frozen, animated films aren’t shy about infusing complex messages. The clearest example of a studio that does this is LAIKA. Their first two films Coraline and Paranorman are truly mind blowing in the themes they chose to include. I don’t want to spoil the films for you but to put it simply, these films perfectly cover themes ranging from homosexuality, fear mongering, mob mentality, fitting in, parent child relationship, and more.

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You are even seeing this on the small screen. Most recently, the example that comes to mind is The Legend of Korra. In its series finale, we saw the first openly homosexual couple with Korra and Asami. This is huge as this is often seen as taboo in the genre. It has never really been explicitly included. Yet here we are. A more general example is Adventure Time. A show that on the surface looks like some collection of drug fueled animations, but actually has a lot of heart. It does a great job of combining ridiculous adventures with pretty complex and heart felt messages.

The fact that studios are willing to tackle such complex themes is the surest sign that we are entering a new renaissance. The first animated renaissance gave us the music that captured a generation. I myself am listening to the Disney Pandora station while writing. This time around, we are going to get an age of animated films that will truly transcend the children’s genre. Films that tackle issues and themes that resonate regardless of age. The kind of film that will emotionally impact a 22 year old just as much as a 10 year old.

With technology that is allowing for more complex worlds to be created, stories that drive the production, and themes that capture our emotional attention. This is what the next animated renaissance will look like, so buckle up. It’s going to be a fantastic ride.

The Incredibles Vs. Big Hero 6

The Incredibles Vs. Big Hero 6
Posted by on Nov 20, 2014

Big Hero 6 released about a week and half ago and has earned a global 148 million box office gross. It’s sure to continue its upward trajectory and inspire more than a few kids to pursue science. Being the first Disney superhero film, it was a little rough around the edges but is definitely a continuation of what Frozen began with its positive messages. However, this isn’t the first animated hero film we got from the Disney family. The Incredibles which came out ten years ago on November 4th was our first hero treatment from the House of Mouse. The Pixar film was a story about a superhero family with a particular focus on the mother and father. Robert Parr, the father, was experiencing his mid-life crisis and was eager to take up the mask and tights again. His wife, Helen Parr, was ready to put their past exploits behind them to try and live a “normal” life.

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After watching Big Hero 6 I was struck with the similarities while at the same time realizing their stark differences. With The Incredibles, we get a group of heroes that are bound together by family. Coming from a big family myself, their household disputes where pretty accurate, accept for the addition of superpowers of course. It expressed to me what a family should be, they are the people that will always have your back no matter what. Not only that but a family is a team. One person can’t carry the family, no matter how strong or flexible they may be. It requires cooperation and shared responsibilities. You see this in the struggles and conflicts throughout the film.tumblr_mzk5frZu8I1t63aw2o1_500

For Mr. Incredible, trying to go back to his golden days instead of creating new ones with his family works for a time. He eventually loses his control though, putting himself and his family in danger. Taking this to a metaphorical level, Mr. Incredible’s lack of family focus and his attempt to be as incredible as he was causes him to shirk his familial responsibilities. That he can keep his family a float on his own marginalizes not only his wife but his kids as well.

Elasti-girl on the other hand has different set of problems. She is ready to begin a normal life, where super villains and spandex are nowhere to be seen. She wants to hide her family’s gifts so that they can appear normal or to fit in. When it comes time to rely on her families gifts, they fail since they have seen them as something to hide.

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The big conclusion of course is the family coming together to defeat Syndrome. We see each character shed their insecurities and failings realizing that their family is their to cover what they can’t. With The Incredibles 2 now coming our way I am extremely excited to see where they go next.

What chiefly sets The Incredibles a part from Big Hero 6 is the perception of powers. With The Incredibles we have a world where super powers are a bad thing. Using one’s individual and sometimes extraordinary talents is seen as a bad thing. Even Syndrome uses this concept as his big evil plan, to make everyone reliant on an external force to make them feel “super” which in turn makes them not. Which coincidentally could be the focus of another article, “Syndrome’s Social Media Plan”. Anyways, the point I am attempting to get at, which at this point feels like I’m stumbling through, is that The Incredibles is all about family and how they help to shape who we are by encouraging us to embrace are individuality.

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Big Hero 6 takes a slightly different approach. It shows that sometimes family can let us down. Before you decide to click away just hear me out. Yes, Hiro’s family did not intentionally let him down but they weren’t there when he needed them. Hiro’s aunt was still present sure, but she was still very much a secondary character in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it’s Hiro’s friends that handle the brunt of the emotional support.

The differences don’t stop there. While the world of The Incredibles sought to surpress individuality and talents San Fransokyo encourages individuality. Each character is unashamedly themselves. They follow their passions and use their talents to make their dreams realities. The important bit in this film is that using our gifts selfishly is just as bad as not using them at all, which we see with main villain almost destroying the city by selfishly using his gifts. This message adds responsibility not only to those close to us but the rest of the world.

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The best way I can describe my thoughts about these two films is that they are a continuation of each other. The Incredibles teaches us that hiding our gifts and trying to be Superman will only lead us to failure. Big Hero 6 showed us that we need to encourage each others gifts and that friends are family. While these two films are different, the do compliment each other very well and teach us a valuable lesson on respecting our own gifts along with others.

4 Reasons to Look Forward to Inside Out

4 Reasons to Look Forward to Inside Out
Posted by on Oct 9, 2014

Last week, Pixar released their first teaser trailer for Inside Outtheir next film coming Summer 2015.  You’ll notice that this teaser holds very little in actual footage of their new film.  Instead, we see an emotional roller coaster of a montage revealing some of the most memorable moments from Pixar’s catalog of films.  The only one that I counted missing was a moment from Carl and Ellie’s heart wrenching story, otherwise the range of emotions experienced in such a short clip is quite large and varied.

This is clearly intentional considering the focus of their next film.  Inside Out tells the story of a young girl, Reilly (Kaitlyn Dias), who moves across country leaving her friends behind and forced to start life a new in San Francisco.  However, instead of getting the perspective of Reilly, we actually get an inside look into her mind and her emotions.  Each one asserting their personality, this film looks to take a very personal look into the inner thoughts of a child.  Her emotions are made up of Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and Anger (Lewis Black).

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1.  This brings us to reason number one, the actors/actresses they have gathered to portray Reilly’s emotions could not be better.  Some of the funniest people in film today will be coming together to bring these emotions to life.  If you haven’t heard of these wonderful people, let me enlighten you.  Amy Poehler whom you might recognize from Saturday Night Live or more recently her role as the bright, happy, and motivated Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.  Mindy Kaling has her own show, The Mindy Project which she started after her time on The Office.  Bill Hader is another Saturday Night Alum who has slowly started to expand into more mainstream film.  Phyllis Smith is most recognizable from her part on The Office but she has made an appearance in some smaller films since then.  Lewis Black is most famous from his time on The Daily Show and has recently gathered quite a number of parts in the animated industry.  The point is, all of these actors are comedy veterans who have also had experience with dramatic roles.  They will be able to bring us as high as possible and then bring us crashing down.

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2.  Pete Docter is the writer and the director who has been with Pixar since the beginning.  He has had a direct hand in some of the most memorable Pixar films (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Wall-E, and Up) whether it be directing or writing.  He is no stranger to pulling on the heart strings of the audience.  With this cast at his control, he will have an unprecedented amount of potential to mess with the emotions of the audience.

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3.  Pixar is stepping outside of its comfort zone.  The only possible criticism I could think to give Pixar is that they keep to a pretty standard story telling style.  Here, instead of having a protagonist or two to follow around we will be going inside the protagonist themselves.  My hope is that this will turn the protagonist into the antagonist as well, after all we are our own worst enemies.  While difficult to pull off, this idea could pay off in a mind-bendingly big way.  Just imagine a time in your life when you were conflicted about something and how you felt on the inside.  Now imagine those forces personified and reacting to your current situation.

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4.  Pixar’s specialty is playing off of your emotions.  They will build you up before bringing you down.  So, it only makes sense that they now that they tell the story of those emotions.  I can already see it now, when Reilly is at a low point, Happiness is going to be trying to keep things balanced but it won’t work.  I would even go as far to say that at some point during the lowest point in the film, we will see Happiness die, or whatever the equivalent is for an emotion.  They will be giving a literal visual representation of a hopeless situation.  This would basically be like the opening montage in Up and have a balloon that slowly deflates around him has the situation gets worse.  Honestly, depending on how dark Pixar want’s to go, this film has the potential to be the most emotionally gutting yet.  Despite this possibility, I am excited beyond belief and a small part hopes that they will push the limits of the genre like they have in the past.

The Power of Nostalgia

The Power of Nostalgia
Posted by on Aug 22, 2014

Nostalgia is a powerful force.  It can cause people to pay exorbant amounts of money on toys from their childhood and burst out into song when one of their childhood pop songs starts on the radio.  However, more and more nostalgia has played a much more vital role within Hollywood. This has mainly occurred in three different ways, reboots, references, and long-term sequels (I tried really hard to find a third R word).

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To start off, we have reboots.  I am sure you have seen a reboot, whether it be a reimaginning (Dracula Untold) or the adaptation of a childhood favorite (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers).  Anything that is directly based off of a previous intellectual property (IP) could be considered a reboot.  The most current example is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  What is important about this particular IP is that these totally tubular turtles made their first appearance in 1984 in the first issue of their self-titled comic.  From there, countless versions have spawned often with a much more kid friendly vibe each and every time.  This means that adults who are now 30 grew up with these turtles from the beginning and who are now at an age where they are self-sufficient and are even raising their own families.  For Hollywood, this is the perfect combination for a target audience.  An audience with their own income as well as the power to bring others to the film which will of course translate to more ticket sales.  This whole 80’s reboot we have been seeing with popular IP’s is no mistake.  This is partly because of the audience and also because of the directors today grew up with these IP’s and now have the pull to bring them to the big screen.  All of this creates the perfect nostalgia storm.  People who want to make these and people who want to see them.  This is also why we get movies such as Transformers 4, movies that are truly awful but still make all of the money.  Now, there is the whole global box office factor that helps move these films along since films can be a flop in America but be hits across the globe.  Since we are talking about nostalgia though we aren’t going to go into that too much.  Think of it this way nostalgia gets things going while the global box office keeps the ball rolling.  Nostalgia helps to bring people into the theaters regardless of the quality of the film.  Depending on how much you like the IP, you won’t mind the quality as much.

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Now references are whole other animal.  Instead of recreating or bringing old IP’s to life, sometimes well placed references can be enough to heighten the quality of the film.  I of course would like to point you to the most recent Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you haven’t seen the film yet, do yourself a favor and please go see it.  You can read my review  to get an idea of what you have been missing.  Now, being as spoiler free as possible, what played a large part in GOTG’s success is its love of the 80’s.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is taken into space in the late 1980’s when he is still a child.  This leaves him with a pop culture knowledge that ends in the 80’s.  Fast forward and you have a film that makes incredibly entertaining and well timed references that make no sense to anybody but Peter Quill and the audience.  These references encourage this nostalgic feeling in the audience and immediately bonds them to the film and these characters.  This is a hard idea to describe without seeing the film while not spoiling some of the greatest moments in the film.  Another great example is A Knight’s Tale which plays the nostalgia card through it’s music, which is something GOTG does very well also.  Hopefully that gives you an idea of what references can do in a film.  By bringing pop culture references in some form into a genre that would normally not have them, it allows for film to cross genres and appeal to a much wider audience.  It can be done improperly especially if that is the only thing that it relies on.

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The last form of nostalgia is the idea of long-term sequels.  I find the studio that does this the best is Pixar.  What I mean by this is that they create their own nostalgia and seemingly timed future sequels.  For instance, Toy Story was released in 1995.  Of course being a movie about toys coming to life I, like many others close to my age, instantly loved this movie and grew up with it.  Now, fast forward to Toy Story 3 which was released in 2010, the year I and many others my age were beginning the college part of their lives.  I mean, either some one at Pixar should be given a very substantial raise or this was an incredible coincidence.  By placing the stories focus on a young college bound student giving up his child hood toys and essentially growing makes the film incredibly poignant for the audience.  This is especially so since those my age were going through this very experience and could relate to it even more.  Seriously, the whole metaphor of them almost dying in the fire pit in the dump as a comparison of the death of one’s child hood was really a low blow by Pixar.  Regardless, you can start to see the potential that long-term sequels of films can have.  The same thing occurred with Monsters Inc. and Monsters University if you were born a little before 2001.  It seems Pixar likes to space their sequels out just enough to allow their audience to grow up a little and then target their story towards where they would be in their life.  I doubt Pixar is this diabolical especially since they place story over everything else in a film.  We will see if this trend continues with Finding Dory, which from the sound of it seems to be primed to carry a message of finding yourself and figuring out who you are.

Nostalgia in film is not a bad thing.  It is simply another tool film makers can use to increase the emotional investment in their projects.  From a marketing standpoint, it is one of the more powerful tools that can be used.