08 March 2010

Coming Attractions: Oscar, The State of The Animated Film, and Pixar's TOY STORY 3

We want to give a loud round of applause  to San Francisco's amazing little animation studio that could, Pixar Studios, for bringing Oscar home yet again last night.  Up scored big-time at Sunday's Academy Awards, winning the best animated film award while beating out its parent company Disney's The Princess And The Frog as well as comic book writer and fantasy author Neil Gaiman's  CoralineInterestingly, Pixar's Up was made using computer-generated imagery; unlike in previous years,  Up was sole CGI nominee for this year's award. Disney's Princess was created through hand-drawn animation, while Coraline was an exercise in the pain-staking art of stop-motion. 

Understandably,  comics fans and the talented illustrators and artists who create the books they read might, like us, feel somewhat inclined to favor more traditional styles of animation. But Up's win last night doesn't signal the end of classical animation.  If anything, last night's ceremony was an indicator good news -- nominees like Princess and Coraline are welcome signs that the field of motion picture animation is rekindling its romance with the art of animation.  Up's win isn't a suggestion of CGI's superiority, either. Not that Up's CGI wasn't stellar, because it was. But so was Up's story -- and that's why another little gold man now stands on mantle in Emeryville
We'll admit that our position - that strength of story won the night for Up and not its SFX -- is arguable, although we'd only need to step outside the Academy's animation category to find support.  In case you hadn't heard, the highest-grossing movie in recent history -James Cameron's Avatar - lost its Best Picture bid to a film that cost just $11M to make, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. To be fair, the Academy's decision to award Oscar to Locker and not Avatar - or any of the other nominees - was likely based on many factors, from the oft-waved argument of 'film as art' versus 'film as SFX spectacle', to politics, to the PR campaigns waged by both the studios and representatives of both films and how well or poorly those campaigns were managed.  We'll avoid details on both sides. Suffice it to say that neither Avatar or Locker were in a very good position relative to the other; there was no sure-fire, hands down, easy choice of one film over the other and as such, no single , official answer can be given. 

Unofficially, we'll claim that there is -- and it's story, pure and simple. Avatar was expected to perform really well last night -  yet the film only managed three Oscars  - in technical categories: best cinematography, best visual effects, and best art direction.  Awards from the 'bigger' categories went Hurt Locker’s way.   

For Cameron, Fox, and probably many viewers and industry executives, Avatar's loss is likely seen as  some kind of upset -- an upset, moreover, that films classified as 'science fiction' or 'fantasy' have endured before.  At the 1977 Academy Awards, Star Wars  - as much of a break-through movie in many regards as Avatar -  lost top honors to Annie Hall; thirty years later, Star Wars' loss is nearly unfathomable.  Then, five years later, at the 1982 Academy Awards, upset came again to the genre, as  Gandhi 'peaced-out' E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. In retrospect, the films that lost outweigh in cultural significance the films that won by a hundredfold. 

Whether or not there's some truth to an Academy bias against SciFi movie makers, Avatar's performance at last night's Oscars was based solely on the film's own merits.  As far as 'Best Picture' goes, all we had to do was ask ourselves this question:  Is Avatar the Star Wars or E.T -  two of Science Fiction's very best films - of 2009?
Our conclusion would be 'nope.'  Now, we're not going to say that science fiction movies - much like science fiction stories of any type, be they movies, comics, novels, etc - don't have their work cut-out for them when seeking or deserving critical acclaim in any realm. Clearly, as fervent fans of the four-color industry and the much under-appreciated comic book, we're well aware of the biases against our kind of fun. Nevertheless,  Avatar wasn't a victim of bias, but of ego.
Somewhere between Avatar and Up's performances at the Academy Awards lies the true State of Animation today.  But that's not the only place to find the truth, either.  GeekTyrant posted the picture at the top of today's blog back in late February.  Created using CGI by Brazilian graphic designer Raoni Nery of Seagulls Fly Studio,  Nery  wanted to portray what a 'real' Buzz Lightyear would look like.  Buzz, of course, is one of the two heroes from Pixar's classic Toy Story and Toy Story 2 animated films. 

It's great work, because Nery nailed Buzz to a 'T.' But which Buzz would you rather see? The one above, or the one below:
The State of Animation today clearly tells us that our animated capabilities can produce both to the point of believability, but we wouldn't want to see Nery's realistic Buzz take the place of Pixar's in Toy Story 3. If he did, no matter how well, we' d be sacrificing story for effect, substance for style - just like James Cameron.
Buzz is coming back - and soon. Featuring the voices of actors Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Keaton,  Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton, and Joan Cusack, the third chapter in their toy story - Toy Story 3 - opens June 18th.  Buzz, his pal Woody, and the rest of the now college-bound Andy's trust toy collection, are thrust into an uncertain future amongst a gaggle of all-new toys. Pixar will be introducing 14 new toy characters in their third movie, including Ken Doll (voiced by Michael Keaton), a magenta-hued Care Bear, a Masters of the Universe insectoid action figure knock-off, the adorably plush Peas-in-a-Pod, and a keyboard playing triceratops.  'No Toy Gets Left Behind' is the motto moving forward - and we're sure that even our old Dabbler will find himself moving toward the theater once this movie opens.  It looks good, and although it wears a 'Disney label,', we'll throw Pixar's next flick the financial support it deserves.  

Dabblers, get down to our Back Issues and tell us if Toy Story 3 will be part of your summer viewing! And while you're there, chime in on your reactions to last night's Oscar party. Was Avatar robbed? Or did Cameron's epic movie get the Hurt it deserved?  And was Up your favorite animated feature in 2009...or was it Coraline? We want to know! Just like some of you want to know where to find a great preview for Toy Story 3 -- ask and you shall receive, HERE.

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