Today's post was inspired by a string of comments on a Facebook status regarding the emotional impact of a film that I saw yesterday.
My grandmother cried at the end and said, "that's a little too close to home."
[It] put a lump in my throat on many occasions, the main character was incredibly compelling. I went to see it with a child, and I was WAY more impressed than she was.
I loved this movie. Cried like a baby several times.
And one more:
[I] took my kids to see it and they kept asking, "Mommy, what's wrong?" I know I got much more out of it than they did.
Every quote above came from an adult over the age of 25, none of whom were individuals wishing to come across as anything other than sincere...
...and all of whom were speaking about a cartoon. More specifically, we were discussing Disney/Pixar's 2009 film Up.
It's true- and there's more after the jump.
What is it about these films that moves us so? From Academy Award nominations in mainstream categories (and strong arguments that the last couple of Pixar films should've been strong contenders) to ridiculously cute engagement photos (Part 1 Part 2), these films inspire a genuine human reaction in people. I strongly doubt you'll find anyone using images from Avatar to illustrate the way in which they experience love (and if you should happen to find an Avatar-romantic, it may be time for you to reconsider the company you keep...)
Perhaps more than any production house in the past two decades, Pixar has managed an astounding success rate when it comes to making films that are both meaningful and hugely entertaining to their audiences. (That these films have been financially as well as artistically successful should ensure a continuation of quality- one hopes.) Meditations on love, death, family, friendship, marriage, and existential angst sneak into movies about talking toys, cars, fish, superheroes, and elderly men in flying houses. In at least four Pixar films (A Bug's Life, Up, Ratatouille and The Incredibles), one could construct arguments in line with Alan Moore's Watchmen thesis regarding the nature of heroes- namely, that we should look to ourselves, not to some kind of superman, to save us. A quest for a sense of purpose in the face of obsolescence lies at the heart of the Toy Story franchise as well as Cars (and will probably factor into the forthcoming sequels to each.)
Love, triumphant and everlasting, factors into virtually all of the company's movies. Perhaps their noble approach is at the heart of this success story- rarely do the protagonists' affections get played for cheap or mean-spirited laughs; often love of family, friend, and fellow man/toy/car/bug/fish leads to fantastic efforts.
Below: per the comments from Heidi Vanderlee, I bring you Dug the Dog:
The filmmakers' love for their craft and for the little universes they create shows in their attention to detail- while rival studios seem to crank out animation whose sole draw is their use of celebrity voice talent, Pixar's films (while often featuring stars in surprising roles) seem much more interested in establishing an engrossing world in which the story occurs. Yes, the Shrek films have up-to-the-minute jokes and pop songs (thanks again, Smash Mouth!), but do those films exist in a world in which you can spend all day, soaking up every little bit of carefully-considered minutia? While watching Up, I found myself taken with the tiniest details, down to Carl's knit tie and the way I could almost feel the worn leather cover of the Adventure Book. Little things matter a lot.
Below: the evolution of Up's hero, Carl, and his wife, Ellie, from early sketches to fully-realized film.
Below: The Adventure Book. Be warned: it's a wee bit spoiler-ish, and it's a great deal of a tearjerker.
That could be the key- when the storyteller is as invested in the story as they want us to be and is less worried about the bigger bang than the bigger truth, we get it. There's an authenticity there that is missing from many films outside of the art house circuit and the audience appreciates the films for that.