Longing for that paper moon

For all the imagination that goes into creating new worlds and fantastic creatures on screen, film and TV are predominantly beholden to naturalism. For these media, suspension of disbelief means being able to accept wholeheartedly what is on screen as real, at least for the purpose of the story you’re watching. Directors, VFX crews and CGI artists need to keep happy the twin deities of Spectacle and Realism: that dragon, that lizard the size of a building, that planet that no one has ever set foot on, they all need to fool us into believing that they are real.

Infinithéâtre's Kafka's ApeI am not immune to the lure of big screen spectacle, and I like a well made special effect as much as the next geek. I too get pulled out of a film if the greenscreen fakery is too obvious, if the orcs, goblins or giant worms look like My First Photoshop. At the same time, there is something limiting to the extent to which we’re conditioned to expect a narrow, superficial expression of naturalism. There is something liberating to forms that are overtly unreal: even at their most real-seeming the animated worlds of, say, Hayao Miyazaki are made rather than found, and the audience is aware of this, whereas the Pandora of James Cameron’s Avatar needs to look as much as possible as if Cameron and his crew had filmed on location. And the more what we see is removed from the Real Thing (or the Convincing Fake), the more we as audiences are tasked with co-creating these worlds in our imagination. Continue reading

Birds, rats and iron giants

I like Pixar movies, by and large, but I’m not as over the moon with them as many others. For one thing, I got extremely annoyed with John Lasseter when I got the Studio Ghibli films on DVD and had to sit through his patronising “My dear friend, Miyazaki-san…” and “You are very lucky…” intros; but also, I felt around Monsters Inc. and especially Finding Nemo that they were getting way too sentimental for their own good.

However, I loved The Incredibles. Yes, it also had that “family is the best” vibe that Nemo had, but it was done a lot less sappily. It was sweet but stayed quirky at the same time – and it was a lot darker in parts than Nemo – which basically did the Bambi thing by killing off Nemo’s mother, but apart from that there was little to no edge to the film. The Incredibles, on the other hand? Remember the scene when Mr. Incredible finds out what’s been happening to all the supers? Or the one where he almost kills Mirage? Also, there’s something very real about Mrs. Incredible’s fears that her husband is cheating on her – which is a fear you won’t find in many movies produced by Disney, I’d wager.

I also liked Ratatouille a lot – and there’s a subtle, quiet scene late in the film that brought a lump to my throat. I remembered that lump from another film by the same director: The Iron Giant. More than most directors of animated movies, Brad Bird is a deft hand at mixing the sentimental and the funny, real pathos and sheer goofiness. While Ratatouille is a very different film from The Iron Giant and indeed The Incredibles (the latter two go much more for the iconic, namely ’50s cold war paranoia and superheroes), all three of these films show a subtlety that is rare in American animation, so that a short, simple scene can break your heart.

The Iron Giant

I also liked Lifted, the Pixar short that was shown before Ratatouille. I hadn’t been that mad about For the Birds (shown before Monsters Inc., I think) or the jackalope one (Boundin’), since both of these got on my nerves after roughly one minute (they weren’t quite as clever or loveable as they thought they were, as far as I’m concerned), Lifted had a simplicity of story and design that worked very well for me. So, courtesy of YouTube, here’s Lifted: