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Flotsam vs. finery of summer cinema

July 08,2016 18:10

The key to enjoying summer movies is managing expectations. Finding Dory seemed to me to be more about the deep blues and greens of the visual palette than the re-integration of family, and in the end it devolves to obligatory slapstick action designed ...and more »



The key to enjoying summer movies is managing expectations. Finding Dory seemed to me to be more about the deep blues and greens of the visual palette than the re-integration of family, and in the end it devolves to obligatory slapstick action designed to make kiddies chuckle.
But that's all right, because they didn't make the movie for me. It's a family movie, which means that while it might have something to offer the grown-ups, its highest and best use is that of pacifier. I knew that going in and my interest was academic. I try to keep up, and the prospect of someone else's air conditioning on a Sunday afternoon was inviting. Finding Dory was just OK.
I kept seeing the dark corners it darted around but never explored -- it could have been (but wasn't quite) about survivor's guilt and early onset Alzheimer's. It was warm but not exactly brave or particularly emotionally resonant; it wasn't the first half of WALL-E or Up. So what?
The best thing about the experience was that it allowed us the opportunity to see Alan Barillaro's remarkable short Piper, a hyper-realistic animated look at the sentimental education of a baby sandpiper "shot" from about an inch above the sand. (It is increasingly difficult to fathom what can be fashioned from ones and zeros.) I don't think Finding Dory is an Oscar film, but I'd be surprised if Piper isn't at least nominated.
Our only OK rendezvous with Dory led us to finally catch up with Zootopia, the computer-animated "buddy cop comedy mystery adventure film" released by Walt Disney Animation Studios earlier this year. It's shockingly good.
I'm a Disney skeptic who finds even the studio's unimpeachably classic films suspect. While I can appreciate Disney's socio-cultural importance, I'm not a fan of the dream-robbers. When Disney acquired Pixar a decade ago, I mourned a little; I figured the Pixar products would become sweeter and straighter and much less adventurous. I guessed Pixar would eventually be subsumed into the larger Disney operation, that at the very least one alternative to the imperial Mouse would be lost.
From Disney's point of view it was easy to see why acquiring Pixar made sense. Disney animation was flagging, it was being outpaced creatively and at the box office not only by Pixar but by DreamWorks Animation and Fox. The two studios had, in the 1980s, collaborated on computer-assisted animated techniques. Many Pixar principals, including Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and writer-directors Brad Bird and Pete Docter, are alumni of the Walt Disney-founded animation program at CalArts.
Pixar's first feature, 1995's Toy Story, was co-produced with Disney. Under that deal, Disney agreed to fund, market and distribute three Pixar-produced films. As part of the deal, Disney was given all story and sequel rights to these films, which meant that they could legally make sequels to the properties without Pixar's involvement.
This condition was a sticking point when Pixar and Disney started renegotiating the deal in 2004.
"These characters are like our children," Lasseter said, "and it just killed me to think of the people who forced Cinderella II into existence making sequels to our films, running our characters into the ground."
After much drama, a lot of it involving then-Pixar chairman (and majority owner) Steve Jobs and his nemesis (a rumored secret model for the ogre Shrek) Michael Eisner, a deal was struck in 2005. First, Eisner stepped down as Disney's CEO and was replaced by the more pragmatic Bob Iger, who offered Lasseter and his Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull control over both Pixar and Disney Animation. Jobs became the majority shareholder of Disney and got a seat on its board.
Pixar got to keep its identity and access to Disney's financial and marketing resources. Disney Animation got Lasseter.
That has paid off for Disney. While I don't love Frozen the way your daughter probably does, Zootopia is the best Disney Animation product of the past 20 years. Where Pixar's Finding Dory feels mild and scrubbed and safe, Zootopia is an Animal Farm-type fable about racism and sexism -- a shrewd and timely critique of fear-based politics set in a remarkably detailed, endlessly fascinating alternate universe. I'd love to see other films set in the city; I feel we've only scratched the surface of Little Rodentia.
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MovieStyle on 07/08/2016
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