Pixar is Invincible
All movies are about other movies. Most simply quote them, and most of these are bad. Some are very clever quoters, like Tarantino. But still mere quoters. A few weeks ago, I saw “Van Helsing” which impressed the daylights out of me. It was all about transmutation at many levels including transmuting itself through several other movie identities.
Meanwhile, I’ve been impressed by Pixar for other reasons. They’ve always been the leaders in folding and introspective dimensionality. Their logo even shows it: an illuminator jumps on the “i”, replaces it, looks around and then looks directly at you.
In this film, their introspective experiments extend to quoting other films. But instead of the simple shopkeeping of Tarantino, we have appearances of other films but instead of being quoted they are re-imagined. Each transmutation is better than the original: This is better Bond than Bond, better Spy Kids than Spy Kids, better family drama than any recent experience. Better through-the-trees chase than Star Wars. Much, much better than “Spiderman” and its ilk because it really understands pacing and manages ever-more unseen camera swoops.
And it does everything it does with familiar images. For instance, the scene where Bob smacks his boss through several walls and he ends up wrapped in bandages and in traction is a collection of classic images from old cartoons, starting with the big guy grabbing the little guy. Except you don’t notice that the big guy is the good guy. Never happens in the classics.
There are two interesting folds here: the one that folds many movies genres as we mentioned and the one that conflates the folds of reality. Here’s how this works: Usually there are two layers of a folded movie: the movie and some more abstract story within the movie. Spoofs depend on you knowing the layers, even if a layer isn’t shown. So “Austin Powers” has the intermediate level of Bond, even though it doesn’t have an explicit segment that exists in the world of Bond.
Ted’s law says the folding distance must be equal, so the abstraction between the real world and that of Bond is exactly the same as that between Powers and Bond, extra cartoonishness if you wish.
This Pixar project has two levels squashed into the same world. One level is the very realistically abstracted story between Bob and Helen. This isn’t very cartoonish at all compared the regular world of cartoons. Then you have the superhero world which Bob and later Helen dive into; this is the most extremely abstract world of cartoons. Three levels, us, Bob and Helen as people (and they seem more real in this mode than most “real” characters) and Bob and Helen and kids as superheros.
The novelty of the fold is that these are squashed together as if there is no distance. That (plus some very human-like camera angles and the “interview” footage at the beginning) squashes the world of the viewer into what we see. Its the kind of brilliant novelty that can only be done by close students of the art.
A side comment that follows: the standard Disney cartoon has to have an obvious moral. Parents enthusiastically use this as a sad excuse for parenting. This film puts the moral in the spoof level. That means, folks, that it is equating it to the mediocre fictions Bob berates at the beginning. To distract the dopes in the audience, they do damage control by splicing an “ordinary” moralistic dippy thing at the beginning.
The real moral is that most movie houses have “insurance:” they test their films into mediocrity. Pixar does no testing. They figure it out and trust their geniuses. Along the way, they take two heavy hits in the story at insurance companies who literally put superstars out of business, and incidentally steal from the worthy.
Posted in 2004
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.