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Patrick R

"Cars sucks." - A Pixar Thread

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On Toy Story's logic, I always took it to be that the toys don't actually have the foggiest clue what the rules are, and this is all a quasi-religious explanation for them that's been retold from toy to toy, akin to ancient people's making up a new god (rule) for everything that suddenly needed an explanation.  The toys are, themselves, a kind of micro-cargo cult.  No one, viewer included, is ever actually clued into what is going on in terms of rules or logic of toy life.  So breaking the rules is not a "You've violated the laws of physics" thing, but a "You can't take god's name in vain!" thing.

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I got over the technical limitations quickly enough, and I still think this is a super funny movie and Woody is still great. Surprised at how many of the toy gags still get me.

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/edit: spoiler tags removed after the week eventually became the correct one.

 


 
A Bug's Life (1998)
 
It must have been 15 years since I last watched that. In fact, I confused it with Antz. :blink:
 
Pixar is really making the most out of their 90s limitations here, but it's obvious how they had chosen about the most difficult subject matter: nature and all its iregular forms and textures. The ants themselves, hence, are far too similar to each other. I had a difficult time finding them relatable. The circus troupe, however, I instantly liked for their diversity.

It's basically the plot of ¡Three Amigos! (or Galaxy Quest, yet that was one year after A Bug's Life). Which isn't a problem, good plots can be reused for more good films. However, by the movie's mid mark, Pixar executes that plot far less skillfully. By rescuing Dot from a far greater enemy than the grasshoppers could ever be, the circus bugs already prove their selfless heroism to themselves as well as their capability in battle to the ants. The revelation afterwards that they're 'just' circus bugs – that's not the right kind of impact, frankly.
 
The benevolent ant monarchy and the antsy spirit of cooperation is a welcome deviation from the mob mentality of the toys in Pixar's first movie. Although you definitely expect it, Flik never faces any kind of punishment for his deeds. He's not imprisoned, he's sent on a mission to help the ants. He's not sent to exile, Atta just "wants him to leave". And no kind of status difference is really made among the ants, which is why Flik gets to cuddle with the princess kid and hit on the future queen. Interesting.
 
There's a  a great "Fire & Water" finale, and I didn't even think of it as technologically backwards in any way. This was OK, and no trips to the Uncanny Valley have occurred.
 

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A Bug's Life isn't til next week, we're doing fortnightly.

 

Speaking of which, my thoughts on Toy Story. The plasticy look everyone did mention, but I thought the animation was pretty nice. They had a good handle on how to work the 3D models even if the actual look of the models was ropey. It really did look too cartoony though. Woody's arms flail about and his face flops in ways that just don't work as well in 3D, which I don't think they had learned yet. A lot of modern 3D animation (at least in this realist style) tends to go more subtle and stylish than all out wacky. But before this pretty much all 2D was over the top. Subtlety in 2D is so much harder that it's often not worth thinking about.

 

Plotwise, I also think they didn't know what they wanted to do with it. It struck me that it's almost an organisation rather than a family. Woody organises a "staff meeting", talking about weird office style activities. It's more like being played with is a job rather than an intimate thing they share with Andy. In a similar way, Woody is much more of a boss than I remember, and in bad ways. He's kind of a dick. He asserts power over the toys, and as soon as he's challenged by Buzz (who spends the entire film being a pleasant helpful person) he instantly hates and derides him. Frankly Woody doesn't do much good in this movie. He isn't a helpful leader to the toys, he just soaks up the praise and power. At the end, he's saving Buzz but in effect he's also saving himself so it's hard to see it as very altruistic. It is growth as a character though, and I'm not going to fault a show for having an unlikeable protagonist I just find it funny I never noticed.

 

Tonally it doesn't really seem like they know what they want either. A lot of jokes a front loaded in the first third, when they make a lot of fun out of the fact that they're toys. Then they go in deep on Woody's story and then Buzz's. Not that Buzz's makes a lot of sense since there's not a proper human narrative to grasp there. Why does he think he's 'real'? What does that mean, and is it meant to relate to any human experience? It's treated as if it is, the same way Woody's jealousy is clearly relateable. Buzz's story feels like a bit of a joke that then managed to drive the plot forward at points, and they felt obligated to give it weight that it didn't need. Then both plots get resolved and there's a 20 minute action scene.

 

It's a fun movie but it's really not one of the strong ones now that I'm rewatching it. It definitely seems like they were finding their feet so I look forward to a Bug's Life.

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I watched this movie dozens of times when I was a kid, but haven't seen it in probably a decade. Still love it.

 

The army men check corners with their guns. They have those plastic-mould marks on them. Sid has an "Improvised Interrogations Manual" in his room, right after the Woody torture scene. I love little details.

 

The textures were pretty simple (at least a few, like glow-in-the-dark Buzz, were a single colour) but I found the graphics impressive overall. You can see the limitations of their tech in the "toys attack Sid" scene: the car surfacing from sand looks pretty bad, and the water has some ugly seams.

 

They use a lot of cheating (we switch to a different angle and distances between things shift, the characters make an unreasonably specific plan [luring Skud out of the house] as though they could tell the future), but all of it works. None of the little things broke my immersion, the work of good pacing.

 

Overall the movie was incredibly tight, you can't find three consecutive seconds that aren't either contributing to the plot or setting up some comedy. I wish they still made 77-minute movies, just because you have room to go to 90 doesn't mean you need to.

 

Regarding the "Toys are sapient, completely subservient, and that's weird" angle, the best analysis I've heard was comparing to the toys to AIs. They artificially created thinking automota, bypassed the traditional Skynet problems, and now benefit from a utopia populated by robots who are happy to serve humans. I should try to dig it up, it probably described things more elegantly than my restating.

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I finally got around to Watching Toy Story. I don't have a write up, but I did live tweet it starting here if anyone wants to read that. I don't know that I'll do a write up as honestly the whole movie feels a bit slight and anything I want to cover I did on twitter. Might copy paste that over for archiving later though.

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So, A Bug's Life. I haven't seen it in fifteen years, and I didn't remember any of the plot.

 

I did not like the way the main plot resolved. As Vainamoinen pointed out, it's like Three Amigos, only done worse. Instead of a heroic redemption and road to victory, A Bug's Life has Flik digging himself ever deeper in his comedy of errors, then just when it's all hit rock bottom, he says a few dozen words about how grasshoppers need ants and suddenly the driving problem of the movie is solved. The victory feels cheap and unearned, and the narrative arc of the movie is totally off.

 

On the technical side, I am amazed that this came out in 1998. The early shots with the camera sweeping over fields of wheat must have represented an insane number of animator and rendering hours. Modern technology still isn't good with water, but this movie figured out a clever cheat. By shrinking the scale down to ants, they mostly handled water as individual droplets, essentially glass beads, which are pretty easy. Sometimes it looks weird and they got some water physics wrong, but most humans aren't used to water at that scale so we don't notice nearly as much. Speaking of cheats, instead of depicting the ground as dirt, everything was dirt-coloured gravel, which is a clever solution to the problem of texturing it.

 

Finally, one design complaint. Usually I'm the sort to quietly roll my eyes and ignore this kind of thing, but something about this stuck with me. Gypsy (the moth) has high-heels for feet.

 

Gypsy_s_feet_Copy.jpg

 

Really Pixar? Really?

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Curiously enough, I remember a lot about this movie because it's my least favorite by far. My opinion did not change the second time around. It's "main character spins a web of lies initially for selfish reasons and then it backfires but then he wins everyone back at the end" in the most generic way.

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Generic really is the best word. Is this the genesis of the insufferable "Hey, protagonist, you're so different! Why don't you fall in line like the rest of us? Oh! You saved the day! You're the most special of us all!" children's film structure?

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Off the top of my head, Dumbo fits that bill pretty well.

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I thought of that as well, but went for Dumbo as a children's film. Though I guess there's probably a Rankin Bass film or something of Rudolph that pre-dates Dumbo...

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So clearly it's existed before. And I'm sure it can all be tied back to the "ugly duckling" theme in a lot of children's literature.

 

But I feel like I don't watch American animated films anymore because they ALL feel like this now. Every single one has this exact same theme, this same boilerplate character arc. It's one of the things that's made A Bug's Life age so terribly. It feels like a modern third-rate studio also-ran. But you look at other animated films from the mid to late 90's, were they all this?

 

You could remake A Bug's Life now in any setting you want to. I don't think the same could be said of Pixar's better films, like Toy Story (which, as pointed out earlier, is so specific to toys that Buzz's story is almost alienating) or Ratatouille or Up or Monsters Inc or Wall-E.

 

Finding Nemo, on the other hand, could easily translate to any animal eco-system you'd like. Probably a reason I've never liked it that much. A parent looking for a lost child in a world full of wacky characters is incredibly generic.

 

I did appreciate that the lame John Lasseter humor in A Bug's Life is mostly relegated to the Flick's journey to find the warriors. That poo-poo platter kind of joke is the worst. I feel like once a month I think of the "STALK/DON'T STALK" gag in Monsters Inc. and get mad all over again.

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I'm not sure of the origins but it's also highly prevalent in love action adult media too, even if it's more blunt force in animated movies targeted at kids. Normal guy has thing happen, alienates people in his life as consequences build until he can redeem himself in a single sweeping gesture. It's a time honoured plot (that I agree needs to be reined in).

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So clearly it's existed before.

 

You did ask if this was the genesis of it!

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You did ask if this was the genesis of it!

I did. What I should have asked is if it was the genesis of this specific modern trend. The same way Black Christmas came before Halloween but it was Halloween that all the early 80's slasher movies were based on. 

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My partner pointed out something they found funny about A Bug's Life: Flick's invention to harvest the grain may be quicker when there's a limited amount of time to raise the grasshopper's tribute, but the ending with all the ants cutting down the grass implies that Flick scored a victory over sustainable food production methods. The island will be deforested in a year.

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Well, as long as the ants only pick enough for themselves, they'll actually be picking half the amount they used to, just quicker...

 

Anyway, I watched this again for the first time in about 15 years and it's as mediocre as I remember it. I understand the issues people had with Toy Story, but man does that film shine next to this one. Bland lead, unmotivated perfunctory romance, generic plucky kid and horny grandma, generally pretty ugly. As well as the plot stuff Patrick talked about, the design and facial animation of the ants make this feel so bargain basement. I agree with 93 about the narrative structure, and it also feels aimed a lot more at kids, especially around characters like the caterpillar and the (incredibly irritating) Richard Kind grasshopper.

 

I'm trying to think of good stuff - it occasionally looks nice? The shots of the grasshoppers flying through the mist against the pink sky are pretty sweet. It's got a good cast even if they don't get to do much.

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Before they were picking fruit from an orchard, now they're cutting down the trees in the orchard.

 

I thought the lighting was much better in Bug's Life than Toy Story.

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This is jumping ahead a bit because my partner wanted to finally see Inside Out, but I had a thought. If all the emotions in Riley's dads head are men and all the emotions in Riley's mom's head are women and all the emotions in Riley's head are of mixed gender, does that mean Riley is genderqueer?

 

Or just that, as a prepubescent, she hasn't yet been completely slammed into a gender role by society? If she grows up and gets married and becomes a housewife will Fear and Anger be dragged away by men in white suits and replaced with feminine versions?

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I think that's a totally legitimate read on the situation, given that you do see inside one of her classmates' heads and he seemed to have all boys in his head, and girls usually go through puberty before boys, meaning that he is likely also prepubescent. (Although now that I think about it, some of his emotions didn't talk, which I guess could mean that he has girls that just like to skateboard? That would have been neat too.)

 

If I had to be honest, I'm guessing they didn't think through the implications of what the mixed party meant, and were instead worried that a voice cast of all women wouldn't be marketable.

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Well shit, I just Googled it and apparently the director gave an explanation for why Riley's emotions are of mixed gender:

 

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-Inside-Out-Main-Character-Has-Male-Female-Emotions-72176.html

 

Kind of a bummer that there was no real significance behind the decision and it was just done to more or less make the dinner scene more understandable. Boo.

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