Well, it’s time for another Pixar blog entry. What do you want? Seven Things You Probably Didn’t Know? Listcle clickbait! Okay:
1. Toy Story 2 was originally called “Toy Story 3” until they realized, late in the production, that it was actually the second movie
2. Woody’s character was originally called “Cellulose T. Fiber,” and he was a logging baron with a monocle that kept falling off for comic effect. This was scrapped when research revealed a dearth of robber-baron action figures in the early 90s.
3. Jesse’s wide, staring eyes and manic behavior were based on films of Carol Channing played at 4X speed
4. Pixar began work on the Mr. Potato Head character back in the 60s, creating a series of commercials and even marking some toys to build awareness
Nah, sorry, can't go that route. Let's get into it. Been a while.
I have no problem going into a movie theater on a bright sunny day. My happiest memories are seeing movies in mostly empty theaters, and coming out to the shank of the afternoon. Never done anything of note in the afternoon anyway. I like going away in those empty hours, and coming out recharged or awed or surprised.
It was supposed to rain, anyway. While we were inside the front would advance; the bright hot morning would be replaced by a different day entirely. So after Daughter got home from her sleepover, walking through the gate as I finished work in the gazebo, we went for the annual summer Pixar movie. We made fun of the pre-show roll, as is the tradition. When something deserved praise, it was given. Hey, it’s the Rifftrax crew! Doing Sharknado!
“Have you seen Sharknado?” she asked.
“No, but I’ve done a Rifftrax with those guys. That one’s been to the house.”
“Really. I’ve never seen Sharknado.”
There was a clip for a two-year old Argentinian movie about foosball players come to life. A soccer thing. Pass. It had something at the end, though, that made me sit up and scowl:
And Introducing Mel Brooks
It is a grim time to live in when Mel Brooks has to be introduced.
During this preview people sat down next to us with two 32-gallon drums of popcorn, and began digging in with crunchy brio; they also had, as I would later learn, bottles of carbonated soda to be opened during quiet, emotional moments so they could add “SSSZZZZZZZZ” to the dialogue.
What else? Oh, Minions. Hotel Transylvania 2, which also left me cold even though I’m a fan of the director. Best nipple-twisting sight gag I’ve ever seen, though. Then something unusual: the director, Pete Docter, telling us how much they enjoyed making the movie, and thanking us for coming.
Made me think he’d expected some headwinds, and wanted to build up some rapport before the movie. After all, the usual people were wailing, as usual, over the preview. Don’t like the character design. Ugh that one character, more of the same. Premise looks weak. It was done far better in a 1957 Czech cartoon I doubt you’ve heard of. Anything’s better than (fill in a contrary example of a PIxar film the commenter doesn’t like but everyone else does, thereby proving the commenter’s superior iconoclastic judgment). Looks like the string is finally over, not even looking forward to “Good Dinosaur,” whatever that is or is about or looks like. Nothing but sequels after this (says the person who was angry about “Cars 2” because they didn’t make “Incredibles 2”, which is now being made.) What happened to that new texture generator they were so hot on? That burlap looks unconvincing. And so on.
And that was for the 10-second teaser.
I just thought “well, there’s no doubt I will see it, so let’s just read nothing and go in with an open mind. It’s not like it’s going to have a story about volcanos in love.”
Which, as you may have read, it did; the opening short was about volcanos in love, told in song, and I imagined the mood of the person who pitched it, a minute before the personal assistant said “Mr. Lassiter will see you now.” He thought “I am going to pitch a story about volcanos. In love. What was I thinking? What the hell was I thinking?” And then the time comes to present the idea, and he just says: “Volcanos. In love.” And the boss pauses, and says “You got my attention. And then?”
“It’s told in song.”
Pause. “Sure, what the hell, we’re loaded.”
The opening cartoons are usually the ones that take chances, either in style or subject matter. Unsustainable for a feature length, perfect for a short feature. And indeed, it worked, because we are talking about artists who can bring pathos to the face of a geological formation.
As for “Inside Out,” I’m not sure what to say. I’m not sure how to say it. I could say “you really sense the fundamental changes underway when Goofball Island collapses, but you tell yourself it can be restored. It must be restored.” But then you might think as an adult, I am inoculated against emotional involvement in the stability of a place called Goofball Island. What am I, twelve years old?
Well, you’d be surprised.
1. The underlying subtext has been called Bittersweet, but at the very bottom of the movie - the black, limitless, achingly nihilistic core - there’s nothing sweet about it. The happiest days of your life - or at least the simplest, and most blissfully unaware - are, in the end, empty vessels in a fathomless pit that dissolve in the breath of time, and all the things that make your world and make you You have to be forgotten for your eventual self to emerge. Sadness and loss are the things that give life depth and meaning. (The one glimpse into Mom’s head shows that her ruling emotion is a well-balanced, contented, matronly sense of Sadness, with Joy in a subordinate role, something the film just puts out there without any explanation or manifestation in the Mom’s character - and it says more than any Character Development Moment could ever do.) It’s all about as high concept as a movie could be, but the ease with which it establishes its vocabulary is brilliant and effortless. From the start there’s not a single element that feels strained - every time some concept or metaphor is manifested (An orb, an island, a light bulb, a train) it clicks: of course, exactly. The world-building is done so swiftly it establishes every element of the story in minutes, and you never feel anything other than well, of course - as if they’d just given shape to something you’d felt about yourself but never put in these terms. And they just did. And they’re perfect. And on to the next. Got it? Good.
2. I imagine the filmmakers had a few obvious challenges: how to keep Joy from being too cute and tiresome; how to give dour drab Sadness a personality beyond Eeyoresque mopery; how to keep the blue-collar staff from being Minions. Meetings, conversations, trial and error - if there were problems, it doesn’t show. Joy makes all the other supposedly empowering female characters in animation look like the cliches they are - she’s absolutely infectious. She has improvisational intelligence that gives the story its narrative momentum, and while she’s paired with damp doubting book-smart Sadness, there’s not a second of their relationship that conforms to the usual cliches. You know what I mean - he’s a priest, she’s a monkey! Together the have to find a way to solve the crime! They know each other. They work together. It’s not a buddy pic. It’s only when you recall the movie that you imagine the two characters as soap bubbles, gently pressed together until they share more and more surfaces in common. You have two characters who are literally opposites, Joy and Sadness, but there is never the sense of some dichotomy ginned up because the writer's manual said INSERT CONFLICT HERE. Opposites in spirit but not in purpose, and the latter matters more from the start.
That’s just one of the things that elevates it above Rote, and it’s done so early it sets the tone that keeps you eager for surprises.
3. At this point you might well say “aren’t you making a bit too much out of this, bub? That’s basic character development 101. Attribute, flaw, happy ending when flaw is recognized and incorporated, cut to the scene where everyone’s happy annnnnd wrap. Credits with outtakes, long list of set dressers, babies, and Luxo.”
Sure. But Joy really is an accomplishment. She's a constant delight. Joy is love, and vice versa. That's never spelled out, but there’s a reason she does what she does, and it’s not because it’s her job description.
4. Don’t get me started on Bing Bong. I would start with steepled fingers discussing the animator’s choice to orient his mouth depending on the position of his trunk, which made you wonder if this meant something about the protean nature of imaginary friends, and then I would end with Pixar Movie Face, where I appear to be scowling hard and rapidly blinking, because that’s one way to forestall the inevitable Tell-Tale Wiping of the Face, and while Daughter knows well I am usually reduced to blubbery in these movies you don’t want the screen to go bright and shine off your cheeks.
5. Note: no villain, except circumstances. No final battle, no pop-song montage, no catch phrases, no cheap scares. Instead: the accumulating farewell to childhood, the reconciliation to loss, and the literal destruction of the Disney Castle just to remind parents that the trip you took when she was seven will be remembered, if at all, in fragments and shards.
Additional note: it is hilarious. Broad comedy, sharp wit, throwaway gags that make you wonder how many others you missed (pay attention when they upend the boxes marked FACTS and OPINIONS), a fine score that never behaves like it thinks it should have the spotlight, and a kinetic energy whose flow and crescendos make all the other animated features look like the product of a computer generated program.
10: IF IT HAS BEEN SEVEN MINUTES SINCE LAST ACTION SET PIECE THEN
20 : SPEED UP ACTION BY 24%
30: INSERT EXTENDED OBJECT FOR 3D
40: CLOSE UP OF WIDE EYES
60: SLO-MO REACTION
70: GOTO 10
6. Daughter was utterly delighted. We laughed in all the same spots, but I know some things hit me differently. She’s almost 15, and the girl in the movie is 11. To her that’s a century past. To me it was yesterday.
So you leave the theater, punch the door, walk into the humidity, oohing at the troubled sky rolling in. You hope for thunder because it’s summer, and that’s when the sky speaks its piece - the flash, the crack, the boom, the rumble. The lines in the script never change, and you’re the same players, and it’s the same set, the same theater, but you’re pretty sure the first time you went for the summer Pixar movie she took your hand when you crossed the street. Now she looks both ways then walks ahead of you.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean: you hear the clink as the ball rolls into place. You hope she hears it too. It’ll go blue some day; it’ll go black in the end. But right now it’s yellow, just like the sun burning a hole in the storm.
More diversions for the child who has been told to put down the comic books and go outside, it's summer, for heaven's sake.
Transogram - which had the wierdest logo, and was a source of great visual confusion to me - promised the Thrills and Excitement of a national golf tournament, the appeal of which may not have been evident to everyone.
Leslie-Henry? There's one of those companies that's surely sunk into obscurity. I mean, you'd have to go look for a webpage devoted entirely to cap guns to research that one, and what are the odds? I mean. C'mon.
I know, I know. At Nicholscapgun.com Leslie-Henry has eight pages, and is noted as "one of the best" makers of the ersatz armaments. They seem to have concentrated on "Western" guns, but as the Jet Rifle above suggests, they had a great flair for the sci-fi Rifle of the Future as well.
How many kids got the Jet Rifle and sniped away at the brother who was playing golf, we'll never know.
Landmark, it said. Ah. If only. There's a chance you can save a landmark.
I feel as if my love for Hojo is scattered around this site with no locus, no real explanation, no definite answer why the orange roof and the typeface and the iconography had such an impact.
Not that it matters. I know it goes back to an early childhood trip to the mysterious metropolis of Minneapolis; we stayed at a HoJo, and I would later - much later - watch its destruction. But there was something else that bookended the familial trip many years later, and even though it was a minor and typically teen thing to do, I almost find myself ashamed to admit it.
Make sure you check your armpit for inflamed glands before you head in!
No, I'm not going to say what I did. The worst part was that I threw up, and couldn't convince anyone that it wasn't the clams. It really was the clams.
Another trademark that haunted childhood:
This was often found in decal form on shoe-repair shops - back in the days when they had such things. There as a cracked and faded example on the shoe-repair shop in Dinkytown, a joint run by a wiry taciturn fellow named Eddy.
The cat, according to the book Symbols of America, was designed by Lucian Bernhard for the Cat’s Paw Company of Baltimore. Bernhard is a famed German graphic designer who is best known for the font Bernhard.
Or rather was. That's why the image unnerved me; German poster art isn't the sort of thing that blends in well in a Norman Rockwell town.
Hey, kids! It's swell:
The art, I mean. Did the same prson who did the faces do the glass? It's possible. Whatever happeed to Kool Shake is no doubt the subject of some message board somewhere, but it's hard to imagine anyone manufacturing a great deal of care over the matter. I think we know the secret ingredient.
What could possibly be a young Jerry Mathers studies the boxes and prepares for a live in the corporate towers of Manhattan, surrounded by yes-men'
I like the way "Corn" is downplayed in Sugar Pops. They'll admit there's corn in there, but they're not too happy about it.
The one-syllable blurt-fest of 1950s surficants, these guys had the genre nailed:
AD was Advanced Detergent. VEL, I think, made you think of Velvet, for the softness it bestowed on your garments and epidermis, or for the fact that it was marVELlous.
FAB - well, the thing speaks for itself.
Jumping ahead to 1970 now. Vintage filters, the early years:
When Ben Berkey was six years old, during the Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks descended upon his village in the Ukraine and set fire to the houses of the Jews, including his family's. "We were driven out by the pogroms. . . . Our house was in flames and so were the houses all around us. My mother took me and my brother and my sister and we ran into the fields. Several of our neighbors were killed by armed peasants." The Berkeys escaped to the next town then spent the next four years in Europe.
He would go on to sue Kodak for monopolistic practices, and win. The company was sold in the 80s, and seems to have just . . . drifted away.
This was the kind of kid everyone else hated. He beat up the other kids and the girls loved him.
So we'll just imagine him getting a tongue-cut from licking the aluminum lid, and leave it at that.
That'll do, eh? It had better, because I'm done. Oh - no, wait! Frank Reade Jr. awaits with more electrical marvels! See you around.