Thursday, February 01, 2007

Addressing the anti-Pixar

Arguably, they have been the studio that has made the best animated movies over the course of the last decade, yet there is certainly a wave of anti-Pixar sentiment building as their cast of popular characters continues its migration into attractions at Disney Parks worldwide. As usual, it is a small, but very vocal minority of the Disney passionate decrying the “Pixar-ization” of the company’s theme parks. However, it is disturbing in that, up until the recent merger between the two entertainment powerhouses, Pixar, its films, and the creative talents behind them, have been almost universally embraced by the Mouseketeer faithful.

It is interesting if you compare the influx of attractions based on the films of the early 1990s (Mermaid, Beauty & Beast, Aladdin, Lion King) which represented a Disney animation renaissance, to the current level of Pixar-themed development.

Take for example:

The Little Mermaid - The Voyage of The Little Mermaid (Disney-MGM), Ariel’s Grotto (Magic Kingdom) and the entire and very elaborate Mermaid Lagoon themed port at Tokyo DisneySea.

Beauty and the Beast - The long running Beauty and the Beast stage show at Disney-MGM.

Aladdin - Magic Carpets of Aladdin (Magic Kingdom), Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride (DisneyQuest), Aladdin - Musical Spectacular (DCA), Aladdin’s Oasis (Disneyland), and The Magic Lamp Theater (Tokyo DisneySea).

The Lion King - Legend of the Lion King (Magic Kingdom), Circle of Life (Epcot), Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom).

When you take into consideration that the Disney-Pixar collaborations of the past ten years represent the only over-the-top successes the company has enjoyed since The Lion King, their recent exploitations of these films and their characters, when compared to past history, are neither excessive nor overdone. Since the very beginnings of Disneyland, Disney has consistently and often aggressively incorporated its successful animation properties into its theme parks. The recent spate of Pixar attractions is just another chapter in that already established history.

So why all the fallout? Reading opinions across the Internet via blogs and forums, and listening to podcast pundits, its seems that the reasons are varied, occasionally well argued, but mostly irrational and sometimes mean-spirited. One primary theme keeps resurfacing in nearly all the commentaries--

Pixar isn’t Disney.

Well, it kinda is. Not even counting the recent merger of the two companies that establishes that Pixar is Disney, Pixar has always been a spiritual successor of sorts to the traditions of Disney animation, especially over the course of the last ten years.

While WDFA floundered and then ultimately imploded under the bureaucratic and creatively stagnant leadership of David Stainton and his fellow executives, it was John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird and company that kept alive the basic tenants of Disney animation. It was in fact Pixar that built upon the wildly successful and Disney-dominated feature animation renaissance of the late 1980s-early 1990s, and carried the animation torch successfully into the 21st century. While The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King set a gold standard and revitalized a fading movie form, Pixar innovated and expanded animation with the advent of CGI, not unlike the way Walt Disney himself embraced technical advances such as sound synchronization, three-color Technicolor and stereophonic systems, and married them with smart storytelling and creative artistry.

It also appears to some extent that Pixar is feeling backlash relating to the recent flood of CGI animation that has been represented by a lot of recent mediocre-to-bad features. And many of these films are using MOCAP technology, a process that is viewed by many as an antithesis of traditional animation techniques. What has emerged, particularly among much of the Disney faithful, is a CGI-BAD!/traditional animation-GOOD! mentality. What is especially ironic is that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are largely responsible for bringing back traditional animation by green lighting the upcoming Frog Princess and initiating production on new cartoon shorts.

Where Disney management has unfortunately, in my opinion, made a couple of missteps relating to Pixar attractions, involves the geographical placement of both The Seas With Nemo and Friends, and the Laugh Floor Comedy Club.

The Nemo overlay on the former Livings Seas pavilion, while incorporating an innovative and fun dark ride, and the wow! factor of Turtle Talk with Crush, almost in no way relates to Epcot’s long in place Future World theme. It’s not a Pixar issue. The same would hold true if Imagineers had used Little Mermaid characters instead of Nemo and company.

The same disconnect exists for the upcoming Laugh Floor Comedy Club, featuring characters from Monsters Inc. The retro-future overlay that was done to Tomorrowland in the mid 1990s was fun and imaginative, filled with countless clever details that reinforces its ‘future that never was” theme. But I can find nothing in Monsters Inc. that in any way relates to this vision of Tomorrowland. To me, it’s the equivalent of dropping Beauty and the Beast into Frontierland, or adding an Incredibles overlay to a part of Main Street USA.

But again, these clearly aren’t issues with Pixar content, but with the puzzling sensibilities of Walt Disney World management and Disney Imagineering. In their apparent hurried efforts to kill two birds (replacing Timekeeper and upgrading a sponsor-less Seas pavilion) with a Pixar stone, they’ve undermined their own previously well-realized creations.

And in these cases, Pixar, and its canon of beloved and popular characters, unfortunately bear the brunt of the resulting criticism and fan discontent.


Anonymous said...

Nice piece.

However, I must disagree with your assessment regarding the Nemo characters taking up residence in Epcot's "Seas" pavilion.

Nemo and friends fit right in in the Seas pavilion and it DOES NOT take away any of the Future World feel in any way.

The Seas pavilion maintains its purpose, as do all the other Epcot pavilions, to entertain and educate at the same time...and characters like Nemo and his crew are just perfect for teaching guests about the seas and its inhabitants.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts about this:

- Pixar may not "be" Disney in the eyes of the faithful, but they are certainly more Disney than Star Wars or Indiana Jones are. Was the same hue and cry raised when those attractions went in?

- If the faithful truly believe that CG is bad and traditional is good, then they really need to show it where it counts - at the box office. Disney's last traditional film, "Home on the Range" did horribly, as people stayed away in droves. Where were the faithful and their dearly-held beliefs then?

- Disney make legendarily bad decisions regarding the theming of their environments on a regular basis. Just two examples - the unbelievably lame Mickey arm/wand that now mars the view of Spaceship Earth in Epcot, and the completely out-of-place sorcerer's hat in front of the Chinese theater at Studios. Both of these come from "classic" Disney, neither are in harmony with their environment, and neither contribute anything to the park's themeing. Whether the Nemo themeing of Living Seas is appropriate or not, at least it's in the same ballpark.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I am one of those Anti-Pixars. That's not to say I hate the characters or movies; they are by far the best CGI-wise out there. And I do support the integration of Pixar characters and rides where they belong theme-wise.

The issue really is the huge amount of oversaturation of the Pixar Pals. For the past couple of years, every single new attraction has been Pixar-related save for one or two. That's just too much Pixar. When Disney shoves any characters out into the spotlight I think people tend to get bored with them. It's as if Disney is cramming the Pixar Pals down our throats.

You mentioned the attractions based around the Disney Renaissance movies. Yes, Disney did put in those attractions right away when those movies became popular. However, they also were creating many other attractions at the same time. It's all about balance. Right now the scale is grossly overtipped in Pixar's favor.

And yes it's a minority of Anti-Pixars. But when I visited DCA recently, I was standing outside the walls of Toy Story Mania. I heard a woman ask a CM what was happening behind the walls (this shows she was a regular guest). When the CM told her about Toy Story Mania, she immediately said,"Another Pixar ride? But they already are making some." So the Pixar oversaturation is reaching the general public.

Anonymous said...

About the Nemo Seas,

I agree. Yes, Nemo fits into the pavillion, but it is not in any way an Epcot ride. It's a Magic Kingdom ride. It belongs there. A ride at Epcot should leave you with more info about the attraction's theme than you had coming in. Does Nemo do this? NO! Does it even try to teach anything? NO!

The Imagineers could have easily taught about the LIVING Seas with Nemo and friends. It would have been the perfect strategy to use something familiar to kids in order to give them some info. But the Imagineers failed.

Yes, they made the ride more interesting. Yes they got more people in the pavillion. Yes the ride is a hit. But does it belong in Epcot? NO!

Klark Kent 007 said...

Too much is too much, and kids are going to be confused. Put the characters in one place, and take care of them.

One place = One story line.

Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald & Daisy in Toon Town
Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty in Fantasyland

spread them out too thin and they lose their value, and since Disney is a business, they should recognize this

Anonymous said...

I agree with the seas to a limited extent. If placing nemo there furthers education inregards to the ocean, etc it is worth it.

Regarding laugh club, they could've done the background by "exporting the power of laughing to tommorowland".....a weak angle but still better than nothing

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with the Laugh Floor Comedy Club is its placement. Many fans of Disney, including myself, are taking stance against the attraction because it is in Tomorrowland.

I'm sure you've heard the argument before, that Monsters do not belong in Tomorrowland. Well the opposition to this attraction does not stem just from that argument. Because the characters do not fit the theme of the land and because they are Pixar they are the epitome of Disney's Pixar-craze. The craze has gotten so big that WDI is even putting the Pixar Pals into lands that they don't even belong to.

Because of this Laugh Floor Comedy Club is really the straw that broke the camel's back for we Anti-Pixars. Hopefully WDI will take this as a sign that good attractions are not made on charcter familiarity alone.

Anonymous said...

In response to the above, that's NOT a good excuse to hate an attraction.

Don't bash it--instead, reserve judgement until you actually experience it.