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I walked into a theater on the opening day of Wall-E wondering if this would finally be the Pixar film that didn’t measure up. I didn’t want it to fail, mind you, it’s just that I have a mounting sense of dread that after so many fantastically enjoyable films that the odds are getting higher and higher that the next one is going to be a stinker. Two hours later when I walked out of the theater I was amazed once again that Pixar managed to put out something wonderful, something extraordinary, something that should shame the rest of the Hollywood machine.
Wall-E is a great film. Nearly half the movie is devoid of dialogue leaving the visuals to do the storytelling, as it should be (this is cinema, after all). It’s romantic, it’s ironic, it’s funny, and it’s just gosh-wow amazing from beginning to credit sequence. I didn’t want it to end. So on the drive home I got to thinking about how this one animation studio manages to consistently defy the odds and produce not only passable cinema but cinema par excellence. Sure, some of their films are better than others, but there isn’t a one of them that you can point to and say, “what were they thinking’.
What secret have the folks at Pixar stumbled onto that eludes the rest of the movie-making world? I think part of the equation is that Pixar as a studio so highly regard their ‘brand’ that they pick and choose very specific projects to develop and then have the clout to see those few projects through to excellence.
But that begs the question, why does a studio like 20th Century Fox not achieve the same sort of success with live action films? Could the answer be that Pixar’s animated format eliminates the variables of actor performance, lighting, stunt work and all the other baggage that comes with live action film production and places 100% of control within the hands of the creator’s themselves, the animators, the writers, and director?
I don’t have enough knowledge of the film industry to figure this out but I certainly hope there are people in an office somewhere scratching their heads and trying their level best to learn Pixar’s secret. The world could do with a few less bad movies.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.