Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's no Pixar

I went to see Monsters vs. Aliens today, and while I was entertained I couldn't help but think about how much better Pixar's movies are than the ones coming from the other animation studios. At least, that's what I always suspect, as Pixar's are the only ones that I bother to see in the theater, and the others simply never looked interesting enough for me to check out (with the exception of the first Ice Age and the first Shrek). After seeing this one, which was from Dreamworks, my feelings have only been confirmed.

I wrote some time ago about how I enjoy kids movies just as much as I enjoy movies that are for adults. I just tend to like them in different ways. Also, I hate the rationale that a movie can be a piece of crap so long as it's for kids. Why should the expectations go down for kids' movies? Sure, their standards are lower, but why should movies cater to that? Kids will like a smart movie just as much, and what's better, they'll still like them when they get older (as the classic Disney movies have proven).

Now, I wouldn't call Monsters vs. Aliens a piece of crap. After all, it's getting generally good reviews, which is one of the deciding factors behind me going to see it. (The first, and more important, factor is that I simply love the premise. It's so goofy that I just couldn't resist it.) There's also a lot about the story that's pretty good, as it has a pretty positive message. Not only that, but it really looks amazing. While I don't have any interest in buying it when it comes to Blu-Ray, I'm glad that I saw this one on the big screen and in 3-D.

There were just a few things that kinda bothered me about it. First of all, the 3-D, while amazing at times, was often just plain gimmicky. Characters did things for no reason other than to show off the 3-D technology. For me, that was pretty distracting and took me right out of the movie every time it happened. When it was just part of the story, then it was great, but some producer or something probably saw the completed product and told them to shoe-horn in some more images that fly off the screen.

Secondly, while I like most of the actors who lent voices to the movie, I felt like it was more like stunt casting to impress the adults more than anything. Reese Witherspoon really worked in the lead role, but Seth Rogen was distracting, as I was constantly aware that it was him. Worst of all was Stephen Colbert as the President. While I'm definitely a fan of Colbert, I was taken out of the movie every time the President spoke.

Thirdly, there are a lot of really cheap gags in it - some of them didn't even make any sense. The most glaring one that comes to mind was (dont' read ahead if you don't want to know) when the President went up to the alien spaceship in order to make contact. The first thing he did was play the Close Encounters theme on a keyboard. Okay, that's funny. Next up, he makes the Star Trek Vulcan greeting with his hand. Still, pretty amusing, as obviously all he knows about aliens is from the movies. Then he starts to play "Axl F." on the keyboard while doing a silly little dance. "Axl F"? What the F? You know, it's the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop. Yeah, the one that every jerkoff with a keyboard could play shortly after the movie came out. Of course, the kids were laughing as they watched the President do his silly little dance, but I was wondering what exactly the adults were laughing at. What exactly is the joke there? Why would he even do that? Yeah, yeah, it's a cartoon, I know. I can handle plot inconsistencies, but I take my humor seriously. What annoys me the most is that I know that there could have been a much funnier in-context joke that would have worked much better.

This is the sort of thing that made me avoid so many other animated movies. I guess it all started with Shrek, as it had all sorts of pop-culture references, but then a wave of movies hit afterwards where that seemed to be all they had going for them. This one wasn't nearly as bad as that, but I still felt like they were trying too hard to impress the adults, when adults will be more impressed with a good story. (Some of them will, at least.)

So, if you have some kids that you have to take to see a movie, then you'll enjoy it enough to not feel like you wasted your time. I suppose that technology geeks will get a kick out of the 3-D. Other than that, you can pretty much skip this one.

Me? I'm going to watch Wall-E again tonight to cleanse my palate a little.


Anonymous said...

Why do you complain about a movie that has to reach adults and kids the same time? If you say there could be a "better" humor, why don't you make it better and try to write some. Writing for an audience is really hard work and different from that creative writing stuff. These days the fact how much money a movie has to bring in can't be neglected. There has to be a compromise somehow. I wonder at what age you'll teach your kid - that you'll gone have someday - Hamlets' monologue? She or he then probably wants to watch Shrek instead ;-) Your kid will laugh at things that you'll don't consider to be intelligent humor. Kids have their own way of seeing things. They live in their own world. Leave that to them till they are forced to discover what's going on in the world. The times are hard enough. Lance, I'd love to see if you gonna surprise me with some written stuff now. But I know, you won't do that ...

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Well, congratulations on completely missing the point. I addressed the whole thing regarding what kids think is funny, but if you pay attention, you'll notice that I'm comparing these movies to the ones being done by Pixar (hence the title of this entry). Pixar makes kids movies with intelligent humor (which is why I said that I was going to watch Wall-E again). And I also pointed out that the classic Disney films are definitely aimed at kids but are still smart.

And why do I have to write something better simply because I point out bad writing? If I have a car that's a lemon, do I have to build a better one in order to point out how it keeps breaking down? My ability to write a better screenplay has nothing to do with anything.

Anonymous said...

Not every kids movie can be made by Pixar. Only one studio for every animated story? The quality would decrease. And the old Disney movies can't be compared to what we're having today. The focus has changed. Kids and their education have changed. Action comes first, then the word. Please excuse Mr. Teacher, but you missed my point - it's about the hard work writing a good intelligent humouros screenplay. And please "pay attention", it's always easy critising something if you're not part of that kind of business. Watching movies doesn't make you a true expert me neither. It makes you a fan, but not an insider. Have you ever, and be true to yourself, thought about writing such stuff yourself and what kind of hard work that would be? And don't feel too much attacked by that now. I thought as someone who teaches English you'd be interested in think up clever sentences and would take up a well meant invitation to write whatever ... Excuse me but you're only writing a blog not a scientific essay and I don't have to analyse every word like in literary studies. Don't treat me like one of your pupils. I thought we simply could discuss that movie thing. Did I hurt your feelings? Did I get personal mentioning your future child? You want to let the world know who you are, what you think, but do you really want to hear what we have to say even if we're an anonymous visitor? Forgive me but my movie nature has a coming out and I have to refer to a famous last line "... this could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship." ;-) Smile, thats meant to be something like a joke, even if it's a bad one.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Perhaps this is foolish of me to continue, but here goes...

Not every kids movie can be made by Pixar.

Are you really this obtuse? That's not my point either. My point is that we can see that one particular studio can do movies that are both smart and kid-friendly. Therefore, there's no reason why we can't have more movies like this, and that we shouldn't hold up a kid's movie to a higher standard.

Is that really so hard to comprehened?

Regarding all the hard work that it takes to make these movies, that has nothing to do with my point. I paid my money to see something, and I'm giving my thoughts on it. Like I stated before, if I buy a lousy car, do I have to ponder how hard it is to make one before I complain about it? I understand your point; it's just that it makes no sense.

The rest of your response is just...well...weird. Do you work for Dreamworks or something? You're taking this all awfully personal.

Nolan said...

Lance wrote me an email in which he merely asked me to read this exchange and tell him if he's missing something. The only thing he's missing is that he's being far to permissive with you.

I'm going to solve this for him. You are a moron. Not for having a differing point of view (I can't figure out what that is), but simply in terms of your intelligence level. Normally, I wouldn't resort to ad hominem attacks like that, but I'm truly not being personal here. Like Lance, I'm an English teacher, and after several years of doing this, we can tell who is a bad writer and who's just plain stupid. You are both.
You're also mean-spirited and sarcastic without cause, so I don't feel any remorse in laying the chips down on the table like this.
I also don't think you were raised in America, which has nothing to do with your intelligence level but might explain some of your garbled syntax. The lack of paragraph breaks is harder to fathom.
The way you write isn't even somewhat comically entertaining, like some of our students. It just makes my head hurt.
And if that weren't enough, the fact that you post anonymously makes you a coward. Sigh.