On Friday, the latest 3D-animated Pixar film “Up” came out, and I was in the audience to see it. Of course I was.
Now, I love words. Well, I love lots of things, but I’m a writer and I love words in particular. As a copy editor, I’m virtually awash in them, although it’s less easy to love them around deadline. And even if I don’t read books or literature as much as I should, I appreciate them and their place in the world immensely.
So when I say movies are the highest art in modern society, understand me and how serious I am. Books are wonderful, and if every release was like the Harry Potter series, it might be different, but if the purpose of art is to move people, there have to be people to move.
No one understands or does this better than Pixar. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who even comes close. They aren’t Andy Warhol, but they make “pop art,” which, as always, is the only art worth making.
Yes, I understand they “just” make children’s cartoons with an adult audience in mind, but to really appreciate the enormity of their creative achievements, you don’t have to look any further than Pixar’s competitors, Dreamworks – which makes very decent flicks, by the way. What’s impressive about Pixar is that with the arguable exception of “A Bug’s Life” vs. “Antz,” Pixar films are always better in concept, execution, depth and ultimately, lasting appeal. (I enjoyed “Shrek 2,” but those American Idol jokes already feel dated.)
Pixar does everything well. No, not just well, but exceptionally well, and better lately. The first 20 minutes of “Wall-E” are not only visually gorgeous, but also communicate plot and characterization perfectly without the benefit (hindrance?) of meaningful dialogue.
The first 20 minutes of “Up” are at least as good as that, and in a completely different way. If you don’t actually do it, you should at least have to fight the urge to cry. With minor modifications, it could have been a brilliant if bittersweet short-cartoon, and only once does the film ever reach that level again. But it isn’t an art project, it’s a kids’ movie, a homage to adventure movies, and kids like talking dogs, which Pixar also does about as well as can be done: goofy, broad, with funny voices, but with meticulous attention to detail and layers of subtlety.
“Ratatouille” was a film about a talking rat that liked to cook. It’s also about art’s power to affect people. When the antagonist, a brutal food critic, comes to the restaurant so he can write his review, the protagonists decide to serve the critic some titular ratatouille, “a peasant’s dish.” But it does the trick, this simple thing, and not only tastes wonderful but reminds the critic of the home of his youth.
Pedantism isn’t depth. Inscrutability isn’t complexity. And food fit for a king isn’t any less royal for also being a peasant’s dish.