Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.
No. Pixar is better than that. They know story, and embrace the whole “storytelling is far, far more important than fancy CGI” idea.
So I love them.
However, not everything they do is equally awesomesauce.
RATATOUILLE was shockingly good. FINDING NEMO had suprising depth. Even CARS was different and entertaining.
Animated movies from other studios tend to throw in a bunch of pop-culture jokes that get stale after two months and stunt-cast famous actors. The story seems to be an after-thought, and it shows.
Story nerds, get your geek on.
I hear they spend gobs of money making Merida’s flowing red hair just right, and that this is the first Pixar movie with a female lead.
Much hay has also been made of the bow-and-arrow scene, and the amazing slow-motion detail they did with her shot. Yes, it’s spiffy.
But we came here wallow in the mud of story.
BRAVE is a tough story to tell because it’s a love story between Merida, the princess, and her mother, the queen.
Their relationship gets broken because Merida doesn’t want to get married off to some random prince, despite the fact that it’s her destiny, her job in life, and that not getting married off might lead to war.
Private stakes: Merida gets selfish and gives her mother a potion to change her … but the potion changes her into a bear. Unless they repair the bond that has been broken by the third day or whatever, her mom, the queen, will stay a bear forever.
Public stakes: Not marrying a prince from another clan will lead to war. Marrying a prince she doesn’t love will lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. It’s a Catch-22 wearing a kilt.
Bottom line: Though this was entertaining, we need to dive deeper into story geekdom.
Merida does take risks and do a lot to save her mother from staying a Care Bear forever. And she does manage to fix all that she broke and convince everyone that princess and princesses should marry who they love. Merida doesn’t really suffer and sacrifice in any permanent way. In the end, she gets what she wants.
Without a lot of words, it’d be hard to explain this story. And that’s my acid test, especially for a cartoon: If you turn the sound off, does it (a) make sense and (b) make you feel anything?
Even if you are the manliest of men, watching WALL-E will make you laugh and cry and want to see it again.
There’s no dialogue in the first 30 minutes of the film, and you don’t care, because watching WALL-E the robot do his thing for 30 minutes is glorious.
The love story is between WALL-E and EVE is one of the best love stories I’ve ever seen. He’s a lovable doofus, a low-tech hunk of junk who’s charming and resourceful and inspiring. She’s everything he’s not: sleek and expensive, zooming around around while he chugs on treads.
Private stakes: WALL-E dedicates himself to taking care of EVE when she shuts down. He risks life and limb to cling to the spaceship that picks her up and takes her to where all the humans live after they fled into space when Earth became too polluted. And he basically commits suicide to save the last plant around, the one EVE found and the only hope of making Earth livable again.
Eve returns the favor by doing all she can to help him — and to save his life.
If you don’t get verklempt during the ending of WALL-E, then you don’t have a soul.
Public stakes: Just the survival of Earth and humankind.
Bottom line: WALL-E is simply a better story, with more at stake and a much more involving love story. WALL-E truly suffers and sacrifices for the benefit of EVE and others. He’s selfless and endearing. Unlike most heroes, he’s not tall, dark and handsome. He’s the robotic version of Urkel, and you don’t care — WALL-E rocks.
Verdict: WALL-E wins in a storytelling knock-out. It’s not even close.
Despite the advance in CGI in the years since WALL-E was made, WALL-E still looks more impressive. There are so many epic scenes that stick with you: the moment he first sees EVE, the dust storm, the escape pod, the evil computer that runs the ship, humans who’ve grown so fat and lazy they can’t even walk anymore.
The film sticks with you, and you’re better for having seen it. That’s rare. I’ve seen this sucker a dozen times and wouldn’t hesitate to fire it up again, which is even MORE rare.
But that’s the power of great storytelling, which gives the audience more than the biggest of Michael Bay explosions ever could.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.