Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pixar vs. Dreamworks

Picture courtesy of the internet, though I think it might have originated on the SA forums?

Now, having had a look at that accurate graphic, you could pretty much leave it at that.

On the other hand, of course I am here to elaborate on the matter. There was a time when I was sort of prejudiced towards computer animated movies. Sure, I loved Toy Story back then and I also liked Finding Nemo but then I just got annoyed at the sudden boom of computer animated movies starring animals that got churned out quickly. Back then I didn't care about studio names, I just noticed that most of the trailers look the same and show the same kind of humour that I was quickly growing tired of.

Now I have taken some time to sit down and actually watch some computer animated movies and pay attention to the fine differences between studios. While movie franchises like Toy Story and Shrek are similarly successful there is an underlying difference in the way they work. Both studios direct movies that are primarily intended for children audiences but as critics will always state "adults can enjoy them as well". This might lead one to believe that they are achieving this in a similar way but they don't.

If you look at Shrek as an example of Dreamworks' work then you can see that the studio is using a setting that has proven its popularity with children for decades (fairytales) and the appeal for the adults in that movie comes from the quite cynical humour that is used within it. The whole fairytale world is a little bit twisted, with fairytale creatures behaving in a way we wouldn't expect them to, watching TV and making jokes. Even its main protagonist, Shrek, is your typical flawed hero. He burps and farts and has a very cynical outlook on the whole fairytale thing to begin with.

Adults will watch these movies because "they are much more funny than expected". It's the kind of humour that children don't really get though, so we have two fields that are pretty much seperated from each other within the movie. We get the adult and cynical humour on the one hand and the fairytale or goofy animals-as-protagonists setting on the other.

Now Pixar does approach this whole thing a bit differently. Sure, there are also cynical characters within Pixar's movies who make references that children probably won't understand. But the whole underlying feel of Pixar's movies is not cynical. The world within the movie, as childish or ridiculous as it might be, is taken seriously by all characters within the movie and thus also by the audience. Pixar's movies communicate with an adult audience because they bring up adult matters that are very relevant to the living reality of adults and they don't do this at the expense of the world within the movie's integrity. Whereas Dreamworks works with jokes that people of certain age gaps will either understand or not, Pixar works with the serious telling of a story that people of all ages can fill with their own kind of meaning.

Whether the struggle of Woody to not be ignored in favour of the new space toy Buzz Lightyear is just that, the struggle of a poor toy who might have become boring, or if the whole story can be seen as an allegory for a father and a step-father fighting over the attention of their son (and have you ever noticed that Andy's father is never mentioned? It's always just his mother, his sister and him in any pictures. I get kind of sad thinking about that, but I also love the subtlety with which Pixar employed this minor but meaningful plot detail), or if it's on an abstract level about fears of abandonment that most people face at some point in their life, people of all ages can find meaning in the stories as they are presented by Pixar. Their stories are well-crafted and meaningful and more often than not also extremely innovative.

You might like Cars or not. Personally, I don't like cars in general at all and the idea of a movie entirely based on cars as the protagonists in a world completely inhabitated by cars sounds ridiculous. However, when you watch the movie you realise that they have made it work in their own way. A ridiculous idea like that and halfway in you don't feel like something is "weird" or "out of place" at all. Even if you don't like the movie you have to admit that just thinking up such a scenario and making it work is more innovative than your usual "there are talking animals and they do things that animals normally don't do"-schtick.

Dreamworks movies aren't necessarily bad. I just can't stand them. I have to say however, that in Pixar movies usually the different appeals to different target audiences work all together, as if out of a single mold and not seperate from each other, or even in concurence of each other as it might be the case with Dreamworks movies.

No comments:

Post a Comment