This is just opinion here, so don’t be upset if it isn’t aligned with yours. I think the last true Pixar movie for me was Up. I’m not sure why this movie in particular really feels like the end, but I have some speculations.
When Pixar first debuted Toy Story, the first 3D animated film, we followed around a group of toys whose existence required no explanation. Was it magic that kept toys alive? Was it science? A mixture of the two? Do you really need to know? No. The plot carries out and we evidently don’t give a damn. Buzz’s existential crisis is not that he discovers that he’s the ghost of a dead astronaut possessing an action figure, or that he came to life through voodoo; he just discovers that he’s a toy and not a real space man. That does it, we don’t need to ask how the toys achieve sentience.
With Pixar, I really see the kind of try-something-new storytelling and simple animation as it’s trademark. Can you tell the difference between, say, the Incredibles and Monster House? Or how about Nemo and Coraline? Totally different kinds of films, but the trademark is there. Subtle, yes, but present.
I’ve thought a lot about this and I just can’t seem to pinpoint it. Is it the colors? The animation style? Coraline (a fantastic film) is stop-motion, so I guess it doesn’t necessarily fall into this conversation. However, even if it were 3D computer animated instead, I still think it would certainly fit in a separate category along with the other Tim Burton films. They have something special about them, but it just isn’t the Pixar glimmer.
I tried to find some connecting theme between the old Pixar movies and the new besides some are old and some are new. I found that Pixar has a way of giving the spotlight to the things that haven’t really gotten a chance to shine maybe.
Seriously? CARS??? You don’t think the sentient slug-bug and Knightrider did enough speaking for the characters of cars?
Fair enough. Again, this isn’t concrete, I’m just trying to articulate this feeling of nostalgia and admiration I get from Pixar movies that I don’t seem to get elsewhere. Cars was a good film and I won’t give it too much crap for the somewhat lazy world-building (every fucking thing is a car for some reason. EVERYTHING. It’s like that scene in Rick and Morty where the duo take a critical eye to the simulated life of a pop tart that lives in a toaster over for a house while driving a toaster oven car. Similarly, we have to ask ourselves, are flies and other insects just tinier versions of humans with wings?) because there is still a nice story that opens the eyes of children to what happens to the old when replaced by the new. It still appeals to both audiences and the Pixar feel is still there.
It’s worth noting here that I won’t go into every Pixar film because that’ll take quite a bit of time and I also don’t want to bash the newer Pixar films too much because that takes away from the positive things I can say about the old films. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Up.
The one thing that I find striking about Pixar films today is that they’re indistinguishable from other Disney animated films. Did you know that Frozen wasn’t Pixar? Kind of hard to tell when the faces of characters in the newer movies begin to look very much the same.
[insert picture of Anna and picture of Bo-peep here]
Not every Pixar movie gives a voice to the unspoken— the Incredibles is still a movie about superheroes who ultimately go on to save the day. But there is something special about the Incredibles: the hardships of family life and marriage are shown along with the fighting bad guys. It’s the answer to the question, what happens when Superman gets married and settles down? What happens when he gets older and out of shape? There is an interesting twist on the heroes that makes them different from the X-Men or the Justice League. It also can’t be ignored that Syndrome’s backstory and master plan is just fascinating. His whole evil act was essentially an advertising campaign for his inventions that would advance civilization by making everyone super.
Monsters Inc., however, is a perfect example of Pixar’s former creativity and originality. A story from the standpoint of… the monsters in your closet and behind your bed. A story in which we grow to love and even root for the monsters! If ever there was a great elevator pitch for a movie, that would have been it.
Anyways, here I go trailing off about specific Pixar movies from their “golden age” instead of sticking to my argument. How’d it lose its magic? Sequels. But not just sequels— safety nets. Another story about a fucking “princess” with a Mary Sue female lead? Pass. A movie about a Mexican family whose main source of struggle is that music is not a passion worth following? I’ve seen The Book of Life and I’ve gotta say that they’re very similar (I don’t think Coco is a bad movie, actually. It’s just that a very similar thing had been done not to long before and that’s why it doesn’t have the originality that the other movies seem to). Inside Out? The two characters whose only interesting points are that they embody only one emotion each does not make for a great story (again, this is just opinion). At that point, one might also notice that the Pixar touch in the animation is beginning to disappear. I couldn’t help but to see more of Wreck-It-Ralph in that movie than anything else Pixar had made up until that moment. Toy Story 3? Did it really need to happen? Sure, it was still pretty good, but I would have been totally satisfied if the series ended with the furnace scene. In the end, they all had each other… and our wallets.
Looking back, I’ll admit that I’m just a grouchy boy-man who doesn’t like saying goodbye to the childhood splendor he once experienced with the old Pixar. Brave was important because it gave Pixar one of its first female leads. Coco was important because it introduced a high budget animated film filled with Mexican culture to American audiences. But still, these films didn’t feel… I don’t know… like I’d never seen them before. The total irony is that you’ve absolutely seen this kind of story before, and it me it still represents the last truly great Pixar movie…
The movie begins with the exact thing that I was talking about, childhood splendor. Carl and Ellie are two kids who become best friends, fall in love, eventually get married, and then one dies. It’s tragic, but it’s life. That isn’t what makes it special, though. It makes it heartbreaking, sure, but not extraordinary.
The movie feels like it has two beginnings, one with Carl and Ellie, and one with just Carl. He’s old now, and much like with Doc Hudson in Cars, society’s progress has left the old behind. He’s alone, he’s angry at life, and, to make matters worse, the city just wants him gone so they can build something else.
Up has the perfect combination of the humor and wit that both younger and older audiences can appreciate. If having a child along for the ride doesn’t do it for the kids or having an old man doesn’t resonate with the older audiences, then at least you have Kevin and Doug. Pixar’s duos have always remained strong: Buzz and Woody, Mike and Sully, Carl and Russell, Bob and Heather. There is always some internal conflict that just adds juice to the story and makes us feel warm inside when it gets resolved. This movie does just that while also tackling the hardship in Russell’s life without a father. Dramatic and important themes are constant in all of Pixar’s movies, old and new, but this one just felt richer.
Now you’ve heard me express how much I love this movie, why does it feel so final? Well, for once, I can only explain how it made me feel. Carl and Russell build a strong bond with each other, the bad guy, even though Carl tried to save him, perishes, the dogs even have their revelation. Kevin lives and returns to his family, and Carl returns to civilization with a sense of belonging (with Russell and Doug). Still, Carl let’s the house go. The thing he had set out to do is forgone and he learns to move on, to accept what he leaves behind, and to say goodbye.
What happens with Carl and Russell from that point on is their own business. We get a glimpse, but the rest is really unanswered. What’s interesting is that the last scene is the house, sitting exactly as Carl and Ellie had dreamed, all by itself. It makes you bittersweet and gives you shivers. This wasn’t meant for Carl, it was meant for you.
The feeling of finality is undeniable. Though Toy Story 2 had been out, and the studio didn’t really want to do sequels, they made this last masterpiece, ending an era of what felt very different. Again, this is hardly an argument, nor is it meant to make you feel the same way I do, it’s just meant to share how that movie felt like the end with its impact.