Thursday, May 28, 2009
Pixar's new 3-D animated film UP opens this weekend. We'll hear from the director and producer, and talk with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando about how UP breaks different ground in 3-D animation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Pixar summertime movies are always big family events, and this year Pixar animators are unveiling a 3-D epic called, simply Up. It's about a retired balloon maker who uses his skills to fly away and fulfill a life-long dream of adventure. The way Pixar uses 3-D is innovative, there are well-known actors lending their voices to the movie, and the storyline in Up owes a great deal to Japanese anime. To discuss these and other interesting aspects of the movie Up KPBS’s film critic Beth Accomando is here. But let's start with a clip from Up where two of the main characters meet for the first time. Russell, a young scout, knocks on the door of an older man named Carl. Russell asks if he can do anything to help Carl because Russell wants to earn a merit badge.
RUSSELL: Good afternoon. My name is Russell. And I am a wilderness explorer in tribe 54, Sweat lodge 12. Are you in need of any assistance today, sir?
RUSSELL: I could help you cross the street
RUSSELL: I can help you cross your yard.
RUSSELL: I could help you cross your porch.
RUSSELL: Well, I gotta help you cross something.
CARL: No, I'm doing fine.
RUSSELL: Good afternoon. My name is Russell. And I am a wilderness explorer in tribe 54. Sweat Lodge 12. Are you in need of any assistance today...(door slams).
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a clip from the Pixar movie Up and KPBS film critic Beth Accomando joins me. What else happens in Up?
BETH ACCOMANDO: Well, it's interesting that we come into the story and it's a little boy in the old man and they are about to go off on an adventure, but this is actually about 20 minutes or half hour into the film and prior to that there is almost an entire different movie which is about Carl and his wife, Ellie, that starts off the film. And it actually starts out with Carl being a young boy himself. So the film actually takes you on this nice journey for the character of Carl from his youth to his old age and how meeting this young boy kind of reignites his interest in adventure and getting out of his house.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Up is of course, as I say, another animated film from Pixar which has been constantly producing these top animated films. They have partnered with Disney. What kind of animated films are they making and are they different from other animated American animated films?
BETH ACCOMANDO: I think Pixar more than any of the other studios is really trying to push the envelope a little bit in terms of the kinds of stories they are telling and the way they are telling the stories. This film, for example, has an old man as the main character. There are other characters in the film, but you know, selling what is generally considered a kiddie movie to a young audience with an older character, you know, that is a bit of a challenge. And I think in terms of the narrative style they are using they are also trying to be a little less of that sitcommy pace and the gag a minute kind of thing that they feel, a lot of the animated films feel they need to have. And in talking to the director Peter Docter, he discuss the opening of the film which I alluded to, which his Carl and his wife Ellie and as with Wall-e, the whole opening sequence is done essentially without dialogue. And it shows their marriage over like 50 years. So here's what he had to say about why they chose that way to open the film and how they hoped that would impact audiences.
PETER DOCTER: Basically that came out of the theme of the film. We realized, okay, this film is about Carl redefining what adventure really is, what life is about. He and his wife promised each other that they would someday go to this exotic place in South America, a place nobody had ever been and life got in the way. They just never made it. So at the end of the film Carl worries that he failed his wife but comes to learn that they had actually the best adventure in the world which was this relationship together. So having landed at that as sort of the message of the film, we then needed to go back and show that wonderful, rich adventure, the relationship and I kind of came back to, my parents took a lot of super eight films of us growing up and of course they are silent. You just hear the sound of the projector and sitting there watching these it’s really pretty remarkable. They are very emotional. And I think in large part that's just because you as an audience are kind of projecting in and become a part of that experience instead of having picture and sound, you’re having to imagine one of those. So it kind of comes to life in your own head. So that's what we were trying to do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So they have this great imaginary vision at Pixar. What are some of the other reasons that Pixar is doing so well at producing these top-notch animation movies?
BETH ACCOMANDO: Well, I think the structure of Pixar is different from other places and basically they have a lot of filmmakers running the company, which is not what a lot of other studios have where you have businessmen. So when they’re making these movies, it’s a group of filmmakers who are giving feedback to other filmmakers and Peter Docter was very clear in saying that, you know, a lot of times they have these think tank kind of scenarios where they will show what they are working on to somebody else who is working on another film and get feedback and you are getting feedback from other top filmmakers. So, I think having that kind of community fosters more creativity and puts a little less emphasis on the bottom line and more emphasis on the storytelling.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I know that you are a very big fan of Japanese Anime and I am wondering how this movie compares with some of the Japanese Anime movies and how American animation films compare in general.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Well, in Japan animation is not looked upon as a whole genre, it’s more a stylistic choice. That's why you get horror animation and adult animation as well as stuff for kids. In the United States, animation still kind of sits at the kiddie table. And what's interesting is that Peter Docter actually was one of the directors on the English-language version of Hiyo Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. And Up shares a few elements with Howl’s Moving Castle. There's an older character at the lead, there’s the older character who actually takes their house with them, in a manner of speaking. There's a funny dog that tags along. So, I think that connection is interesting and Peter Docter is a fan of Miyazaki and admires his work greatly. So, he talked a little bit about what it was like directing this English-language version of the film while he was still working on Up.
PETER DOCTER: So it was an interesting time to be able to observe how Miyazaki-san handled some of the similar material. His thing that I've learned looking at his films, you know, we are sort of trained that the way to keep an audience in their seats is to like keep dangling the carrot, what's going to happen next, and it’s all about the plot. Keep moving things forward. And what he does is to just take these real, observed, truthful moments and a lot of times nothing is happening next. It's just right now, how does this little kid behave or look at the way the water just ripples down here and drops. Just beautifully observed little moments of truth that you just recognize and respond to. And we tried to put at least some moments like that into this film, so.
JONAS RIVERA: What we love about those films is that they just breathe. So many animated films especially don't. It's just a boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. And that’s, it’s part of making films. There’s a lot to tell. But we wanted this to breathe a little bit and we wanted to, you know, have it feel, I don't know, somehow channel some of that charm, that grace that those films have.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That voice you just heard at the end was the voice of the producer, Jonas Rivera. And one of the big noises about this film is that it's in 3-D. And I know that they tried actually to do a sort of different emphasis on the 3-D dimension in the film. What was their conception of presenting this film in 3-D?
BETH ACCOMANDO: Sure. They didn't want to have people pointing at the audience and throwing things at the audience. For them, they wanted to use 3-D as kind of a means to further enhance the story. So what they talked about was that, you know, if a character’s feeling kind of depressed or trapped or feeling like they are bored, the dimension is very kind of flat in the image, but when he's out on his adventure and the house is flying away there is a greater sense of depth to the image itself which is employing the 3-D in a slightly different way than it's been used as more of a gimmick in a lot of other films. So, you are watching the film and you are not consciously aware that, oh, I’m watching a 3-D movie. But you will feel this sense of expansion and contraction in some of the images that helps emphasize the points that they're trying to make in the story.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I think it is interesting in the way that the animated characters actually look. They don't really, the animation doesn't look terribly realistic, but it has quite an emotional impact. And I wonder about the voice casting and how they decided to pick the actors and then change the actual animated characters a little bit.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Sure. These characters are what we call kind of super-deformed. They are very short. They are about three head lengths high. They don't look realistic, and yet they do come across realistically because the voice actors, like Ed Asner plays the old man, really bring the characters to life. And part of the process is that they create the characters, they start to design them, then when they cast the actors they refine what those animated characters look like. They pick up little nuances from the actors themselves, how they might deliver a line, an expression they might make. So it's a constant collaboration between the director, the writer, the actor, the animators and it's a really fascinating process to see how those things change from original conception to what the final product is on the screen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is fascinating. So it takes on the form of the actual human being who’s performing the part.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Sometimes, you know, in varying degrees. And it happens too when they are dealing with animals, animated animal characters that will start taking on sort of the human qualities of some of the actors who play them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So I wonder, for everyone who’s looking forward to, or their kids want to go see this movie, how does this film stack up against other Pixar films?
BETH ACCOMANDO: I think it's one of their best ones. In some ways Wall-e was better. The first half of Wall-e I think was just absolutely fantastic filmmaking but Wall-e kind of teetered off in the second half. But this film I think is more sustained, although it doesn't quite push as much on certain expectations. But it's a really wonderful story and it really has a surprising emotional impact at the end.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And against other, just other animated films out this summer?
BETH ACCOMANDO: Well you know we’ve got Ice Age 3 coming out, and that’s kind of a yuk-yuk kind of comedy where it really plays into that sitcom pace and gag a minute kind of thing. So this has a much different pace and I find it very enjoyable and a little more, you know, it pushes the audience’s expectations to say, hey what you expect from an animated film, this might be a little different and you should gamble on it because it's wonderful storytelling.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Beth. I really appreciate it. We’ve been talking about the new Pixar movie Up and I've been speaking with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando.