torsdag 15 mars 2018

Is The Mouse running out of ideas?

I was counting on getting a blog post out of Coco, the latest Pixar film which I went to see at the cinema a couple of weeks back. But it's not that easy to find something to discuss about it. It's... good. Really good, solid quality work. I had the same feeling when I saw The Last Jedi. It wasn't disappointing, so I couldn't spend a blog post whining about it, but neither was it spectacularly groundbreaking. It was simply good, and pretty much what you'd expect from a Star Wars film, just as Coco is pretty much what you'd expect from a Pixar film.

Coco started slow, but the visuals are stunning, it uses the Mexican Day of the Dead imaginatively in its story, and it has a surprising, heartwarming moral about the importance of family, when at first you thought it would be all about self-fulfilment and the power of music (which is a pretty well-worn theme). Having said that, I saw one plot twist coming a mile off, and some other plot details made it into the film which we've seen a little too often in Pixar films by now. The surprise villain was mostly a surprise because you didn't expect the film to have a villain at all - after all the times Pixar and Disney animation films have used the trope in later days, you're unlikely to go "Oh, wow, X was bad all along?" The premise of the protagonist Miguel's family hating music is pretty forced, and how often haven't we seen the "villain unwittingly reveals his or her true nature publicly" scene? But the ending made me cry, the film is a whole lot better than The Good Dinosaur or Finding Dory and the message it peddles is something I can buy - unlike some hard sells which we've had from Pixar.

And even if some of the plot elements are familiar, the story itself is fresh with a touch of magic, which is what you want from an animated flick. But what exactly is Disney - including Pixar - up to next? The immediate future looks uninspiring. Pixar is releasing a sequel to The Incredibles, one of my least favourite Pixar films, and Disney animation is releasing a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, which judging by the trailer looks mildly amusing but not in any way unmissable. The original Wreck-It Ralph may have been a celebration of video arcade games, but for those of us with little or no experience of these kind of games it also had a story to tell about friendship and finding your role in life - nothing astoundingly new, but sweetly handled. The premise of the sequel seems to be "what if we let our two lovable protagonists from film one loose in the Internet?", and that's not good enough. Where's the story? However, trailers are sometimes misleading, so I'll try to keep an open mind. And I do like Ralph.

So, on the animation front, two sequels, and... very little else. At the same time, there appears to be a slew of live-action remakes of Disney animation classics in the pipeline. I can't help thinking that this is the wrong way to go. I like live-action fairy-tale films when they flesh out or give a fresh spin on a familiar story. As I've mentioned more than a few times, Once Upon a Time is my current TV series obsession (unsurprisingly, given its solid villain focus), and I also really enjoy the old TV series The Storyteller which highlighted some lesser-known but juicy fairy tales. There's nothing wrong with the genre, then. However, you can't settle for simply reshooting the animated Disney version of a fairy-tale with a few added scenes and live actors instead of animation - that's just pointless. The live-action Disney Cinderella looked good, but didn't give you any new take on the story, and from what I've seen trailer- and review-wise of the live-action Beauty and the Beast, it's pretty much the same there. (To be fair, I haven't watched it yet, nor do I feel very inclined to do so at the moment. I think Once may have ruined me for other Beasts - the traditional "cursed prince" version seems pretty tame now.) And honestly, who needs a live-action Lion King? At least traditional fairy tales offer grand castles and pretty dresses. What could a computer-animated Scar add to the beautifully animated, Jeremy Irons-voiced version?

A while back, there was a buzz that Disney was working on an animated film based on Jack and the Beanstalk  (called Giant, I think), but I haven't heard anything about it lately. What happened to it? Animated fairy tales are what Disney does best, and each of its more successful animated eras - the Golden Age, the Renaissance, the Revival - sparked off with fairy-tale films (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog/Tangled). But OK, I could understand if they wanted to try something new - as long as it is new. Rehashing old material is unworthy of The Mouse.