Pixar

Dan Scanlon

For writer/director Dan Scanlon, Monsters University does not necessarily mark his directorial debut. He wrote, directed, shot, and starring in an independent comedy called Tracy in 2009. But to compare making an independent live-action comedy to being in control of a $100-million plus budgeted animated tentpole film at Pixar — based on an existing and beloved Pixar property, no less — seems like an unfair need to do. In this context, Scanlon is the rookie. Charged with bringing characters like Mike and Sully back to the big screen, the director seemed very aware of the prestige that goes along with directing at one of the film world’s most innovative houses. Yet, as we sat down at a table just outside The Steve Jobs Building on the Pixar lot to talk about his Pixar directorial debut, the longtime storyboard artist and writer (Cars, Brave) was one other important thing: calm. If there was ever any pressure for the young writer/director, it has long come and gone. At this point, he seems to be enjoying this part of the ride. In our conversation, we talked about the pressure, the innovation and the lessons learned during his first run in the director’s chair at Pixar.

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don draper and up

The biggest news of any kind this week was the Supreme Court ruling the Defense Against Marriage Act unconstitutional. While that’s likely relevant news to a lot of people in Hollywood, it’s not really a movie-related story (though it inspired a discussion of related movies on our Broken Projector podcast). As for things specific to cinema and television, Pixar‘s promise to focus on original features is surely the most notable. But I also find it the most curious considering the disappointment with the studio’s last non-sequel, Brave, and some of its recent original shorts. Originality does not equal quality, and it doesn’t have to be exclusive to works that aren’t based on other properties either. Cars 2 and Monsters University aren’t weaker because they’re a sequel and a prequel, respectively. That’s a very lazy excuse for what’s really weaker writing and filmmaking in general. For all we know, the future fresh features will be as “original” as Cars. Enough ranting about anticipated originality, though. This week was also filled with excitement over an Independence Day sequel, an Iron Sky sequel, a Django Unchained reunion, the idea of Mad Men repeating itself and the anniversaries of movies from a time when Hollywood was not necessarily more original but at least much more interesting and imaginative. So let’s look back on the week in our movie and TV and catch up with whatever we missed. For instance, have you left a comment regarding your choice for Vin Diesel‘s Marvel role yet? Start […]

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Pixar Character Logo

In a welcome case of “hey, maybe Hollywood does listen to its audience,” Pixar has finally admitted that they plan to “significantly scale back its production of sequels.” In an interview with BuzzFeed, Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull, the studio head shares the obvious: “For artistic reasons…it’s really important that we do an original film a year.” Well, yes, Ed, and that’s what fans of the animation house have always loved about Pixar’s features – an adherence to originality and creativity that, for a long time, was not present in most other animated outings. And, yes, that’s what we all want more of (and soon). When it comes to the studio’s sequel and prequels, Catmull says, “Every once in a while, we get a film where we want or people want to see something continuing in that world — which is the rationale behind the sequel. They want those characters, which means we were successful with them. But if you keep doing that, then you aren’t doing original films.” In short, Catmull promises (albeit in a bit of a hedged manner) that “we’re going to have an original film every year, then every other year have a sequel to something…That’s the rough idea.”

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Pixar Character Logo

This week’s opening of Pixar’s latest film, Monsters University, a sequel starring fan favorites Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, also signals the debut of another perennial Pixar favorite – the accompanying short film. Since the animation house’s second theatrical release, Toy Story 2, every Pixar feature film has kicked off with an all-new short. Some of them have been instant classics (like For the Birds, Day & Night, and my personal favorite, Presto) and some of them have fallen somewhat flat (I forgot about Geri’s Game, Boundin’, and Lifted almost immediately after watching them). Three of them even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (and of the twelve already released, ten of them were nominated for the award). The short attached to Monsters University, Saschka Unseld’s The Blue Umbrella, is a different kind of short film for Pixar. Its use of photorealistic CGI is a departure from the more traditional animation styles that Pixar’s shorts have previously utilized, and one that teeters on the edge of the so-called Uncanny Valley. Putting it another way – realizing the entire thing is computer-animated is both obvious (it does focus on the love story between anthropomorphized umbrellas) and unsettling (it sometimes looks too “real” to be fake, though we’re not talking Mars Needs Moms levels of weirdness). It does, however, still have that Pixar charm and emotion (really, it focuses on the love story between anthropomorphized umbrellas), though the bulk of its creativity is focused on ancillary characters […]

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dan scanlon andy

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.  Dan Scanlon has worked at Pixar for almost twelve years (he started the day before 9/11), and it’s taken this long for him to direct his first solo effort for the studio, Monsters University. Actually, though, that’s not a very long time to wait, especially considering he’s the youngest person there to helm a feature (he turns 37 two days after the movie hits theaters). Prior to this, he co-directed the 2006 Cars short Mater and the Ghostlight with John Lasseter and had been a storyboard artist on Cars, Toy Story 3 and Disney DVD sequels The Little Mermaid II and 101 Dalmatians II and was on the senior creative team for Brave. In 2009, Scanlon put out his award-winning feature debut, a non-Pixar-based live-action mockumentary he stars in titled Tracy, which you can watch as a web serial here. That’s not all the past works of his you can watch online. Much like Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who got the Short Starts treatment a few weeks back, Scanlon has been quite generous and not at all shy about his early work. He’s personally uploaded a handful of films he made in high school and at Columbus College of Art and Design, many of which he appears in or voiced characters for (in The Chase he plays a guy who likes to be peed on, which hopefully isn’t a sign […]

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pixar-logo-fsr

Fans of Disney and Pixar Animation might want to pull out their day planners (or, fine, their iCals) and mark down some important dates in the coming years. Yes, years, as the studios have now announced release dates for eight films over the next five years, with each animation arm lining up four new films in the coming years. Just which films make up these new releases? Well, that’s not something we know just yet, but does it even matter? New Pixar! There are still, however, plenty of patterns to be found in the news (beyond the most obvious one, which is that all eight films will be released in 3D), like that most dates are placed in June (like Brave, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, and the upcoming Monsters University) and November (like Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and this year’s Frozen), which THR reminds us have proven successful release times for both Disney and Pixar in the past. After all, even the most bloated summer blockbuster season needs an animated outing for the kids, and hitting that Thanksgiving weekend is nothing but gravy for the box office.

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IntroGongman

We are guaranteed to see them before every film, most of them we can recall beat by beat with perfect memory. They were made by artists whose names we don’t know, and feature mystery figures and unknown places we’ll never see in real life. But they were real at some point, and in some cases still are. Here are the people and places behind the studio logos you see every day.

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Monsters University Concept ArtMonsters University Concept Art

Back in 2009 when Up came out, most sane people wouldn’t have had anything negative to say about Pixar. Even with the Cars sequel looming ahead in 2011, the company hadn’t really shown signs of dilution from Disney, and they were coming off a hot streak of films (Ratatouille, Wall-E and Adventures with Carl Fredricksen) that proved children of all ages could enjoy moving films that were funny, adventurous and had a sense of depth. Watching the new UK trailer for Monsters University, it feels a little alien, but I can’t even imagine what the 2009 version of me would think. Beyond the look (and the recognizable characters, of course), it doesn’t seem Pixarian at all. It’s flat. Completely messy. There are a few character moments and a few gags that seem funny, but overall it just seems unnecessary. What is this thing?

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Newt

It’s not often that Pixar misfires on something but, if these newly-posted pieces of concept art for their cancelled feature Newt are any indication, the animation studio might have slipped up when it came to letting this one go. FirstShowing dug up some new concept art from the film, posted by illustrator Katy Wu (via The Pixar Times), and these charmingly adorable pieces join another cache of Newt pictures that FirstShowing also posted back in 2010. Newt was originally slated for a summer 2011 release (which is why you might remember seeing its cute little logo splashed around in 2010 and 2009), but was ultimately cancelled because its plotline was too similar to that of Rio, which opened in April of 2011. That film (a Blue Sky production) focused on a domesticated macaw whose owner discovers that he’s the last male of his kind, leading them to travel to Rio de Janeiro to meet the last female of his kind to, you know, make some stuff happen. Which is why it’s so unfortunate for Newt that the project was to center on the last remaining blue-footed newts who get tossed together to, ahem, again, make some stuff happen, though matters are complicated by the fact that they hate each other. If these concept pieces are to be believed, it looks like the two overcome their issues and have some great adventures, which is why it’s just so sad that we’ll most likely never get to see this project. Seriously, even […]

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12year_disappointments

If there’s one word I think of that’s best tied to the story of film in 2012, it’s “disappointing.” That’s not to say that 2012 was a disappointing year for movies. I don’t know if it was the best in a while, as some of my fellow critics claim, but then I still haven’t seen a lot of the “best” titles of the year. What I do know is that there were enough movies that really, really, really disappointed a lot of people, and so I feel like I heard — or read — the word “disappointing” more than any other. Whether it was a long-awaited prequel to a classic helmed by the original’s director or the expected return to form for a filmmaker or a final installment of a much-worshipped superhero trilogy or a reboot of a beloved comic-based franchise or a new animated feature from a usually dependable studio, there were plenty of major releases that turned out to be less than satisfying. At least for some.

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Pixar_Easter_Eggs_Brave

“It’s like filling an ice tray. They like to fill it very carefully, one cube at a time, until it’s all even. I’d rather fill the sink with water, stick the ice tray under the sink, and pull it out. Fill ’em all up at once.” That’s Mark Andrews comparing the animation process to submerging  a slotted piece of plastic into water. In his interview with Steve Pond at The Wrap, Andrews spoke directly about his vision for Pixar — one that runs a bit counter to what they’ve employed to find success for over a decade. Emerging from TV animation, the Brave director is used to a bit more speed. “It was a really good testing ground, because it makes you go with your gut and try stuff out and just roll with it. And once I got into features and saw how slow everybody works, I thought, OK, fine. I’ll keep at my same speed, and just get through more stuff.” Since Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has released about a movie a year (skipping 1996,1997, 2000, 2003 and 2005) as well as a number of shorts. Presumably, Andrews would fill in those gaps by ensuring the studio is producing at least one movie every year. Where there’s even more room for change is in the infamously long gestation period for Pixar perfection. On the other hand, it’s tough to argue with their track record, even if you believe it’s fallen off in the past few years because of commercialization (the Cars franchise) […]

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Home for the Holidays

Before we’re all full of turkey, mashed potatoes and that experimental vegan dessert Aunt Trina keeps trying to make work, we’d like to take a pre-coma moment out to take stock of what’s worth celebrating this Thanksgiving. Without a doubt, we’re thankful for friends and family and all the good within eyesight (even as the world spins too-loudly out of control), but as we’re a movie website, we’d like to use this space to focus on all the wondrous film stuff that’s currently bringing a smile to our faces. To help out, the Rejects — including Rob Hunter, Kate Erbland, Cole Abaius, Christopher Campbell, Kevin Carr, Landon Palmer, Nathan Adams, Robin Ruinsky, Luke Mullen, Caitlin Hughes and Allison Loring — compiled a list of cinematic things to be thankful for. See if you can guess who picked what (spoiler: everything Magic Mike-related is Hunter). Now, let’s get to thanking!

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LA LUNA

Why Watch? Being paired with Brave earlier this year got La Luna in front of plenty of audiences, including all those who contributed to the $532 million worldwide gross of Pixar’s princess story. But there still might be a few out there who have not seen this wonderful little coming of age tale. Found via The Animation Blog, here’s the full version of La Luna to light up the world. What will it cost you? Only 7 fantastic minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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A strange thing happened when it was announced that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and was intent on continuing the Star Wars franchise: people forgot how shitty Lucasfilm has been. That’s the only explanation for many of the reactions. Our friends at /Film gathered up some celebrity Twitter responses that seemed to be at best cautiously optimistic, though potentially terrified at what could be coming and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it’s not all ewoks banging drums and fireworks in the sky before a billion tons of metal rains down on the forest moon of Endor.

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People like to see the same plots rehashed over and over again. That’s how James Bond became such a long and successful series, isn’t it? Following Pixar’s success with Toy Story, the animation studio looked to follow a sort of pattern, but it wasn’t so much in terms of the storyline as the setup of having an ensemble of characters where each was representative of a different kind of some such (usually titular) thing. Toy Story starred different toys, then A Bug’s Life involved different types of bugs, Monsters, Inc. involved different types of monsters, Finding Nemo had different fish and other sea creatures and Cars had, of course, different models of automobile. Fortunately, Pixar has gotten a bit more inventive with their basic pitches, but now Disney has borrowed the model for Wreck-It Ralph. It could have easily been titled “Video Game Life” or “An Arcade Story.” There is a bit more to it than this, and in fact I was surprised to find that a lot of the movie is more about sweets than video games, especially where Alice in Wonderland-esque puns are concerned (the “laughing taffy” made me laugh). Overall, I had a good time watching the movie and appreciate the greatest addition to the Disney Princesses roster in years. But it didn’t really feel like something that will become a “Disney Classic,” and not just because our grandchildren will have no understanding of what arcade games are in a way they could relate to it. It […]

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Pixar Character Logo

It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say that there is probably a lot of overlap between fans of Joss Whedon’s television work and fans of Pixar’s animated films. People who like memorable characters, clever writing, and genre-themed storylines tend to take them wherever they can get them. So it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that a veteran writer/producer on Whedon’s first big show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been picked up to become the latest member of the Pixar brain trust. According to The Playlist, Marti Noxon, who wrote Buffy episodes like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “The Prom,” and “Wrecked,’ has joined Pixar to do work on an as-yet-unspecified project. More recently in her career, Noxon has been continuing her writer/producer schtick on television shows like the ridiculously critically acclaimed Mad Men, and the incomprehensibly popular Glee, and she’s also credited as being the writer on the recent remake of Fright Night – so the uses that Pixar could be putting her to are myriad.

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If you missed checking out Pixar’s Finding Nemo 3-D in theaters last month (and, if so, what is wrong with you? do you hate fun things? and laughter? and colors? and love?), you also missed out on seeing the full version of Pixar’s newest short, Partysaurus Rex. Well, unless you happened to be hanging around the Disney Channel on Monday night, when the short had its television premiere, but that’s neither here nor there really (false). What we’re trying to say is, hey! Partysaurus Rex is now available for your full watching enjoyment, so let’s do that! The third Pixar short film to use Toy Story characters – we’ve previously seen Hawaiian Vacation (which showed with Cars 2) and Small Fry (which was paired with The Muppets) – Partysaurus Rex stars Wallace Shawn‘s lovable bipedal worrier, Rex, as he attempts to cut loose during bathtime with Bonnie and some new friends. It’s a brand new Rex! A brand new day! And it looks like a Ke$ha video! Watch the full version of Partysaurus Rex after the break. It’s certifiably adorable.

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For our 150th episode, we decided to go back to the first show’s conversations, and we discovered something mildly depressing: that the discussions are pretty much the same. In 2012, we’re still talking about the topics of 2009; Transformers (a fourth is on the way), G.I. Joe (a delayed sequel is coming), Avatar (a dozen follow-ups will keep James Cameron busy until he retires), Marvel flicks (which have dominated) and remakes (which have not). Good thing we changed the format of the show a while back. Beyond the great repetition, reviewing the news from 3 years ago reveals a lot about the state of modern filmmaking through the lens of hindsight. Werner Herzog is a highlight, and revisiting the releases (Drag Me To Hell and Up) gives us an idea of what might actually endure. On this week’s show, we re-form the team from that pilot episode – site publisher Neil Miller and associate editor Rob Hunter – to dip ourselves in the cool waters of nostalgia and try to figure out what, if anything, is different about the movie-making landscape after 150 shows. Download Episode #150

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Welcome to the first installment of the CriterionCast takeover of Movie News After Dark. While Neil spends the week singing karaoke, or whatever it is that you kids do at Fantastic Fest, I’ll attempt to fill his manly, bearded shoes with my own geeky art-house sensibilities. Speaking of Fantastic Fest, the folks handling the PR have been releasing a ton of great material for all of us non-attendees, to soothe the pain. Apparently Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, Brothers Bloom) joined in on the nerd karaoke fun that everyone was talking about this weekend, and they sent out a hefty pack of high resolution images, to help prove what we already know to be true: Rian Johnson is the coolest.

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Finding Nemo 3D

“It really is a huge project to do a 3D version of one of our films,” explains Pixar veteran and Finding Nemo co-director Lee Unkrich. “As opposed to just a 2D to 3D conversion that you typically see. Those are a lot of work as well, but that’s a lot of gimmickry and trickery to create the false illusion of depth. In our case, it’s kind of like going back in a time machine and getting to make the movie a second time.” It begs the question, especially as we find ourselves a week away from Finding Nemo swimming back into theaters with an additional dimension. A week that has seen the release of a new trailer for Monsters Inc. in 3D, a release that will take place in December. Hollywood has been in love with 3D for years, of that they’ve made no attempt at secrecy. And it isn’t just releasing new movies in 3D, but bringing back classics with an added dimension that’s got the number crunchers excited. From Titanic to The Lion King to Star Wars, no great property can escape the clutches of the third dimension. But as they are in so many ways, Pixar is different. Or at least they should be, right?

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