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July 14, 2010 10:16 pm
|The toys are back in town|
“To insanity and beyond.” That has been the cry of screen animation through the ages. But the art of great screen animation, surely, is to go one step beyond madness, beyond the facile gifts of anarchy and anti-gravity. It is to make the madness meaningful. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 did that: they made a “human” drama from a bunch of interacting dolls and plastic animals. They forced filmgoers to go “Ooh” and “Aah” at the feelings and actions of a pull-string cowboy (Woody), a toy spaceman (Buzz), a Mr and Mrs Potato Head, a Barbie, a Slinky Dog, a Little Bo Peep and the rest.
If there were a Nobel Prize for Digital Animation it would have been won almost every year by Pixar. Toy Story 3D (
a film company can assemble the best techno-geeks, even the best craftsmen. I don’t understand how they, Pixar, also get the people who understand great comedy, drama
and storytelling wisdom. The Shakespeares of pixellation.
It is a toy’s tragedy – ask any toy – that its owner grows up. So Andy, the little boy in TS and TS2, is now a college-bound older teen while Woody, Buzz and Co wonder if they are bound for the attic, the dumpster or the kiddies’ day care centre. Turns out it’s the last. But it turns out that the last is a neo-fascist state, led by the chief toy, a strawberry-scented care bear called Lotso (voice of Ned Beatty in best southern-cracker snarl). Can Woody lead his team to safety? Even to survival? Can they live on when even the flames of the town’s incinerator are licking at them in the action climax?
None of this is Shakespeare. It is good comedy and great kinetic knockabout. What is bardic, what is vatic, apart from the sprinkling of higher grace-notes and character inventiveness throughout – the day-care centre’s actorly hedgehog Mr Pricklepants (“We do a lot of improv here”), the moment when a newly radicalised Barbie tells Lotso, “Authority should derive from the will of the governed, not from brute force” (must have been reading Tom Paine) – is the turn of pathos and wisdom after the action and comedy climaxes. I won’t plot-spoil, but darned if there isn’t a tear in the spectator’s eye as the toys learn that the way to grow up is to change while staying the same. Or to stay the same while changing. Home is where the sense of self is. That’s it. That’s true wisdom. That’s Pixar. Where’s the Nobel Prize committee?
Christopher Nolan’s Inception
DiCaprio bravely enters another Psycho-Babel mere months after Shutter Island. He does these tangled mental struggles well. But the true star of Inception is the mind of Nolan. I don’t mean his dream-share idea: we have been there, done that, in Elm Street and elsewhere. No, Nolan’s brainstorms are the passing visual ones: the Paris street that upends and folds in on itself, the stairs that vanish beneath walkers’ feet, zero-gravity dream states where we walk on walls and ceilings.
|Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Inception’|
Yet there, too, is the rub. We don’t walk on walls and ceilings in dreams. Dreams are not like that. Their matter, mainly, is reality. They just mix reality in weird and hyper-real ways, shuffling the deck of the humdrum. So we should say to Nolan: “Beware what you dream of as a filmmaker.” Getting his $170m budget, for his fantastic effects, for his audiovisual bells and bangs and whistles, he has lost the simple delicate magic of dreaming. Perhaps he needs to remake Inception, sometime in the future, using the budget he had, before international fame, with Memento.
French filmmaker Catherine Breillat used to scandalise us with naked actors doing naughty things on camera (Romance, Anatomy of Hell). She has gone into reverse with The Last Mistress (2006) and now Bluebeard. (
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