Pixar gets an extraordinary amount of love ’round these parts, and the nearing arrival of Wall-E has seen that love expressed very enthusiastically as of late. I could almost understand how someone who hasn’t seen the films, or doesn’t watch movies with a particularly critical eye could think the lauding is hyperbolic and greatly undeserved. I could almost understand this. Then I actually re-watch a Pixar film and I am left stunned that this could be thought by anyone who possesses fucking eyes.

I saw Kung Fu Panda not too long ago, and while I had a respectable amount of fun (not really enough for the premise of the movie, but whatever) I spent most of the movie wondering what it is that Pixar does so right, and everyone else so ‘meh.’ Many of Kung Fu Panda’s scene, shots, sequences, etc. all seemed flat to me- I couldn’t point to why, though. The production design looked fine, the animation smooth, the actors were giving fun voice performances, the action was well staged, but… something was missing. Having watched Ratatouille again last night I can tell you that it is all of that and more that sets these movies (and studios) apart from each other.

There is not a single thing that Pixar does not execute with more craft and care than their rival. The character design is more imaginitive, the rigging more fluid, the animating has more character, more awareness of physicality, the lighting is more gorgeous, complex and real, and special effects (which would be water, fire, particle effects) are far superior. Even their replication of lens and camera effects (focus manipulation, framing, and more) is spectacular. They work very hard (as I think was described in a interview CHUD ran with the director of Wall-E) to employ their (virtual) camera in a way that makes their films feel like true movies, rather than long-from, big-budget kid’s shows. All of that though, is animation-specific and makes no account of the more traditional elements of making a movie that Pixar excels at. The narrative complexity of Ratatouille makes Kung Fu Panda look like one of those ten-page kids book they make to adapt children’s movies. This is true of all Pixar films, too. While these things are not always absent from the work of Dreamworks, they are not employed as effectively, not even close.

I’m left wondering what the difference is. Why are Dreamworks’ animated films so lacking when compared to Mr. iPhone’s studio? Does Dreamworks not put the same time or money into their films? Glancing through Box Office Mojo, I found that Pixar did indeed spend $150 million on Ratatouille compared to Kung Fu Panda’s $120 million. However, go back through the releases for each studio and you have just $90 million for The Incredibles compared to $160 million for Shrek The Third! (This is up from the first Shrek’s $60 million dollar budget). So while yes Wu, cash does indeed rule everything around you (cream), it is not the harbinger of quality in digital animation, any more than it is in other genres. Kung Fu Panda looks like it was made for half of what Ratatouille was, if the quality of animation is any indicator.

So are the folks at Dreamworks just not as passionate? Are they a crew that works more by the numbers? Pixar is known for being a progressive studio that encourages creativity and innovation with it’s animators and employees, is this not true for Dreamworks? I don’t really think that’s the problem. For the past two years I have attended the Dreamworks presentation on my campus. They come specifically to court folks from our Animation and Vis FX departments but I like to go and see what they have to show. While the first year their focus was Bee Movie, they still had work from Kung Fu Panda and what was done looked exactly then like it did in the theater. The description of their workflow and office environment, along with video of the same, made it seem like Dreamworks was a pretty rockin’ place to work, where great care and love was put into the projects.

So to be honest, I can only point out and examine the gap in quality between the output of the two studios, I can’t explain it.

Either way, fucking hell Wall-E is going to be amazing.

Thanks for reading!

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BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review

Good / Bad / Neutral

June 14th, 2008 : : Kung-Fu PandaThin

Past One-Word Movie Reviews
June 12th, 2008 : : Run Lola RunReckless
June 9th, 2008 : : Day WatchUpgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The AmateursEndearing