Pixellated Emotion

Reading time: 3 mins

Prompted by Lyle, and with apologies to modem users as some of the linked content is rather heavy on the download side.

I’m not sure exactly when it was, probably the same year I finally saw a cartoon version of The Far Side – we were at my in-laws and the TV was on in the background. My father-in-law and I were sitting on the couch in a post Christmas dinner fug, sipping drinks and watching whatever was on the telly. Peace and quiet whilst the kids rampaged upstairs, the ladies still chatting in the kitchen. On came a short cartoon of the Far Side. It was a tad odd to see it animated but the highlight for me was, and this may be lost on you if you’ve never read any Far Side strips and if you haven’t SHAME ON YOU!, a scene featuring a field of cows. We pan in slowly, focussing on one of the cows. I’m wondering where the punchline is coming from, and aware that my father-in-law is probably wondering just what the hell he’s watching, and then it happens. The featured cow stops chewing the cud, lifts her head and goes “BAAAAA”. Perfect comic timing and my father-in-law is killing himself laughing. I think that was a little breakthrough in our relationship.

I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about Pixar.

I’m guessing it was 1988, another Christmas spent channel surfing, idly flicking and trying to avoid anything religious, black and white or in anyway festive and suddenly there it is. This flash of colour appears on the screen and I spend the next 5 minutes watching a little unicycle learn to juggle. I’m fascinated. It’s computer animation unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and for the first minute or so I’m marvelling at the animation, the light, the raindrops, it’s breathtaking. Then something odd happens. I forget all about how advanced this animation is and starting feeling sorry for that poor unicycle, hidden away at the back of the bicycle shop. I start to care.

For me that is the strength of Pixar’s movies. Even their short movies are captivating (if you’ve never seen them, go spend 20 minutes watching them, and start with Luxo Jnr – the reason why they now have a little hopping lamp in their logo). They pay a lot of attention to character development, and making sure the audience can relate to what they are seeing on screen, making sure it’s easy to see beyond the technical achievements and focus on the story. I simply defy anyone to watch Luxo Jnr and NOT think that ickle lamp is cute. It’s impossible.

Their recent movie The Incredibles, raised the bar again in both aspects. Technically in that some of the scenery is photo-realistic and it’s mind boggling to think that it’s all computer generated. Emotionally the story itself shows how they are maturing, and taking their audience with them, and in that respect I find it quite easy to associate Pixar as a brand, something like Apple, that people will follow regardless of what they do. There is a minimum level of acceptance that they aren’t ever going to do something that stinks. I guess it’s what Disney animation was like in the early days, you went to see it because it was a Disney movie. Of course that kind of emotional attachment does allow them some room for error, but having seen every movie (long and short) that they’ve made, and countless behind the scenes documentaries, I think it’s safe to say that they aren’t resting on their laurels.

And, of course, all this lyrical waxing will mean that their next movie, Cars, will stink. But I’ll still go see it and still love whatever they do.

My name is Gordon McLean, I’m a Pixar-holic.