Friday, June 26, 2009

Without Permission

I have beloved a phrase coined by a college roomate: "Look out, they're trying to touch your heart without your permission!" - said during a movie we didn't expect to be so emotionally stirring. He was a renowned cynic and when his eyes started welling up, he had to come up with something I guess, and that was it. Brilliant.

The rule about entertainments that do that (the unsolicited heart-touching) is it has to come with some sort of payoff that makes it worth the emotional trouble.

Tragedies particularly illustrate this principle. If everything ends badly, then there has to be something in there that made it worthwhile. Apocalypse Now, Body Heat, and Terms of Endearment come to mind.

When there is no point to the tragedy, you get something like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where you start out getting your heart broken as this little deformed baby with liver spots on its hand reaches up to hold his adopted mom's hand at night, then it all ends with having to watch a baby die (in his ex-wife's arms, no less). And there you are, all wrung out for nothing.

This isn't even a one trick pony, it's a half of a trick pony. All the movie does is play out the premise and that's it. There's nothing else there. Since this is a Fincher film, it honestly surprised me. This is his first full-on stinker.

If you want to see something real, something with passion, watch the extras where they show you how they pasted Brad Pitt's face on various avatars and stand-ins to make it look like he's really a 2-year-old troll. There you see passion and meaning, of a sort.

This unsolicited heart-touching kinda scotched the new Pixar 'toon Up for my fambly. It made my eldest cry from the start, and thus left her too bereft to enjoy the rest. Same for my wife. What did it for me, besides that, was piss me off when the bad guy purposely set up the child in the film to die a horrible death. Even if it is just a cartoon kid, it bothers me that bazillions of kids now have the idea in their head that a mean old guy might just let them fall to their deaths.

Full disclosure, my family has been contrarian, though, on a few Pixar films. We literally couldn't get through Ratatouille and thought Cars was merely OK. We hated Finding Nemo. The eldest's first words as we walked from the theater were, "Jeez, everyone in that movie was damaged in some way. Weird." We all got tired of playing "what's the handicap?!?" during the flick. We found Denis Leary's dental-instrument-scarred fish the most disturbing.

We might have a different aesthetic than other families, perhaps.

Note: I started writing this post on 6/22, and upon reading Whisky's recent post about David Edelstein's coinage of the standard Pixar plot: inconsolable woe ---> sentiment ---> riotous chases ---> rousing cliff-hanger - I nearly leapt up and said "Hell Yeah!" Because it's so true. But merely muttered "dammit" because I had been sorta scooped, even though my point is slightly different.


Whisky Prajer said...

Just as I was cracking my knuckles and getting down to the business of saying something a little more considered about Up, I stopped here as a preliminary procrastination ... and saw myself scooped again. My family still has some fondness for Nemo (due to either Dori or the seagulls), but you and yours are right on the money. The Incredibles is the last Pixar DVD we've purchased, and we won't be shelling out for this one, either. My 12-year-old, who's lobbying to see Trek for a fourth time, didn't care for Up because, "It's too sad." When I pointed out that both films begin tragically, she said there was something sadder about Up, and I think she's right. Up begins as an adult film, then defaults to kid mode. I would have thought that would piss off more critics, but whattaya gonna do?

yahmdallah said...

I sometimes wonder about our apparent synchronicity in thought.

Anonymous said...

Gotta give Pixar credit for this though: what kind of balls does it take to release a big-budget film where the lead character is a gruff old fart?

I can imagine the concerns that the investors/stockholders raised while this was in production. "Can't we have someone younger and more handsome doing this? And what about female characters, we should try to work a babe in here somewhere? Or at least a cute kid - and no, that scout kid doesn't count. He's overweight, he's nerdy, he looks Asian. I just don't see audiences connecting here. Very high likelihood of a flop."

And what the hell did the Pixar folks say or do that convinced them otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Regarding your identification of Pixar's formula: inconsolable woe ---> sentiment ---> riotous chases ---> rousing cliff-hanger

It must be noted that Pixar movies are far from the only ones to follow that formula. The Godfather, for example, has the same formula: (Vito gets shot --> Michael agrees to stand up for the family --> the five families go to war --> Michael kills all his enemies). I'm sure a lot of other films follow this formula, too.

Supposedly there are only five or six original stories in the world, and you've probably seen the meme about Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Matrix, and the new Star Trek all being the same. There's something to that.

Finally, a nitpik. Wall-E does not follow the formula you describe, because it is a classic romance: boy meets girl --> boy loses girl --> boy does something heroic and wins girl in the end. Original story #4, if you will, rather than #3 as you claim.

yahmdallah said...

Anon #1: Agreed.

Anon #2: I think both plot skeletons, yours and Edelstein's fit Wall-E.

And yes, most fictions follow basic plots. The ones that Star Wars through Star Trek is know as "the hero's journey" as coined by Joseph Campbell.

That said, that's not really the issue for me. It's the "inconsolable woe" thing that I think has put me off the Pixar films named.

You might find this funny: Once my eldest (when very young) was watching a feature-length cartoon. Well, the music started to swell, and she turned to me and said, "Dad, don't worry. This isn't a Disney film. No mommies or daddies are going to die no." Even at her age, she had put together that Disney films overwhelmingly snuffed parents.