Pixar x Disney x Miyazaki

Posted in Endorsement, Opinion by minoroots on 06/03/2009

Just saw Pixar’s Up on Saturday – a movie about a lonely Old man and his new found Japanese American boyscout (OK, Wilderness Explorer) friend. A fantastic, hugely entertaining  film. Go watch it if you haven’t yet.

I think cartoons/animation has come a long way since the olden days of Disney Princesses—not to take anything away from the Disney classics, but I think those older films were solely geared toward entertaining children (well, except for Alice in Wonderland. That thing has got to be a social commentary on drugs. Either that or whoever wrote the script was on crack).

Nowdays, animated films are reaching a broader audience, able to thoroughly entertain everyone from toddlers to seniors, with Pixar now at the forefront in US animation. I bet there were several G-pas and G-mas out there that were struck by how they can relate to Carl’s loss of Ellie, and perhaps came away with some optism after the movie.

Even I was stricken with sadness, even though I don’t know what it feels like to lose your best friend of 65 years. And call me gullible, but I came out of the movie with a sense of motivation to make the most out of my days, to embrace daily challenges and persue a dream (sadly, I lost much of the optimism when I got to work Monday morning).

I know, I know, it’s just a cartoon. But I grew up on cartoons—good cartoons. Cartoons that taught me about values, love, respect, strength, and loyalty. Doraemon, anybody?

So that’s why I’m happy for the emergence of Pixar in the past decade, starting with Toy Story and with instant classics like Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Wall-E. And I can’t help but notice the influence that legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki has had on the Pixar staff. It definitely shows in the films, and I’m not the only one who sees it:

As Ellie grows old and becomes frail, she and Carl attempt to go on with their lives like before, but it’s hard. At one point, they attempt to picnic in their favorite spot, a nice grassy knoll in the middle of a peaceful meadow. And here’s the moment that so moved me: Ellie can’t make it up the hill. When Carl — who has gone on ahead — realizes this, he dashes to her aid, trying to catch her before she crumbles to the ground. As he runs, the breeze catches the hat on his head, which goes flying, and he ignores it.

It’s a brief scene, lasting no more than 10 seconds and one shot, from a distance. But there’s so much love and beauty and sadness in it. It’s simple, but it says so much about Carl and Ellie and their relationship — and Carl’s motivation for the rest of the film. And here’s the key: it’s not necessary. It’s not crucial to the plot. It’s not a joke. It’s not a funny sight gag. It’s just a lovely, truthful moment, and it adds so much.

That this scene is in Up‘s final cut is part of the answer to the question of what makes Pixar movies special year-in and year-out. It’s one way in which Pixar films are similar to those of Hayao Miyazaki. They allow these seemingly trivial, non-essential character-centric moments — and Up has a bunch more of them — that cumulatively paint a beautiful, resonant picture. When was the last time that a Dreamworks Animation release allowed even one?

In fact, Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter pretty much confirmed it himself:

With its airborne action ballet, though – not to mention its intertwining of fantasy and hushed emotional depth – “Up” primarily calls to mind the films of Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki.

There’s a satisfying sense of payback in that. Lasseter’s a longtime Miyazaki fan whose legacy includes bringing the director’s work to America (Disney will release “Ponyo” in August), and when this movie debuted at Cannes this month, Lasseter affirmed that “Miyazaki is in all the Pixar films.” With “Up,” his company has at last achieved something to stand with the master – a work dreamlike, delicious, and strange.

I absolutely LOVE Miyazaki films. If you don’t know, his works release through his Studio Ghibli, with notables including Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) and Sen to Chihiro no Kami-kakushi (Spirited Away). My personal favorite is Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (The Castle in the Sky). Nothing captures “imagination” quite like Miyazaki films.

So I was excited to read in that last article that “Ponyo” will be releasing in the states in August! I’ve already seen the Japanese release, and the theme song has been stuck in my head for months. A fantastical adventure with a ridiculous premise what somehow works out to be extremely entertaining and touching—another gem from Studio Ghibli:



2 Responses

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  1. t.h. said, on 06/03/2009 at 7:10 pm

    i can tell you that within the first 20 minutes of the film, i was emotionally invested into the characters in Up. Great soundtrack too; the way the character motif’s cue emotional responses. My favorite movie of the year, by far. Glad Ponyo is making its way to the states too!

  2. Rafa said, on 07/23/2009 at 8:01 pm

    I feel exactly the same, watching UP, the soul of Miyazaki films is on this film…

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