Contributed by Lucas R.
A gorgeous, well-crafted and charming piece of cinema. The design was rich and warm and it made me feel nice and happy just getting to watch that world. All of that is really fantastic and worth more than the price of admission, but on top of that I realized while I was watching, and delighted in the realization, that the movie was a metaphor for Pixar!
Alright, let me explain (or try to explain, because I tried telling a lot of this to the friends I saw the movie with, got a bit carried away and jumped all over the place, and mostly got smiles and nods).
First, we’ve got Gusteau, the almost mythic chef who became a well-known phenomenon because of his work, and because his work was so loved he grew and thrived and made an empire. The empire lost some steam and with the help of some critical voices pointing out the plateau, the momentum was lost and with that momentum gone, the head of the empire died, but his empire kept on. So Gusteau was Walt Disney.
That empire reached far, and despite the energy behind the chef’s message had died, his work had spread and the message itself still inspired, even inspiring someone far away with a love for the same art to learn and grow their skills. That energy, conviction and the excitement of challenges and creation sounds a lot like Remy is Lasseter, discovering his raw tools at the beginnings of Pixar, amongst people who are supportive but have no idea what he’s doing, and folks who realize he’s got something but want to steer it to fit their interest. Remy’s testing for poison while exploring some ideas of food combination, Lasseter’s testing software and testing some character interaction and storytelling with new and developing technology. So yeah, Remy is Lasseter.
So, since the death of Gusteau/Disney, the empire still exists, but isn’t in the hands of the person who began it. It is being run now in a largely totalitarian way by a man without the creative and inspirational vision of the creator, but with a mind for keeping things afloat and profiting on cheapening and exploiting the name and image of the company’s past in mostly cheap and easy ways. In the movie, that’s Skinner; at Disney, that’s Michael Eisner. So yeah, Eisner/Skinner is chugging along, riding high at the helm of another’s empire and keeping many things running without any change and discouraging talk of change, while at the same time making deals behind the scenes to merchandise everything he can plaster the name of the now long-dead Gusteau/Disney onto.
Next, we get a seemingly harmless and ineffectual remnant of the old days who Skinner/Eisner lets on, but dismisses out of hand and sets up in a place where he figures the guy can’t do much/any harm. This new guy turns out to have ties to Gusteau/Disney though, and starts to make some waves after he begins a relationship with a little-known outside party that makes a splash out of nowhere with their first big creative endeavor. Linguini is Roy Disney. Roy staked himself to secure a relationship with Pixar and when Pixar hit big with Toy Story, the eyes were on him, largely like how Linguini could’ve stayed ineffectual and bullied into impotence but found the potential greatness in a small outsider. To the majority of the outside world, this new, great creation belonged to the empire of Gusteau’s/Disney, while within Disney it was Linguini/Roy Disney making a stir and the real power behind it all was Remy/Pixar.
The challenge to replicate the first success and the scoffing that “meh, you can do it with soup/toys, but let’s see if you can do it with something even Gusteau/Walt couldn’t ever seem to pull off: a bug movie!” But by sticking to what he knew to be best instead of trying to simply recreate what was done before, Remy/Pixar pulled it off again and now people wanted more.
During this time, Linguini/Roy Disney falls for Colette, who has worked very hard to get in and stay at the kitchen/Disney studios and who thinks that the only way to work is to tenaciously stick to the classic formulas and rules and immediately jumps in with warnings that deviation can lead to disaster. She does clue Remy/Pixar into some technical aspects of their work that do improve his skill, but he blows past Colette because of his experimentation and sense of artistry, and Linguini/Roy Disney is left in the middle trying to be supportive of Colette while still providing an outlet for Remy/Pixar and being pulled all around in the process. Colette is Disney Animation (the department and the animators). She viewed Pixar/Remy as a threat and an anomaly at the beginning, and eventually had to bite the bullet and join in to be able to really make anything worth making by the end of things. But I digress, back to where we were in the story.
Roy/Linguini was now riding high, but didn’t really understand his relationship with Remy/Pixar and was even trying to steer them along himself, even though it was done pretty innocently. Eisner/Skinner saw things slipping away and was grasping at straws to find a way to keep control. He even tried to trap Remy/Pixar (Skinner with a literal trap, Eisner with contracts) so he could take advantage of what they were succeeding with and force it into his cheap merchandising plans, but Remy/Pixar fought around that and finally got Linguini/Roy to realize that for his relationship with Remy/Pixar to really work, he’d have to take the support role instead of the leader/sponsor role and give them the chance to be the force they are. Still, when Remy/Pixar finally enters into Gusteau’s/Disney, the people who were there running the machine left and Remy/Pixar found that they had to rally their own forces with the reluctant Colette/Disney Animation. In the end, Remy/Pixar finds out that they can’t just continue in the shell of a former empire, they have to take the good from that and make something new if they’re going to be able to succeed.
Finally, Anton Ego represents the critics of animation in general. People who figure it’s all been done to death already, but if you think you can impress them, then go ahead and hit them with your best shot, because they don’t know what they want out of animation, just that they don’t think they can be impressed by it any more. With that challenge, the people in the studios figure they should bank on something flashy and new and shiny, but Remy/Pixar goes for something simple and nostalgic with enough of their own twist to make it theirs without taking away from what makes the subject matter belong to the audience, and instead of trying to make their audience like something completely new, finds new ways to remind their audience about something they already loved. It’s not so much a formula as a recipe that Pixar has used well and continues to, and it’s the kind of meal that stays with you and really satisfies.
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