Nostalgia is the engine that hums along beneath Brad Bird’s films — the Fantastic Four pastiche of The Incredibles, the secret-agent capers of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the aroused sentimentality of critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille, and the animation of The Iron Giant, which combined CG with hand-drawn images. Bird is an old-school kind of filmmaker with old-school kinds of values, and thodr values are expressed as narrative subtext. The disaster ofTomorrowland is that the subtext has become text. Tomorrowland is not just a film about nostalgia; it’s a Very Important Statement on the World We Live In that takes nostalgia as a given. Tomorrowland shows us a gleaming, Oz-like city on the horizon populated by uniformly smiling faces and dressed up with decades-old sci-fi tropes like jetpacks and rocketship launching pads, and Bird looks back longingly on the world that imagined it. Continue reading
God bless Pixar for doing it the hard way. There’s a new wave of banal, aggressively condescending talking-animal cartoons being shoveled out of the Hollywood CG-image factories these days, but Ratatouille is everything those films aren’t and it’s nothing that kids raised on lowest-common-denominator cartoon pablum expect. The setting is Paris. The subject is food — good food, in fact, and also the difference between good food and bad. And dramatizing that very unexpected story of the gulf between adequacy and excellence, and our capacity as human beings to recognize and be moved by sublime endeavor, may be the most difficult narrative trick of all.