Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Timid" would be a far more appropriate title.

Pixar Studios
Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd
Pixar, you dunce, you coward, you spineless know-it-all know-nothing, you've really done it this time. It's amazing just how much this studio is full of itself and how convinced it is of its own supposed brilliance. Every time they release a new piece, they just get stupider and stupider. And now with Brave, even I'm surprised by how lowly they've gotten.

People who check out my page already know that I rip Pixar to shreds on a regular basis, and not just because of their previously-mentioned theft of my own work either, but this particular project really stinks, its stench so wretched with even more unoriginality than usual that it actually manages to make their previous trash look brilliant by comparison. For a movie called "brave", Brave isn't brave at all; in fact, it may very well be their most coldly and commercially calculated product to date. All calculation and no heart as usual, Pixar has their stubborn formulas even more firmly rooted than ever.

Don't be fooled by all of those trailers trying to make it look like this is about a bold princess archer trying to beat the bad guys in a tournament with a scene that hints at her whupping their collective villain butts in battles to come (as the oh-so-clever advertising so evilly wants you to believe). The story is anything but. And, as is the norm for Pixar, it rips off more sources carefully picked to appeal than your average Britney Spears album.

It involves a Scottish princess named Merida (Kelly Macdonald) who's one of those, ahem, newfangled princesses who's an annoyance to their parents, the well-meaning Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) in particular, by refusing to want to be what a traditional princess is supposed to be like in their eyes and instead would much rather be out riding around, practicing her archery and the like. Gee, we haven't seen this kind of character before, now, have we?

Anyway, after mention of a legend about a prince (of course), a tournament is held for all those who wish to compete for her hand in marriage and, you guessed it, only certain types are allowed to participate who measure up to the King and Queen's personal traditional standards and, again you guessed it, they're all as ugly and unappealing as sin. One of them lucks out and manages to hit the bullseye, but because she doesn't want to marry the poor sap she announces that she will then compete for her "own hand" to get out of the deal, fires an arrow and perfectly splits the winner's own. Disney's animated Robin Hood, anyone? And even in Matrix-style slow motion, yet. Snore.

Her mother is pissed, of course, so off goes annoyed Merida into the forest where she eventually runs into some old witch -- you know, the type who always seems to be conveniently on hand for movies like this -- who whips up a little something to change Merida's mother around. And does it ever: after eating it, it turns The Queen Mum into a bear, the King discovers and, instead of puzzling over the fact that a bear has mysteriously appeared in the castle and wanting to investigate the situation intelligently, especially since his own daughter seems to have a very apparently guilty hand in the situation somehow and obviously may be responsible, immediately and stupidly declares on impulse instead that this is a good excuse to practice his hunting skills as he just loooooves to hunt bears, Merida and Mama Bear escape off into the forest, and from that point on the whole thing begins ripping off all sorts of ideas straight out of Brother Bear for the rest of the movie just for extra good measure, trying hard to only hit what Pixar felt were the "appealing" parts of that earlier effort.

Blah blah blah, Merida helps her mother catch fish and eat properly in the wild, blah blah blah, witch has completely disappeared without even leaving behind a proper name, much less her forwarding address, phone number or even her email for that matter, simply vanishing because, again, she's the type of witch who's always called on to pull such stunts in a movie like this, blah blah blah, gotta break the spell somehow, blah blah blah, thrashing about in the wood, blah blah blah blah blah. Does it go without saying that the family triplets also got into the same Witch's Junk Food prepared for Mama Bear and all become bears themselves, and for pret-ty much no reason whatsoever other than the fact that the resulting toys should be extremely marketable? And what about that previously-mentioned prince? Think we'll ever run into him? Or, to be more precise, what happened AFTER he got himself into trouble? And boy is he ever pissed.

Notice how the mom doesn't become something truly horrendous, like an ogre -- which, come to think of it, Shrek already beat to death far into the ground already -- but instead something cute and loveable and sooo TOTally marketable. Every single little move programmed and toy-ready to the max. And, again of course, you just KNOW that in the process of all this gruel Merida is gonna realize that she's never gonna have probs with her mother again, she's grateful for her and loves her just as she is after the inevitable happy ending. Thoughts to live by. And good for the kiddies, and especially the PC movie watchdogs who scare modern studios to pieces, to hear. How very challenging for the audiences of today.

What swill.

And the biggest insult? Talk about that Pixar high horse: their "big achievement" here that they keep blathering on about is how this is their first movie with a female lead. Ooooh, big deal. Like that hasn't been done before either... I wouldn't make such a big stink about it if it weren't for the fact that they trumpet that fact as though it's groundbreaking genius! As though they thought up the whole notion of doing such a thing in the first place! What sort of vacuum do those idiots live in, anyway?! THIS is "genius"?? And a princess, too... gosh... no marketing intentions there either, I suppose?

What a cowardly movie. Even after all these years, Pixar still refuses to do anything even slightly different, imaginative or challenging. Pathetic. And, sadly, I'm sure it will also most likely do very well.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I hate to say it, but it's true.

Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures
Bakshi Productions

I was going to be nice about this subject, but as I'm incredibly cyncial about this thing I'm just going to start off by saying the very first thought in my mind: if I hear yet another animation "expert" praise this thing for "saving us from the American cartoon rut" I'm gonna hurl.

Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse had a simple premise, one that all those idiots reading "rebellious" and "alternative" statements into it fail to accept: he simply got the rights to create a new Mighty Mouse cartoon, hired a group of artists to do so, and simply let them have at it and do whatever they wanted to do. Now this is, of course, the way that cartoons are supposed to be produced in the first place; and it backs up my statements regarding the fact that anything made with artistic honesty, no matter what its quality, will automatically get top bill in the eyes of the public over anything else simply because audiences in this country are starved for it. And unfortunately, it also proves my statements regarding the results of all the interlopers who then jump on the bandwagon, which I briefly discussed here.

Now when it first came out, I was just finishing up high school, and I was just as intrigued by its look as everyone else and learned from it, although I seriously began to outgrow it around mid-'92 or so. But technically speaking, this thing hasn't aged well at all, and it seriously looks threadbare. These days it appears to be an '80s relic more than anything else. But while it is indeed true that it has been monumentally influential, that's the whole problem with the thing in the first place. I never thought I'd say this back then, but after seeing the results now I have no problems with doing so although a part of me pains to do it:

In the end, Bakshi's Mighty Mouse was NOT good for cartoons.

Ever since this thing came out, we've gotten all sorts of glop that ended up transforming the entire North American animation style into ugly, primitive designs, and after it begat junk like The Simpsons and Bakshi's protegee Jon Kricfalusi went off and followed suit afterwards by creating that godawful flash-in-the-pan hit Ren & Stimpy (whose popularity even HE hated), which was basically Mighty Mouse's style taken to its most nauseating extremes, we're never heard the end of it. Now EVERYTHING that gets produced here just HAS to have buttcracks, fart jokes, vomiting and so-called "outrageous" design. And all the beauty and lushness of the North American cartoon has all but been completely destroyed.

Am I blaming Bakshi's Mighty Mouse for all the toilet-humour-ridden sludge we've been forced to put up with in the decades since its creation? Yeah, I pretty much am. These days, you get mocked for doing anything in good taste; I actually had an extremely arrogant woman get after me for creating G-rated cartoons, telling me, "Cartoonists HAVE to put in rude humor and designs in it, otherwise everyone's going to think they're some kind of child molester." It's actually come to THAT, folks. This slop has become so commonplace that people actually believe that it's "the new normal". Is there a more insulting statement than that said woman's comment?

Vastly overrated to Nirvana's Nevermind extremes, this thing has landed us all in hot water and deserves to be forgotten once and for all. Bakshi's intentions were fine and good, but the overall message of "let the artists have their say" was once again grossly misinterpeted and as a result the show ended up completely ruining the North American cartoon. Just completely and thoroughout ruined it. This show is The Yoko Ono Stereotype of the entire North American animation industry. I can't even talk about it anymore, it's too depressing.

(NOTE: The reason I use the term "The Yoko Ono Stereotype" as opposed to just saying "The Yoko Ono" is to make sure it's perfectly understood that I have personally never believed the whole stereotype that she singlehandedly "broke up The Beatles" and am therefore referring to the stereotype itself, not the actual artist.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

One of the most outraging shocks of my life: discovering Pixar had stolen my picture and concept for their "original" movie Up

Directed by a plagurist named Pete Docter
Written by a thief named Bob Peterson
96 minutes
Rated PG (for some peril and action, as well as teaching children that you can make a fortune off of stealing someone else's idea)

[NOTE: This is where I usually share a publicity still of the movie in question that I happen to be reviewing and commenting on. This time, for obvious reasons, I simply refuse to do it.]

I cannot begin to tell you how much this release enrages me.

For those of you out there who have not yet heard; Pixar, who had already established a track record for ripping off other people's characters, concepts and ideas, STOLE MY PICTURE AND CONCEPT FOR THIS MOVIE.

What had happened was this:

Back in 1987 when I was still living in the Tri-Valley of the Bay Area, there was a restaurant over in the Target parking lot of Dublin called The Big Yellow House. It looked exactly like its name and was a victorian-style two story building, and it looked gorgeous both on the outside and inside. I had gotten to eat there a handful of times due to my parents being fans of it, and one night after one of those visits I came up with a project idea while I had the Willy Wonka song Pure Imagination spinning around in my head; and because I still had a delight for the concept of having my cartoon characters travel by balloon, especially since falling in love with the record cover of Prince & The Revolution's Around The World In A Day, why not a series of houses?

So I began creating a series of sketches for such a project to be used for its cover and "main" pages. The centerpiece for the book's cover was a yellow house inspired by the Big Yellow House Restaurant being carried lovingly away through the clouds by multicoloured heart-shaped balloons. I called the book Free. I was hoping to eventually use it to raise money for charity, which has always been my lifelong goal with my work. The title was designed to be white and gracefully giving the impression of being written in the sky above as though it were written from air and cloud, and while no characters would be present in the actual cover, they would become visible upon opening the cover in a closeup of the house itself. Other airloft houses and designs would also decorate and engage the reader to encourage the notion of emotional and physical freedom, a peacful reflection to refresh the spirit of whoever looked at it.

After having copies of it mailed to myself via registered mail to protect it, I put it away for future completion as 1998 brought on the whole mess of my family's disaster and implosion, suddenly having to move away and my whole life immediately being thrown into chaos.

One day a certain individual from England who now had my business card, whom I now wish with all my heart and soul I had never met due to all the trauma he ended up causing me, asked to see some of the samples of my work that I had been creating over the years, and I was happy to share them. Certain pictures he asked if he could have copies of because he enjoyed them so much, and, as was my custom at the time, I said yes, of course. One of those pictures was the main cover illustration for Free. I had told him that he was allowed to have copies so long as he promised not to show them to anyone.

So guess what? Soon afterward I had found out the creep had posted several of my pictures (along with my name, address and telephone number!) on something I was unfamiliar with at the time called the internet, and had even handed several such pictures over to other peoples' personal amateur book publications for inclusion!

I demanded to know what he thought he was doing, and it was obvious that he was stubbornly convinced that he was supposedly "doing me a favor" by giving me "exposure".

At first it seemed fairly simple to get rid of most of them, but my cover for Free was apparently a popular one: it kept popping up on the web all over the place! I can't begin to tell you how many years I spent chasing it down and telling people to remove it, how hard I tried so hard to protect my baby, but then finally around 2002 or so, it seemed that I had finally managed to get it permanently removed. Thank God, I thought to myself, now it's safe again. Or so I thought. But years later I would learn that my troubles were only magnified.

Fast forward to just a few years ago: imagine my shock and horror when one day I was going to work and saw, right in front of my eyes, MY OWN PICTURE STARING BACK AT ME IN A MOVIE POSTER FOR AN UPCOMING PIXAR THING CALLED "UP"!

I just stared at it in sheer outrage and horror. It was my exact house. My exact concept. The lettering style I had created for my title had been stolen. Even the clouds in the background were in the exact same formations! Everything, EVERYTHING, was exactly the same. The only two differences were (a) the balloons were now normally-shaped ones as opposed to heart-shaped, and (b) it was digitally created by computer as opposed to hand-drawn. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Can you imagine how I felt when I saw that?

I had already watched for years as Pixar would steal ideas, characters and concepts before, but I never once thought they would take advantage of and steal from a penniless charity artist.

Current circumstances which cannot be discussed here prevent me from being able to actually sue, but let me just say that I politely discussed the situation with certain people immediately after discovering it, explaining that I have legal proof in my possession. Afterwards, I have noticed little alterations made since in the film's advertising. The original movie poster advertising for Up which was blatantly stolen from me now tends to be replaced with a different picture of the house up in the sky at the top left corner of the photograph and the film's three main characters hanging off its bottom with a hose. The title graphic now tends to have a smaller graphic of a ballooned house placed within the center of the letter "P" so as to create a bit of difference from my own. And the current DVD boxes are far different still.

However, nothing will mollify me from this situation. That's my concept up there. That's my idea. And it really makes me sick that others clearly lacking in imagination, talent and inspiration would stoop so low. If any of those people involved, ANY of them, tell you that it's an original idea and how they supposedly came up with Up entirely on their own then they are lying. Plain and simple.

What do I want? I don't want their damn money. I couldn't care less about that. What I want is for them to have the balls to GIVE ME CREDIT HERE. Which, so far, I have yet to see them do.

It has taken me quite a while to control my sheer outrage over the situation to actually sit down here and write about this whole nonsense. I ended up having to sit through this thing one day while waiting to have my teeth worked on, so I'll go ahead and attempt to remark on my reaction to the story itself.

The actual script, which has been praised to death by sheeple critics for reasons I still can't fathom considering how very Pixar-traditionally calculated it is, starts off with two children who both have a strong desire to see the world, especially after seeing footage of an explorer named Charles Muntz (and also after seeing my own illustrations, apparently) who disappears after attempting to prove that he discovered a "lost world". Ho hum, such originality. The kids' names are Carl and Ellie. They grow up, fall in love, have a big Yellow House, and suddenly they are elderly, Ellie is gone, and Carl has pretty much closed himself off. Deciding that enough is enough and that he's going to at least make that One Special Trip he and Ellie had been hoping on all their lives, he attaches the balloons and attempts to fly there, accidentally bringing along a scout kid in the process, and reach Paradise Falls, which is basically a weird patchwork of ideas and goals stolen from countless other films, not to mention an annoying take on the usually lovable idea of talking dogs.

Yawn, same old, same old. Does this sound like Pixar just threw together a bunch of claptrap in order to have an excuse of a story to hang my idea on to? Of course it does, because that's precisely what it is. I have yet to see Pixar do anything unique or original, apart from the original way that they keep ruining the industry with their recycled trash, and Up is no different. I remember how people used to (and in some circles still do) criticize Spielberg for attempting "deliberate button pushes" instead of honest emotion, and that phrase precisely describes the stunt that Pixar is known for doing. I think it says something that I recently saw a comment on a trailer for their new upcoming movie Brave (which I'm sure is also "borrowed" from yet another source) that remarked, "If it weren't for the fact that it has Pixar's name on it, I wouldn't at all be interested in it." Uh, hello? Whatever happened to individual thinking? Why should you feel obligated to go see something just because Pixar's name is on it if it doesn't look like it interests you at all? But that's another topic for another day.

Meanwhile, as for my book Free, I still plan on publishing it eventually. And when I do, I am not altering its illustrations, much less its cover, in the slightest. It IS my idea and book, after all. And I WILL release it precisely as it was intended.