Comparing Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton’s Risk Tolerance

Mark Mayerson recently posted (with apologies for the delay, I’ve been without my RSS reader for the past fortnight) about the contrast between he efforts of two first-time live-action Pixarian directors. While the post does not go into much detail, the comments which follow raise a number of points in regards to risk and the nature of it.

As Mark points out, Brad Bird went with a familiar face and an existing franchise in stark contrast to Stanton who went for an unfilmed, 100 year-old book. Were either one of them right, or wrong?

No. Both took on a level of risk that they were comfortable with. Bird clearly wanted to have more certainty whereas Stanton was clearly comfortable loading all his reputation eggs in one basket.

That risk was of course shared by the studios. FOX (or whoever it was) that did Mission Impossible were clearly risk-averse. I mean, why else would they greenlight the fourth film in a series that has had the same star for dangerously close to 20 years. Disney on the other hand thought they had the man with the golden touch in Stanton, previous director of cash cows Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Both studios’ decisions are evidence of their relative tolerance of risk.

Animated films are just as susceptible to such risk, perhaps even more so, given their long lead times and inability to simply “do another take”.  Both Bird and Stanton have proven themselves with multiple successful animated films. A switch to live-action was obviously going to contain a certain amount of risk for both of them. It’s probably safe to say that one had a better idea than the other about what they were getting into; I don’t have to tell you who that is.

The only problem with all of this is that the public and critics constantly complain about repetition in Hollywood movies but at the same time clamour to strike down an effort to do something else. Is John Carter a terrible movie? I don’t know as I haven’t seen it. But for his efforts I would give Stanton the benefit of the doubt, for now.

Brand Bird on the other hand, received a gimme in Mission Impossible. Now that he has proven himself to Hollywood and the public/critics, he will hopefully advance to more innovative live-action features, or return to animation. Either way, he is the one to keep and eye on.

Mark Mayerson Is Right!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEPGpHADiKk

Due to my abysmal levels of energy this morning, Amid Amidi beat me to it, but Mark’s post is nonethless right on the money.

It’s a 2005 Tom and Jerry, co-directed by Joe Barbera. In some ways, it does a remarkably good job of duplicating the look and feel of the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons of the 1940s and ’50s. However, in other ways, it doesn’t…..

Mark does an excellent job of running down the issues with the short, starting with the opening credits that would give any designer nightmares and going on to talk about the animation styles. There are some great comments so don’t forget to read those too.

So just what is the point of so attempting to recreate the old timey feel of a Tom & Jerry cartoon? Oh sure, it wears its loyalty to the source material on its sleeve but what does that prove? That it’s the ‘rightful successor/continuation’ to the originals? That it somehow legitimises the cartoon as a real “Tom & Jerry” short? Or is it that the creators are acknowledging the value to be had in the old shorts?

The answer is more likely that it doesn’t feel “right” to see Tom & Jerry in any other setting than the ones we’re used to. The problem is that the original shorts were a product of their time, the 1940s and 50s. Everything was different then, and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera played on that. Just think of how many jokes they got out of that ironing board. Regardless of how many times the rehashed the same joke, they were at least using contemporary society for inspiration. Who has an ironing board like that now? No-one! As Mark says (emphasis mine):

Creative works are not only the product of people, they’re also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past. While artists often wish to duplicate what they love, they can only approximate it. Paradoxically, the closer they get to it, the more they’ve succeeded in doing nothing more than an good imitation. And since the originals are everywhere to begin with, is an imitation necessary?

And rightfully so. That’s partially why The Simpsons of today is so radically different from the early years. The show has changed but society changed even more. The first few series’ simply reflect the culture of the time (the early 90s); today’s episodes are much more post-September 11th/global recession in tone.

So the real question is, why are studios/producers reluctant to move older cartoon properties beyond their established norms? Are they afraid of the risk? I mean, Lunatics Unleashed can’t be that scary an example of what can happen, right?

Iif you’re going to go to the effort of updating properties, why not just do something new? It might be a bit more expensive, but risks can be mitigated, and you’re far more likely to have a stronger product that isn’t constrained by the pre-conceived notions of ” the old version”.

At the end of the day though, David OReilly says it best:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/davidoreilly/status/131477972023656448″]