Sunday, June 12, 2011

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Not for Kids

Those who know me well can be forgiven for assuming that my aversion to Pixar films is a function of snobbishness, borne from the same reservoir of status-mongering that ensured I heard my first Lady GaGa song more than a year after she'd been shocking and annoying and exciting audiences everywhere. But this is not the case.

Catching up on my New Yorker reading recently, I encountered Anthony Lane's article about the company, in which he nicely gets to the crux of why in the last three or four years I've serially declined to see Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Cars, or Toy Story 3, despite resounding endorsements from people whose taste I respect:

"To put the matter baldly: as a frightening proportion of supposedly grownup movies have reverted to the childish, so a disarming proportion of supposedly child-friendly movies have found friends in an adult audience," Lane wrote.

Or, as a friend of mine put it after I'd cried my way through Up (it was another friend's birthday and I was loath to refuse): "Wow, Pixar, taking a hard look at the human condition."

In its first ten minutes, that film dealt with sterility, the death of a spouse, and profound disillusionment, among other heavy themes, and I hated it for doing so. Pixar films, to me, are tragedies hiding in a Trojan Horse of childish wonder. Yes, they have happy endings, but they allow the disappointments of adult life to seep into childhood in a way I find painfully jarring. The reviews of Up, for instance, gave me absolutely no warning of the buzzsaw that would be taken to my heart as the theater's hush was lanced by the plaintive whine of a girl saying,"Mommy, where is the baby?"during the scene where a distraught woman receives the news of her inability to have children.

I'm prepared for some hard truths when I sit down to watch a film from Wes Anderson or Terence Malick or Martin Scorsese, but not when I'm settling in to watch Tom Hanks lend his voice to an animated (in more than one sense) toy cowboy. To critics and parents, this seems to be the pleasant surprise of Pixar films: they don't just throw little comic bones to adults, but actively court their attention and consideration. But childhood seems most valuable for its innocence; we cherish it as a time apart from the compromises and responsibilities of adulthood. To be sure, the cocoon is not total. Children often have an inarticulate awareness of small sadnesses and defeats, and capturing the world through the strange lens of childhood has its place in art. But what troubles me about Pixar is that it only intermittently takes the child's point of view, tending to favor fundamentally adult approaches to its subject matter, the cinematic equivalent of choosing The Catcher in the Rye as a bedtime story.

The more profound components of Pixar films tend to go over the heads of younger viewers, yes, but, as Pixar films like to point out, kids are smarter than we give them credit for being. Consider the girl who asked her mother where the baby was: what do you think they talked about after the film?

Monday, June 6, 2011

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Well Dressed Men

Here at Traction, we're a sucker for the 1960s. We like skinny ties and we bought our glasses based on their resemblance to Bobby Kennedy's. And so we were thrilled to do a review of the 1960s prep-style classic Take Ivy for Penn's beautiful fashion magazine. You can find it here.

(Note: a return to our usual posting style and schedule is around the corner!)