Number of Films: Two.
Modern Masterpieces: Two. Yes both.
Total Disasters: Not possible
Better than you remember: If you think either of these could be better, you should probably just stop reading now..
Awards: Best Animated film Oscar for Finding Nemo and WALL-E. As many Best Picture nominations as Brad Bird.
Box Office: Finding Nemo takes in over 330 mil, WALL-E gets over 220 mil.
Critical Consensus: Raved and raved.
Favorite Actor: Jon Ratzenberger as expected.
Let’s talk about:
Simplicity. But please don’t take that to be a pejorative term. Just as Bird’s films are essentially complex, Stanton’s films are the perfect possible versions of their simple selves. Finding Nemo, his first film of the decade, I've always seen as something akin to The Bicycle Thief with fish. Even if it's not an exact twin of the DeSica film in form, there's a lot in common in spirit. Both films are simple quests and both explore the unbreakable father/son bond even as the son comes to learn that his father can't protect him in all situations (though in Finding Nemo the quest is for the son, not with the son). Finding Nemo marks a small turning point for Pixar. Before this the studio was responsible for the dependably good Toy Story films, the somewhat minor A Bugs Life and the high-concept but decidedly kiddy Monsters Inc. Finding Nemo was really their first fully realized film. I recall my film professor at the time touting it as the best film of the year and finding it strange that he'd give that distinction to an animated film (I hadn't seen it yet). So there's no great complexity to Finding Nemo, but there is a severe emotional pull perhaps made more devastating thanks to the film's simplicity. There is little question in any of these films of a happy ending, but Finding Nemo and WALL-E come closest to inflicting us (or at least this writer) with the anxiety felt by the characters that there may not be.
Stanton, happy and talented
Speaking of WALL-E, Stanton's second film of the decade is quite simply the best Pixar has offered. WALL-E is a fantastic character and Stanton's ability to make him lovable while combating the restraints of his silence and his being a robot (robot = cold, shouldn't it?) is as good an argument for his ability to garner an emotional reaction through the strategic use of simplicity as any for his talent for the understated. As the film moves from earth to space, the narrative gets more madcap. But don't confuse this for complexity. It's still a very simple quest film where characters don't need inner conflict or to question their motives.
Two other things that set Stanton apart from other Pixar directors. He is most likely to infuse his films with direct cinematic references. Yes I know the Pixar films are always cross-referencing each other and other films. But Stanton's stand out, whether it's the "mine" seagulls designed as an homage to Aardman Studios, the name of Bruce the Shark, an homage to Monty Python, the HAL-infused villian of WALL-E or the Chaplin heavy mannerisms of the title robot in that same movie, there are direct, design-influenced references that signify Stanton as a student and lover of great cinema aesthetic. Stanton's second unique quality is how he can manipulate his films' action to incorporate fantastic sequences that would otherwise be seen as distractions or diversions. I'm thinking here of the space dancing in WALL-E or the sea turtle ride from Finding Nemo. Sequences that could easily stall the plot and come across as unneccesary become essential and again exemplify Stanton's wonderful aesthetics
Andrew Stanton, Mr. Simplicity. Second from Left.
There is another reason to highlight Bird and Stanton as great directors of this decade, particularly of animated film. Both are branching out into the world of live-action, and may not return to animation for quite some time. Stanton's next project is John Carter of Mars and (like Bird's) isn't slated for release for several years. Pixar will undoubtedly prevail and Stanton and Bird's upcoming films should be on the radar of any serious film fan. And, of course, the two men continue to have a home at Pixar and will most likely return. Still they combined this decade to make an upstart, promising studio into the strongest force for consistent quality in moviedom today.