Monday, December 27, 2010

Toy Story 3's Brilliant Oscar Campaign

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Let's talk about the best FYC campaign of the year. The one where Pixar tries to build a case for Toy Story 3 as the Best Picture of the year, not just a nominee. Pixar won't be happy to just get the annual ghetto Oscar for Animated Feature, they want the big one. Do you believe this is possible? I can't say that I do...

Or, rather, it's possible but not bloody likely. A good correlation might be the foreign language film category. They also have their own category and very few have ever been nominated for Best Picture and none have won (the closest to a "foreign" winner is Slumdog Millionaire which is technically a British film but is partially in Hindi).

But let's look at the ads themselves, from worst to best, which use "Not since _____ " to compare TS3 to previous Best Picture winners.


Here's the two I find most problematic. I can't think, other than gender, how Jesse connects to Annie Hall (1977)? From body language to clothing, speaking patterns to personality, Jessie and Annie couldn't be any more different. And I can't see the connection in the photo either. The "Not since Titanic" ad is gorgeously composed but...



...it seems rather tasteless to equate toys in the garbage dump to the who died at sea when the Titanic sunk.

I've heard the argument that it's okay to compare TS3 to the cheese-tastic epic that is Titanic and I heartily agree on that point. Both films are highly entertaining adventures. But the ad still screams "people who drowned!" only these toys don't actually die. Spoiler! TS3 is a lovely funny movie but it gets credit for really weird things, like for this scene which 'bravely confronts mortality'. The American animated film hasn't confronted death very often at all; it's a downer. Outside of Bambi and Up, when does it ever happen? Oh, sure, the villains die (usually accidentally or via a third party so that the hero/heroine isn't guilty of murder or manslaughter) but the audience is expected to cheer; it's not far removed from a knockout in a boxing movie. Characters regularly cheat death in animated films (by miracles, magical tears, kisses, luck, etcetera) but surviving the swing of the grim reaper's scythe is not the same thing as facing mortality. It's the opposite.


These two, referencing Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and The French Connection (1971) are a smidgeon better but the connections... The atonal torture stuff in Slumdog is not something to remind us of (worst part of that movie) and I'm blanking on the telephone thing. When we think of The French Connection, don't we think of car chases?  When I see the words French Connection and a big phone, I think immediately of Gene Hackman and so the phone makes me think of all those recording devices in The Conversation but that didn't win Best Picture. Still, it's one of the best films of the 70s which is saying a lot.


These are cuter. American Beauty (1999) uses American icon Barbie. And we readily forgive the literal toilet humor of this On The Waterfront (1954) gag because Pixar is one of the rare animated studios that doesn't regular subject us to that kind of desperate humor. And Woody spinning on that toilet roll was a really funny bit of slapstick.


The Platoon connection is obvious but the simplicity of the image is great and I think those anonymous green soldiers are insufficiently honored in discussions of the Toy Story movies. They're almost as great as the linking red monkeys. The Rocky (1976) joke is even better because it's not an exact parallel but it's the last man standing in the ring.


And from this point forward they're all brilliant. Big Baby and Lotso subbing for Clark Gable and Charles Naughton in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Love it. And not just because I think the movie is totally underrated. This bit using "Not since... The Sting " (1973) is just so smart. Pixar movies have such great camera angles. They do always shoot them like classic movies inside those computers.



UPDATE 12/28: Oopsie, I missed this Silence of the Lambs (1991) spoof when I posted this. Or perhaps it's new. Sick humor -wheeeee -- but isn't the Mr Potatohead tortilla gag the most memorably weird image in the movie?


Love the bold color and compositions of The Godfather Part II (1974) and Return of the King (2003) ads. The RoTK ad is especially choice because it's such a beautiful twin, visually, of such an indelible moment in another famous threequel.


And finally, my choice for the two best ads which use Shakespeare in Love (1999) and The Sound of Music (1965) so fondly. Who didn't love discovering the thespian tendencies of Mr Pricklepants and to imagine him getting another big Shakespearean moment? Heaven.

Finally, we have Ken as one of the Von Trapp children. I'm bravely confronting mortality because I just died and went to heaven.

Adieu adieu to you and you and you ♪ ♫ 

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38 comments:

Dean said...

The most memorable exploration of mortality in an animated film has to be Mufasa's death in The Lion King. Tore me to pieces as a kid.

Miguel said...

Dean: AMEN! n til this day, I believe it should have been on the Best Picture 5 that year, along side, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, and Quiz Show. We could push Four Weddings and a Funeral to 6th place.

Michael said...

I was also thinking of The Lion King! And the off-screen death of Ariel's mom in Little Mermaid (unless she has a mom? But I think it's only Triton, no?).

All FYC ads should be this creative.

RB said...

But aren't the toys facing their mortality by joining hands and confronting it? Most of the near-death escapes in other movies usually have the characters clinging to life before being rescued.

NATHANIEL R said...

RB -- i dunno. that's stretching it to me because I think crying about death, which is what happens to resurrect character in Beauty & The Beast and Tangled, is also facing it. But in the easiest way possible.

I think Up and Bambi are pretty unusual in this area (i don't remember the Lion King very well. Truth: I have not seen it since 1994!) but the rest pretend death does not exist, or is easy to not have happen to you (unless it happens before the movie starts. i.e. lots of orphaned heroes)

Anime on the other hand. Not afraid of it at all. Grave of the Fireflies. Wow, is that brutal or what?

Amy said...

The Lion King has a devastating death scene. Simba's father falls off a big ass mountain and Simba sees it. Hunchback Of Notre Dame, his parents are murdered by soldiers. Tarzan is full of death and in Princess and the Frog, her father dies, as does her friend.

Barking up the wrong tree criticizing Disney in this department.

NATHANIEL R said...

offscreen? or are you talking on?

I've seen most of these but not ringing a bell. most death scenes i recall involve immediate resurrection (unless they're villains)

Amy said...

Not 100% sure Hunchback was onscreen, but I'm pretty sure it was. The only thing close to resurrection is "Princess and the Frog", but he turns into a star...doesn't get revived.

Ryan T. said...

Not the same as Bambi or UP, but in Finding Nemo, the film opens with Marlin's mate (Nemo's mom) and Nemo's numerous brothers/sisters getting eaten by a barracuda. I remembered thinking, "Damn this is already the deadliest Disney movie ever I bet."

In any case, Amy is right about Lion King. The death of Mufasa haunted me as a boy.

Jack said...

I think it's inevitable that one year - albeit it would have to be a weak year - it will just be "time to honour" Pixar, and everyone from the critics to the guilds and finally to the Academy, will give them Best Picture.

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have said it would be this year with "Toy Story 3", but then "The Social Network" happened...

crossoverman said...

You know, I agree that some of these posters are ill-conceived, but since the "facing death" moment in TS3 was compared to the Holocaust in several reviews I read, comparing it to the disaster movie Titanic is relatively mild.

Philip said...

I totally agree on The Lion King. I'm just about to be 18 in a few months, and when I was young, I watched Lion King every. single. day. And Mufasa's death always made me sob. So heartbreaking.

Tikabelle said...

Here's an interesting thought about The Lion King: It's a lot like Hamlet with a happy ending and no incest. So not *really* a lot like Hamlet, but the parallels are there - right down to the ghost showing up and letting its presence tell the son what to do and the sleazy uncle trying to steal the kingdom.

Also, "The Alphabet Song" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" have the same melody. :P

Steven said...

In Hunchback, Quasimodo's mother's death is very much onscreen. Frollo (the main villain) pushes Quasi's mother down the stairs of the cathedral, which kills her, and he takes her baby (Quasimodo) from her and is just about to throw him in the well because he is "a monster." The archdeacon stops him just as he is about to drop the baby in the well. He basically scolds Frollo, saying that he can say that he's innocent of the woman's death but cannot hide the truth from God or "the eyes of Notre Dame." It's amazingly dark and chilling. It's definitely the darkest film in the Disney canon. Underrated in my opinion, too.

And Nathaniel, you must revisit The Lion King! Another horrifying death sequence, and Scar's death at the end of the film is no accident and very much approved by Simba, our hero.

dusty said...

I think we could draw a distinction between characters whose deaths occur early in the movie (before we as the audience have been able to identify with them) and those whose deaths occur later (and therefore have more impact).

Nemo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Princess and the Frog -- first category. Those deaths occur "on screen", strictly speaking, but they're backstory. They reference mortality, but really they're plot or character contrivances. In the second category, however, we have Bambi's mother and Simba's father, two characters who had speaking parts and were around long enough for viewers to develop an affection for them. That's why those deaths are more impactful. As for Up, ... I'm inclined to say it falls somewhere in the middle. The dead wife character is in the movie long enough to build audience sympathy, but even her death is backstory. Perhaps we can call it an exceptionally moving use of backstory.

Anyone else wish Disney had let Flynn Rider die at the end of Tangled? Now, THAT would have been a brave move.

City_Of_Lights said...

I actually thought they might let Flynn go. Wouldn't have been a bad choice. Funny...last animated movie I can think of where the hero dies is Battle For Terra - a Randy Quaid Independence Day style death. But no one saw that movie.

cal roth said...

Oh My God, The Lion King. That was the modern Bambi. I think it's the best Disney movie of all time, and I've seen A LOT of them.

amir_uk said...

I don't get the "Not since..." tagline in these ads. I have to say I like them a lot (though I didn't much care for the film itself) - I like that they appeal to our collective sense of movie/Oscar history - but I don't get it: "not since" what? I'm sure they're a play on the fact that an animation has never won Best Picture, but still, someone explain them to me!...

NATHANIEL R said...

dusty -- excellent articulate points, filling out my argument in a better way.

crossoverman -- that's true but don't get me started on those reviews. I can't even believe people went there. I don't like to make that comparison because then, instantly, you're into that 'GOTCHA! THEY SURVIVED :) YAYYYY' weirdly pandering/coddling moment from the otherwise brutal Schindler's List with the gas chamber that's really just showers. Harmless!

Uhhhhh

Amir -- aren't they just implying "you haven't seen a movie this [adjective] since... " ?

OtherRobert said...

I was about to say Watership Down, only a quick search told me it was British.

I'm going to add onto the Hunchback suggestion by pointing out the film had an entire song about damnation, including the fireplace going wild to represent the flames of hell. What was it called? Oh yeah, "Hellfire."

OtherRobert said...

How stupid of me to forget. Corpse Bride was all about death, murder, revenge, and setting souls to rest.

NATHANIEL R said...

otherrobert -- but how is cute gothic ghosts and skeletons facing mortality? Seems to me to be more fantasy. I'm not saying htat's not great but the animated film (in America) is not very mature in some senses (variety of subject matters, themes), very mature in others (technology, storytelling)

Arkaan said...

I might have agreed with you had I not recently rewatched TS3.

Nathaniel, go watch The Lion King again. In terms of Disney death, it ranks as one of the most heartbreaking. I cannot find a man my age (mid 20s) who saw that in theatres and wasn't viscerally affected by it. The fact that you cannot remember it stuns me, frankly. That's like saying you saw Beauty and the Beast but can't remember the title song.

Why does facing mortality mean the characters have to die? Essentially, that scene in TS3 has the characters facing an uncertain future. They're devastated they won't get to be all they can be (the story in another's imagination). They're terrified about what happens next. They don't know about their future - ie, if they'll have one. They're trying to be brave in the face of defeat. Meanwhile, they're living in a world where their friends have moved on (Wheezie, Etch, even Bo Peep) and I'm not convinced that Etch or Wheezie (who was already on the shelf in TS2) remains on this mortal coil.

Yeah, they all survive. But arguing that they didn't face mortality/the idea thereof because they lived is like arguing one doesn't face fear if they don't succumb to it.

Anonymous said...

You should have seen The Princess and The Frog. A major sidekick expires at the end of the movie, which I think is a first for a Disney movie. Usually, it is assumed the archetypal sidekick will continue providing comfort/guidance to the hero/heroine well after the credits end.

- Adam Luis

OtherRobert said...

Fair enough, Nathaniel. I freely admit to being freaked out and emotionally drained by the end of that film, though it is in more of a fantasy vein. It's more Beetlejuice than Halloween in tone and execution. The characters do literally face mortality, but it's nothing compared to even other fantasy films like Paprika or Triplets of Belleville.

NATHANIEL R said...

that's kind of my point. Yes, you can say they're facing it but they're facing it in a very audience comforting way -- they live on!!! -- this one is so successful you'll surely get a sequel (which is going to make this look lots cheaper emotionally in retrospect)

and they toys are essentially free to reboot and start their lifecycle all over again at film's end (which is very touching, yes... but not very human.) Meanwhile: Andy grows up... and they lose him and that part is moving and human and totally works. I teared up.

But it's not a film that honestly deals with death or even the life cycle unless you believe in reincarnation which, if you do, the film is probably a perfect statement about the life cycle as the retired toys start all over again with childhood.

I guess it's just a personal quirk. Sometimes when reviews get too ecstatic I have trouble breathing like "calm. down. people" even if i loved the movie. From reading reviews you'd think Toy Story 3 was the most spiritual brave study-of-humanity everything that's ever existed but what it is is a really excellent part 3 which smartly capitalizes on nostalgia for itself as well as our collective movie journey with Pixar. And as such it's very cool and probably perfect.

NATHANIEL R said...

arkaan -- can you remember vivid details of movies you saw 16 years ago didn't love and never saw again? I'm curious. If so I'm very jealous.

My only strong memory of The Lion King is the crescendo of the opening number ending with that thunderous title card (so many movies use that trick now but i remember at the time being like WHOA)

My most vivid animated memory from the mid90s belongs to Toy Story itself (i've seen it a number of times since which may have helped with the very vivid memory part) and it was "THE CLAW". it's one of my favorite memories of my brother. we went together and we laughed so hard that i'm sure we couldn't hear the dialogue in the next scene.

Mike P said...

Laughton, not Naughton.

Do I need to have seen Toy Story 2 to appreciate Toy Story 3?

And I really disliked The Lion King, but I was not a kid when I saw it, so perhaps I wasn't the target audience. But the best animated films appeal to wider audiences. At any rate, I don't remember much about it either, even though I had to watch it several times (it was always playing at the video store). There wasn't much there to stick in my memory.

Arkaan said...

Fair enough, Nathaniel, but if you're making categorical dimissals.....

Sixteen years ago I was eleven. I didn't see movies I disliked. I don't think there was a film I saw 16 years ago that I only saw once. I made my dad rent 3 Ninjas repeatedly until it drove him crazy.

I know you hate over-hype. How can you not? But don't let it whiplash you into a backlash (see Slumdog Millionaire, Nolan's career).

Arkaan said...

And I guess I should add that the Lion King's plot HANGS on the death of Simba's father. The whole thing is a retelling of Hamlet. So yeah, I think you should remember it, to be honest.

NATHANIEL R said...

well i remember it was based on Hamlet minus the nasty everyone-dies-in-the-end finale. Can't have that.

Disney movies are like Phoebe Buffay's mom --90S HUMOR!!! -- who turned off all sad movies before they got sad.

So Hamlet becoming The Lion King proves my theory. okay. i'm just being obnoxious now. i'll shut up now. i promise. lol.

I LOVE TOY STORY 3. (Just not as quite as much as everyone else in the world apparently.)

Steven said...

Well, we also shouldn't forget who these movies' target audience is: young children, very young children. Sure, the fact that the films are universal and employ great storytelling, wonderful imagery, and top-notch music makes them good movies for anyone to enjoy. They all play into nostalgia to resonate with adults. But they are made to be appropriate for the little ones. So if The Lion King ended in a Hamelt-like bloodbath... you get my point. But that's why it's also brave of Disney to include things like the death of Bambi's mother or Simba's father. Those two specifically have been haunting children for generations. (And watch out, new generation of children: Bambi is getting released from the Disney vault in a few months!)

Maybe it's because I grew up on these movies. I was the target audience during Disney's golden age of the 90s.

Dean said...

I think it'd be hard to argue against the fact that Lion King deals more directly with death than Bambi or Up.

FenixPahedi said...

I think Toy Story 3 was far better than The Social Network. It gets to the heart and not to the head, I think that marks a huge difference.

Would be great if one day an animated movie won the top prize

Amy said...

"Nemo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Princess and the Frog -- first category. Those deaths occur "on screen", strictly speaking, but they're backstory."

First of all, Dusty, "Princess and the Frog" is not in the first category. A major character gets stepped on and dies. I think you're drawing at straws, regardless. Nathaniel's post outright states that Disney treats death like it doesn't exist. That clearly isn't the case.

Brian said...

"From reading reviews you'd think Toy Story 3 was the most spiritual brave study-of-humanity everything that's ever existed but what it is is a really excellent part 3 which smartly capitalizes on nostalgia for itself as well as our collective movie journey with Pixar. And as such it's very cool and probably perfect."

I agree, and this sort of sentiment is probably more prevalant among Oscar voters than online fans are likely to admit. And if so, I think it's a roadblock to even a Best Picture nomination (or would be, if the competition weren't so seemingly anemic). Which is why this campaign is so brilliant - and perhaps even necessary, not just to give Toy Story 3 as much as a nerfball's chance in a 1,560 °F incinerator to actually win Best Picture, but to guarantee a nomination in that category.

NATHANIEL R said...

Brian -- yup. one of the smartest Oscar campaigns in a long time as it definitely stakes a claim for its own place in movie history.

William Kittelsen said...

The Titanic ad makes me think of the resilience of the people on the boat. How some of them were ready to face death and resign to their fate. Can't help but think of the band playing till the end. The toys have resigned themselves to their fate and their holding of hands is like the band playing their violins. It's sort of a beautiful connection I think.