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A Bug's Life vs. Cars


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#1 SDG

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 02:16 PM

From the Up thread. (Link to Cars.)

QUOTE (bowen @ Jun 4 2009, 08:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
In comparing ABL and Cars, I would cite the following differences, all of which I think favor ABL.

(1) ABL lifts its basic story from Seven Samurai. Cars lifts its basic story from Doc Hollywood. Stealing art from museums has always been regarded as a higher class of crime than knocking over a 7-11.

(2) ABL applied more creativity to its use of its source material than Cars did.

(3) ABL is much the funnier and cleverer of the two. Watch the Flaming Death bit from ABL and try to find anything half as funny in Cars.

(4) ABL varies its supporting characters without simply making them into ethnic and regional stereotypes.

(5) Kevin Spacey as Hopper vs. Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks

The bottom line for me is that I have a copy of A Bug's Life, even if it has hit the DVD player very rarely, but I don't have a copy of Cars.

I'll see you and raise. smile.gif

Here goes:
  1. Bonnie Hunt > Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even if you don't accept that -- and I can't think why you wouldn't -- certainly Sally Carrera is a more engaging leading lady / romantic interest than Princess Atta. (ABL may have Bonnie Hunt in a smaller part, but that's not the same thing. The calculus of Bonnie Hunt ( + Jenifer Lewis) vs. Julia Louis-Dreyfus ( + Bonnie Hunt) I leave as an exercise for the reader.)
  2. Cars cares about and respects its subject matter more than ABL. That is, Cars on cars > ABL on bugs. The whole premise of ABL, with grasshoppers terrorizing ants into providing for them, is entomologically stupid. Cars is vehicularly smart, engaging and classy.
  3. Where Cars achieves a measure of Toy Story's success, and in a way even exceeds TS, in discovering appropriate imaginative psychologies for its subjects as individuals, A Bug's Life offers little if any insight -- less so than Antz, for one -- into how ants, grasshoppers and other species would actually think and talk if they could. (I do like the early gag with the fallen twig, but there's precious little else in that vein.)
  4. Reinforcing the above point, the voice talent for Cars ideally embodies the personality and voice that each type of vehicle would have. The credits alone persuade you of their authoritative rightness: Paul Newman = Hudson Hornet, George Carlin = VW Bus, Larry the Cable Guy = a tow truck, Cheech Marin = an Impala Lowrider. By contrast, Kevin Spacey is great in ABL, but he could just as easily be a praying mantis or a rhinoceros beetle. Etc.
  5. Cars is emotionally and thematically richer and more complex than ABL. Even if its ideas about small towns and interstates are half-baked, it's more thought-provoking than rallying the ants to beat the grasshoppers. And its lessons about respect for icons of the past and learning from the past is way more thoughtful than anything in ABL.
  6. In particular, ABL's conventional climax is less satisfying than Cars's unconventional climax. ABL ends with the ants realizing that They Are Strong and banding together to drive off the bullies, while the evil Hopper is conveniently picked off by an avian act of God (because he has to die, but we don't want the heroes killing him). Cars ends with the hero throwing the big race to his arch-competitor in order to honor a great champion. Better.
  7. ABL gets credit for pioneering animated "outtakes," but Cars has the funniest running end-credits gag in Pixar history.
Beyond that, not that I'm counting it in my list, but I have met people who count Cars as their favorite Pixar film. I'm not saying ABL isn't somebody's favorite Pixar film, but I haven't met them.

The bottom line for me is that while I do have a copy of ABL, it's an old VHS my mother-in-law bought for us, and neither I nor my kids have much interest in reviewing it. We own Cars on DVD, and while we watch it seldom, I'd sooner watch it again than ABL. smile.gif

Edited by SDG, 06 June 2009 - 02:20 PM.


#2 Overstreet

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 02:44 PM

What SDG said. Especially #6.

I watch A Bug's Life. I watch and feel and am touched by Cars.

I would add:

8. For my money, there's no sequence in ABL as aesthetically pleasing and even exhilarating as the two cars' joy-ride out to the viewpoint.

9. There is no character/voice-match in ABL as satisfying as Paul Newman's turn in Cars. I'm just so very pleased that Pixar gave him an appropriate character before we lost him.

10. Cars brought Click and Clack into the Pixar universe, a stroke of genius.

Of course, I don't subscribe to the idea that there is a right or wrong answer to the question "Which Film is Better?", since it's so subjective. But it's fun to consider our differing experiences and assessments of it.

#3 Rachel Anne

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 06:22 PM

I will grant, without argument, that Cars is trying to be in some sense true about cars in a way that ABL is not being true about insects. But I don't think ABL is trying to be true about insects in a scientific sense, and I don't think faulting a movie for not doing what it isn't trying to do is generally the best way to evaluate it. The Grapes of Wrath isn't funny, but that isn't because it is an unsuccessful comedy, but because it isn't a comedy at all.

While ABL does not draw much on insects as they are in a scientific sense, it does draw on them as they exist in traditional human imagination and experience. First, obviously, the use of ants and grasshoppers in the movie has to do with the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, not with scientific understanding of either. Further, the idea of grasshoppers as dangerous villains who consume food grown by others is very resonant with the history of agricultural people and their dread of swarms of locusts, devouring everything and leaving the people to starve. Viewed in this vein, I think that ABL is not arbitrary in its choices but does have a real logic to its story, even if it is not a logic grounded in entomology. (And no, Kevin Spacey's villain does not work as a praying mantis. Praying Mantis's are indeed dangerous predators in scientific fact, but in human experience and imagination they are not dangerous.)

I will also concede that ABL is not a thematically rich movie. This is one reason why it does not stand high for me in the ranks of Pixar movies. Whatever strengths ABL may have, deep down, it's shallow.

Thematically, however, Cars bothers me. There is always something odd about movies praising living slow and easy produced by people who are incredibly committed and focused on their work. I don't think they really believe what they preach. Yes, they may enjoy stopping every once in a while to decompress, but they get fired up to get back into it almost immediately. Rather than an expression of real feeling, one of Cars' major themes it is a kind of phony (if well-intentioned) sentimentality. Because it isn't really believed, it is a kind of a lie, and a lie is not better than silence.

What's more, the end of Cars (not The Big Race, but the fate of the town) is also a kind of well-intentioned fakery. Whatever Radiator Springs may have been in its past, it was at least authentically so. Radiator Springs at the end of Cars is a kind of fake version of itself. The past is gone, and it can't be brought back in that way. A Indian village set up for tourists is not the same thing as an Indian village that existed as a place for Indians to live their lives.

Edited by bowen, 06 June 2009 - 06:22 PM.


#4 mrmando

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:13 PM

QUOTE (bowen @ Jun 6 2009, 04:22 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
What's more, the end of Cars (not The Big Race, but the fate of the town) is also a kind of well-intentioned fakery. Whatever Radiator Springs may have been in its past, it was at least authentically so. Radiator Springs at the end of Cars is a kind of fake version of itself. The past is gone, and it can't be brought back in that way.

I dunno, I couldn't help but think of Cars a few times over the past week as I spent a few days in my hometown, which happens to be a Route 66 town that was bypassed by I-40. When I was a kid, the part of Route 66 that went through downtown had been renamed Santa Fe Boulevard; the segment near my home was called Old Route 66, was rarely driven on, and gradually fell into disrepair. In the late '70s, the major retailers left downtown for the new mall, and downtown itself started to die. Of the four old downtown hotels, two were dumps, one was converted to offices and one was boarded up except for the bar and the cafe. The most thriving businesses in that part of town were two sleazy bars called Joe's Place and Club 66. It wasn't a place you wanted to go to at night.

But in the '80s the town started to wake up -- it managed to attract some major manufacturing and distribution, and reinvented itself as a mecca for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Eventually the revival reached downtown. The sleazy bars are gone, the hotels are restored, there's a big public square with outdoor family movie nights, and Santa Fe Boulevard is again called Route 66. Does this mean the town is somehow now a fake version of itself? If so, what the heck -- I'll take inauthentic revitalization over authentic decrepitude any day.

#5 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:30 PM

So we now have a thread for A Bug's Life? Awesome. (Y'all know it came out on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago, right? That makes this thread CURRENT!) Now all we need is a thread devoted to Monsters Inc., and the list of links at the Pixar history thread will be complete.

As for how A Bug's Life and Cars compare to one another... Well, I've said in various other threads that both films are mediocre Pixar (which is still better than mediocre anybody-else, I guess), but one thing I HAVEN'T said, I don't think, is that they represent different KINDS of mediocrities, to me. A Bug's Life was only Pixar's second feature film, and as such it shows them on the way up, still getting a grasp of how to tell a good story and make a good movie, etc. Cars, on the other hand, feels like Pixar on the way down. Whether Pixar has rebounded in subsequent films is a topic for other threads; but I find it easier to be forgiving where A Bug's Life is concerned than where Cars is concerned.

I do find it fascinating that bowen's #4 and SDG's #4 make more or less the same point, except that bowen feels the vocal typecasting in Cars is basically bad whereas SDG feels it is basically good.

bowen wrote:
: First, obviously, the use of ants and grasshoppers in the movie has to do with the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, not with scientific understanding of either.

Yes, and this point is made clear on the DVD and Blu-Ray by the inclusion of Disney's classic 1934 cartoon The Grasshopper and the Ants:



: Further, the idea of grasshoppers as dangerous villains who consume food grown by others is very resonant with the history of agricultural people and their dread of swarms of locusts, devouring everything and leaving the people to starve.

Good point.

: Whatever strengths ABL may have, deep down, it's shallow.

Heh. How very Warhol.

: Thematically, however, Cars bothers me. There is always something odd about movies praising living slow and easy produced by people who are incredibly committed and focused on their work. I don't think they really believe what they preach.

Yes, very true. This sort of thing was also a huge, huge problem with Bolt, which John Lasseter also produced (and which I and several other critics described as "Pixar lite").

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 06 June 2009 - 07:39 PM.


#6 Overstreet

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:43 PM

bowen wrote:
QUOTE
Thematically, however, Cars bothers me. There is always something odd about movies praising living slow and easy produced by people who are incredibly committed and focused on their work. I don't think they really believe what they preach.


I don't think they're saying "We have to live that way." I think they're mourning the loss of a kind of world where things moved at a slower pace, where you discovered more of the country in a journey than if you just plow through it on a freeway.

I'm sure they work their butts off at Pixar. And I suspect they also share that very common longing to not *have* to work so hastily.

As a city dweller in a fast-paced culture, I yearn for long, meandering road trips. Those are harder to do anymore. The small towns are looking more and more alike. The traffic is heavy. The freeways are often uninteresting.

Just because Pixar doesn't live the small-town-community life doesn't mean they aren't expressing an authentic sense of loss for the benefits of what the world once had. Sure, they have to be a powerhouse of a company to tell these stories. But I think their hearts and dreams are in the right place.

Whatever the case, the film certainly fills me with longing for things I very rarely find as our culture becomes more homogenized, and as convenience becomes more important than quality and personality.

I hate how much we've polluted the world. I long for a cleaner, less corrupted environment. But I drive a car to work every day. Sometimes I use styrofoam cups. I long for what is lost, but I have to live in the world I'm given and do the best I can, informed by my dreams and "strengthening the things that remain."

That's part of why Cars speaks to me and moves me.

Heck, the disciples preached unity in Christ. When they weren't bickering. I'm not going to write them off for the discrepancy.

I think Cars is saying "Don't forget the cost of what we've done, and do our best to preserve the good things that remain." Not "We must undo all that's been done." It doesn't end with the triumphant destruction of the freeway.

I think WALL-E echoes Cars in this. It says, "Yeah, the world's been wrecked. And we have a long hard road ahead of us. But maybe it doesn't have to just keep getting worse. Maybe it can be livable, in spite of what's gone."

But again, that's my opinion and my experience of it. I certainly don't need to persuade anybody.

Edited by Overstreet, 06 June 2009 - 07:49 PM.


#7 mrmando

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:59 PM

I should ask my pal Wayne, who works at Pixar, whether the company culture is oriented more toward backbreaking workaholic-ism or so-called "work/life balance." I love how babies born to staff during work on a Pixar film always get their own section in the credits, which would be a small indicator that the company is at least aware of its employees' family lives.

#8 Overstreet

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 08:02 PM

Please do! Maybe he could address these questions.

It also strikes me that Pixar, for all of their corporate standards, maintain a powerful grasp of... dare I say "old fashioned values"?... that counter the "family is whatever is practical for you" and "don't let anything get in the way of your individual rights and dreams" kind of ethic we see in other popular modern stories.

They're moving forward, while holding on to what we would do well never to lose.

Kinda like the small town in Cars.

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 08:09 PM

All that may be true, Jeff, but the fact is, the old roads are still there for the journey, they are still there to be discovered, and if anything, they are now LESS congested etc. because the freeway has diverted most of the traffic in another direction.

The characters in Cars sit around moping all the time because they used to have "customers" -- customers who were merely passing through because that was where the road was, customers who had no interest in "discovering" their town, etc. -- and now they DON'T have those customers any more. This constant moping over a loss of business when the characters could easily have moved their businesses elsewhere makes it somewhat difficult to sympathize with them.

Thankfully, all of that is changed by the end of the film. While I agree with bowen that the film is something of a "lie" and with SDG that the film's development of its themes is "half-baked", I tend to agree with mrmando that the ending is positive, because the residents of Radiator Springs finally wake up to the fact that if they want to have customers, they will have to make their town a "destination", which it never was before. And thus, the customers they have NOW will be more attentive and more invested in their community than the customers-merely-passing-through that they had in the pre-freeway days.

But there was no reason they couldn't have tried to become a "destination" BEFORE that. The road was always there. The road is still there. The road will continue to be there. Indeed, if the road had not been there, Lightning McQueen could not have ended up in that town by accident, could he?

#10 mrmando

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 08:11 PM

QUOTE (Overstreet @ Jun 6 2009, 06:02 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yes, and this point is made clear on the DVD and Blu-Ray by the inclusion of Disney's classic 1934 cartoon The Grasshopper and the Ants:

That's one talented grasshopper ... he starts out fiddling right-handed, switches to left-handed around 3:15, then switches back to right-handed at around 4:36.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 08:27 PM

mrmando wrote:
: I should ask my pal Wayne, who works at Pixar, whether the company culture is oriented more toward backbreaking workaholic-ism or so-called "work/life balance."

Well, Lasseter has always said that he made Cars after taking a long (and long-overdue) road-trip vacation with his family. (And the documentary on Pixar's history talks about the many nights he spent at the office, at least in the company's earlier days, if memory serves.) So, some definite workaholicism there.

And given their penchant for throwing out entire storylines and re-doing their films from Square One with as little as nine months to go before release date, you'd have to assume they were spending long hours at the office on those projects too, at least.

: I love how babies born to staff during work on a Pixar film always get their own section in the credits, which would be a small indicator that the company is at least aware of its employees' family lives.

That's not unique to Pixar, though. Then again, they might have innovated it, I don't know.

#12 SDG

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 09:19 PM

QUOTE (bowen @ Jun 6 2009, 07:22 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
While ABL does not draw much on insects as they are in a scientific sense, it does draw on them as they exist in traditional human imagination and experience. First, obviously, the use of ants and grasshoppers in the movie has to do with the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, not with scientific understanding of either.

But the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper does speak to the real behavior of ants and grasshoppers. ABL doesn't go wrong there. It goes wrong in trying to blend this story with the Three Amigos! / Seven Samurai motif of a community terrorized by thugs, which is not a story Aesop would have told about ants and grasshoppers.

QUOTE
Further, the idea of grasshoppers as dangerous villains who consume food grown by others is very resonant with the history of agricultural people and their dread of swarms of locusts, devouring everything and leaving the people to starve. Viewed in this vein, I think that ABL is not arbitrary in its choices but does have a real logic to its story, even if it is not a logic grounded in entomology.

That's ingenious. But even though I just read aloud for at least the third time the chapters in By the Banks of Plum Creek in which the Ingallses' crops and the whole region is devastated by a monster plague of locusts and Ma reads to the girls from the Exodus story, this background doesn't make me any fonder of ABL's grasshoppers-terrorizing-ants conflict. If the grasshoppers were, like, outlaw raiders, that might be something else.

QUOTE
(And no, Kevin Spacey's villain does not work as a praying mantis. Praying Mantis's are indeed dangerous predators in scientific fact, but in human experience and imagination they are not dangerous.)

I'm just saying, I listen to Spacey's performance, and he could be a praying mantis to me. I listen to Paul Newman's performance, and he's not a stock car.

QUOTE
Thematically, however, Cars bothers me. There is always something odd about movies praising living slow and easy produced by people who are incredibly committed and focused on their work. I don't think they really believe what they preach. Yes, they may enjoy stopping every once in a while to decompress, but they get fired up to get back into it almost immediately. Rather than an expression of real feeling, one of Cars' major themes it is a kind of phony (if well-intentioned) sentimentality. Because it isn't really believed, it is a kind of a lie, and a lie is not better than silence.

I am sympathetic to this kind of charge, but I find it unconvincing here. With Jeff, I see this as a film not about how we must live, but about what we have lost. In that regard, I find its emotion entirely sincere and heartfelt.

QUOTE
What's more, the end of Cars (not The Big Race, but the fate of the town) is also a kind of well-intentioned fakery. Whatever Radiator Springs may have been in its past, it was at least authentically so. Radiator Springs at the end of Cars is a kind of fake version of itself. The past is gone, and it can't be brought back in that way. A Indian village set up for tourists is not the same thing as an Indian village that existed as a place for Indians to live their lives.

It's not the same thing, no, but it's often the best way to honor and preserve the past, especially for those most directly affected by the loss of the past. Many old towns and villages that once throve as, say, farm or fishing communities now subsist as tourist destinations. It's not the same, but I wouldn't call it "well-intentioned fakery."

#13 Anders

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 09:42 PM

I haven't watched ABL in a long time. Probably not since I got the DVD back in 2001, so I won't comment on it, and don't rank it very high in the Pixar ranking since I have very little desire to go back and revisit it. I probably wouldn't take argument with anyone who ranked it last.

However, there are a couple of things that will keep Cars from ever being one of my favourites.

  1. I don't particularly care for cars, trucks, etc. I'm not a car buff. On top of that, while I love the concept of anthropomorphised toys (it makes sense in a sort of child's imagination sense), the idea of a world of talking cars kind of irritates me. I find it aesthetically unpleasing, and nonsensical.
  2. While Paul Newman is one of my favourite actors of all time, and the other voice talents in Cars are pretty good, I absolutely can't stand Larry the Cable Guy, and his voice and the whole character of Mater is a black mark on the film for me. More so than any other supporting character in a Pixar film.


So, those are not really knocks against the film per se. They are personal preferences that keep Cars low on my list of favourite Pixar films. I'm also not particuarly convinced by SDG and Jeff's praise of the plot, as in agreement with bowen about how it rings a little bit false.

Still, I don't know if I could really say Cars is worse than ABL. It's definitely more ambitious, and I always respect that.

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 10:43 PM

SDG wrote:
: If the grasshoppers were, like, outlaw raiders, that might be something else.

Hmmm. Where does the "Let's ride!" bit fit in here? It's a staple of the Western genre that you've often got a bunch of rowdy cowboys working for some cattleman who terrorize the local farming community, no? Said cowboys wouldn't be "outlaws", per se, but they would still be "raiders", no?

Anders wrote:
: Still, I don't know if I could really say Cars is worse than ABL. It's definitely more ambitious, and I always respect that.

Ah, but here is where my "two different kinds of mediocre" thesis comes into play. A Bug's Life, as only the second Pixar film ever made -- and as the first all-original film that Pixar ever made (Toy Story being something of a spin-off once-removed from their Oscar-winning short film Tin Toy) -- certainly represents ambitions of a sort, yes? Whereas Cars seems kind of lazy next to the mighty accomplishments that Pixar had achieved in the years prior to that film.

To put this a little more crudely: A Bug's Life was only the second film that Pixar produced as part of its seven-picture deal with Disney, and the animators still had a lot to prove, whereas Cars was the LAST film that Pixar produced as part of its seven-picture deal with Disney, and it's not too hard to imagine that the filmmakers might have gotten a little complacent, especially as they began funneling all their efforts into Ratatouille and perhaps one or two other films that they had every reason to believe would be distributed by someone OTHER than Disney. With Ratatouille etc., Pixar would have to "prove itself" once again. Not so with Cars, which just SCREAMS easy merchandising, made for a studio that knows how to merchandise like no other.

#15 Rachel Anne

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 10:56 PM

I don't want to pretend that I have this well-thought out thesis about what's wrong with Cars and what's right with ABL. What I have is an impression carried away from the viewing of both (one viewing of Cars, several of ABL). Some of my reactions are conscious reactions that I had in my head as I watched both movies, others are the product of reflection and trying to sort and out and understand my reactions to both movies, a process that is not and will never be complete or final.

Anyway...

I appreciate that SDG does not find the merging of the behavior of locusts and the ant-and-grasshopper fable in ABL interesting, but I think it is really there in the movie and not the product of an over-active imagination on my part. Eating food raised by others really is what swarms of locusts do, and the grasshoppers in the movie really do swarm and really do eat the food raised by others. I do not think that is accidental but a consciously inserted element in the story.

The use of ants is used in ABL in another way as well: as symbols of conformity, not just of hard work. We see that in the relationship between Flick and the other members of the colony. Had Flick been a bee, it would not draw on that association. Although bees and ants live in much the same way in a scientific sense, bees are not symbols of conformity in the same way that ants are, and so the Flick/colony story works with ants in a way it does not work with bees.

The Lion King is similar to ABL in that it has much less to do with scientific truths about lions than it does with the qualities we have historically associated with lions, particularly rightful kingship. From a scientific point of view, Simba wouild in fact be driven out of the pride on maturing and would never return. Male lions are close relatives of the females in their birth pride, and do not mate with them; after being driven out, male lions live alone or with one or two other male lions from the same pride for a time, and then find a different pride and attempt to drive off any males already there and mate with the females of that pride. This is the only way that real lions can avoid fatal inbreeding. Now, you could make a movie using this behavior of real lions as an element, but The Lion King does not do this. Instead, it uses the historical and literary meaning of lions in human history and culture. I would argue very strongly that this is (at least) an equally legitimate basis for art as scientific truth. What's more, I think it represents some sort of collapse towards delegitimizing fiction altogether to insist that stories can be good only where they are literally true. In another thread I posted a comment from someone complaining about the Pixar short "Partly Cloudy" who was upset because it showed babies being created by clouds and delivered by storks, which isn't true, and is therefore bad. The idea that only literally true stories are good stories looks absurd in that context, but there really are people out there who have no interest in fiction because it isn't "true".

Of course, I don't think SDG really thinks that only the literal is good, but I think he is using an argument that has that hidden inside it. I would, on the other hand, certainly agree that if the choices of the insects in ABL were arbitrary, that it would be a fault in the movie, but I do no think they are arbitrary at least in the case of ants and grasshoppers but are in fact well-grounded and well-chosen for their roles in the story.


#16 mrmando

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 12:25 AM

In my experience, a conflict between bug and car is always won by the car.

#17 SDG

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 07:16 AM

Thanks, Bowen. I don't have a well-thought-out thesis either; I'm just semi-humorously noodling (like that word at the moment) on why I watch Cars with a smile and not ABL (I've seen them both a number of times, though not as frequently as Peter, it seems).

I absolutely agree that it is just as reasonable to anthropomorphize non-human creatures based on motifs and associations from human culture and imagination as from real natural behaviors -- and if the example you cited, The Lion King, leaves me cold as lazy, autopilot storytelling in a manner not unlike ABL, it's not because of the unrealistically dynastic portrayal of lion society. "Partly Cloudy" may be a good call (alas, I haven't seen it yet, though I hope to this afternoon)

The themes of conformity and hard work are both, I agree, legitimate (or even necessary) motifs for any imaginative portrayal of ant society. Yet I find both themes more imaginatively and satisfyingly explored in Antz than ABL. Z's angst about his own insignificance and spending his whole day hauling dirt may not have a plausible place in ant psychology, but they certainly express something about how humans would feel in such a society (and do feel about the elements of our society that most resemble ant society). (Bee Movie tried to do something of the same sort, but with much, much, much, much less success.)

ABL offers a fairly generic society dominated by fear of oppressive overlords. Hard work is less a fundamental trait of ant society than a necessity dictated by the grasshoppers, while Flik's individuality and creativity are less traits that fundamentally go against ant society than luxuries the colony can't afford under the circumstances. One way or another, I just don't get the satisfying imaginative picture of ant society (whether rooted in science or human culture) from ABL that I get of cars from Cars.

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Jun 6 2009, 11:43 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
: If the grasshoppers were, like, outlaw raiders, that might be something else.

Hmmm. Where does the "Let's ride!" bit fit in here? It's a staple of the Western genre that you've often got a bunch of rowdy cowboys working for some cattleman who terrorize the local farming community, no? Said cowboys wouldn't be "outlaws", per se, but they would still be "raiders", no?

Raiding is fine; it's the terrorizing that doesn't work for me, as regards ant culture. Grasshoppers lawlessly raiding ant food stores would work for me. Grasshoppers imposing a protection-money scheme on ants, ants capitulating and spending all their days amassing food specifically designated for the grasshoppers, then quaking in fear in their hills when the grasshoppers arrive and even invade the hill -- that's what doesn't work for me, either as regards ant/grasshopper relations (in science or in human culture) or as an interesting story-arc in its own right (the ants eventually realizing that We Are Strong, etc.).

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 09:47 AM

Oh dear. The Lion King has been invoked. I just looked up the review I wrote when that film first came out 15 years ago, and there, among other things, I wrote:
Where a culturally accurate story would have displayed roving tribes of different animals, parallel to the nomadic humans that roam the Serengeti, The Lion King revolves around a quasi-colonial hierarchy. The antelopes, giraffes, zebras, and other animals who pay homage to the young prince do not seem to mind living under the imperial sway of felines who, by their own admission, feast on the flesh of these lesser beasts.
And then I go on to do an unfavourable (to Disney) compare-and-contrast with the then-recent IMAX movie Africa: The Serengeti. Forgive my literalness. (Though in my defense, I made these points after noting how Disney had been promoting The Lion King as its "first" non-European story. By imposing a European cultural model onto the African setting, the film wasn't really all that much of a breakthrough, was the point I was making, I think.)

#19 Rachel Anne

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 10:32 AM

Well, I've taken the whole grasshoppers/ants thing about as far as I can. Often in conversation you get to the point where you understand the other person's point of view, and you've said all you really have to say, but in the realm of subjectivity, you just aren't in agreement. I think I am at that point with SDG here. I don't have any more to say on it, and I understand his point of view even if I don't agree.

Thematically, we both agree that ABL has nothing interesting going on.

With regard to Cars, SDG called it half-baked. I agree. I think the movie starts in an emotionally real place for Lasseter, with his love of cars, the south-west and a past that it is gone, and in that sense it really is superior to ABL, which lacks any comparable weight. That said, I think that Cars is a much-less well-executed movie. ABL doesn't try to do much except be funny, and in that it succeeds. It really is funny. Cars, on the other hand, often tries to be funny, but just never makes it, and there are few movie experiences as unrewarding as a movie that is trying to be funny but not succeeding. I don't really know how to go into this, because it gets into the question of what makes comedy work, and I have no ideas to offer on that subject. On the other hand, I don't think I've heard anyone here argue that I'm wrong, and that Cars really is funny, so maybe the question isn't even in dispute.

I do want to talk some about the characters.

Flick vs. Lightning McQueen. Flick is basically supposed to be an ant nerd. In the commentary track for ABL, the director says that one great thing about living near Silicon Valley is that they had a great many examples of that type of person to observe and so make the character real. I think they pretty well succeeded. Flick on leaving the colony shows his two-fold obliviousness: he doesn't know how to avoid looking silly, and he doesn't know that he doesn't know it. He thinks he looks great. Lightning is supposed to be a race car (driver). If the makers of ABL understand nerds pretty well, I can't say that I think the makers of Cars understood race car drivers. Lightning in terms of his character could have been any kind of egotistical jerk: he could have been an actor, a stock broker, or a hot-shot plastic surgeon. Even Days of Thunder (heaven help me, I never thought I would ever have anything nice to say about Days of Thunder) understood the racing world better because it connected the danger of the sport to the psychology of the people who do it. Cars doesn't do that. A top race car driver might be a raging egomaniac, but he's also a really tough raging egomaniac. That toughness is totally missing from Lightning. I think I would score this in favor of ABL.

Princess Atta vs. Sally Carrera. No, I'm afraid I don't share SDG's view that this is an easy call in favor of Cars. I did learn, however, that SDG has a soft spot for Bonnie Hunt. There are actresses I'm fond of as well, so I can understand that point of view. However, while Princess Atta is not a great female lead character, she at least has an arc and a story of her own, and is given at least some psychological depth. Sally Carrera, on the other hand, is a completely static character whose only function in the story is to be the object of romantic adoration for the lead male. Bonnie Hunt was given a better-developed role as a minor character in ABL than she was given as the female lead in Cars. I don't really think that, for any who are not wholly committed admirers of Bonnie Hunt, that the female lead character can be anything other than a clear win for ABL.

While I had at first intended to go onto more characters, this post is getting rather long, and I think I will cut it off here. I do have more to say on the other characters, but that can be said later just as easily as now, and I think in general posts in forums should try to stay short enough that people feel they can respond without having to commit themselves to responding at essay length.

#20 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 07:51 PM

bowen wrote:
: If the makers of ABL understand nerds pretty well, I can't say that I think the makers of Cars understood race car drivers.

Interesting point. And it reminds me, if SDG is going to give ABL demerits for not accurately getting into the nature of insects, couldn't we also give Cars demerits for not accurately getting into the nature of cars, i.e. as tools for humans? Ants and grasshoppers are autonomous beings, and cars are not. What do we really learn about cars AS CARS by watching Cars that makes the movie so much more enlightening than what A Bug's Life has to say about bugs?

: I did learn, however, that SDG has a soft spot for Bonnie Hunt.

So do I. And I had no idea she was even IN Cars. So I'd say Cars did her a disservice in a way that A Bug's Life didn't. wink.gif (FWIW, she apparently voiced one of the characters in Monsters Inc., as well -- and I wasn't aware of that, either, until I looked up her page at the IMDb just now.)