Pixar vs DreamWorks

Yes, at first glance this appears to be lunacy.

Pixar are the infallible artists behind an unprecedented run of hits which has defied Hollywood logic by combining big box-office with intelligence and emotional storytelling.

They make huge profits and classic movies.

DreamWorks makes Shrek . Worse than that, DreamWorks makes Antz and A Shark’s Tale , and as many Shreks as are needed in between to stop it all falling apart.

Its films are smirking shadows of its rival’s, bringing a plastic proficiency to the same insect hives and underwater worlds into which Pixar has breathed bustling, beautiful life.

Or at least, it used to be that way.

In 2006, Pixar released Cars , a film which never sat right with its earlier films. Maybe because the idea of a world populated by vehicles with giant-eyeball windscreens is unsettling on an eerily existential level.

Or maybe because the film ditched the formula of small communities having adventures in our normal world (toys coming to life when no one’s looking, monsters coming out at night) which had brought so much success.

Things were never quite the same.

Ratatouille was more familiar territory, but also beset by creative difficulties – Brad Bird replaced original director Jan Pinkava when story development floundered, and the views of Paris can only distract so long from the fact that a rat controlling a man by pulling his hair is whimsical at best, weird at worst.

Wall-E was a rallying cry for Pixar’s return to soaring artistry that delivered… for about 30 minutes, before becoming a patronising reminder for humanity not to devolve into beachballs.

It’s harder to argue against the pleasures of Up : the way Carl and Ellie’s life is condensed into montage is masterful. But many of its ideas are recycled – a comedy bird, a talking dog.

Meanwhile, the same year (2009), DreamWorks was putting away its own box of tattered ideas – talking animals, concepts Pixar had already used, Will Smith as a fish – and making How To Train Your Dragon .

If the studio’s earlier Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs Aliens had shown an unexpected wit and taste for fresh ideas, then Dragon was the first DreamWorks film to come up with the whole package – the dazzling looks and stays-with-you emotional smarts that are usually Pixar’s hallmark.

Co-directed by an ex-Disney man (Chris Sanders) who’d been reportedly removed from Bolt , you could even say it should’ve been a Pixar project.

Since then DreamWorks has made Megamind , Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots , while Pixar has made an (admittedly timeless) second sequel in Toy Story 3 and, crucially, Cars 2 , which fails John Lasseter’s self-imposed rule that Pixar sequels would only happen if they had a good enough story.

Cars 2 , which celebrates stupidity and tarnishes Pixar’s record of subtlety and wit. Cars 2 which, most worryingly of all, seems more focused on repeating the first film’s trick of selling toys than telling a story.

And while Pixar trades sincerity for cynicism, DreamWorks seems to have discovered the secret to making films filled with warmth and wonder. Or is it just me?

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