A Dreamer Walking

Puss In Boots- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 2, 2011

Puss in Boots is a movie full of beautiful locations, fantastic animation, and above par action sequences. At the beginning of the film it even feels like we have a more charismatic main character then what we had for the original Shrek series. However, Puss did not go very far in the movie. He is basically used in the same way he is in the Shrek films, as a character who entertains through some clever and some sub par jokes and a lot of action. The characters around him are given the responsibility to carry the arc of the film and sadly they don’t do much with it.

From the beginning of the film I realized that the character with the greatest arc was not going to be Puss. The reason being Puss was already a very developed character who showed no signs of going anywhere. This is one of the problems that comes with making a sidekick become the star of a film. The majority of sidekicks are created to be one note characters. Their job is to enhance the depth of the main character. In the Shrek series Puss’s job was to entertain while helping to develop the arc of the main character Shrek. Now sense in this film Puss is the main star, the creators needed to either figure out a fatal flaw in Puss that could be worked out through a story, or keep Puss as a one note character and have him be the reason for change in one or more of the characters around him. The creators chose the latter.

In Puss in Boots Puss’s story isn’t much. There is nothing inwardly unique about who he is as a character. He is  the typical misunderstood hero. His main goal is to reclaim his honor and help out the mother and town that adopted him as a kid. The arc of the story laid entirely on Puss’s childhood friend Humpty Dumpty, voiced by Zach Galifianakis. Zach did nothing to make Humpty likable for me. Humpty seemed like a shallow sidekick for most of the movie and an even (spoiler) shallower villain when he betrays Puss in the third act of the story. Through a ten minute flashback showing Puss and Humpty’s childhood, we see that Puss and Humpty were once good friends. Both had a sense of adventure and both were treated as outcasts. Humpty’s ambition was to get away and find the magical beans that would lead to a great amount of treasure. I saw that Humpty was a smart guy and dedicated to his mission, however this did nothing to attract me to his character. Humpty is nothing but greedy through the majority of the film, he even has a hard time allowing Puss to be friends with him as a kid. Eventually his friendship with Puss goes sour when Puss is accepted into the community. Humpty turns to crime and based on some unfortunate events Puss is mistakenly caught as an accomplice to Humpty. This leads to Puss becoming an outlaw while leaving Humpty to get caught by authorities and thrown into jail.

We hear about Puss’s childhood through him telling it to Kitty Softpaws. Kitty Softpaws is an accomplice to Humpty who tries to recruit Puss to help them get the treasure up the magic beanstalk. Kitty falls to sleep while Puss tells her about his childhood. I wonder why the film creators thought we would care about Puss’s back story if the character he was telling it to didn’t even care? We get the feeling something is up when all the characters come together. Puss shows resentment because Humpty gave him a bad reputation. Humpty doesn’t seem sorry and still seems to resent Puss’s charm. Kitty doesn’t seem like she cares for any of the characters, just the treasure at the top of the beanstalk. None of them have very admirable reasons for doing what they are doing. Even Puss wants to get the treasure so HE can get his reputation back, not because he thinks the town or his mother really needs the money.

Because the reason for the adventure is shallow, the action and danger of the adventure doesn’t seem nearly as thrilling. They do go up the magical beanstalk and they do run into trouble while trying to find the treasure in the castle in the sky, but who cares? Yes, these sequences will entertain you a little while they unfold because of the talented animators and background artists at Dreamworks, but the thrills are gone as soon as the scenes are over.

The crude humor in the story seems to constantly stop us from connecting to the characters. There are several shallow sexual oriented jokes in the film, obviously targeted toward the older audience. One of Dreamworks’ greatest problems is the people in charge never trust their story enough to avoid making fun of someone, using sexual innuendo, or throwing in an absurd comment that only gets a nervous or shallow laugh. Kitty Softpaws makes fun of Humpty while he changes clothes. Puss gets a old man aroused when cleaning himself. And, Puss constantly boasts about his ability to attract woman. The shallow humor did nothing to further the story and only made us think less of the characters.

The ending of the film is extremely predictable and unbelievable. Humpty Dumpty ends up betraying Puss. The whole adventure was set up by Humpty so he could get his revenge. However, the back stab is seen a mile away. There is no reason given for why Humpty apologizes and he is obviously still angry at Puss. The most outrageous part however is Humpty’s sudden change of heart at the end of the film. After the years of planning in prison and spending most of the movie getting Puss to fall into his evil plan, we have ONE scene where Puss talks to Humpty and convinces him to change his ways and not destroy the town they both grew up in. Humpty is suddenly sorry and sacrifices himself at the end to save the town. The problem is Puss was not a strong enough character in this film to really create a believable change in Humpty Dumpty, let alone to do it in just one scene. The ending was cliche and completely unearned. Of course it needed to happen because someone in the movie needed to express some type of growth. However, because the ending was not earned the audience leaves the theater with hardly any impact by the one and a half hours they spent watching the movie.

If you are interested in vegging out, I would suggest you watch Puss In Boots. It has enough humor and talented enough artists working behind the scenes to satisfy the audience who just wants to sit down relax and not really think for ninety minutes. But for someone who wants to be stimulated and think while watching a film, Puss In Boots is hard to bear. Dreamworks Animation has some of the greatest artists in the film industry at their studio. Many of their talents are wasted in this film. They have the talent to inspire and influence generations of kids, but instead are made to create mediocre storylines designed to make the quick buck. The story is weak and much of the crude humor dates the film. There is nothing in Puss In Boots that hasn’t been said before, and in better ways. I want to see films from Dreamworks where the visionaries behind the story are as talented as the creators bringing it to life.

The Men Who Would Be King

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 27, 2010

So I just finished the book The Men Who Would Be King, by Nicole Laporte. I did not go over  and highlight much of it or take notes, it was more of a book just to read. I did get to see Hollywood in a very different way, the book expresses some of the less then likable parts of Hollywood and how it functions. Most importantly the book showed how Hollywood is first and foremost a business.

The book is about three powerhouses in Hollywood, Jeffery Katzenberg, David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg, and their ambition to make the movie company Dreamworks become the “King” of Hollywood. The book gives you a detailed History of how Dreamworks got started, the visions Jeffery, David, and Steven had for the studio and eventually how and why most those visions did not really come to pass.

One of the three partners this books concentrates on is someone I very much look up to when it comes to film making. From a very young age I have been exhilarated and inspired by many of Steven Spielberg’s movies and his philosophy on what makes a good film. I have to admit that it is hard to see a person who you look up to, expressed in a fairly negative light. As great of a artist Steven is, there are places where he is very selfish. The power that comes with success can easily create a big ego, and it seems to happen with the best of them, even Steven. One of the reasons why Dreamworks failed in their goals is because the company had three heads that all wanted and were used to the spot light and were not prone to working together as equals.

All three Dreamworks partners said they wanted to create a company that put art first. However it is easy to say something like that, it is a whole lot harder to actually walk it out. Even though Steven, Jeffery, and David expressed that they wanted a artist driven studio, they did not put their money or their actions where their mouths were. Like almost every company in Hollywood there were double standards. Money seemed to be the biggest distraction from a artist driven studio. All three partners were billionaires and it was clear that their main concern was to become richer billionaires. When Steven directed a Dreamworks movie, he took huge amounts of the profit, instead of his movie company profiting from movies such as Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and Saving Private Ryan, they needed to give a greater portion of profits to Steven. Because Dreamworks was not getting nearly as much money from big hits like Saving Private Ryan, it was harder to invest in as many movies that were driven more from artistic grounds then commercial grounds.

Jeffery Katzenberg was put in charge of Dreamworks Animation. Jeffery was too worried about the audience to take any big risks. The principles and underlined messages of most his movies were usually quite shallow or toned way down. Jeffery relied mainly on gags and socially relevant (relevant today old fashioned tomorrow) humor to tell his stories. Story also was not put first in Jeffery’s mind. With the Dreamworks movie Antz Jeffery made his staff rush the production so they could get it out before Pixar’s A Bugs Life. With the Shrek sequels it was not a matter of having another story to be told, it was more about rushing a sequel because they knew it would make a easy profit. Jeffery, who had very little artistic education, was often a control freak with most of his movies, Jeffery was the one with the final say on what stays and what goes. When it comes to who knew how to create a good film, there were many people who were more qualified then Jeffery, however Jeffery wanted control.

It also seemed that most of the partners were not devoted to their company. When big films came up for Steven in other studios, such as Universals Lost World (the sequel to Jerrasic Park), Steven jumped ship. Geffen was more interested in keeping up his public image and enjoying himself as a multibillionaire, then to take a active role in his Dreamworks Company. The idea of owning a company seemed to be a bigger deal then the actual reality of owning a company for both Steven and Geffen.

What I got out of this book was this, you can make a  functional company if you have enough talent and money. Dreamworks has survived throughout the years and there has been success every once in a while. However, Dreamworks is not the “King” of Hollywood, they actually make just as many bad movies as any other company. The reason was because they did not have people who were devoted to a unified vision for the company. One thing that vision calls for is sacrifice, and that is something Steven, Jeffery, and David are not used to and seemed to be something they were unwilling to really do.

story, Story, STORY!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 15, 2010

Please click on the picture and read the comic before you read my post.

A good story is key to any good movie. This comic has a good point about the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks (for the most part). At the moment Dreamworks is cranking out 5 movies every 2 years. Because of the extreme demand for material, Dreamworks often seems to forget about quality. Their stories are usually weak and the characters shallow without very solid development.

Even though it is hard to believe because of their extreme success, Pixar movies are often very risky. Common Hollywood has shown they want reliable and safe stories. Since most of Hollywood does not want to take risks, they often make animated movies with common themes (animals talking) and lot of potty humor (because lets face it, potty humor SALES). If the movie is successful, they try to make a franchise out of the product; with a bunch of quickly made, artistically void, sequels (Shrek II-IV, Madagascar 2 and 3, Ice Age 2, 3, and 4… so far).

If Pixar wanted to play it safe they would not have started their career making an original non-musical animated movie (ALL the animated movie that had been coming out were musical and based on an existing story) about Toys. Pixar went further with their risky storytelling by having their main character be a self observed jerk for the first half of the film. Toy Story, was close to being shelved more then once, the Disney people who were trying to be in control, told Pixar that their movie did not have the main elements of a good animated movie. They thought the title of Toy Story would not reach an audience over 10 years. They thought  there was no major bad guy driving the film. And Disney was concerned by the fact that most of the crew working on Toy Story had not even graduated from collage.

So, Toy Story and Pixar were not supposed to be a success. The reason they were a success was because the story and characters were driving the film. The Pixar people cared about the movie and all the arguments about what got into the movie and what went out had to do with making the story better. In the making of Toy Story we saw people who actually cared about toys and gave the characters honest and unique personalities. They were able to stick to their guns because they were looking out for the stories best interest. This all took a lot of risk. No one knew what the result would be for no one had taken the rout Pixar was taking.

Through out Pixar’s history they kept taking risks. They hired director Brad Bird, who had just had a movie flop in the theaters (Iron Giant) and told him to “shake things up”, even though Pixar had been having nothing but success up to that point. Their movies after Toy Story would not be considered guaranteed money makers, either. We saw a movie with the main character being a rat that wants to cook and a movie about a robot where you hardly hear a line of dialogue in the first 30 minutes of the film. Then their was the movie UP, where you go on an adventure with a 75 year old man and 8 year old boy. With all these movies common Hollywood would say no. They worked however because the creators had vision that they were not willing to compromise with.

Getting money should not be the main reason for making a movie. The core of a movie can not be the special effects, the action, the humor, or the romantic love scenes. The movie can have all these things in them, but it needs to be initiated by the core of the story. The story needs to give purpose for the special effects, the humor, and the action. There needs to be reason to why something is happening.

There really is no limit to what kind of story you can tell. The only thing you need is a crew willing to take risks and follow vision. You need a story worth telling. A story that is able to get into peoples hearts is a story that will last. I want to make movies that impact people. A good movie is a unique story that makes its own statement or asks its own questions.

STORY must be put ahead of everything else in film business. If you do not have unique characters to explore and concepts to express, then you do not have a good enough reason to be making a film.

How to Train a Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 9, 2010

How to Train a Dragon is one powerful movie. I do not say this very much about Dreamworks animated movies. The reason why this is different then most Dreamworks movies, is that it was driven by the Filmmakers vision.

Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were the directors for How to Train a Dragon, they also directed the movie Lilo and Stitch. I was able to watch a documentary on the making of Lilo and Stitch, where both directors went into detail on what goes into their story process. Both directors were story artist before being promoted to directors, so they were already extremely knowledgeable on the foundations of story structure. Both of the directors seem to really help fulfill each other. Chris Sanders is a person who is full of energy, where you can sometimes find him literally jumping off the walls with ideas and excitement. Dean is a very steady force and is able to calm down Chris when he needs to be calm.

Both Directors are dedicated to character and story driving the film. In How to Train a Dragon, you can see that the relationship between Hiccup (boy on right of the picture above) and Toothless (Dragon on left of picture above) is the heart of the movie. There is a lot of time spent in getting to know who Hiccup and Toothless are. Even the action scenes are opening doors for the audience to who Hiccup is as a person and who Toothless is as a Dragon. Both Hiccup and Toothless have been taught their whole lives that dragons and humans are enemies. The movie is about both looking at each other in a different light, and realizing that their differences do not make them enemies.

We see a powerful combination of beautiful scenery, powerful music, and wonderful acting, that all get us, as an audience, involved in what is happening on screen. Even the 3D aspect of the film let us see the story in a better light. This tells me that people were able to rally around Chris and Dean to make their vision come to life.

When people have vision, powerful things can happen. Just two peoples vision brought literally hundreds of people together. Even though this movie had a huge amount of action and humor, what kept me interested was the relationship I saw throughout. I would recommend the movie to anyone, it will surly be one of those movies that will last for years to come.