Finding Nemo and My Moment of Truth

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I
am a slow learner. This lesson took me 23 years.

First,
a word about "Finding
Nemo
." "Finding Nemo" is the best movie I
have seen since "Monsters,
Inc.
" They were both produced by Pixar.

I went
to a matinee to save money, since my wife is 53 and is therefore
ineligible for the coveted "Seniors Discount," a form
of price discrimination that I thoroughly approve. At matinees,
there are children. There are also mothers who bring infants
along with their potty-trained children. So, you get some extraneous
noise, since these mothers are not about to take their squalling
infants out of the theater, having paid $11+ to get in. (I can
actually remember a theater that had a glass-enclosed room at
the rear for mothers with infants. That was a long time ago.)

But matinees
have a good side: you get to hear the responses of children,
which is a good thing at a children’s movie. It’s part of the
total experience.

You also
get to hear the responses of their parents, at least in comedies,
which "Finding Nemo" surely is.

And so,
in the interest of making a scientifically valid survey, not
just saving $2.50 on my youthful companion’s ticket, I went
to the matinee. There, I learned two lessons. The first is this:
if a movie gets everyone laughing, it’s going to make a bundle.
The second lesson I shall discuss a bit later.

THE
INTRO

The great
thing about a Pixar movie is that there is an introductory cartoon
at no extra charge. Here, the hot-shots on their way up the
artistic ladder get to show their stuff.

The short
with "Monsters, Inc." was a delightful one about birds
on a wire. The one that introduces "Finding Nemo"
is about a snowman caught in one of those snow-ball gadgets
that you shake and snow falls. He is being lured by a girl in
a bikini to come over and get something going. He is stuck behind
the glass. The short is about how he deals with his problem.

There are
more laughs in a 3-minute Pixar short than there are in a prime
time TV sit-com. For a month. Also unlike the sit-coms, the
snowman was heterosexual.

THE
THEME

The theme
in "Finding Nemo" is simple: a father fish who has
spent his life in fear must go on a long journey to save his
son. He has many adventures. Some are life-threatening.

The voice
of the fish, Marlin, who is a clown fish, is Albert Brooks,
a selection more obvious than inspired. Brooks has spent his
entire career playing fearful, neurotic nebbishes, from the
dead guy in "Defending
Your Life
" to Debbie Reynolds’ emotionally harried
son in "Mother."
His most memorable career scene is in "Broadcast
News
," as the news correspondent who gets a shot as
network news anchorman in a Sunday night trial.

Note: Brooks
is a Jewish comedian who really did have to change his name.
He was born Albert Einstein. As an actor, he could not use the
other celebrity’s name, even though the other fellow was not
in the Screen Actors Guild. In any case, the reviews would have
confused everyone. "In this laugh riot, Albert Einstein
plays a fearful, neurotic. . . ."

Marlin
is accompanied by a female fish who suffers from short-term
memory loss. This is an animated version of the old "madcap
comedy" of the 1930′s. The female gets to be a ditz here
because she is memory-impaired.

Nobody
checked with me first, but if the folks at Pixar had asked me
if I was willing pay good money to see a blatantly sexist attack
on someone who, had she been human, would have been covered
by the American With Disabilities Act, I would have bought a
ticket right there. If necessary to complete production, I would
have made a donation.

AUDIENCE
RESPONSE

When the
movie was scary, the audience was dead silent. When it was sad,
the audience was silent. And when it was funny, the adults howled.
This is the sign of a blockbuster.

The female
fish does whale communications imitations. I
don’t know why this was funny, but it was hysterical. Everyone
laughed.

The scene
at the sharks’ Fishaholics Anonymous meeting was also funny.
The kids of course did not get the joke. The adults in the audience
did. There is no known addiction for which someone won’t devise
a 12-step program.

One of
the villains is a pre-teen girl. She acts like a product of
a tax-funded elementary school. The kid right behind me said
it best: "Someone should kill her." This was an extreme
opinion, no doubt, but it’s the thought that counts.

WHY
IT WORKS

The animation
is spectacular. Maybe you remember the first truly great animation
effect in a cartoon: the first scene in "Pinocchio,"
where the heat from the coals in the fireplace creates heat
waves in the air. That took a lot of skill, and it lasted only
seconds. This movie maintains similar realism all the way through.
Water is water; air is air.

The dialogue
is very good. The characters are varied, each with specific
human traits.

The audience
is instantly pulled into a fantasy world of animals, where we
can emote just as if we were watching people. Disney has been
doing this for two generations. It has worked repeatedly. Pixar
has extended the same creative ability. Adults in attendance
are turned into children, who can easily imagine fairy tales
as real when they are small. The human proclivity to do this
throughout life needs only gifted animators to produce this
effect.

THE
CREDITS

I am a
connoisseur of movie credits. You must stay until the very end
if you want to see the most creative credits I can ever remember
seeing.

THE
MOMENT OF TRUTH

The theater
showed previews of coming attractions. This was a matinee for
kids. The previews reflected this target market.

I am usually
unmoved by previews, but the first one was a work of inspiration.
It was for a new Loonie Toons movie. They’re back: Bugs, Daffy,
Yosemite Sam, and Steve Martin is thrown in at no extra cost.
I’m going, of course.

A 3-D movie
is coming, with cardboard glasses. Here it is again: using a
weird technology to get us to pay money for an otherwise mediocre
movie. Will it work with me? You bet it will! From "Bwana
Devil" in 1952 to the demise of the technology’s popularity
in "Revenge
of the Creature
" (1955), I loved having arrows shot
into my face at close range, or spears about to penetrate my
skull. I always go to the 3-D movies at Epcot. Let me assure
you, 2-D technology would not have lured me into a showing of
"Captain EO," starring Michael Jackson. But 3-D did.

The forthcoming
movie is basically "Tron."
A kid must enter the digital realm of video games to save his
sister. In that realm are gigantic killer machines, all shaped
like Jack La Lanne. One of them is an animation composite with
Sylvester Stallone’s face. That’s the evil machine. Not bad!
Then comes the capper: the good machine is animation plus the
face of . . . you cannot hope to beat this . . . Ricardo Montalban.
You read it here first. I will pay my Senior Discount to see
this movie just on the outside possibility, however remote,
that at some point, the giant killer machine will reach down,
pick up an electronic weapon with a handle encased in a dark,
non-conductive material, stroke it and say, "Notice the
fine Corinthian leather."

My wife
leaned over and said after the previews, "Why do I want
to go to these movies, when I rarely want to see one after the
previews at an adults’ movie"?

That was
my moment of truth. I had been thinking the same thing.

PIXAR:
"G" FOR GENIUS

In 1966,
Hollywood’s old system of industry self-censorship broke down
— it was voluntary censorship, imposed by pressures from
the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches. The
system was abandoned when the industry replaced it with ratings:
G, M (later switched to GP, then to PG), R, and X. It took Hollywood
less than a year to discover that G-rated movies were perceived
by the public as kids movies. Adults stayed away. To get an
audience of adults not accompanied by children, you had to be
awarded at least an M.

But how?
There were two ways: profanity or violence. Either would do.
One cuss word, and the sought-after M was guaranteed, just as
PG is today. This is why one prohibited profane word is put
into the mouth of the sub-teen child story listener in "The
Princess Bride
," one of the truly great child-adult
movies of all time. (When the movie’s hero speaks of ferocious
man-eating RUS — rodents of unusual size — he should
have had in mind Hollywood producers.)

This is
why, except for Disney or Pixar or for Disney/Pixar, a G-rated
movie is so rare. In 1980, there was one, also a kids-adults
movie: "The
Black Stallion
," a tour de force of cinematography.
It had no weak links. (Well, only one: Terri Garr, who was one
of the weakest links in Hollywood history.) It had only one
well-known actor, Mickey Rooney — not exactly a box-office
draw in 1980. The folk music celebrity, Hoyt Axton, whose career
never quite took off, also had a small role. It remains a classic.

Two decades
later, Richard Farnsworth starred in "The
Straight Story
," an adult movie about a man too old
to have a driver’s license, who wants to drive hundreds of miles
to visit his brother, from whom he has long been estranged.
He goes on his lawn mower. But it was a Disney movie. Therefore,
I don’t count it as a true G-rated film.

Pixar is
breaking the mold. Its movies are so good that adults are willing
to pay to see them on the movies’ own merits. Adults don’t have
to find a child to take to the theater in order to justify their
presence. "Toy
Story" and "Toy Story II"
proved this.

You can
go to a Pixar movie sight-unseen. You will get your money’s
worth.

MY
MOMENT OF TRUTH

Years ago,
I heard Bill Cosby say why he never used off-color stories or
innuendo. It’s too easy to get laughs this way, he said, but
it debases comedy. The last four decades have proven him correct.
Even very funny men, such as Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams,
when on-stage cannot resist foul language. Murphy and Mike Myers
spoiled what would have been a flawless "Shrek"
with needless scatology.

Cosby had
it pegged: to make great comedy, your material has to be funny.
One test of great comedy is the absence of potty-mouth. Pixar
is proving the same thing with respect to animated comedies.

In an era
that has been plagued with decades of needlessly violent scenes,
and unfunny, potty-mouth comics, script writers have lost the
magic touch. Once in a while, a "Chariots
of Fire
" or "Places
in the Heart
" or "Gettysburg"
blind-sides Hollywood, but Hollywood doesn’t respond in the
only way that matters: "Go, and do thou likewise."
Hollywood itself is gone.

It is not
that great talents can’t do it today. Myers, Murphy, and Williams
can do it. De Niro, Pacino, and Duvall can do it. Has anyone
been as good in both comedy and drama as Sally Fields? Their
versatility in front of a camera is enormous — far greater
than the big-money stars of the golden age of movies. (I count
Paul Newman, a man originally of the u2018fifties, as a "modern,"
not an "ancient" — and his wife the same.)

Here is
the problem: the scripts are rotten. I don’t mean devoid of
creativity. I mean rotten. This inherent moral rottenness mirrors
a morally corrupt industry. With the deaths of the old moguls,
one by one, men who were not ready to offend the viewers’ sense
of moral propriety, the post-1960 era of producers, directors,
and script writers have been all too ready to offend.

Hollywood
went on the offensive against civility in the 1960′s. This is
what has undermined the movies. There is a scene in Neil Simon’s
movie, "Butterflies
Are Free
," where one of my all-time favorite actresses,
Eileen Heckert, plays the author of children’s novels. She gets
into an argument with her blind son. They have just returned
from a play that featured a lot of violence. He says, "Those
things are all part of life." Heckert replies, "So
is diarrhea, but I don’t classify it as entertainment."

Hollywood
forgot.

Years ago,
I read an insightful one-liner by one of the Epperson sisters,
either Ann Landers or Abigail Van Buren. I think it was Ann
Landers. She commented on a particular actress’s wardrobe at
a gala event. "It showed everything except good taste."
That could serve as an epitaph for the last three decades of
movies.

But not
for Pixar.

CONCLUSION

What we
need is "high-Flying Films," which would make available
as rentals the in-fight versions of movies, stripped of their
nudity and with dubbed-in propriety. Even if parents had to
pay more to rent them, there would be a market for them. But
Hollywood won’t release these cleaned-up versions.

July
9, 2003

Gary
North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click
here
.

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