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Up With Pixar

Dartmouth Film Society to Honor Animation Studio

If you made a list of the best American movies of the past 20 years, the chances are good that at least five Pixar films would be on it: the Toy Story trilogy, WALL-E and Up. They’re the rare films that are hits with audiences and critics both, and although the movies are made with children in mind, adults flock to them too, because they’re ingenious, funny and whip smart.

The Pixar team hews to basic principles: story and characters first, movie wizardry a close second. The movies are an expert, but not formulaic, blend of laughs, pathos, empathy and great sight gags reminiscent of the best of silent film comedy, or such great movie musicals from the 1950s as Singin’ in the Rain.

For that reason the Dartmouth Film Society has chosen to recognize Pixar with a Dartmouth Film Award, which will be given out at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13, in Spaulding Auditorium. Accepting the award on behalf of Pixar will be Dan Scanlon, who directed the studio’s most recent hit, Monsters University, and Kori Rae, who produced Up and The Incredibles. Clips from Pixar films will be shown, and advertising for the show promises big surprises, which will probably include excerpts from upcoming movies.

What sets Pixar apart? “If we talk next year about the films we saw this year, I think many people would be hard pressed to tell what producing company made them,” said Bill Pence, director of the Dartmouth Film Society at the Hopkins Center. One Hollywood studio’s action-packed Super Hero sequel is much like another studio’s action-packed Super Hero sequel, with special effects galore and enough gun play and explosions to start World War III. The movies blur together, and with notable exceptions around awards time, they run the gamut between average and mediocre, Pence said.

Not so with Pixar. “Pixar has created a brand that is totally unique, and I think most people recognize that,” Pence said.

Over the years, Pixar, which was founded in 1986, has released numerous short films and 14 feature films, which also include Brave, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and Cars. Since the Academy Awards first gave out an Oscar in 2002 for the best animated feature, Pixar has won the award seven times. Although the computer technology that creates the Pixar look — rubbery-faced, malleable characters, fluid motion and colors that pop — is light years away from the hand drawings of the Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes, the devotion to quality is the same, Pence said.

“They tell great stories and they have a creative team that’s been working together for a long time,” he said. The late, great Chuck Jones, one of the geniuses behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Road Runner, once told Pence that what separates good animation from not-so-good is the depth of characterization.

Pixar has created a host of memorable characters, from Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story to Ratatouille the rat in the eponymous movie to crotchety Carl Fredericksen in Up.

But Pixar has also pushed the boundaries of what computerized animation can do, Pence added. Paraphrasing Jones, Pence said that there are two fundamental components to the art of animation: hard work and love. And “only the love must show,” Pence said. On Oct. 13, there’ll be plenty of love to go around.

Tickets to the Pixar tribute are $5. For tickets and information, call the Hopkins Center Box Office at 603-646-2422 or go to hop.dartmouth.edu/Online/film_special_a_tribute_to_pixar.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.