Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pixar: The Boise State of Filmmaking

If Pixar were to create a fictional college football team it would most certainly be modeled after the Boise State Broncos. The perennially underrated and overachieving Broncos play their home games on a bright blue turf field and the team's offense makes up for its lack of blue-chip talent by regularly employing funky backyard-style plays. Besides being perfect source material for the quirky animation studio, the Boise State Broncos are also a kindred spirit of sorts for Pixar. Never quite earning the respect they deserve despite being consistently excellent, the Boise State Broncos are the Pixar of college football. Or, rather, Pixar is the Boise State of filmmaking.

As the college football season ends tonight with the matchup between Texas and Alabama, sports fans everywhere will grumble over how the college football championship system is corrupt. While an undefeated Texas or Alabama is crowned the "BCS Champion," the Boise State Broncos will be at home, wondering how they could also finish a season undefeated but be shut out of a chance for the championship. The feeling must be similar to what Pixar filmmakers experience on Oscar night as their exceptional movies watch from the Best Animated Feature category as live-action films are awarded the Best Picture prize.

The Oscars, like big-time college football championships, really come down to tradition and pedigree. In college football, every champion for the last 20 years has come from a major, booster-rich conference, such as the Big 12 and SEC. Likewise, the vast majority of Best Picture winners have been produced by established Hollywood studios, such as Paramount and Warner Bros. In addition to this, an animated movie has never won the award and, in the 81 years of the ceremony, only one film, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," has ever been nominated.

Pixar and Boise State are outsiders who, no matter how much they succeed, are relegated to a second tier. Which is a shame since, in the last five years, no other entity in their respective arenas has better represented excellence than Pixar and Boise State.

Animation requires the involvement of a vast team of artists yet Pixar has managed to foster a significant sense of auteurism among its filmmakers. Authorship, the film quality that influential film critic Andre Bazin declared to be what defines a movie as a work of art, and that has stood as the fundamental way in which serious filmmaking is judged internationally, is evident in every recent Pixar film. Brad Bird's Ayn Randian ideology is explored in his films "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" while Andrew Stanton's environmental concerns and vibrant color palette fortify "WALL-E" and "Finding Nemo."

The Boise State Broncos, whose uniforms draw from a vibrant color palette, just capped an undefeated season with a thrilling 17-10 victory over the TCU Horned Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos have a .89 winning percentage for the past five seasons which is the same as Texas and better than both Alabama (.74) and the Florida Gators (.85)--last year's national "champion."

I would argue that a lot of this secondary status comes down to one thing that both Pixar and Boise State hold dear: fun. There is an unwritten rule in Hollywood that important films must act important. Even though "Up", "WALL-E," "Ratatouille," and "The Incredibles" effectively (and efficiently) examine profound adult themes, their fantastic settings and sense of humor pooch the bid for serious critical recognition.

Boise State's similar penchant for the fantastic also works against them in the big-business world of college football. The Broncos play with a free-wheeling offensive flair that is usually reserved for games played in sweatpants and autumn leaves. The team's identity is epitomized by their performance in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Facing the Oklahoma Sooners--who have won seven national titles in their vaunted history--the Broncos used a mix of speed, grit, and luck to bring the Sooners to overtime. Down by one point, with a chance to tie and send the game to another overtime, Broncos coach Chris Petersen opted to go for a two-point conversion and the win. The Broncos lined up and ran the Statue of Liberty, a play revered by 12-year-olds everywhere. The trick play ended with running back Ian Johnson scampering into the end zone, untouched.

In the postgame melee that ensued, Johnson turned away from an interview with a Fox Sports reporter and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television. Down on one knee at the center of a roaring stadium, Johnson's proposal could be called a Pixar ending.

Hopefully such a moment, in the future, occurs at the end of a true national championship.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. I live a mile from Boise State and am thrilled I caught this on Twitter. Just as the Academy Awards plan to expand its Best Picture field from five to ten, perhaps the BCS system is ready for a shake-up, too. Thanks for an excellent (and fun) post.