It’s surprisingly difficult to go back and re-establish a perspective of animation and children’s entertainment pre-Pixar.
In his great TED Talk, Pixar animator Andrew Stanton (the second animator the company ever hired) talks about the expectations of the princess-meets-prince adventure they had to fight against when pitching their first film. Stanton’s team rejected the pre-destined love, sing-along formula that had propelled “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” to the top when they began work on “Toy Story,” approaching the film with their own set of criteria: No songs, no “I want” moments, no happy village and no love story.
“Toy Story” has become a watershed work both technically and for the genre as a whole. The film changed the way studios thought about what could be made, marketed and sold to the youngest slice of the box-office pie (and the parents dragged along with it). The massive success Pixar enjoyed post “Toy Story” paved the way for a new type of film to emerge — the Pixar imitator. Ignoring the other actual successful animation studios that have followed in Pixar’s wake (the Dreamworkses of the world), it’s much more fun to look at the other end of the spectrum, to shine a light on the crust scraped up from the bottom of the barrel.
The picture for this article includes the box-art for a horrible knockoff of Pixar’s “Up,” almost unbelievably called, “What’s Up: Balloon to the rescue!” Ignoring the terrible attempt to fit the only recognizable word — Up — into their title, “What’s Up” represents a class of films that exist basically only to confuse or deceive people into watching them. The companies behind these monstrosities prey on all the poor-old, aloof-and-unassuming grandparents looking for birthday gifts in the Walmart bargain bin — as far as they know, they’re supporting the animation studio that has owned the Oscar category for the past two decades.
Within this class of terrible knockoffs, sometimes the movie on the disk isn’t even the same as the one on the packaging. It’s stupidly common for one of these knockoffs to ship a disk that isn’t at all related to the one on the cover. In a (pretty great) video by the YouTube channel “I Hate Everything” titled “The (NOT DISNEY) Collection,” the host revealed that two of the knockoffs he bought off Amazon, one called “Braver” and the other “Tangled Up,” were just rips of basic cable TV programming from the ’90s. The movie that was supposed to be “Braver” turned out to be a cartoon made-for-TV-movie about a Christmas princess. And even if you dodge the predatory-ass bullet of a complete scam, like those named above, there’s a very non-zero chance that the DVD you just purchased is a renamed, reskinned and reimported foreign language animated film given a new, Pixar-ish title. See “Ratatoing.”
The actual movie content in each of these punishment packages is just god-awful, but it’s also kind of fun. For a buck a piece, you can own dozens of awful, good-for-nothing knockoffs that probably aren’t even bad enough to finish. But I get why people are so morbidly-curious to try these out. Names like “Chop-Kick Panda” and “A Cars Life” sound like terrible, groan-inducing jokes, so the fact that they’re “real” movies just begs you to give them a watch.
It’s interesting to see how the movie-internet rallies around this sort of cinema dredge. There’s a whole host of YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts dedicated to covering the worst of the worst of the worst when it comes to movies. Something is enticing about watching gruesome, catastrophic failures. Watching a bad movie that means well is often times much more painful than watching an alleyway dumpster fire of a movie with no redeeming qualities. This is probably similar to that deep psychological thing where we can’t not watch tragedies unfold. It’s a fight or flight thing — adrenaline pumping, we have to keep watching to make sure the bad movie doesn’t kill us.
It’s not unlikely that it’s us who are keeping these movies in circulation, not the video aisle grandpas. While we laugh at the mismatched mouth movements of the overdub, the production companies laugh their way to the bank. (I mean, it must cost like, a day and a half of work to crank one of these out, right?) But, you know, whatever. Keep ‘em coming. They’re grating and grossly exploitative, but I don’t know if I have a better recommendation if you just want to sit and laugh with some friends. One or two tip-toes into cinema masochism never hurt.