After watching Ratatouille, I remember thinking that the end credits, with their stylized animation, were probably the most interesting part of the movie. This is certainly a bit harsh, but it reminded me that I felt the same kind of excitement upon seeing the highly stylized credits of The Incredibles (another Brad Bird movie). This got me thinking that there has always been something special about the way Pixar ends their films, and especially the way they handle credits.
After Toy Story (which has a plain credit sequence), A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc., all end with blooper sequences. While bloopers aren’t unheard of at the end of a comedy, including them at the end of an animated film is a much more meaningful choice. In live action, bloopers are accidents. In animated films, that’s obviously not the case1. Each of those bloopers had to be animated, carefully thought through and prepared. This is basically the antithesis of a blooper. So why go through all that trouble for something that, at first sight, doesn’t seem to make sense? I would argue that such sequences reveal a lot about Pixar’s ambition as a studio but also about Pixar’s ambition regarding the status of 3D CGI animation. I would also argue that Pixar’s abandonment of this practice (there are no more bloopers after Monster’s, Inc.) is likewise revelatory with regards to the evolution of Pixar’s thoughts about film and CGI.
Pretending to be real
Let’s get back to those three bloopers sequences. I would propose that their true aim is deeply connected with the old fantasy of animation as capable of “giving life” as well as the original belief that CGI could offer fully realistic2 animation. As I said before, in live action films bloopers are accidents, which are possible precisely because it is LIVE action. So when Lasseter and Docter give us bloopers, in a sense, they are claiming that CGI animation is realistic enough, that it could be – or be as good as – live action. In addition, following the tradition founded by the Golden Age Warner animators, the characters claim to be actors whose life continues outside of the screen and who are just doing their job. The people at Pixar do not just make films; they are demiurges creating independent life… or at least they like to pretend they are.
Life after the movie
Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, Toy Story 3, Monsters University and Inside Out capitalize on that demiurgic trend. There are no more bloopers but life goes on after the movie ends. Each of these films contains epilogues, “photographs”, or sometimes just the characters playing around the credits. In all cases this shows us that life goes on. However, “as good as live action” approach is contested. Indeed, in the bonus features of the Finding Nemo DVD, the animators explain that while animating the sea, they realized there could be such a thing as “too realistic.” Originally, they tried to create the sea as realistic as possible, only to find out that, from a viewer’s point of view, it didn’t work. They therefore had to consciously produce something that was less real, but more credible. It is not surprising, then, that this realization was accompanied by giving up the practice of bloopers. that is pretending the characters are “real” as in live action. Even in the case of films such as Toy Story 3 or Monsters University, where the previous installments had made this claim. The epilogue scenes in Cars also put forward a self reflexive tendency. In a drive-in theater, the cars are watching “car-ified” versions of older Pixar films while Mack the Truck comments that they are ‘just using the same actor over and over’3 in every movie. Beyond the joke, this reveals an increasingly (self) reflexive Pixar. They’re not just making movies anymore; they are thinking about their craft.
It’s art after all
The Incredibles and Ratatouille, along with Cars 2 and Brave, open up a new area of meaning for Pixar. In each of these films, the end credits are highly illustrative, very stylized, or more abstract in the case of Brave. After 10 years of playing the realist/living creature fantasy of computer generated images, Pixar suddenly reminds us in The Incredibles that at the core of every one of those films you find, not a computer, but artists with a vision. And while that vision may be lost in the final orthodox textured 3D rendering, the studio puts art back in the movie (albeit only in the credits). This is all the more visible in the end credit sequence of Wall-E.
A sort of Manifesto
Wall-E offered probably the most striking of those end credit sequences, one that could be read as a Pixar manifesto. The credits present themselves as yet another epilogue sequence depicting how humans recolonize Earth after the end of the movie. But the visual style is an homage to the whole of art history, from cave paintings to Van Gogh, finishing with a pixel art version of the characters wandering around the credits. In this sequence, Pixar not only affirms its debt to art history but also, very cunningly, places computer generated images, and therefore the studio itself within that history. In the 13 years that separate Wall-E from Toy Story, Pixar has reached a sort of artistic maturity. They’ve given up the pointless drive for a fantasized life-giving hyper-realism and embraced the limitless emotional possibilities that Art (capital A intended) can offer. They’re not (unlike Robert Zemeckis) trying to produce a live action surrogate. They fully accept that animation can and should be something else, even something more. And while some may think that it’s 3D that brought viewers back to animation, I would claim that Pixar has been so successful because, as the credits make clear, they remembered that it’s never the computer that creates the film for you, and that animation is still a craft… heck, an art.
Lecturer in Animation History and Theory
Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard (Namur, Belgium)
1 It should be noted, as observed by Drew Morton upon proof-reading this blog entry, that some of those bloopers could be real auditory bloopers occurring while recording the voice acting. This would certainly add a level of indexical complexity to the practice of animated bloopers.
2 In my PhD thesis (La figurine cisanthrope: Humanité liminale et contagion affective dans le cinéma d’animation, presented at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Université de Liège on Sept. 02, 2015) I spent about ten pages defining realism and all its variants and subtleties but let’s keep it simple here.
3 John Ratzenberger, who is the voice of Mack.
And thank you to Misha Mihailova for her proofreading and comments.