John Carter of Meh

I have a question for Andrew Stanton.

I just came out of John Carter of Mars…  I’m a huge Andrew Stanton fan and a huge Pixar fan, but I was really bummed out about this film.   This past week Stanton’s Ted Talk on storytelling has been going around the web.  It’s a great watch!  In that talk he goes on about a number of storytelling techniques he’s learned over the years.  Two of his tips kept ringing through my head while sitting in an empty Imax theater watching John Carter.

  1. No matter what, give the audience a reason to care.
  2. Make your Hero likable.

That leads to my question:

How does one of the better storytellers of our generation set out on his first live action film with a budget around $250 million and not follow his own storytelling rules? How does this happen??

Hey, I’m a spectacle guy… (hell, who isn’t into some popcorn munchin space opera?) but Stanton didn’t take his own advice:  Does amazing cg give me a reason to care?  No… Does a huge weepy score give me a reason to care?  No…  Does a giant battle scene where JC is buried in the dead bodies he’s carving up make me care?  Well… Kinda…  BUT, over the top film-making techniques alone don’t make us care!  You know what makes us care?  Stanton’s rule #2:

Make the hero likable.  Repeat: Make the hero likable…  Man, after Stanton’s Ted Talk the last thing I thought would happen was that John Carter would be such a dick!  In the Ted Talk Stanton showed a board-amatic of early days Toy Story.  Tom Hanks is a total dick!  He’s berating and bullying the toys, and he’s being a full on dick.  That’s right, Woody was a dick (no pun intended).  Stanton tells the story of how they had made Woody a dick so that his arc could be more dramatic.  The story wasn’t working but through hard work they (Pixar) figured out they needed to write him likable.  That lesson, Stanton says, was one of the main things they took away from the Toy Story experience.   It’s ironic: With $250mil, armies of technicians and artists, years of planning and execution he couldn’t make John Carter likable.  BUT with half of the budget, less time and nowhere near the crew; Brad Bird was able to make Tom Cruise likable in Mission Impossible 4.  You would of thought it would of taken the $100mil vfx budget to make Tom Cruise endearing (post 1980’s of course).   I guess we know who of the Freshmen Brainstrust has successfully crossed over out of Pixar.

I don’t wanna be a hater, I love Stanton’s films!  Wall-E is one of the classic stories in filmmaking.  Pixar and Stanton have balls down to their ankles to make the first half of Wall-E a silent film.  It set the benchmark for this years Oscar winner “The Artist”.  Pixar and the Braintrust have always had balls, going all the way back to Toy Story.  As far as story goes, Pixar and their directors would not be denied.   As far as John Carter goes:  I didn’t care.  There was nothing new.  AND it was flat out on the nose…  John Carter has no balls.

We still love you Andrew!  But next time, please, give us a reason to care.

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