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DID YOU READ

Is the secret to great animated films as simple as skipping the pop culture references?

Is the secret to great animated films as simple as skipping the pop culture references? (photo)

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While Pixar itself has yet to succumb to smugness, complacency and diminishing returns, their champions could learn something from the studio’s example. There’s a peculiar push-pull attached to the studio and how people evaluate it.

For example: every summer, before their newest movie comes out, box-office prognosticators predict imminent failure (people won’t want to watch a rat/mute robot/old man), then eat their words. This leads to resentment, as though Pixar’s financial success makes every other cynical hack who doesn’t make as much money look bad.

Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian quotes supervising animator Dylan Brown, three years ago, noticing that “every film has made a profit, and after a while some people seem to get angry about that. They seem annoyed, as if we had some secret formula for our films that we’re refusing to share with everyone.”

Well, Pixar’s champions know what that formula is, and they repeat it ad nauseam in every article about the studio.

07012010_aladdin.jpgTry googling pixar and “no pop culture references” and you’ll get back over six thousand results, all of which will inform you that Pixar aims for timelessness by avoiding the dated topical references its evil twin brother and main competitor DreamWorks loves.

“Pop culture references are easy,” “Ratatouille” director Brad Bird says. “But they don’t last. Take Disney’s 1992 version of ‘Aladdin,’ which I like — when that came out, and I saw the genie doing an impression of Arsenio Hall, I thought: ‘This is going to mean nothing in ten years’ time.'”

The trouble with most animation (or not — they’re the bane of most kiddie flicks) pop culture references is that they aim for the lowest of fruit: references to “Who Let The Dogs Out” and “Apocalypse Now,” the ubiquitously famous and the defiantly ephemeral fodder of future mocking VH1 programming.

On many TV shows, by contrast, obscurity of reference point is valued (as Noel Murray examined and unpacked a few months ago in a piece about the “Simpsons” episode “22 Short Films About Springfield”). At a certain point, digging up things only people with very specific ages and cultural backgrounds can remember becomes a personal enterprise.

07012010_monsters.jpgNot in mainstream animation though, which is where the Pixar thing gets tricky. Though the team isn’t entirely averse to the odd reference — most notably in “Monsters Inc.” — Pixar movies are generally “timeless” in the same way that, say, R.E.M.’s early-career insistence on avoiding big ’80s drums and keyboards was “timeless.” In both cases, we’re dealing with a creative unit that’s up to speed on using technology while simultaneously trying to hide anything that will instantly date the work.

Pixar didn’t win me over until recent years, with “Wall-E” and “Up.” (I’m sure you can hear John Lasseter’s loud sigh of relief right now). Which is why it’s annoying as an at-least-temporary convert to read repetitively fawning Pixar profiles that offer up nothing more than the usual talking points. Pixar succeeds because of “excellence” (nothing’s ever that simple), a lack of pop culture references (a negative virtue) and brand-name trustworthiness (which Adam Sandler also has). I’d love to see more critical thinking about their output — the lack does their films a disservice.

[Photos: “Luxo Jr.,” Disney, 1986; “Aladdin,” Disney, 1992; “Monsters, Inc.,” Disney, 2001]

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.