Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is starting to feel a little concerned about the state of Hollywood—with good reason. His latest film (Trance) has grossed only two million dollars in North America, in spite of critical acclaim and its wealth of fresh, entertaining ideas. In a recent interview with Vodkaster, Boyle reflected on the ’70s, arguably the richest period in American cinema and an era that yielded Boyle’s favourite film (Apocalypse Now). Boyle laments Hollywood’s retreat form the kind of serious, adult dramas that dominated during that period, citing Star Wars (a film he once dismissed as “a kids’ film,” but now begrudgingly respects) as a crucial turning point toward a more conventional, family friendly cinema. Boyle believes that this phenomenon has only progressed in the decades since and he attributes this to a company that is rarely the target of criticism: Pixar.
Given the near unanimous praise Pixar has enjoyed from audiences and critics alike, this may seem like a misguided attack, but Boyle means no disrespect to the animation giant. “Pixar makes great movies, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “They are very sophisticated storytellers, so much so that you have to literally pull your socks up. You can’t compete with them. They’re so brilliant. But they are family friendly and that’s the danger.”
In essence, Boyle’s fear is that Pixar’s success has given family friendly filmmaking a giant boost, causing Hollywood to direct even more of its resources away from serious, challenging films. For fans of serious cinema (including Boyle), this may seem like a discouraging development, but it’s worth noting that (a) many of the great films of the ’70s were underfunded by the studios and (b) many serious films continue to flourish, if only in the months surrounding the Academy Awards. If only someone could convince the people running Pixar to venture outside their comfort zone—WALL-E came close—and use their considerable resources and talent to make a film that panders a little less and challenges a little more. This isn’t the path to predictable commercial success, but it is the philosophy that fuelled many of the groundbreaking films Boyle so fondly remembers.