ADAM “I have a swell idea for our next picture! It’ll be The Adventures of Milo and Otis meets The Truman Show meets Inspector Gadget.”
BROOM I’ve never seen Milo and Otis.
ADAM All right, The Incredible Journey, if you prefer.
BETH I know it was only five years ago, but: this one felt like it could have been made now. I know that’s a weird thing to say. But this was the first one that feels like it’s contemporary with us.
ADAM It was, in fact, contemporary with this project, wasn’t it?
BROOM That’s right, I believe this was the first one that came out while we were doing this project. This is the first one that we talked about how in some crazy distant future we’d watch it. And this is the crazy distant future, because that was five years ago.
ADAM Although very little has changed.
BROOM In any respect, personal or national.
ADAM Well, no, Barack Obama is president.
BROOM That’s right, that hadn’t quite happened yet.
ADAM That’s a big deal. Okay, so, Bolt. I thought this was basically sympathetic and pleasurable to watch.
BETH I agree.
BROOM Yeah. But you have to get acclimated to what type of movie you’re watching. I feel like I have all these different slots, and the experience of watching these is always “so which kind of thing is this? Okay, and is it a good one of those?” This was in the “post-Toy Story” category.
ADAM It was like watching Buzz Lightyear in his Buzz Lightyear mode for an hour and a half.
BROOM Disney established a thing with Snow White, and then made that for a little while, and then they had to sort of establish a new thing, and made that for a little while. And it feels like a thing was established with Toy Story and we’re still doing it. And that was twenty years ago, now! Most animated movies now still feel like Toy Story, to me.
ADAM Yeah, this certainly did. This felt like it had a lot of animator in-joking in it.
BETH That stuff didn’t bother me.
ADAM There was all that hyper-verisimilitude in recreating the backdrops, which was sort of unnecessary.
BETH But I understand why that’s satisfying.
ADAM To them.
BETH And to me, to see them do it so well.
ADAM But doesn’t it take you out of the movie a little bit?
BETH A little bit.
BROOM No – I thought part of what this movie showed us was America now, and I like anything that makes America now look like a fun place to be. I appreciate that. Because I need all the help I can get.
BETH There could be waffle houses everywhere!
BROOM Well, the waffle house was different; the decor was sixties mix-and-match, like the end credits. But there were some things that were definitely the present day. Like the TV show “Bolt,” surely the most expensive TV show ever produced.
BETH It was basically The Fast and the Furious, but with a dog.
BROOM As a weekly TV show.
ADAM So at the beginning, [Broom] and I knew that it was about a dog that thinks it’s a superhero, but Beth, you appeared to actually think it was about a dog that is a superhero — what was your initial reaction?
BETH I was like, “This is like The Fast and the Furious! How strange that they have decided to go this direction. And also amusing because they seem to be winking about it.” I truly didn’t know what was coming. I would have accepted that. But it turned out to be The Truman Show.
BROOM I thought the very first scene in the pet store was awful…
ADAM It was just like the very first scene of Meet the Robinsons.
BROOM … and when they went into the TV show, I thought, “I see, it was supposed to be overly sappy because it was his origin story on this over-the-top TV show.” But in retrospect I don’t think that’s what it was. I think that scene just kind of sucked, and the rest of the movie seemed sharper than that. But… there are a lot of habits and mannerisms in comedy these days…
ADAM Like the hamster.
BROOM Right. I knew it couldn’t be Patton Oswalt because Ratatouille already got him. So it was just fake Patton Oswalt.
ADAM Let’s go back to your “America now,” because all that Copland-ism on the soundtrack seemed to me to be really hammering that home. And of course they did undertake a journey by U-Haul and truck from New York to Los Angeles.
BETH There were a lot of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure references in this too.
BROOM References? Or just similarities?
BETH Well, probably just similarities, but there were a couple of gags that I think were made with the knowledge of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Like when the pigeons are talking and the truck appears right behind them, it’s exactly like when the bike appears.
ADAM There were a lot of gags from a lot of things, in this.
BETH It was referential but in a smart, non-annoying way.
BROOM I don’t know if those things are referential or just borrowed. Also, the impression one gets watching Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is that the whole structure of it is borrowed. That “someone who has to travel the entire United States searching for something” is already a tired old movie concept.
BETH What old movie?
BROOM I don’t know, but it seems like the point is that it’s standard fare. National Lampoon’s Vacation has the same attitude. There are a lot of these road trip movies.
ADAM There were a lot of bits in here that I also couldn’t decide if they were homage or borrowed. All the Hollywood stuff is obviously borrowed.
BROOM I actually liked the New York pigeons here, I thought they were well done, and I especially liked it when there were L.A. pigeons at the other end of the stereotype. I enjoyed it much more than I usually enjoy that very old bit.
ADAM What, animals having regional accents?
BROOM Yeah: “Welcome ta New Yawk! In New Yawk even da pigeons tawk like dis!”
ADAM Does that happen in… what am I thinking of?
BROOM Oliver & Company?
ADAM Like, Madagascar: Lost In New York?
BROOM Yeah, everything.
ADAM That’s a real movie?
BROOM That’s a combination of several things.
ADAM I’m thinking of Home Alone.
BROOM Pig in the City.
ADAM So what do you think this says about America now?
BROOM I think it just embraces it. I note that we saw some people in New York, but they just looked like “people,” and then we saw some people at an RV stop in Ohio, and they just looked like “people.” There was no impression of class or substantial differences.
ADAM People are pretty decent. Except for agents and network executives.
BROOM Even the agent. There really was no bad guy in this movie, was there?
ADAM The agent was as close as it got to a bad guy, and he wasn’t a real bad guy, as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t get a real bad guy sendoff.
BROOM He got booted. He didn’t, like, fall off a cliff screaming.
ADAM I’m grateful that he wasn’t super-Jewy.
BROOM I took him to be…
BETH He looked like…
BROOM I can’t think of his name. I want to see if we’re thinking of the same thing.
BETH I bet we’re not. I’m thinking of… Malcolm Gets.
BROOM No, I thought he was supposed to be the guy from the fashion reality show.
BETH Tim Gunn! I didn’t see him as Tim Gunn.
ADAM A little bit! I was afraid he was going to be the Hades character from Hercules, and he wasn’t that. Or, like, the bird from Aladdin. You know, a sort of grating Jew. That’s the obvious way to take this. And this was like a gratingly sincere —
BROOM He wasn’t sincere! I liked the line about “I’ve got a beautiful girl at home and I’d trade her for you in a second.”
ADAM Sincere’s not what I meant to say.
BROOM I think what you meant to say was “insincere.”
ADAM Don’t cut me off! I thought the whole character was well done because there are people like that and I haven’t seen that particular take-off on an agent stereotype in a movie. I think you’ll find, when we get to Tangled, that the stage mother character is also a familiar stereotype refreshingly executed.
BROOM This woman wasn’t a stage mother. She was just, like, Edie McClurg.
ADAM She didn’t have a backbone until the end, but she had a basic goodness.
BETH I feel like they made her into sort of a southern doting mother who’s always around.
BROOM That’s not a “stage mother.”
ADAM She didn’t stand up to venality until the end. Everyone was redeemed by that horrible fire. Except for the studio.
BETH I’m surprised that the show continued to be produced.
BROOM Strangely, this movie was ambivalent about whether that man in the chair was her father. I mean, apparently he wasn’t. But she didn’t have a father. They’re like, “her father got kidnapped!” but later we find out that’s not her father. She just doesn’t have a father.
ADAM Wait, when did we find out that wasn’t her father?
BROOM Well, when we find it out it’s a TV show, there’s no reason for it to be her father.
ADAM Okay. The Penny character has a father back home.
BROOM Except that she doesn’t.
ADAM Bolt doesn’t have any parents.
BROOM You know, this movie is based on something that actually happened to John Travolta.
ADAM I liked the cat. The cat felt like a slightly better version of the Rosie O’Donnell cow.
BETH I agree.
BROOM Who is Susie Essman? I know that name. Is she the woman on Curb Your Enthusiasm? [ed. Yes.]
ADAM I thought Bolt got over the trauma of his whole life not being what he thought it was pretty quickly!
BROOM Because he’s seen Toy Story where exactly the same thing happens, so it’s easier for him. Yeah, it was interesting where the emotional beats were. In a way, the biggest one was just on driving across America, and being yourself. Accepting that if you’re a dog, you should enjoy the pleasures of being a dog and not the pleasures of being a superhero.
BETH That seemed like the core.
ADAM It’s depressing.
BROOM No it isn’t! When he puts his head out the window, you didn’t think that was right?
BETH That’s the moment that I will remember from this movie.
ADAM Wallow in your mediocrity!
BROOM What do you mean, mediocrity?
BETH No! The simple pleasures of life. Like the fireplace, when she says “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
BROOM Real life! She points at the poster and asks, “Does that look real? Does that look real to you?” I endorse that. And also, for all that it’s kind of old business at this point, I enjoyed that the nerd who’s totally gone into Don Quixote make-believe is also the one who can give the pep talk about believing in yourself because you are awesome.
ADAM It’s like Rudy.
BROOM I’ve never seen Rudy.
ADAM You know, the mental invalid of the group is actually the spiritual core. I mean, all of the emotional beats in this movie were just business ripped from other things.
BROOM Yeah, it didn’t really take you anywhere meaningful. The old thing Disney would do, in the Bambi days, is declare, “life is like this,” and it would be intensely that. Now the idea is: we’re going to make a throwaway movie; it’ll have the requisite single-tear beats; we promise not to embarrass you too much with them. Unlike, for example, Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler, the preview for which we saw on this disc, where you know that when the tear beat comes, it would be unbearable. But it’s the same basic package.
ADAM But neither is it, like, Mufasa holding Simba to the heavens.
BROOM That’s true. That was an attempt to be primal.
ADAM But they’ve continued to alternate, recently.
BROOM What’s the most recent one that had any kind of weight?
ADAM Brother Bear.
BROOM You’re right. They just fucked it up, but that’s right. Brother Bear did attempt to be about the meaning of life, but it was just so stupid.
ADAM And then Home on the Range was this. And Chicken Little was this.
BETH I have to say, I was touched by parts of Meet the Robinsons.
BROOM But it’s still in this category.
BETH Yeah, it’s still this.
ADAM Epic vs. picaresque. That’s not quite the right division but you know what I mean. There was no “Circle of Life” here. Just the simple pleasure of sticking your head out the window.
BROOM And there’s another type, the Little Mermaid type. That’s not really about the circle of life — maybe a little, it’s about coming of age — but mostly it’s about the emotional heft of the story. The emotions are what’s going to get you through. Not all the bits.
BETH Even Little Mermaid was a bunch of bits, though. Or at least a bunch of showtunes.
BROOM I feel like when you go that Broadway place, it’s about feeling invested in “will she get what she wants?” Whereas here — I mean, it’s John Travolta, who’s gonna care?
ADAM The whole point of a fairy tale is of course that it’s derivative to the point of being runic. The fact that it’s so predictable is because it hearkens back to something deeper and older than ourselves. There’s a comfort and a sort of dignity in that. Whereas something like, Bolt galloping into Penny’s arms — though I guess it turns out that she’s really opening her arms for some other dog, but even that rug-pull is old. But whatever, at least they didn’t fuck it up. I wonder why Madeline wanted me to buy this for Ed? She put it on his Christmas list.
BROOM It’s basically harmless, except that it shows intense action from other movies at the beginning, and so implies that you can watch those movies too.
ADAM You don’t think it creates a world-weariness about Hollywood? Would you let your child watch The Player?
BROOM Did you think that, like, Porky in Hollywood or whatever created a world-weariness about Hollywood? I saw a lot of that stuff as a kid and it didn’t mess me up.
ADAM Or The Muppet Movie.
BROOM “Prepare the standard ‘rich and famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog.”
BETH At the beginning, before I knew what was going on, I was surprised that Disney was apparently showing people killed. Then I thought, “no, I see, the guys in the car crash are still conscious.” But I was still trying to process what that meant.
BROOM Yeah, what’s the last death that we saw in one of these movies?
ADAM Don’t we assume that, like, Ursula dies?
BROOM Yes, and that was twenty years ago.
ADAM Well, in Brother Bear they go into the afterlife.
BROOM Oh yeah, that’s right, the brother dies.
ADAM You guys keep forgetting that Brother Bear exists.
BROOM It’s hard to remember.
ADAM What did you guys think of the music? What did you think of the Miley Cyrus musical intrusion in the middle?
BETH I did not appreciate it.
ADAM It’s not a bad song though.
BROOM I smirked for a while and then just rolled with it, which is my attitude toward all of these.
BETH Sure, it was fine, I just think that’s a bad idea in general.
BROOM You know, five years ago at the beginning of this project, part of my agenda for myself was that I wasn’t going to let my standards slip. But.
ADAM They have.
BETH You have to take everything on its own terms.
ADAM Trophies for everyone!
BROOM You just have to decide what you’re doing, every day. I want my standards not to have slipped. The question is, how do you disapprove of something without being angry at it? Because I don’t feel angry at these people or this movie.
BETH It’s just being mildly disappointed.
BROOM In the world.
BETH In culture. It’s very reflective of what culture is, right now.
ADAM It’s a shame that we don’t have the Pixar movies in this journey. Is Ratatouille worse than Bambi? No.
BROOM I believe it to be.
BETH He’s not a fan of Ratatouille.
BROOM I’m very aware of the formulaic-ness of these movies. While the formula is not an insulting one, it is also a distancing one. It’s safe because it’s not unsafe; it doesn’t risk things in a way that would make that experience significant. This movie didn’t risk anything, and we didn’t have to risk anything emotionally while we were watching it.
ADAM You feel like in Bambi you do? I guess when the mother dies that’s pretty bad.
BROOM Yeah, it’s terrible. You feel imperiled in those early Disney movies. But, now, let me reflect: is it just that those remind me of being a child?
BETH It’s hard to know.
ADAM Let’s ask Ed!
BROOM There’s something so worldly about the style of these recent movies. The camera style, the references, everything.
ADAM That’s what I mean about joking about agents and Paramount studios.
BROOM Remember when in The Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone they started to have a couple of “it’s the 60s, mom!” references, and we were so embarrassed for them.
ADAM The Beatles vultures.
BROOM And television at the end of Sword in the Stone. Just a couple of little moments that said “yeah, we know where it’s at!” And our response was “Oh, please don’t know where it’s at!”
BETH But when I was a kid, I felt adult watching The Sword in the Stone, because I thought, “I get that!”
BROOM You were being pandered to.
BETH I apparently was.
ADAM I don’t know. Worldliness is very pleasurable. Whereas sincere emotion is childish.
BROOM FUCK YOU!
ADAM And as a child, it’s pleasurable to be aspiring to worldliness.
BROOM I wasn’t drawn to that, as a child.
BETH I totally was.
BROOM I would have disliked both of you, then.
ADAM But [Broom], you’re a wounded bird!
BROOM I’m wounded by everyone else’s need to seem worldly. And now I’m fighting back against it. And I think that an animated movie is one of the few things that used to endorse that there are in fact simple things in life.
ADAM Oh, you should have seen this amazing apartment I saw today; it has a dog spa!
BROOM Does it?
ADAM No. My own building has a dog spa. You can leave that out.
BETH Don’t leave it out.
ADAM Even when Aaron Copland is being used hackishly, it still thrills me. Just those kinds of chords make my heart sit up a little straighter.
BETH “Thrills” is strong, but I agree. If you have to rip off a musical style, that’s the one to rip off.
BROOM It means that you’re in America.
BETH It’s nice! It feels hearty. Unlike, you know, every commercial that’s made now, where the music is Philip Glass style.
BROOM Really, Thomas Newman, in the post-American Beauty genre.
BETH This music feels like it comes from a real emotional place, even if it doesn’t.
BROOM I guess what I’m saying is, when we see that montage of America in this movie, and we see a beautiful vista, and a guy playing with his dog, and a windmill, and it’s clearly “the part when you think about beauty,” I, in my wounded bird way, think, “couldn’t there have been a whole movie that was this nice?” Why did we have to earn this moment by crawling through all this commercialism?
BETH Because there’s some desperation on the part of Disney. I think it’s looking at Pixar and feels like “we need to bring it.” And doesn’t really know.
ADAM I think actually we should buy [Broom] some Veggie Tales.
BROOM That’ll set me straight. I think Toy Story is actually a more important movie than people might give it credit for. Not just in establishing what you can do with computers, but in establishing a particular attitude toward commercial culture. It’s based on all these plastic products of mass production, and invests them with everything a kid invests them with, and makes them live. And that’s why people love that movie, because it doesn’t feel dirty, it doesn’t feel like a Happy Meal. It just feels like this the real value of toys. And I actually feel sickened now when I see that there are actual Buzz Lightyear toys, because the point was that he represented things that in their actuality would actually be much more offensive than this fully embodied character they created. And I feel like a lot of the drip-down influence of Toy Story, in Pixar movies but especially in things like this that are at one more remove, sort of misses some of the point, which is that there’s all this tawdry stuff in America that people invest with meaning and make real for themselves.
ADAM That’s what I was saying about real estate earlier.
BROOM But it’s different! It’s different when it’s mass culture that’s imposed on you than when it’s a thing that you picked to identify yourself. When you flip on the TV and there’s all this shit there, you don’t say, “this is my TV.”
BETH And you’re calling toys part of “mass culture”?
BROOM Yeah. I feel like kids are the victims of toys, in a lot of ways. They see the commercial and then they want it. They’re not defining themselves as much as just seeking out the thing they’ve been made to lust after.
BETH Right, but once you have the toy, and I thought this is what Toy Story was about, you do infuse it with yourself, and then it turns into something completely different from a mass-produced object. Now it’s you, now it’s part of your world.
BROOM Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. And Adam, I know that’s what you were saying about apartments, but I feel like if the initial impetus is “well, I’m going to define myself with this, I’m going pick the thing that represents me,” that’s not how kids pick toys. They just get toys because they think they’re awesome.
ADAM That’s because you find children more sympathetic than grown-ups.
BROOM Well, kids don’t attempt to define themselves with their purchases, and adults do all the time. Maybe kids do now. But that’s not why I wanted toys. I wanted them because, you know, “you run, you slide, you hit the bump and take a dive” – that looks awesome! I never thought, “You know what’s a really [Broomlet] type thing to have? That. And when people see that I have it…”
BETH Have you ever had the thought, “That’s a really [Broomlet] type thing to have”?
BROOM Well, recently, in the search for self. And I’m disgusted by that thought. That’s not how you find yourself. But when I was a kid — I mean, sometimes I’d find a book at the store and think, “I didn’t know this existed but obviously I need to get it because it’s the kind of thing I of course will get.” But that’s a little different from thinking “this fits my portfolio to a T!” I’m pretty far afield here.
ADAM Are you going to put all this stuff in? This is going to be the longest entry ever.
BROOM It’s probably not, unfortunately. I usually talk even more than this.
ADAM Let’s read the New York Times review.
[we read the New York Times review]
BROOM I just want to remind us that in One Hundred and One Dalmatians they watch a heroic dog TV show where the dog is called Thunderbolt. I thought maybe there’d be a back-reference here that would clarify whether that was where this idea came from. And there was not.
ADAM Maybe they didn’t even know about it.
BETH So A.O. Scott wrote the review of Meet the Robinsons as well, I believe.
BROOM Which was negative.
BETH It was incredibly negative, and suggested that Disney was basically finished. But here he didn’t make any reference to that, or to Disney at all.
ADAM He’s right about the pigeons. I thought it was extremely funny every time the pigeons moved.
BROOM That was actual creative animation.
ADAM It really made them much funnier, when their heads would twist sideways.
BETH It was a really good looking movie.
BROOM I thought Bolt himself was the least good looking thing in it. He looked okay. The whole movie was just fine as one of these things. And maybe the next movie, or the one after that, will say, “they don’t have to be these things anymore! Our standards can go up!”
ADAM I doubt it.