Friday, January 3, 2014

Books Read in December 2013

To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios by Karen Paik

Pixar is one of the few things that has maintained a strong presence with me my entire life. Pretty much from the cradle (I was two years old when Toy Story was released), Pixar has provided me with stories to give me joy, inspiration, and hope. My Pixar fandom hasn't diminished in all these years and, at the age of twenty, I still highly anticipate each new Pixar film. This book was an informative look at what went on behind the scenes at Pixar from it's inception in 1986 to its acquisition by Disney in 2006. This book deals mostly with the technical side of Pixar's film-making - the technical challenges they faced with each film, as well as the relationship between business and creativity - and, while I would have preferred a heavier emphasis on story-telling, I found it a fascinating read. I have gained a new level of appreciation for many of Pixar's films and short films, particularly my favourite Pixar film: Toy Story 2. Toy Story 2 was conceived as a direct-to-video sequel to Toy Story, without the care and attention of the previous film and with a different core creative team than Pixar's theatrical films. Ultimately unsatisfied with the lackluster product that was taking shape, John Lasseter took over production and completely revamped the film while still meeting the release date. Many employees suffered repetitive stress injuries while frantically completing the movie. I had heard that Toy Story 2 had had production problems before, but I was amazed when I read the details. Toy Story 2 is a beautiful film and you would never guess its history or what it almost was. It's a testament to Pixar's dedication to good story-telling and film-making. This is why when I heard that the future Pixar film The Good Dinosaur had been delayed due to "production problems", I didn't panic and was actually filled with the confidence that Pixar is still willing to do everything it takes to create great stories. A lesser studio would force the film to work rather than work out its problems. You can't rush art. Long live Pixar Animation Studios!

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (re-read)

The "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" series were some of my favorite books when I was younger and they've stood the test of time remarkably well and I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book. The things that Ga'Hoole represent - knightly virtue, wisdom, and learning - are things that I've learned to value even more as I've grown older. It's always interesting revisiting books you read as a child, because of the things you pick up on that you didn't earlier. For example I noticed that the evil orphanage, St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, can serve as a metaphor for many real-world institutions both present and past. Pretty much any institution that attacks independent thinking or individuality can be represented by St. Aggies. I also noticed that the four main characters of the series are representatives of four types of wisdom: Gylfie is knowledgeable of facts, while Soren is a more practical thinker. He can put two-and-two together logically and apply it to whatever situation he's in. Twilight has street smarts and Digger, though it isn't demonstrated much in the first book, is the deep thinker of the group. This, of course, is appropriate since owls are symbols of wisdom. I had wanted to re-read the rest of the series, but it would appear my local library has discarded the second book, so I won't be continuing immediately.

The Song of My Cid (unknown author)

Next on the list of my knight/chivalry marathon was The Song of My Cid, a 12th Century poem about the Spanish folk hero El Cid. Like The Song of Roland I really enjoyed this book. There's something about medieval story-telling that I love to death, a quality that is very rare to see in modern story-telling. This book reminded me of a Narnia book, particularly The Horse and His Boy, which for me is always a good thing. The heroes were heroic and virtuous, the villains were cowardly and despicable, and the villains got their just deserts in the end. Some might find this type of story-telling boring and predictable and I can understand that to an extent, but I love it and always find it a refreshing change from much of modern story-telling. From a historical standpoint, I found the politics of Medieval Spain interesting as well. While technically the Christian armies were taking back land conquered by the Muslim armies, the two sides were not clear cut. There were allies from both sides and vassals from both sides paying homage to Christian and Muslim lords.

NOTE: I'm going back to school in a few days, so I'm not sure how much pleasure reading I'll be able to get in. We'll see.