Andrew Stanton on why he loved the John Carter books, and what he’s trying to capture in the film

Andrew Stanton

As March approaches and I find myself thinking more seriously about whether or not Andrew Stanton’s take on Edgar Rice Burroughs classic “John Carter” will work, I find my “hopeful” thoughts being drawn in two directions — a) Pixar,and b) Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The hopeful thought is that with these two elements, it should be a fairly safe assumption that the story value will “deliver”, and some degree of solid universal appeal will be achieved.  There’s no guarantee that this will be the case — but the underlying material has stayed in print continuously for 100 years in more than 20 languages and that’s no small feat.  And Pixar has an unparalled record of success at crafting stories that resonate universally.

So, I was interested to hear what Andrew Stanton had to say when asked: “What was it about the books that appealed to you?”

His response:

I think it was having a human being thrown into a world that they just didn’t see coming and not knowing anything about it and discovering it through them, with them. I think as a kid I pushed a lot of buttons I think in the primal aspect especially of a boy but my wife always likes to say I’m just gay enough so it’s like I really enjoyed a lot of the potential romance. I’ve always been a sucker for unrequited love I guess. Let’s put it that way as I’m sure Wall-E shows. Again, it was 1-0-1 for a 12-year old but like they’re getting the girl, they’re losing the girl, they’re getting the girl, they’re losing the girl, you know. That plus the adventure, it’s just that they had all these things in it. I’ll be honest with you, the resonant of it from that age reading it stuck with me but I didn’t go back and look at those books again until my late 20s and then I was sort of like wow. They’re very simplistic and they’re really meant for younger age. But I put a lot of value in things that stay in your psyche, the things that you can’t drop. I believe that means there is something there that is universal, something there that’s possibly sticking with a lot of other people. I felt there was really fertile ground there to mine from and maybe improve upon it.

So what you do is you take it all apart, you take the parts you think are the things that make… I always equate it to an archeological dig. t’s like you believe the story already exists and you’re just, hopefully, the smart enough person to pick the right spot in the ground to dig but you have no say what bones you’re going to find and when you’re going to find them. You may find yourself halfway through putting all these bones together and realize it’s not at all the dinosaur you thought you would put together. Are you going to have the guts to admit that you have something different than what you thought or are you going to be stubborn and force it to be what you said it was going to be which I think a lot of films do? That’s not what Pixar does. It’s not what I was taught. I was taught to fix it. I don’t care if we got one day left, change it.


I’ve heard Stanton use his “archeological dig” analogy and it strikes me that if there is a “Pixar formula”, this is pretty close to the core of it. And what he describes is in a way the essential conflict of the film-maker — who goes into a project with a film inside his head, then populates it with actors and thousands of other variables that inevitably cause it to morph, and as it morphs, the natural tendency of the director is to force it back in the direction of his original vision……but sometimes to do that is to weaken it, not strengthen it.

In sum, though, as one who fervently hopes for the best for this movie — I’m liking what I’m hearing from Stanton.  Here’s hoping….

Read the whole interview:

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