Why Andrew Stanton brightens box office, critical prospects of John Carter

Andrew Stanton

A topic of debate on movie message boards and various digital water coolers is whether Andrew Stanton was a good choice to direct a live action sci-fi epic like Disney’s John Carter, and whether, even if he directs it competently or better, he can make a difference in the box office result. I have contemplated this with all the focus I can muster, and the answer in my view is a resounding “Yes” — he can pull it off, and he will make a difference at the box office.

It seems to me that people have too quickly forgotten, or perhaps never fully understood, the magnitude of Stanton’s accomplishment with Wall-E. A film about a trash compactor with no dialogue in the first 30 minutes is not an easy sell–either at the development stage, or as a completed film. It’s absolutely true that Stanton worked in the superb creative environment at Pixar — but it’s equally true that he deserves credit for the authorship of Wall-E as surely as any of the great visionary directors deserve credit their best work.

To remind myself of the reaction to Wall-E, and I went back to the reviews from the top reviewers around the country. I didn’t cherry pick — there are virtually no bad reviews (it’s got a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Give these a read, and as you read — contemplate this: What would the guy who generated these review do with four years, great underlying material, and a burning desire to prove himself in the live action arena — as well as a deep sense of responsibility to do justice to the underlying work of Edgar Rice Burroughs which fire his imagination as a boy?

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve quite captured the film’s enchanting storytelling. Directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed “Finding Nemo,” it involves ideas, not simply mindless scenarios involving characters karate-kicking each other into high-angle shots. It involves a little work on the part of the audience, and a little thought, and might be especially stimulating to younger viewers. This story told in a different style and with a realistic look could have been a great science-fiction film. For that matter, maybe it is.

The first 40 minutes or so of “Wall-E” — in which barely any dialogue is spoken, and almost no human figures appear on screen — is a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in. ….. It is, undoubtedly, an earnest (though far from simplistic) ecological parable, but it is also a disarmingly sweet and simple love story, Chaplinesque in its emotional purity. On another level entirely it’s a bit of a sci-fi geek-fest, alluding to everything from “2001” and the “Alien” pictures (via a Sigourney Weaver voice cameo) to “Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out.”

Directed by Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote and directed the Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E” is the latest Pixar film to manage what’s become next door to impossible for anyone else: appealing to the broadest possible audience without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

Adroitly borrowing from many artistic sources and synthesizing innumerable influences, Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton’s first directorial outing since “Finding Nemo” walks a fine line between the rarefied and the immediately accessible as it explores new territory for animation, yet remains sufficiently crowd-pleasing to indicate celestial B.O. for this G-rated summer offering.

WALL-E, directed with a poet’s eye by Andrew Stanton Finding Nemo) from a whipsmart and shrewdly accessible script he wrote withim Reardon, is some kind of miracle, Talk about daring. It’s Samueleckett’s Waiting for Godot mixed with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, topped with the cherry of George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steven Spielberg’s E.T., and wrapped up in a G-rated whipped-ream package. What could have been a mess of influences is instead uniquend unforgettable. Tons of movies promise something for everyone WALL-E actually makes good on that promise.

David Ansen
Director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) and the Pixar team have created a world so packed with witty visual detail—and filled with movie references that range from “2001” to “Blade Runner” to “Manhattan”—that young kids may have a hard time keeping up with the plot. It’s a movie that demands full attention, and it may prove more popular with adults than children.

James Berardinelli
Put simply, WALL-E is about as charming as movies get. In an animated marketplace where everything is starting to look and feel the same, WALL-E stands out because it exhibits a unique identity without losing its appeal to viewers of all ages. It’s a romantic comedy where the principals are robots. It doesn’t shy away from long passages without dialogue and it doesn’t throw in catchy tunes and dazzling-but-pointless action sequences just to keep the younger component of the audience from becoming restless. WALL-E has a heart to equal many of the Pixar/Disney releases to precede it, including Toy Story and Finding Nemo (WALL-E’s writer/director, Andrew Stanton, was involved in both), but a sensibility that is more mature. This is one of those recently rare animated films that adults can attend without children in tow. It’s good family fare, to be sure, but it’s more than an activity to spend some time with the kids. WALL-E is the best mainstream animated film since The Incredibles.

Joe Morgenstern
The first half hour of “WALL-E” is essentially wordless, and left me speechless. This magnificent animated feature from Pixar starts on such a high plane of aspiration, and achievement, that you wonder whether the wonder can be sustained. But yes, it can. The director, Andrew Stanton, supported by a special-forces battalion of artists, voice artists and computer wizards, has conjured up a tender, comical love story between two robots whose feelings for each other seem as nuanced and deep as any you’re likely to encounter these days in live-action drama. Better still, their story plays out in two disparate worlds that amount to a unified vision, stunning and hilarious in equal measure, of what we human creatures have been up to and where it could get us.

This is a hugely ambitious theme for a G-rated family flick, and “WALL-E” takes risks that must have given Pixar’s consumer-oriented corporate overlords at Disney pause.

Stanton pulls off a brilliant balancing acting, cutting between these truly scary scenes (that somehow manage to avoid lecturing) and hilarious action sequences of the adorable WALL-E, including an escape from a repair ward full of rogue robots.

There is far too much going on in “WALL-E” to take in during a single sitting; I would have happily watched two or three more times the other night.

Some day, there will be college courses devoted to this movie.

Kids will love “WALL-E,” the robot’s epic adventure and his heart-tugging love story. Some adults may be less comfortable, which is fine with me; most great works of art are inherently subversive.


  • I am looking forward to seeing this. I’d initially heard of the John Carter books but not much else, so went and started to read the books to get a bit more information about the characters/story. Have to say, I love the first three books, brilliant stuff (I’m currently at Book 6 – The Master Mind Of Mars). Yes I understand that not everything on the written page will make it in the same form on the screen and changes will be made somewhere down the road. But after reading and loving the books so far, I hope any changes are minimal but if there are any, and remembering that the books are originally 100 years old, it progresses the story/characters further for the modern movie audience. Fingers crossed!

  • Ha!! As Jon Stewart says: “I disagree with you but I don’t think you’re Hitler.” 😉

    This is a really interesting topic for discussion. I’m too busy celebrating Alabama’s BCS championship (3rd year in a row a team from my home state of Alabama has won — figure the odds on that)….so I will gather my thoughts and add them later. Thanks for the comment — it’s a good one.

  • I’m going to have to disagree with you Michael about Stanton keeping most of the characters the way they were. I’m sure you’ve read most of the interviews. John carter himself has been radically changed.

    In the novel his background is very mysterious. We learn practically nothing about where he comes from or who he really is. Only that he considers himself a Virginian, That he has no memory of any childhood, has no idea how old he really is and that he has been a professional soldier for as long as he can remember. A point is made that he is very uncomfortable around women and has never been in love before.

    that has been ditched by Stanton. John Carter has been given a family on earth that he looses in the war. this makes him cynical and bitter and he no longer wants anything to do with fighting.

    Stanton has taken a mysterious professional warrior who loves to fight, I’m sure those of us who have read the novel recall Carters hot blooded Virginian fighting smile when he gets in the thick of battle, and turned him into a tired cliche. The war damaged hero who needs a cause to get his lost humanity back.

    I’m sorry but in my opinion that changes the main character too much. Just like the Weissmuller movies changed Tarzan from an educated, intelligent gentleman too an almost monosyllabic brute. Combine that with all the other changes he’s made and you have a movie that bears little resemblance to the novel it’s suppose to be an adaption of.

  • I originally read about on Bill Hillman’s Erbzine site (http://erbzine.com) but when I went looking for it just now I could only find it on a Bill Hillman site devoted to the movie (http://www.cartermovie.com/news/facts.html) and in this one it seems like Bill may have picked it up from Disney PR, not vice-versa as I thought it was. I can ask Bill and see, because this is coming up a lot.

    Re this being as far off as Tarzan and His Mate…..nah, that wasn’t even close. Actually the original 1918 silent movie with Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan is the only one that ever really followed the book, but that’s pretty much long gone. Greystoke probably came closer in spirit than anything in modern times but it deviated a lot in the second half. Seriously-this one is very respectful when you compare it to century old (or even half a century old) material that has only a small, intensely loyal fan base (as opposed to Harry Potter or Twilight or the Hunger Games which have massive current fan bases who are ready to pounce. Even then — a lot gets changed. Stanton has changed some of the framework but he’s kept the characters (with the Dejah exception noted) pretty close to the way they were. I’m feeling pretty good about it. Did you read the comments by someone who just went to a test screening and loved it? It’s here: “Test Screener Posts “I just saw John Carter and Loved it.

  • Do you have a cite for the blue flag of Helium in the fan literature? I don’t recall any. The problem however is Stanton’s injection of his personal political/social views into someone else’s classic story.

    Your warrior princess article is excellent. Apparently Stanton thinks that young males lie awake at night daydreaming of tough female scientist to rescue.

    I, too, hope it’ll turn out successfully, but at this point it’s doubtful it will be anymore Burroughs’ story than TARZAN AND HIS MATE. But that would be good enough.

  • It’s interesting…..blue flag of Helium is something that has been written about for ages by some of the most deeply embedded Burroughs scholars…….but when I attempted to verify the any reference to Helium being “blue” in the text of the novels (which is easy to search since they are all online) I couldn’t find any reference to Helium flying blue flags. It might be that it was picked up in comic books and that’s where Stanton got it. The point is, I don’t think Stanton invented that ….it’s part of Burroughs lore, if not actually coming from the books, and the blue is supposed to refer to the blue oceans of long-dead barsoom…….Anyway, there’s already been a lot of debate about that, and there are others who share your view……As for the warrior princess….read: Will Audiences Love (or not) the Andrew Stanton/Lynn Colilns warrior princess version of Dejah Thoris? I have concerns about that too……but note that in the comic book versions of the story she has been a warrior princess for a long time. Not, of course, in the Burroughs originals. But Stanton has in general stayed closer to the original story than most adapations…….and I remain very hopeful.

  • I have to agree with the poster who said that Stanton has changed too many things without valid reasons. Not only has Dejah Thoris apparently become a Warrior Princess (doesn’t he know what a cliche is?), but a planet dying a natural death from depleted water and oxygen isn’t enough for him. He needs to blame it on humanoid activity in a patently political depiction of rapacious Zodangans gobbling up the planet’s unobtainium — er, radium — for their own selfish, greedy, laissez-faire use–unlike the good Heliumites who believe in conservation and sharing and helping each other–economic justice, you might say. Heck, they probably believe in radium credits. (Read the most recent interview with Stanton!) And as if his allegory weren’t clear enough, he’s color coded the participants for us. The greedy Zodangans fly a red flag; the thoughtful, scientific, art-loving, brother-loving Heliumites a blue one. (Get it? Like Red and Blue states here on earth!)

    Regardless of one’s personal politics, this distortion of someone else’s story is shameful. And bad art.

  • I’ll say one thing: I think you can tell from the trailers that Stanton got the visual balance if not just right then as close to right as you can get. To my eye, it looks as credible as giant, 4 armed, green skinned, tusked warriors are going to look in broad daylight! Even describing it. it’s a surreal image. But I don’t think it looks repellent or ridiculous. And having Willem Defoe as the lead Thark goes a long way in “selling” the concept.

    But that doesn’t mean critics will accept it.

    I’d forgotten about MI3! Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the tide has turned.

  • Interesting comment…….and I fear you may have a good point. No one made those complaint against Brad Bird for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but that was a pretty different situation — a franchise already established, and straight action all the way. John Carter involves a lot more choices for Stanton to get the right tone and blend of live action, motion capture CGI, and other CGI.

  • This is exactly what I was talking about. Won’t read the book because he’s seen or is going to see the movie. I’ve got news for you, the book is always better.

  • I think Stanton looks good on paper, we’ll see how he works out on screen.

    As for him raising the positive profile of the film, mark my words, it will work in the opposite direction. TRUST ME, critics are already sharpening their knives/pencils to draw unflattering parallels between “cartoons” (yes, even the *same* cartoons they praised as recently as 2009) and the director’s first live action film. To them, this is his first “real” film. Look for lots of quotes about characters that are “flat and cartoonish” action that is “unbelievable and cartoonish” and visual effects that are, yes, “cartoonish.” Get ready to see that word a whole lot. If anything Stanton’s name paints a nice huge easy to hit bull’s-eye on this project.

    Even if the film doesn’t deserve this treatment, it will get it. This is his hazing, very few animation directors, or vfx artists etc. get to play in the big pool with the “real” directors. Whenever this happens, critics are ready to carve them up good for presuming to be “real” directors, even if they admire their work in less “real” areas of filmmaking.

  • I have nothing in particular against Stanton. I also really liked ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ and I suppose there are a lot of people who will watch this movie simply because Stanton is directing it. Nothing wrong with that really specially if it leads people to the books but I doubt that will happen with very many. Too many people, particularly young people seem to have the attitude, “I saw the movie why should I bother with the book”.

    I understand that certain changes have to made in order to translate a book to a movie but Stanton, again based on what I have read in the interviews and seen in the trailers, has made so many changes not just to the story but to the characters as well.

    Those who are familiar with the book know what i mean,
    John Carter has been given a wife on earth that he looses in the civil war, This never happens in the book in fact Burroughs makes it a point to say that Carter is very uncomfortable around women and has never been in love until he meets Dejah Thoris. This completely changes the character and that is just one example.

    Michael~ I did see ‘Greystoke’ and while I enjoyed it as probably the most accurate portrayal of Tarzan it still lacked quite a lot. I don’t know what the filmmakers have against a blonde Jane. This movie is in my opinion MUCH less like the original than ‘Greystoke’. I am going to see this movie but it will not be any closer to being an accurate adaption of ‘A Princess of Mars’ than the Johnny Weissmuller movies are of Tarzan.

  • Well …. if you want to check out the book here it is: A Princess of Mars Full Project Gutenberg Text. . I suggest you just scroll own to the chapter “My Advent on Mars” or “A Duel to the Death” ……read a page or two and see if it intrigues you. A lot of people who first heard about it because of the movie are just now discovering the books and loving them. You might be surprised.

    If you’re checking for news every day — our “Newsfeed” category has a daily aggregation of all news stories on the movie……;-)

  • I am excited about this movie because (1) it’s sci-fi, and (2) it is directed by Andrew Stanton. So much so, that I search twitter and google for new information about the movie several times a day.

    I have no interest in ever reading the books because I assume they wouldn’t live up to the expectations I have for this movie.

  • I love Wall-E and I’m going to see John Carter. So I guess I’m one of the ones you’re talking about. I would never have even considered it but when I heard it was by the guy who did Wall-E. Then I started checking it out and I think it’s cool.

  • They always change it up to a point. What makes you think this is worse than normal for a book adaptation? I read somewhere that novels by their very length would take 5-10 hours of screen time if you didn’t change them. I’m not sure that’s true….but that’s what they say.

  • Would you say this is more or less like the original than …. say …. Greystoke? How did you feel about that?

  • Well Obviously I am one of the few who thinks Andrew Stanton was the wrong choice for this movie. he has taken Burroughs story, changed it, rearranged it and essentially tried to make it his. based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in interviews, there is now more Stanton in this movie than Burroughs and that is NOT what I wanted to see.

Leave a Reply