Brad Bird is one of the more beloved filmmakers in Hollywood. With his incredible success on animated films like “The Iron Giant,” “Ratatouille,” and “The Incredibles,” Bird became a household name in the animated film world. Then came his live-action debut with the Tom Cruise sequel “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which continued to impress audiences and critics alike. However, eventually the director hit a stumbling block with “Tomorrowland,” as it was a commercial and critical flop. But recently, Bird bounced back in a big way with “Incredibles 2,” grossing more money domestically than any other animated film in history.
But it wasn’t easy for Bird. Before bursting on the scene with “The Iron Giant,” the filmmaker had a bunch of false starts. And even after ‘Giant’ and “The Incredibles,” Bird had to rescue “Ratatouille.” Yes, that’s right. Even though “Ratatouille” is one of the most beloved Pixar films, it was apparently a mess before Bird inherited the project and directed the film.
In a new interview with Ron Barbagallo at Animation Art Conservation, the director describes the headache of taking on the Pixar classic, as well as a famous property that he wanted to develop early in his career but was laughed at.
“I’m part of a group that goes up to Pixar and goes through all the films. I looked at ‘[Finding] Nemo’ or ‘Cars,’ or any of the other ones. We kind of look over each other’s shoulders all day, the directors and writers there. We’re fresh eyes to each other when we get a little too close to our own work, and we’re kind of brutal with each other in a nice supportive way. We’re also very honest and say things like ‘Well, I don’t understand what this character is thinking at this moment,’” Bird explains, in regards to landing the “Ratatouille” gig.
“When I started [on ‘Ratatouille’], I was like a mechanic looking at a beautiful car that was somehow not driveable. It’s beautiful and the seating is wonderful and the motor is powerful but it’s not moving down the street, you know. So you’ve just got to lift up the hood and make your best guess at what the problem is,” the director said.
He continued, “But the project was having trouble and I also have a lot of respect for the entity of Pixar and [John] Lasseter and Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs and Andrew Stanton, and the heads of Pixar asked me to come in because the project was in a rough position. And this was after years and years and years, so, you had to do something because the train was ready to leave the station so that’s kind of what happened. So I took one for the team because [Pixar] is such a rare, rare place. They were in a bind and Jan’s [Pinkava, original director] concept was a good idea.”
It appears that the “taking one for the team” way of collaboration has paid dividends for the filmmaker. Unfortunately, Bird didn’t always have a free pass to do whatever he liked. Before the days of Pixar, and well before other film studios dared challenge Disney in the world of animation, the filmmaker attempted to make a modestly-budgeted animated version of the Will Eisner classic comic book “The Spirit.”
For those not familiar with Eisner’s acclaimed run of comics, “The Spirit” is a masked hero that protects Central City from all sorts of criminals and supervillains. The comic book was infamously adapted into the campy, “Sin City”-esque Frank Miller film of the same name in 2008.
And it appears that Bird just wasn’t pitching at the right time, as everyone thought he was crazy for wanting to adapt the Eisner comic:
“Well, you’re talking to a guy who was constantly asking for lofty things. Things that were considered crazy. I mean, I was supposed to make an animated feature based on [the Will Eisner comic book] ‘The Spirit’ a long time ago, and at that time, I was told no animated film would ever make more than 50 million dollars and the only ones that even came close to 50 would be from Disney. That was the kind of prevailing wisdom I was dealing with and my subject material was an obscure comic book from the 40s that had nothing but humans in it. A superhero without superpowers. It didn’t matter how good our work was. I was trying to make animated features outside of Disney which was considered insane at that time. At that time, what I was pitching was reasonably priced, too.”
All’s well that ends well, apparently. Brad Bird has gone on to have an amazing career that seems to be growing even decades after it began. Now, we all anxiously await what the filmmaker brings us next.