What is the line, I wonder, between recognisable & cliche?
Why do I find the family in THE INCREDIBLES endearing? Why do I laugh along with father Bob’s stiff back, & nod good-naturedly at the warring children, grinning while their mother tries to hold it all together by keeping the kids apart?
Why is that movie satisfying, when plenty of other filmic depictions of modern day life can be so dull? I mean, is there really anything more to ‘originality’ than choosing your cliches wisely? Avoiding, as it were, the easiest out?
The tension of opposites — contrast — isn’t a new idea. So the ploy of an ordinary family turning out to be not be so ordinary (the extraordinary ordinary?) can’t be entirely novel. Secret identities are old, old news, and ‘superheroes with a soft side’ — well, who hasn’t seen that before? (Man, it used to bug me as a kid that Spiderman would never hit a woman. Loser.)
Yet it seems that Pixar aimed further, that they reached beyond their first instincts, avoiding the most obvious stuff, or extending the obvious into something special (Bob’s back never twinges again after that encounter with the robot ;). And as for those office cubicles, well, we’ve all seen those before, right? Hell, I even have one of those myself (& it’s even that colour). But don’t you love the way Bob squeezes meekly into that space, and don’t you love when the pencils fall over & he doesn’t even TRY to pick them up? Because, yeah, sometimes hours and hours in those cubicles can lead you to the conclusion that some stuff just isn’t worth bending over for. Spot on, Pixar!
Most importantly of all, I think, Pixar approached their task with a genuineness and a warmth for their subject. They had a funny, sweet, interesting idea that they extended to its obvious & not-so-obvious conclusions. And, boy, did they have a resonant theme — the cult of mediocrity, the subjugation of anything genuinely special, the tyranny of the lowest common denominator.
Oh, yeah. Bring it on.
Perhaps, then, in answer to my question, the difference between something being recognisable + satisfying, & something being merely cliche is that very act of aiming further. Perhaps it is that act that we can call authenticity.