The question is prompted by Despicable Me, an exceedingly pleasant picture that's funny and kindhearted. Almost as a bonus, it features very good voice acting by Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, and others. Yet it's lacking in one area, according to the review by my Cinematical colleague Peter Hall: Its "inability to completely engross an adult into the story and characters." As he notes about Pixar: "There's a reason that the best animation studio in the world became the best animation studio in the world. It's because the story comes first above all else."
A commenter named Kevin, though, feels that "comparing every animated film to Pixar's works seems out of place. It would be like comparing every live action movie to The Godfather." He also says: "There are enough animated movies being made nowadays to where each should stand or fall on its own."
I confess that my initial reaction to Peter's review was similar to Kevin's comment. Yet it also points to larger issues when we talk about movies in general: Why are we always comparing movies that have nothing in common with one another, other than the medium in which they are made?
As I've expressed previously, I believe movies adapted from another medium (books, stage plays, TV shows) should stand on their own merits. Points of comparison between the "original" and the adaptation are interesting but are not necessarily indicative of relative quality; films are obviously different than books, which are different in their manner of expression than stage plays, and so forth.
But comparing new movies to classics, whether new (Pixar) or old (The Godfather) or even older (Citizen Kane) is an essential element of film criticism. And it's an indispensable component of online conversations about movies: Is Predators as good as Predator? How does The Last Airbender compare to The Sixth Sense? Does Inception measure up to Shutter Island? Will Salt be as pulse-pounding as The Cove?
One of my great joys is, in fact, comparing apples and oranges. Why not compare spy thrillers to documentaries? Why not consider if the Korean Western The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is as thrilling to the senses as the period drama There Will Be Blood? Can we hold up Toy Story 3 to The Godfather (or The Conversation or Gandhi or No Country for Old Men) and discuss which is better -- is Woody a better head of household than Michael Corleone -- and why?
That's just me, though. What do you think? Should we stop comparing every animated movie to Pixar? Should movies only be judged by and compared to movies with similar goals and aims?