Brad Bird, who has won two Oscars (for “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles”), has picked 20 of his favorite movies as the guest programmer for Turner Classic Movies’ “The Essentials,” by directors ranging from Keaton to Wilder to Kubrick. The new season of the series, hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, begins May 2.
During a recent call, Bird is sheltering in place in the Bay Area with his wife and three grown sons, tending to a few projects and missing the shared film experience. “I hope people don’t forget,” the writer-director says, “that the best way to see a movie is in a movie theater, in the dark with strangers, on a big screen.” But great films on TV are especially welcome as a transporting experience while isolating, Bird says, because movies fulfill “that desire to be taken somewhere else.”
Mankiewicz says that Bird’s filmic influences underscore that though many viewers may perceive animation as its own genre, that is not the case — it’s simply another storytelling medium. Bird’s “live-action is so influenced by his animation background,” the host says — and the inverse is true, too.
So The Washington Post asked Bird to choose a few of his animated projects and talk about how they were inspired — even if only a scene of two — by live-action movies. Here are his picks:
“Rear Window” → “Ratatouille”
The influence: The 2007 Pixar hit about a French culinary rodent nodded to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
The director’s commentary: There is “a sequence where the rat [Remy] is going up from the sewer through all these other apartments and winds up on the roof” — a moment that visually connects to “Rear Window.” “The great concept of that film — which is one of my favorite Hitchcock films — is that the [wheelchair-recuperating] James Stewart character can watch all these different lives from his own apartment. He looks across the way. It’s almost like ‘Hollywood Squares’ [boxes], with all these apartments and all these different lives going on.
“I thought: Rats live between rooms. And if I showed him glimpsing all those lives going on while trying to get a view of where he is, that could be a way to show that rats live in the margins of the human world — but also that he’s elevating himself from the sewer to the absolute height of magic and achievement, with that final view of Paris.”
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” → “The Iron Giant”
The influence: The 1999 animated hit about a boy and his government-threatened space alien robot tips its cap to Robert Wise’s 1951 science-fiction classic, which also featured a large space robot.
The director’s commentary: “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was “an inspiration [because of] the sort of paranoia you feel in those mid-50s sci-fi movies. We’ve seen the atomic bomb now and were kind of haunted by it, and it starts getting into our imaginations in other ways. … [Those films are] warnings about having too much power and what we do with it.
“That goes to the heart of what ‘Iron Giant’ is trying to deal with: With every step we make in becoming more powerful and controlling aspects of nature, we also get one step closer in some ways to our [own] destruction.”
“Goldfinger” → “The Incredibles”
The influence: The smash 2004 movie nodded to the 1964 James Bond film in which the title villain (played by Gert Fröbe) has a secret lair. In “The Incredibles,” the lair belongs to Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee).
The director’s commentary: “When I was a kid, Batman and Superman were popular [TV heroes],” but the “Superman” special effects “looked phony, and ‘Batman’ was campy. They never persuaded me like Bond films [like ‘Goldfinger’]. All the style and flavor of those [Bond] movies is a comic-book style. … They were the best ‘comic book’ movies of their time. It was years before Hollywood started to do comics justice.
“When I think of my childhood, it was over-the-top villains, and the music is in your face, and the fights [are] adrenaline-pumping. … [In ‘Goldfinger’] there is a henchman with a bowler hat and [people] dropping from the gas. … So I wanted the spy-movie vibe and early ‘60s flair visually” in “The Incredibles.”
“From Russia With Love” →“The Incredibles 2”
The influence: The 2018 sequel about a superhero family nods to the 1963 Bond film starring Sean Connery as Agent 007 and Robert Shaw as the villain Red Grant.
The director’s commentary: In “The Incredibles 2,” Helen/Elastigirl, the superheroic mom voiced by Holly Hunter, has a fight in close quarters with the villainous Screenslaver. In creating the scene, Bird showed his animators an inspiring battle in “From Russia With Love” — a film he’d seen on theatrical re-release as a kid growing up in Oregon.
“I was struck by how brutal the fight was between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw on the train. It was close quarters. … Connery really convinced you that his life was flashing before his eyes — he was genuinely worried about dying. To me, it made a big impression. And I [felt] it again when Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones.”
“I’m not a fan of heroes who are always confident and in control. I love it when they’re scared to death because that makes it a lot more thrilling and a lot more real. The fact that Connery could convey [that] made those films very exciting.”
“Each film you like that makes an impact leaves a little bit of residue” creatively — “like seasoning the wok. Each movie you love seasons you a little more.”