Creating Change

Reshaping Art And Culture, In Ways Big And Small

Cover Story

December 26, 2004

Mr. Incredible

Brad Bird insisted upon making his own kind of animated film, one with complex, mature themes that didn't kowtow to pre-adolescent audiences. After two decades of toiling in relative obscurity, his determination has paid off.

The Incredibles features no talking animals, anthropomorphic teacups or toys that come to life. Instead its stars are a super-powered husband and wife suffering mid-life crises who cannot work because -- in this overly litigious society -- their superhero derring-do has been deemed too risky.

"I think there might have been some anxiety on [the studio's] part in the early days," the 48-year-old writer / director admits.

The executives at Pixar needn't have worried. The Incredibles, the sort of superhero film in which a character named Elastigirl worries that her costume doesn't flatter her middle-aged hips, has earned more than $225 million while reminding Bird's fellow animators that their work doesn't always have to be aimed at kids.

Few of Bird's peers seem surprised; after all, his resume includes work for Disney, Steven Spielberg and The Simpsons, as well as writing and directing credits for The Iron Giant, a 1999, eco-friendly animated film. Perhaps it is as fellow Pixar director John Lasseter told the Deseret Morning News: Bird spent too many years "like a thoroughbred horse harnessed to a broken plow."

Still, Bird insists he's no genius. "My thinking was, this is a movie I really wanted to see," he said on the same day that The Incredibles was nominated for a Golden Globe as best comedy or musical. "That is my first criteria when making a movie, 'Do I want to see it?' "

-- Chris Kaltenbach

Revolutionary Spirit

Darin Atwater may be too personable and soft-spoken, not to mention too superbly tailored, to be taken for a revolutionary. But make no mistake -- this remarkably talented 34-year-old is shaking up the local music landscape.

Atwater launched his Soulful Symphony -- a core of about 90 African-American instrumentalists and singers, drawn from Washington to New York -- back in 2000. But this year the organization moved boldly into the spotlight, thanks to a new association with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; its first permanent home, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; and a big move toward solid financial footing, with the help of a $300,000, three-year challenge grant from the Eddie and C. Sylvia Brown Family Foundation. (So far, only about 20 percent of that challenge has been met, but it's a start.)

Some of the Soulful Symphony's concerts will feature BSO members. And, as the BSO's new composer-in-residence, Atwater will enliven that orchestra's offerings.

"This may seem like a novelty act," he says, "but I don't think that's what this is. It's about adding to the cultural landscape of the nation from an African-American perspective."

The Soulful Symphony can appeal to people of all backgrounds and musical interests; credit that to Atwater's creativity and openness. He clearly made a difference in the community this year, and he'll be putting a fresh spin on the music scene for some time to come.

-- Tim Smith

Resuscitating Drama

If this was the year that drama on network television was reborn, its midwife was Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs. ABC's senior vice president for drama development was a driving force behind Desperate Housewives and Lost, TV's two hottest new series. The shows take major risks in subject matter and format, and their success has opened the door to new drama pilots just when many feared the networks would drown in reality TV.

Patmore-Gibbs played a crucial role in this change for the better. Before helping launch the two series this fall at Disney-owned ABC, she was head of drama series at the Disney production company, Touchstone, which developed both shows.

"Desperate and Lost were very different animals," says Patmore-Gibbs. In the former, a prime-time soap opera about the chaotic inner lives of four neighbors supposedly living the good suburban life, "creator Marc Cherry had something to say about women and relationships and child rearing that felt very contemporary and relevant."

The idea for Lost, on the other hand, came from Lloyd Braun, then chairman of ABC who was intrigued by the film Castaway and the CBS series Survivor. Touchstone last year asked J.J. Abrams (Alias) and Damon Lindeloff, to give it a try. They created the series about the survivors of a plane crash.

"The two shows have liberated us as studio and network executives," Patmore-Gibbs says. "They really have widened our playing field. ...

"The idea that people are really hungry for things that are intelligent, entertaining and, most of all, distinctive inspires us to take more chances."

-- David Zurawik

Hail the Conquering Heroine

With delicate features and balletic grace, Ziyi Zhang is changing the face of the martial-arts heroine.

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