Anyone who's ever tried to write a screenplay knows that the biggest obstacle isn't character development or story structure. It's finding original ideas. Example: My friend (let's call him, uh, Captain Dissemination) and I were writing a comedy set in the idiosyncratic world of college radio. Our heroes lose their jobs, so they decide to start a pirate radio station. The film climaxes with an exciting chase, during which the heroes are broadcasting from a van. So far so good. Then we popped Pump Up the Volume into the ol' DVD player. The film climaxes with (what else?!) an exciting chase, during which Christian Slater is broadcasting his pirate radio station from a van. Damn you, Slater!
Needless to say, I can relate to the heroes of Picture This, a hilarious computer-animated satire produced at Miami International University of Art & Design. The protagonists are writers who work for a multi-million dollar company called Movies Inc., which is on the verge of bankruptcy. They're threatened with termination by their iron-fisted boss, named, appropriately enough, Frank the Fist. They'll have to crank out some story ideas if they want to keep their jobs.
The film is a hysterical portrait of the screenwriting process. The boys' jam sessions are filled with great lines. ("This one's about an ant who nobody likes. He saves the day and he gets the girl!") At one point we think one of the boys, Juan, has been inspired by looking at a billboard advertisement for a fast-food place. But when he opens his mouth, what comes out is, "So, you think they're hiring?"
All the ideas they come up with are rip-offs of computer-animated hits like Shrek, A Bug's Life and Cars. Scenes from these movies are recreated with admirable attention to detail by the animators. There are also several clips from a movie the boys wrote called I, Android, an obvious take-off of I, Robot. We're shown again and again the famous scene where Will Smith interviews Sonny the robot ("I did not murder him!").
Picture This has a smooth visual style that allows us to concentrate on the story and comedic situations. It doesn't strive for realism in the characters' face, but keeps things stylized and warmly lit, like the baseball sequences of Everyone's Hero. It's a considerable achievement, one of the best films to come out of MIU.