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Pixar Week (#110 of 17)

A Matter of Trust: Pixar and Its Step-Sibling

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A Matter of Trust: Pixar and Its Step-Sibling
A Matter of Trust: Pixar and Its Step-Sibling

Sometimes, I don’t know how I feel about Steven Spielberg.

Not because of his movies, understand; I have my favorites, my occasional dislikes, the same as everybody else. No, it’s something else.

There’s an old story, that while working on Jaws, Spielberg and George Lucas were screwing around with the animatronic shark after-hours, putting their heads in its mouth and such, and managed to break the thing. They took off into the night, laughing but nervous for breaking something so expensive. I always conflate that story in my mind with Bill Gates, on the verge of changing computing for the whole world forever, getting behind the wheel of a bulldozer, racing it, and slamming into a parked car.

Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

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Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism
Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

Earlier this year, the National Review published a list of the top 25 conservative movies. Number two on this list was Pixar’s The Incredibles:

This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement. A family of superheroes—Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children—are living an anonymous life in the suburbs, thanks to a society that doesn’t appreciate their unique talents. Then it comes to need them. In one scene, son Dash, a super-speedy runner, wants to try out for track. Mom claims it wouldn’t be fair. “Dad says our powers make us special!” Dash objects. “Everyone is special,” Mom demurs, to which Dash mutters, “Which means nobody is.”

Lost in a World of Play: A Doll’s House and Toy Story

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Lost in a World of Play: <em>A Doll’s House</em> and <em>Toy Story</em>
Lost in a World of Play: <em>A Doll’s House</em> and <em>Toy Story</em>

I would be the first to grant that the similarity in the titles—A Doll’s House and Toy Story—is unintentionally suggestive, and that not only would it be anachronistic and overreaching to suggest that Henrik Ibsen was somehow attempting to articulate the themes later explored in Pixar’s film, but that it is moreover equally intellectually dishonest to argue that anyone at Pixar had Ibsen in mind when telling their story. The roots of Toy Story are public knowledge, discussed in the commentaries on both Toy Story films, viewable in the Tin Toy short, further elaborated in the excellent book by David Price. There’s nothing to suggest that Ibsen had anything to do with it.

Besotted with Stars: The Problem with Wall-E

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Besotted with Stars: The Problem with <em>Wall-E</em>
Besotted with Stars: The Problem with <em>Wall-E</em>

For all that Pixar loves to celebrate its underdogs, WALL·E marks the first (and so far, only) time the studio has named an entire movie after its protagonist, neither effacing him into part of a wider community (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Cars) or a central mission (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Up). That WALL·E’s name is shared by his peers and short for his mission—“Waste Allocation Load Lifter · Earth-class”—barely counts against this claim, since the acronym is pronounced like a regular human name. The movie is built on the premise that he is the last of his kind, and the essential pleasures of WALL·E do not spring from his assigned mission but in the tangents he chases beyond it. Though the break in titling scheme alone implies it, we can tell from the raves accompanying the movie’s prologue—in which WALL·E is only character we encounter, save for a curly-feelered roach—that Pixar invests much of WALL·E’s success on the cult of personality that forms around its title character.

Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America

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Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America
Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America

One of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments is that their movies are more than just terrific mass entertainments—they’re personal statements from the directors that made them. Their filmmakers each have their own set of reoccurring themes and characters, and one of the most interesting examples to me is that director and Pixar head honcho John Lasseter keeps returning to the same subject matter. He’s fascinated with relics of Americana from the past, and three of the four films he’s directed thus far—Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Cars—have focused on trends and lifestyles that have been tossed aside by our culture in favor of something newer and shinier. There’s an element of poignancy and regret in his movies at how much things have changed, but Lasseter is also astute enough to know that American pop culture has been always been a little junky and disposable, and yet at the same time it’s something that we can imbue with personal meaning.

Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

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Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar
Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

“YOU. ARE. A. TOY! You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear! You’re… You’re an action figure! You are a child’s plaything!”

“You piece of dirt! No, I’m wrong. You’re lower then dirt. You’re an ant!”

In Pixar’s first two feature length films, Toy Story (1995) and A Bug’s Life (1998), after a violent confrontation, two of the main characters are face to face. One of them berates the other in defense of an age-old system of master and servant, a system that the other character actively denounces because this system gets in the way of his lofty ambitions. In both films, the plot centers on this conflict of those who wish to uphold boundaries and those who wish to break through them.

However, there’s one main difference. In the film’s ideologies, Buzz Lightyear is wrong, and Flik is right.

Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: American Beauty, Fight Club and The Incredibles

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Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: <em>American Beauty</em>, <em>Fight Club</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>
Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: <em>American Beauty</em>, <em>Fight Club</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>

Between the ages of 17 and 18, still with so much growing up to do, I saw a slew of films that would redefine what the medium was capable of and completely change my world perspective. Some people read books about inspirational, anti-authoritarian figures that became a rallying cry for a generation; I saw The Big Lebowski. Shortly after, a simple laid-back attitude wasn’t enough, for I had witnessed Fight Club and American Beauty. Suddenly, I came to understand that getting good grades never really made me any happier—a temporary ego boost, perhaps, but never anything lasting. Further, I realized that getting Cs had never bothered me for more than a few weeks; by the end of a semester, I’d forgotten it ever happened. In fact, it seemed all of a sudden as though everything my Catholic college-prep high school was teaching me about life, outside of the spiritual realm, didn’t really fit into the kind of person I saw myself as, and more importantly, the kind of person I wanted to be.

Grandpa Carl’s Flying House: Up and Howl’s Moving Castle

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Grandpa Carl’s Flying House: <em>Up</em> and <em>Howl’s Moving Castle</em>
Grandpa Carl’s Flying House: <em>Up</em> and <em>Howl’s Moving Castle</em>

If you read interviews or Wikipedia pages regarding director Pete Docter’s inspirations for Up, you’ll find an emphasis on lovable, grumpy actors, childhood fantasies, and real-life grandfather figures. I have no doubt that these all helped shape Docter’s vision for Pixar’s latest film, but I feel a particularly strong influence has been relegated to a footnote or an afterthought. Pixar garners comparisons to director Hayao Miyazaki with every new film, and I notice that the Japanese filmmaker’s influence on Pixar’s staff is perceived in the same way as Martin Scorsese’s influence on an entire generation of directors: “How could he not have influenced them?” Yet, Up presents a special case, as the entire film can be seen as an homage not only to Miyazaki’s work, but specifically to Howl’s Moving Castle, the 2004 film for which Pete Docter directed the English voice talent.