Great Kids, Brought to You by Pixar
Navigating the sea of content marketed toward children is overwhelming for parents. Brands you can trust are few and far between. At least we have one.
How many times do your kids watch the same movies or shows over and over again? Childhood is a magical time in human development when repetition is desirable. My kids will eat the same meal everywhere we go, watch the same episodes of a show over and over, and incessantly watch the same movie.
That is why the content they consume is so important. What is the message our kids are receiving from these outside sources? Storytelling becomes an integral component of the way we raise our children. We care about the lesson. We care about the heroes they are idolizing. When the prince rescues the princess at the end of every movie, we can hardly wonder why women grow up to have unrealistic expectations of men. Ending a movie with a wedding is a tragic message. Are we saying that is the goal of life? Well, the tide is finally starting to turn.
Enter Pixar. Many movie studios have been directing their focus at children going back to the dawn of movies. As we have developed our sense of cultural values, those movies have changed in the focus of their messaging. When Pixar came along, storytelling rose to a whole new level. You can point to the technological developments that propelled Pixar to their current heights and undoubtedly they changed the landscape of computer-generated animation. But the fact is, the writing is what elevates their movie-making to the highest level. You can make it look good and sound good and those aspects are critical to enjoy the story. But without great storytelling, you have nothing.
If you’re sitting in your minivan, playing your computer animated films for your children in the back seat, is it the animation that’s entertaining you as you drive and listen? No, it’s the storytelling. That’s why we put so much importance on story. No amount of great animation will save a bad story.
It reportedly takes Pixar 4–7 years to make a movie. Years. The bulk of the production including lighting and animation takes 6–8 months. So what takes so long? Design and writing. And rewriting. And creating the message and development of characters. Their singular focus on quality storytelling is evident in every movie and every message.
Follow Your Passion
Some of the most beautiful movie writing has been done by Pixar. I remember the first time they blew me away. Ratatouille. That movie has very deep messaging. If you haven’t had the pleasure, it is the story of a talking rat who dreams of being a chef. He rises to become the head chef of a Paris restaurant, in secret. He is discovered on the same night that top critic Anton Ego pays the restaurant a visit. The next day, his review appears and it is magical.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
Anton Ego, Ratatouille
It is writing with singular distinction. In brilliant fashion, it takes on criticism of art and creatives. And it conveys the message parents have struggled to master for generations. You can be anything you want. Not really true. But what you can be is anything you have talent to become, so cultivate that talent no matter what.
Save Our Planet
Pixar followed Ratatouille with WALL-E, a masterpiece. Fifty years from now, future generations will look back on a movie like WALL-E and say, so they knew what they were doing to the planet and they kept going anyway? The dystopian future presented is a bleak, depressing landscape with a planet Earth reduced to a garbage dump. A cute little robot has more personality than the human characters. The most precious resource in this movie is a plant.
The humans who do appear in the movie are a commentary in themselves. No one ever walks. They drink all of their food out of a cup with a straw. They float around in a people mover system constantly being marketed to by huge flashing billboards. Everyone is seriously overweight. No one speaks to one another. Their entire existence is on the equivalent of a cruise ship. This whole movie screams: WARNING, DO NOT GO DOWN THIS PATH.
There is almost no talking in the first 40 minutes of this movie. It conveys perhaps the most important message through visual storytelling alone. Andrew Stanton and his Pixar team mastered this concept by watching silent movies at lunch every day for 18 months. Their commitment to story is unreal. With almost no words, the Pixar team managed to say it all. Please think about what you are doing.
Accept One Another
And then they made Brave. The opening sequence alone is powerful storytelling and the sound is outrageous. Music sets the Celtic tone and transports you into a legendary world. At its heart, it is the story of mothers and daughters. That special, challenging, dynamic relationship that is more powerful than any other. The princess Merida is completely controlled by her mother. In turn, her mother is desperately trying to provide her daughter with every advantage and opportunity. No one is listening to one another.
Brave brought sayings like, fight like a girl to life. Merida would rather ride horses and climb the cliffs than sit in the parlor playing music. She loves her horse and hates her dress. Disney Princess does not describe her in any way.
Merida refuses to marry any of her princely choices instead boldly declaring, I’ll be shooting for my own hand! Her mother is livid. Their story is deeply relatable as the two try to change one another. Instead, they find common ground as they each change their own perspective and learn to accept the other for exactly who they are.
At least we are past the point where every children’s movie ends with a wedding. The myth of happily ever after is finally being replaced by a message far more powerful. You have the starring role in your own life and a responsibility to find your own happiness.
I am so lucky to have two fantastic kids who are full of critical thoughts and realistic dreams. I would never presume to believe that I got to this point alone. The fact is, you are affected by your environment and every form of input has its consequences. Watching them grow up in a world where there is plenty of negativity and questionable content is not always easy and finding companies you can trust with your children is rare. If I have to have a movie on replay, let it be Pixar.