The Struggle is Real — Why You Can’t Stop Watching Disney Movies
It’s not you, it’s them.
December 21, 1937 — the day animation connoisseur and entertainment extraordinaire, Walt Disney, changed the future for filmmaking and established a permanent influence on the hearts and within the minds of consumers. Dressed to the nines, hundreds of celebrities, film critics, historians, artists, social and political activists, and technology gurus arrived at Carthay Circle in Los Angeles, California for the premiere of the first animated, feature-length film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While notables such as Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, and George Cukor filled the theatre to its capacity, Mr. Walt Disney stood before a plethora of hungry photographers and journalists, eager to reveal the finished product of “Disney’s Folly.” Within the first year, the film grossed $8 million, approximately $100 million today. Two separate audiences emerged post-reveal: the obvious group of preadolescent girls, obsessed with princesses and dress-up costumes, and the grown-ups, comprised of “animation fans, aspiring animators and historians, and movie buffs.” While the former idolized Snow’s beauty and altruism, the latter analyzed the film’s storytelling techniques, imagery, sound, and effects with current moviemaking and animation standards. Critics praised Walt’s masterpiece for its romanticism, feminist and political undertones, youthful comedy and heart, and happy endings. Political analysts enjoyed Walt’s animation of socialist values in Snow White’s characters. The dwarfs’ hard work and solidarity combined with Snow’s cooking and cleaning illustrated cooperation, a lack of competition, and a successful labor system — tenets of the socialism prevalent during the Great Depression. Likewise, Snow White’s female heroine paralleled the fervent feminist movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Making the film, Disney urged his artists to install personality animation by creating characters that moved, gestured, and walked in ways that expressed their personalities. Via rotoscoping, animators filmed Marjorie Belcher, the voice of Snow White, perform every movement, gesture, and song of her character. Those films were then traced and reworked by Disney artists, so that the finished product only represented her physical emotions. In an article from Virginia Quarterly Review, J.B. Kaufman discusses Snow White’s conception, cultural context, and animation; he argues Disney’s first feature-length film is truly “the fairest” of them all solely due to its movie making. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s core animators, explain that by concentrating on the essence of the story situation, “not letting any part become overdeveloped,” they planned dramatic staging, downplaying emotional elements. The audience was thus swept along — “caught in a web of their own imagination.”
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set a precedent for future animation. More than just a fairy-tale, the film emulates themes of romance, politics, feminism, and innovation. Disney’s first film created real ideas and values that “initially reflected the popular culture… and then finally, in a variety of films, dictated popular culture to that same society.” Proud of Snow White’s immediate popularity and profound influence on consumers, Disney produced more. A treasured classic, Snow White bred consumers’ obsession with Disney films — addicted to seeing our flawed realities reflected in seemingly innocent, happily ever-afters. Just as Americans sang “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go” in 1937, children and adults frolic the streets today singing the catchy tunes from popular Disney movies i.e. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, When You Wish Upon a Star, Let It Go. Since then, Disney movie producers, artists, and engineers have excelled at formulating creations that leave long lasting impressions. Partnerships with Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel have expanded Disney’s film technology and influence on consumers, attracting individuals of all social and cultural backgrounds. Walt Disney Productions continues to influence consumers by illustrating a diversity of themes through strategic marketing and creativity tactics.
“How Frozen Took Over The World.” Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker, 6.25.2014.
“The character identification is the driving force… It’s why people tend to identify with that medium always — it allows them to be put in those roles and experiment through that.”
Disney’s Frozen accumulated an astonishing world-wide box office of $1,276,480,335 — a record-breaking amount that confirmed the movie as the highest box office film gross for an animation and the 10th biggest grossing film in box office history, regardless of genre. The film’s success flooded the commercial realm. Children were singing “Let It Go” in the streets, parents were planning their child’s Frozen themed birthday party, and social media exploded in a plethora of Frozen inspired hashtags and GIFs. In “How Frozen Took Over The World,” Maria Konnikova explores the transcending success of the movie and how it managed to capture the hearts of every age group, all genders, and various cultural and social backgrounds. By comparing economist, Barry Litman’s film-success theory to the results of a psychological, social experiment, Konnikova dubs “The Frozen Phenomenon” as a combination of marketing strategies and character resonance.
Barry Litman’s film-success theory posited that three driving forces determine a movie’s performance: content, scheduling, and marketing. In terms of content, he found that high-quality stories, those produced by reputable screenwriters and directors, with attracting themes trumped things like “star power and name recognition.” For timing, films are most profitable when they’re released before Christmas. Successful marketing relies solely on the “buzz” leading up to a release — impending suspense, widespread propaganda, and cultural trends. Released in November 2013, Frozen checked each one of Litman’s boxes.
To analyze the film’s social-cultural influence, George Bizer and Erika Wells, psychologists at Union College, conducted an experiment called “The Psychology of Frozen,” in which they observed the reactions of college students as they enjoyed a night of “Frozen fun” — a screening and movie-themed dinner showcasing the idyllic film. Bizer and Wells found the students could all easily identify with Elsa, for her flawed character that resulted in “real mistakes and real consequences” applied to everyone in their own unique way. In the film, Disney deviates from its stereotypical characters and themes, instead illustrating two lead females, an evil prince, and a selfless act of sacrifice. Frozen combines relatable characters while repeatedly subverting expected tropes, Wells told Konnikova, and celebrates feminist power rather than the “kiss of true love.”
“Frozen isn’t politically fraught or controversial: you can say it’s good without fear of being accused of being a racist or an apologist or an animal-rights opponent. It’s pre-approved for admiration by adults, not just children.”
Disney films usually include one form of social slight or another, Konnikova argues, criticizing race, gender roles, the “princessification of society,” or disturbing psychological content. But Frozen provides a strong contrast to previous Disney creations, conveying very real relationships and adult emotions. Part of the movie’s success can be attributed to the grown-up audience, and another part to Jennifer Lee’s team, the geniuses behind Frozen, for their conscious decisions in making a universally accepted, heart-warming animation.
“Savoring Pixar’s Ratatouille.” Richard Corliss, Time Magazine, 6.07.2007.
“And if you don’t have heart, ya ain’t got art.”
In the animated feature-film, Ratatouille, almost one-third of its running time plays in silence. The silent-movie filmmakers and engineers show deep, subtle emotions through gesture in this animated story in order to create verisimilitude — a “suspension of disbelief” — blending both human and rodent worlds. Film-critic for Time Magazine, Richard Corliss praises Disney and Pixar’s Ratatouille in how animators eloquently create believability in the tale of a rat’s culinary success. “The secret of character animation,” director Brad Bird explains, is to exceptionally do your job, so “audiences will empathize with, and invest in, a rat.” Working directly out the Walt Disney playbook, Pixarians assert that movies, especially animated films, are not just talking pictures — they are a combination of motion and emotion. First seen in Disney’s Snow White, the application of animation with emotion in Ratatouille inevitably produces a lasting impression on consumers as they willingly suspend their beliefs and root for the tiny, aspiring chef.
Remy, a sewer rat, is the outsider in his family. Whereas they would rather scavenge the garbage for dinner, Remy prefers the luxuries found within a kitchen — fresh ingredients and spices that stimulate the entire sensory palette. Lost in the sewers, Remy eventually finds himself at the restaurant of the late, famed chef Gusteau, where his culinary imagination flourishes from his friendship with Linguini. The bond between a rat, one with the ability to prepare a five-star dish, and a man, whom cannot cook at all, “parades the brio and depth that set Pixar apart from and above other animation studios.”
“Lasseter saw that the secret of an animated movie is story and characters — and the enemy of innovation is complacency.”
The idea of a rat aspiring to be a fine chef was absurd. Pixar animator John Lasseter admitted to Corliss, “this is the most extreme fish-out-of-water story I’ve ever heard.” In addition to the title’s reference to a Mediterranean vegetable stew, Ratatouille’s main character gives the appearance of a typical, sewer rat — drastically different from a certain Disney mouse “with red pants, white gloves and yellow shoes.” Associating gourmet food with rodents, animators paid close attention to detail, playing with food translucencies in order to make it visually appealing. “Throwing itself in the deep end,” Pixar thwarts such criticisms in producing an inspiring story about the bond between a man and his rat.
“[The effect of Ratatouille] returns us to animation’s childlike wonders, and makes believers, gourmets, of us all.”
“Cooking, feeding people,” Corliss explains, “is a giving act,” and, at its best, all art is also a giving act — one that “continues to give as long as the art is consumed.” As with a cook, you’re handing the art over for someone to enjoy. Toward the end of the movie, food critic Anton Ego experiences a flash of memories and range of emotions after a bite of Remy’s specialty — Ratatouille. Nostalgic and eager for another bite, Ego’s revelation illustrates that the taste of something wonderful “can humanize almost any misanthrope, even a critic.” This effect ignites the childlike qualities within the audience, expanding their imagination, and thus suspending their beliefs.
“Japan and America Meet in Big Hero 6.” Roland Kelts, The New Yorker, 11.14.2014.
“In Big Hero 6, such authentic details add up to a portrait of two onscreen cultures sharing the same world, undiluted by their affinities, tethered by mutual respect.”
In “Japan and America Meet In Big Hero 6,” Roland Kelts applauds Disney’s creative diffusion of Japanese and American ethnicities into their animated, transcultural movie Big Hero 6. Kelts attributes its profound success to the hybridity of Japanese-American culture in its characters, setting, and technology. The movie takes place in San Fransokyo — “an urban mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo” — with a “metropolitan portmanteau” of Victorian Mission complexes, designed to emulate those that line San Francisco, embellished with colors of Japanese cherry blossoms. Moreover, the main character, Ryan Potter, who is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian, provides the voice of the film’s protagonist, Hiro Hamada, who is also Japanese-American, while Daniel Henney, a Korean-American actor, plays Hiro’s brother, Tadashi. Inspired by Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka, the “god of manga,” cartoonist Hayao Miyazaki, and anime auteur Satoshi Kon, animators of Big Hero 6 successfully blend the two distinct ethnicities and, as a result, reach a more diverse and global market.
“Perhaps that’s why the character that gives Big Hero 6 its elegiac heart belongs to no ethnic group: a roly-poly health-care-companion robot named Baymax.”
In Kelts’s interview with Charles Soloman, animation critic and historian, Soloman points out that designing such ethnic characters poses special challenges, and asks, “How do you suggest Asian or African-American facial features without sliding into the stereotypes that have been used in unflattering portrayals in the past?” A wonder of medical technology, Baymax’s character provides the perfect balance with its Hello Kitty-like features, perpetual awkwardness, and universal health-care inquiry: “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” Such authentic details, Kelts explains, within the script, behind the characters, and in creation of the setting, honor the American entertainment industry’s chief transcultural roots. In Big Hero 6, Disney achieved their goal yet again in expanding their markets and influence on consumers by producing an attractive film that combines animation and culture.
“Why Into the Woods Matters.” Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 12.24.2014.
“Excited and scared.” — Little Red Riding Hood
Clearly, Walt Disney Productions has a keen sense for creating complex characters and storylines and attracting consumers of different backgrounds, including the diehard fans of original theatrical performances pre-Disney adaptation. In 1986, Stephen Sondheim, an American composer and lyricist, and James Lapine, an American stage director and screenwriter, debuted their collaborative musical Into the Woods — a concoction intertwining the plots of several fairytale characters, including Little Red, Jack (of the beanstalk), Rapunzel, and Cinderella all tied together by two new characters, a baker and his wife, on a quest to begin a family. When Disney released their adaptation of the show, musical-theatre fans “experienced a punishing range of emotions:” anxiety, rage, anticipation, nostalgia, suspicion. Fans were concerned how Disney would be able to adapt the show without discrediting its integrity. As a member of this “small but fervent demographic,” Michael Schulman highlights aspects of the musical that Disney manipulated in order to create a successful adaptation. Using the woods as a metaphorical gateway, the musical’s plot varies from a desire for opportunity in Act I to disillusionment and responsibility in Act II. In regards to tone, Sondheim masterfully overlaps “motifs, internal rhymes, wordplay, and psychological nuance” while Lapine’s book “[winks] at the absurdities of the original tales” guiding the characters through conflict. As a result, Sondheim and Lapine create an ambivalent atmosphere from the disparity between Act I, in which everyone’s wishes come true, and Act II, in which all the characters question their original wishes.
“So how could Disney possibly adapt the show without betraying its dark spirit?”
Rob Marshall, film director of Into the Woods, recreates ambivalence in his version, displacing the show’s ambiguities with more Disney-appropriate terms. For the plot, Disney “bowdlerized” the musical’s sexual tension and gore in choosing to not kill Rapunzel, keeping the Wolf fully clothed, and establishing the ironic tagline: “Be careful what you wish for.” For Schulman, Disney’s adaptation pleases most diehards “without sacrificing the concrete magic that movies can offer.” In both the Sondheim-Lapine original and in Disney’s recreation, Schulman states, the same moral theme persists: “sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched.” By making Into the Woods into something more accessible, cinematic, and family-friendly but retaining the show’s heavy themes and complexity, Disney achieved equilibrium— entertainment that captured the hearts of children while pleasing the overwhelmingly skeptical, theatrical fans.
“Love’s True Kiss: Maleficient’s Complex Sexual Politics.” Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, 2.7.2014.
“[Maleficient] manages to be both soft and sharp, poignant and yet still a little slithery.”
Walt Disney Productions’ theme of dark spirits and complex, unsterotypical characters continues in its 2014 film, Maleficient. In “Love’s True Kiss: Maleficent’s Complex Sexual Politics,” Joan Acocella explores the sexual politics of Maleficient in which Disney transforms a villainess into a sympathetic character. Comparing it to the film’s predecessor, The Sleeping Beauty, Acocella identifies the illustration of various themes, notably a heightened sexual tension, sense of morality, and feminist power, alongside Maleficient’s ironic, character duality.
In the 2014 rendition, Disney provides the backstory of how Maleficient lost her magnificent wings and how her reputation as the evil-fairy of the forest began. After losing the war against Maleficient, played by Angelina Jolie, the king of a neighboring territory declares that whoever succeeds in killing her will succeed him as king. Lured by status and wealth, Maleficient’s childhood friend, Stefan, grabs his dagger; however, he chickens out, drugging her instead and severing her wings as proof of her death. And then Disney gets erotic. During this scene, the audience only hears Maleficient’s horrible, piercing cries extend from the woods. According to Jolie, the horrific sound effects and gruesome setting symbolize the removal of her wings as an “image of rape.” A piece of Maleficient’s body stolen, her source of power and happiness, “… someone must have had a clitoridectomy in mind,” Acocella jokes.
The disparity between Jolie’s personal life and fable character allows Maleficient to be both “a badass and a paragon.” While Maleficient dislikes children, Jolie demonstrably loves children with six of her own, three of whom are adopted, and leads multiple international child-protection movements. Moreover, Jolie, known for playing more scandalous, action roles (think Salt or Mr. and Mrs. Smith), plays the very opposite as Maleficent: “a mater dolorosa.” Lamenting the death spell cursed upon Aurora, Maleficient fiercely fights for her life, removing every spindle from the kingdom. When her efforts fail and Aurora is pricked, Maleficient recruits Prince Phillip in hopes that “love’s true kiss” will awaken her.
“This is the film’s wittiest and most politically forthright moment: kiss, wait, wait, nothing.”
Wait… what just happened? Isn’t “true love’s kiss” the universal solvent of fairytales? True love’s kiss still prevails, Acocella explains, although “…not by romantic love, but by a steady, daily love.” Disney triumphs female power, yet again, as the kiss is not from a man, who you think will magically save the princess, but from a woman, who unmagically saves the cursed female “by having loved [her], quietly, for a long time.” In the end, Maleficient’s wings are restored, her good deeds proving fruitful. The combination of multiple themes — morality, feminism, and subtle eroticism — with Maleficient’s character duality creates an impending suspense throughout the film, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats, curious to see what happens next.
“The Walt Disney Studios Reaches Its Biggest year Ever at the Global Box Office.” The Walt Disney Company, The Walt Disney Company, 11.2.2016.
“For the second year in a row, The Walt Disney Studios has reached a new high at the box office thanks to an absolutely stellar collection of releases…”
2016 is still in session, yet The Walt Disney Studios has already posted its most successful year at the global box office with $5, 851.4M through November 1, “surpassing the Studios’ previous calendar-year record of $5,843.8M set in 2015.” In “The Walt Disney Studios Reaches its Biggest Year Ever at the Global Box Office,” The Walt Disney Company proudly announces its most profitable year ever evident in its aggregate, global box office data. In addition to surpassing last year’s global box office record, Disney broke the record for the “fastest studio to hit $2B domestic (July 16), $3B international (July 6), and $5B global (July 10).” Partnering with like-minded companies such as Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, Disney ascended in film industry, earning the top four global, top three international, and top two domestic releases of 2016. By combining Disney animators, producers, and engineers with those of Marvel Studios to produce record-breaking movies such as Captain America: Civil War, those of Pixar for Finding Dory, and those of Lucasfilm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, America’s favorite wonder emporium increased profit margins by mixing multiple mediums of technology, constantly innovating, and appealing to a wider audience — thus creating a complete entertainment experience for consumers.
“This success is a testament to the refined talent and innovative work the entire Studio team puts into making these world-class cinematic experiences.” — Alan Horn, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios.
Americans alone contributed $2,278.6M to Disney’s 2015 aggregate studio earnings. As of Nov. 1 this year, Disney has earned $2,154.3M and estimates to surpass this amount within the next month from the release of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Moana (Nov. 23) and Lucasfilm’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16). Why is consumer spending increasing each year for these so called ‘world-class cinematic experiences?’ Like other drugs, Disney films are contagious — their euphoric side effects inevitable. Infectious characters and catchy tunes designed with the latest technology in animation incite consumers’ curiosities, so when the newest Disney compilation hits the theaters, consumers flock to ticket stands, eager to see the Studio’s latest production. Additionally, Disney-Pixar leads the way in animation and puts out a wider variety of styles and storytelling. Whether you enjoyed the latest Disney creation or just wasted two hours watching inanimate characters sing and dance, the two-minute movie trailer intrigued you enough to contribute to the two billion dollars fattening Disney’s wallet this year.
“The Curse of the Pixar Universe.” Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 5.25.2015.
“I saw a feature-length sales pitch — or, worse, an indoctrination — to mold kids into beings as artificial and uniform as those created, by computer graphics, in the movie.”
Maybe you don’t like Disney movies. Maybe you think Disney and Pixar are postmodern robber barons, master manipulators of society, crushing dreams with unrealistic fairytales and animations saturated with subliminal messages, god-awful soundtracks, and racial and ethnic stereotypes. If that’s the case, do not fret, for you are not alone. In “The Curse of the Pixar Universe,” Richard Brody criticizes Disney and Pixar’s animation Inside Out, arguing that the movie misrepresents “the mysteries and wonder of life” and deforms children and their mental life. Brody left the theater “hating children, all children, even my [own] children,” partly due to the fact he could not ascribe to any of the feelings driving the movie: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, or Disgust. While the movie shows that Riley’s emotional ‘people’ drive her birth into the world, Brody argues that “primal forces” control babies’ actions in the beginning. Consequentially, Pixar’s blend of emotions “gets the palette wrong” and makes feelings too negative.
“Inside Out offers problems to be solved, a narrow range of a narrow life of narrow prospects and narrow experiences, narrow fantasies and narrow desires.”
Instead of illustrating big dreams and big fears that wildly develop in early adolescence, the film’s various plot elements and storyline remains narrow — confined within a “trivialized notion of what Riley’s imagination might entail.” Forced to move with her family to Minnesota, Riley, the main character, must adapt to a new house, a new school, and a new environment. Riley’s five personality islands facilitate her transition into alien territory: Goofball Island, Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, and Friendship Island. Neglecting traits such as furtiveness and deception, Brody writes, Disney and Pixar deform Riley and misrepresent how we form social relationships — “through performances and masks that one tries on, as much for oneself as for others.” Inside Out disregards feelings of “resentment, jealousy, [and] emulation” and themes of history and tradition; this confinement of childhood offers neither surprises nor secrets, nor an infinite world remaining to be discovered.
“Even as [Disney and Pixar] trick out the child’s inner life with a tiny range of foregrounded issues, they realize this sentimental vision with intricate computer animation and an elaborate, constantly expanding view of the mind as a complex inner landscape.”
Despite their deformation of children’s life and their mentality, Inside Out creators and engineers deserve credit for their cleverness in flip-flopping perspectives throughout the movie, between “the macroscopic level of ordinary behavior” and “the inner life of [Riley’s] five emotions.” Filmmakers of Inside Out crafted intricate, realistic details that paralleled with inner life, such as Imagination Land, Long Term Memory, Dream Productions, and Memory Dump. Nevertheless, while her inner life lacks key characters such as skepticism and reason, Riley’s outer life is “virtually culture-free.”
Ultimately, Brody argues, Inside Out illustrates Disney and Pixar’s inability to represent themselves — “their own control over the inner being, the self-representation of a child” — yet it is the movie’s central theme. Thus the curse of the Pixar universe, oppressing viewers with its delineated messages and censored humor, is “insipid virtue.”
“Not Kids’ Stuff.” David Denby, The New Yorker, 5.28.2007.
“I realized that a child with a cell phone represents what DreamWorks Animation, the producer of this most lucrative of franchise animated features, envisions its audience to be — tiny, pre-corporate techies who live far from the fairy-tale emotion of enchantment.”
Disney’s force extends further than to just regular moviegoers, like you and me. Whether their motives are out of jealousy, contempt, or fear of oblivion, competing film companies, like Universal Pictures, distort Disney characters and storylines within some of their own films as a means to mock their family-friendliness and abundance of clichés. While at the screening of Shrek the Third, writer and film critic David Denby was surprised to find a young girl, who could not have been older than seven years old, concerned with silencing her cell phone as the movie began. Ironically, though, the gang at DreamWorks “assumes that its audience lives in an unillusioned media world.” In watching the Shrek movies, DreamWorks assumes that children are apathetic toward “drippy-beautiful Disney animated features,” for their animated, ogre series excels at mocking multiple Disney classics.
For the series, DreamWorks recreated the characters in William Steig’s 1990 publication of “Shrek!” as less threatening — “ugly-cute rather than ugly-scary” — to illustrate the mass-marketed individualism present during that time. Shrek did not want to play the hero. He simply wanted sole ownership of his swamp, which overflowed with old, abandoned Disney characters. From the abundance of Disney parodies, the Shrek phenomenon entertains children “with derision before they’ve been ravished by awe.”
“What was put in place of Steig’s special flavor was the acidity of corporate competition — DreamWorks’ rivalry with Disney for the animation market.”
With the exception of oblivious adolescents, moviegoers and film critics are increasingly familiar with movie producers’ tendency to create round characters, with sly yet subtle meanings. Animators of Shrek were of no exception to this popular trend. Their strategy in teasing old Disney characters derives from a dispute between DreamWorks and Walt Disney Productions in 1994, in which DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney when chairman, Michael Eisner, refused to increase his already, fat salary. Critics quickly found a connection between Michael Eisner and the portrayal of the evil Lord Farquaad — stumpy and egotistical. Although clever and inherently funny, DreamWorks’ comedy, packed with “Hollywood put-ons and inside gags,” has sour roots, and, eventually, becomes nauseating. However, all nauseation aside, Shrek proves fruitful, as it represents “postmodernism for towheads, pastiche for the potty-trained.”
“Pixar’s Scientific Method.” Sarah Larson, The New Yorker, 6.9.2015.
“When I graduated, my goal was to make the first computer-animated film. I figured it would take ten years, because I knew there was a whole bunch of work in front of us; it took twenty.” –Ed Catmull, quoted by Sarah Larson.
After receiving much appraisal for their Star Wars engineering exhibit, “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” the Boston Museum of Science sought to experiment with computational thinking in developing an entirely new exhibit to chronicle the creativity behind Pixar. “The Science Behind Pixar,” as the exhibit was called, included “interactive models, videos, workstations, and displays, themed around the movies’ scenes and characters.” The goal of the exhibit was to inform children of the intricate and powerful ideas that power the “fun factory.” In “Pixar’s Scientific Method,” Sarah Larson follows Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and president of its and Walt Disney’s animation studios, through the various stations of the exhibit, each categorizing a step in Pixar’s engineering process: story, modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets and cameras, animation, stimulation, lighting, and rendering. On their tour, Larson discovers Pixar’s reinvigoration of technology from Walt’s original xerography to that of the current cutting-edge, 3-D animation.
“A lot of the people here grew up on art and math, and this is a place to mix them together.” — Ed Catmull, quoted by Sarah Larson.
At the Modeling station, Catmull explained the secret to working with non-four-sided things: convert them into geometric terms and make a “new kind of surface.” At the Rigging station, watching Sully, the giant blue creature from Monsters, Inc., illuminate with yellow bone-like structures, Catmull emphasizes that rigging humanizes the animation — “programming relationships between stimulated muscles” in order to make characters’ movements “logical and efficient.” Amazed at the complexity behind Pixar’s animation process, Larson suggests a need for improved observational skills for children. Using a model to illustrate how light and color affect the moods of each film, Catmull agrees, recognizing the lack of appreciation in “how closely aligned artists and technical people really are” when, really, both are largely based on observation.
Typically, Disney and Pixar movies aim to increase productivity or solve problems. The films often feel like “industrious American projects combining gumption and physics.” By displaying steps of Pixar’s animation process, The Science Behind Pixar emphasizes another goal underneath its intricate engineering: creativity. While Disney and Pixar enjoy producing films for individuals’ entertainment, the ultimate-duo hopes to instill the importance of innovation in science and observation. As an effort to “introduce engineering into young kids’ lives,” the Pixar exhibit visually represents the hybridity of these elements and their role in creating one of their beloved films.
“The Fun Factory.” Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 5.16.2011.
“The exception is Pixar, the only studio whose products people actively seek out. Everyone knows Pixar.”
At the end of a movie, when the credits start to appear, you reflect on the film that you just watched: its characters, plot development, and denouement. But do you remember which company produced the film? With the exception of movie critics and film professionals, consumers, myself included, usually disregard which companies or producers partake in the movie they are about to watch; however, watch a movie with animation or with any Disney influence, and its producer is easily recognizable: Pixar. Before the movie begins, the famous Pixar lamp hops onto the screen and begins to jump on the three-dimensional letter ‘I’ in Pixar’s title. The audience instantly knows what to expect: a children’s animated feature film filled with lessons, laughter, and lighthearted euphemisms.
In “The Fun Factory,” Anthony Lane describes his visit to Pixar’s empire, their universal success, and their extensive creative process. Known for producing the first feature-length computer-animated film, Toy Story, Pixar’s success can be attributed to having found “friends in an adult audience.” Moreover, the company’s ingenious construction applies “fresh content between generations.”
“So what do they put in the coffee at Pixar that jacks up the average earnings of a movie to more than two hundred and fifty million dollars in America alone?”
Lane first observes Pixar’s location in Brooklyn. The idea behind Brooklyn is that Pixar employees, “after a hard day at the utopian rockface,” will hangout and unwind. Their comfortable environment, a marriage of work and leisure, helps employees, specifically those with underwhelming positions (accountants, custodians, administrators), “do their job and get away from their job.” The building is a creative powerhouse, meant to induce ideas and provoke inspiration around every corner. After multiple stages of development, recording, editing, and review, the average Pixar movie takes about four years. Each department contributes their aesthetic based on if “it looks cool.” The animators create synesthesia, blending acting with animation — “proving that [Pixar] can rub its digital fingertips against the textures of everyday being.” Additionally, Lane noticed, Pixar seeks to enact and dramatize “a single clarion call: You’ve got a friend in me.” Friendship, “a more durable substance than we give it credit for,” runs through Snow White and the dwarfs, Elsa and Anna, Remy and Linguini, Hiro and Baymax, Joy and Sadness. With a child-eye view, Pixar reverts to the “trope of youth.”
“How can this be worth it? What is it that drives each employee at Pixar to take more pains than the next one — to pedantry, and beyond?”
With every feature film and advancement in technology, animators strive to progress their special effects — “the animators [have] to do better,” Apurva Shah, supervising technical director, told Lane. Production designers want people to forget that there’s anything artificial — the film should be believable, not realistic. Determined for perfection, “we go to great, great pains,” said president John Lasseter, to ensure nothing “pops.”
The cause of Pixar’s success can be attributed to their “communal bonhomie,” evident not just in the films but outward into the audience. “Super-educated Peter Pans,” Pixar employees are perfectionists at large with child-like qualities and an overflowing wit. Before Anthony Lane departed the incredulous fun factory, John Ratzenberger, Pixar’s lucky charm, left him with this: “Pixar…has the backbone of a small town: Get up and go to work. That is what brought us to the dance.”
The reason why you chose to watch the Disney movie instead of the horror film, the cliché romantic-comedy, or the action-packed sequel extends further than a fascination with its charming, elegiac trailer. Four or more years of brainstorming, compromise, adversity, technological advancement, and marketing compiles together to create the attractive characters, euphoric storylines, and intricate themes that you enjoy watching come to life. Polymaths of animation and family-oriented films, animators and creative directors at Disney combine ideals with its partnerships to establish life-long impressions on consumers. Their goals are simple: induce curiosity, emulate themes that balance reality and fantasy, represent a variety of ethnicities, age groups, and genders, emphasize innovation, and, most importantly, create happiness. Walt Disney Productions’ yearly box-office steadily increases each year, breaking its previous records and achieving new titles — proof of its inherent influence on consumers. By taking the gamble on a Disney movie, you are choosing to unleash your inner-child, intrigued to see if Disney can live up to its standards. There should be no guilt, nor shame, nor judgment in pressing play on another Disney movie. Embrace the animation and all of its intricacies. Take the risk and suspend your beliefs, because, usually, it’s worth it.