The problem with Pixar
Posted by Paul Williams
No, not the studio's movies. Judged individually, their animated tales are smart, funny, creative, well-paced and brilliantly animated.
In fact, the Pixar wizards are so good they've managed to obscure the fact they've been making the same movie over and over again for the last 15 years.
To reveal this secret, I have obtained a copy of the top-secret Pixar plot generator. Read over the description below and select one of the choices in each pair of parentheses to help the "Toy Story 3" creators craft their next masterpiece.
A sensitive, misunderstood young (poodle, airplane, No. 2 Pencil, Goldman Sachs exec) has just never felt like he fits in. He -- this is Pixar, so I assure you, the main character is a *he* -- is sure there must be more to life than (dog shows, dusting crops, doing homework, consolidating debt obligations). He goes through the motions, but looks up at the stars every night knowing there's got to be a better life for him out there.
One day, he learns about (a family that lost their dog, stunt-flying contest, the invention of the mechanical pencil, a rundown used bookstore) from a mysterious (stranger, billboard, substitute teacher, falafel vendor.)
Marshaling his resolve, despite the scorn and skepticism of his peers, our hero decides he's going to (find that dog, win the contest, outdo the robot pencil, buy the bookstore.) Together with his (unlikely, unwanted, beholden, beloved) companion – an oversized, lovable, possibly drunken (St. Bernard, pelican, glue bottle, pilot) – he sets out on a quest to accomplish his goal.
The companions bond over their shared love of (show tunes, baseball, mid-century modern furniture, really good Scotch.) But their road is fraught with challenges. A (tornado, forest fire, state standardized test, plate of bad oysters) derails the friends and leaves them bickering and divided.
Our hero is lost in the wilderness, alone and scared. Just when things look their bleakest, the music swells and the sidekick reappears at the last minute, reaches out his arm and saves our hero from (a bear, the repo man, being broken by a bully, moving back in with his parents.)
Having learned a lesson about the value of (friendship, individuality, empathy, a good credit score) our hero completes his mission and lives happily every after. The end.
The best books and movies aimed at children – “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Charlotte's Web” – might hit some of the same points, but they are much more subtle and less formulaic. Rather than working with an original script, I'd love to see Pixar adapt an existing story for once – imagine their take on a Roald Dahl book or “A Wrinkle in Time.” It makes me angry to think they could have done a version of “The Cat in the Hat” that parents and kids would be watching together for the next 50 years, thereby sparing us of the Mike Myers monstrosity.
Clearly Pixar doesn't need any advice – the formula works. “Toy Story 3” has made nearly $500 million dollars worldwide in less than a month. But I can't help but think how amazing it would be to see Pixar apply its talent to just telling the best story possible, without having to worry about teaching a lesson or making the audience cry.
Paul Williams is a producer for The Washington Post.
| July 9, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: Movies, Pop Culture
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