A small family of squeaky lamps and a bouncy ball drew the affections of audiences in their small, but big-hearted, story. Luxo Jr., the first completed feature to come out of Pixar Animation Studios, set the tone for the studio’s iconic impact on society.
Twenty-eight years later, it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll see the squeaky lamp hopping it’s way in front of big white Pixar logo before one of the studio’s films. With it’s faded exit, the lamp peers back at us, as we watch it, shining it’s light on what the animation studio has unfailingly reminded us since it’s inception.
It’s only fitting that Pixar branded their logo with the Luxo lamp. Pixar has dazzled us from varying angles and perspectives. Many behold the wonder the studio has achieved in animation, technology, science, and even its economic impact on society. Theme parks have been meticulously built just to replicate the wondrous worlds that Pixar has given to society. Besides the movies, these replications are a glimmering hope where fantasy meets reality — where teary-eyed visitors meet their favourite characters.
But when we look at each of the feature films created by the studio, we realize that it’s not only a gift. Rather, it’s a true reflection and commentary of humans — despite the fact that many of Pixar’s movies follow the lives of non-human beings. We get so emotional over watching—even thinking—about Pixar films, because they convey what many could only dream of articulating.
When Luxo’s light shines back at us, it’s a reminder that these films are a reflection of humanity. It’s a peer into our thoughts and feelings. They’re warning signs that if we don’t treat the underdog with care and respect (as we almost never do), then there will be a day when we don’t have the chance to do so at all. They teach us that family can be found in the most unexpected beings. They show us that love may end — but from that, something just as wonderful is born. When we look at each of these messages, it’s impossible to apply it to just one Pixar movie.
Straying from the many intelligent and thoughtful articles that have already been dedicated to Pixar’s impact, this essay will focus on a selection of the studio’s feature films and their poignant reflections of society as told through the humans of Pixar.
It’s been theorized that Andy’s mother (also thought to be Emily from Toy Story 2), is coping with a divorce or widowing during the events that take place in Toy Story. All the clues for this theory prove to be very possible. If this is true, then Pixar has created a significant reflection of economic hardships that single-parent families face.
As someone who grew up in a single parent home, helmed by a strong mother, I can attest to the truth of Toy Story. Single parents, like all parents, are often forced to put their own complex problems aside for their children’s happiness. For some single parents, it’s also a devastating feat to throw a birthday party for their children as it can be expensive and time consuming. But Andy’s mother pulls through, despite this.
Of course, their family unit doesn’t seem to face many barriers that would otherwise prevent Emily from caring for her son. In that sense, Toy Story doesn’t provide a strong narrative for other diverse single-parent homes. The movie does, however, draw a very telling comparison when we’re introduced to Andy’s neighbour, Sid.
On the surface, Sid is depicted as a bored, possibly sociopathic, and spoiled child whose only joy is torturing his sister and her toy’s. But when Woody and Buzz find themselves trapped in Sid’s room, we get a glimpse into Sid’s home life. We learn that he’s actually not so different from Andy.
While Sid’s childhood fantasies are much grimmer than Andy’s, his imagination is no less important or telling. Perhaps he treats his toys poorly as a way to vent his frustrations and anger. We also see a small glimpse of Sid’s parental unit, who only appear to be present when we hear them grunting in front of a television set.
When the characters are revisited in Toy Story 3, the creators have very obviously hinted at this differentiation again when they show that Sid has become a garbage collector and Andy is off to college. While being a garbage collector is a respectable profession in the real world, we’re meant to ask why the children grew up to lead such different lives — even when they had more in common than we might have originally thought.
So, what is Pixar suggesting? Most obviously, they suggest that children often take to the comfort of toys when dealing with stress. But behind the main story of toyhood, Toy Story is also a reflection of different family units and how it effects childhood.
In Finding Nemo, the Australian dentist—the infamous P. Sherman of Wallaby Way, Sydney—plans on surprising his niece with a pet fish for her birthday. We learn that it’s an annual tradition, one that usually ends up with the fish’s quick demise. We also learn that the fish in his office not only come from the pet store, but also the ocean.
Humans are rarely seen in Finding Nemo. However, our impact and presence is still felt. The animals live in fear of their neighbours and the humans almost equally. They’ve been conditioned to fear “the butt” (the boat), because they know too well that they could be taken away on it.
However, Finding Nemo is magnificent because it takes place almost entirely in a habitat that isn’t meant to be inhabited by humans. The ocean life and its colourful creatures are funny, happy, and charismatic. They’re more personable and lovable than the humans, who are depicted as despicable and clueless.
Finally, when the dentist captures Nemo, it sets off a panic in the animal kingdom. It reminds us that even the smallest of animals that we take from their homes still have a significant impact on the planet.
When things turn awry on earth, the Hollywood solution is usually to build an alternative planet in space. Most recently in Elysium, only a select few are legally permitted to live on a clinical star in the sky, while the rest suffer in poverty on the earth below. However, in WALL-E, is seems as if the earth is only roamed by a forgotten robot, while the humans lazily float through life in the sky.
WALL-E has its fair share of fat shaming, as its assumed that the humans’ learned laziness is associated with their weight. At one point, we are meant to laugh at the humans as they attempt to walk after what seems like a lifetime of sitting in front of a personal TV.
Despite its problems, the humour in WALL-E predicts a daunting future: when our piles of waste and societal problems become too high, the easy solution is to abandon everything we’ve built and leave it to decay. Not only this, but it seems as if the humans take almost nothing from planet Earth except the very technology that is isolating us in the real world. It’s a peer into our values and our inherent need to be entertained and distanced from reality.
WALL-E conveys just as much punch and emotion as Toy Story — but instead with very little to no words. The majority of the movie relies on Wall-E’s emotions. Like many of Pixar’s protagonists, Wall-E is a glimmering hope of humanity. He feels, thinks, and above all—he loves.