Pixar films are those delightful children’s movies that instill hope and a sense of right in the youth of the world, right? Wrong! Sure, they seem innocent enough, but if you really dig down under their skin, you will find Pixar’s canon to be bleak accounts of incredible suffering and social anxiety. Although not specifically stated, Pixar’s ultimate goal of desensitizing children to their feelings in preparation for the relentless toil of a cold and callous modern existence seems obvious upon further examination of a few classics.
Toy Story Series
Toy Story 3 is fresh in theaters, delivering to the world a third glimpse into the melancholy and hopelessly resigned residents of Andy’s toy chest. The whole Toy Story franchise is built upon the inevitability of abandonment and neglect in life, and the crushing vacuum that descends upon the soul when special people leave and forget. The added fact that most of the toys are made of plastic and will likely last for millennia while their human companions wither and die is reasonable cause to develop a heroin addiction just to soothe the emotional pain.
The first Toy Story addresses elitism, favoritism, delusions of grandeur, tribalism, mob mentality, and torture. Woody is party leader of Andy’s inner ring of favorite toys, which includes a Bo Peep doll for some reason. He acts as a benevolent dictator over the lesser toys until Buzz Lightyear arrives to challenge and topple his “alpha” status, though Buzz is too absorbed in his delusions to realize his influence over the awestruck toy horde. Woody’s failed coup eventually finds the two in the hands of the sadistic Sid, whose bedroom was likely an inspiration for Guantanamo Bay. In this suburban labyrinth of torture, Buzz discovers that he is not the great space ranger he believed himself to be, and briefly contemplates suicide. Woody and Buzz nevertheless manage to escape and become friends, only to find themselves faced with the unforgiving and savage brutality of Andy’s new puppy.
Toy Story 2 is mostly about temporarily overcoming depression with narcissism, and then realizing that clinging to doomed friendships is what really makes life worth living. Deep in self-woe over his deteriorating state, Woody spends most of the film masturbating to memorabilia of himself, eventually developing a fetish wherein he cannot get off without the thought of Japanese people fawning over him. To prove that Americans become dumber over time, this sequel includes 300% more fart jokes (though in fairness, one of them is performed by Kelsey Grammer, who manages to retain some class). Realizing that Andy’s fleeting love is worth more than a lifetime of isolated admiration, Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye escape the toy collector, dooming Stinky Pete to a bout of sexual identity crises in the process.
Toy Story 3 will describe the plight of the toys as Andy prepares for college. This article was written before the film was released, so any further plot details are purely speculative. But I predict that the piggy bank Hamm plays a central role when Andy empties him to buy an eighth of weed and then uses him as a makeshift bong. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Woody and Buzz were sold to Goodwill and purchased ironically by insufferable hipsters. The toys are likely to be reunited during a game of beer pong, during which they invent some scheme to help Andy’s team achieve victory over the frat bros of Delta Sigma Epsilon.
This one starts out plainly enough by highlighting how awesome superheroes are, a concept that most kids are already familiar with. Having covered the basics, it introduces the moral ambiguity of euthanasia and the Right to Life debate. The movie also explores the Kafkaesque inner workings of the insurance industry, and one can rest assured that kids will take away an understanding of the claim’s importance over the shareholder, bearing in mind, of course, the value of positive quarterly dividends.
Faced with the amoral lifestyle inherent of a claims adjuster, Mr. Incredible solves his ethical dilemma the way most people do: by hospitalizing his boss and taking a job with a shadowy, deep-pocketed, totally-not-sinister organization based in the middle of an active volcano. When this doesn’t work out, he has to be saved by his wife, Mrs. Fantast — erm, Elastigirl — who, luckily, has been spying on him like a good wife would. In the end, the bad guy is defeated and family values are upheld. Also, Mr. Incredible chokes a woman just for good measure.
Wall-E begins his journey living an existentialist’s hell, shuffling trash across desolate wastes for eternity. As the plot drives forward, he upgrades his status from minor nuisance to full-blown terrorist as he aides a bloodless rebellion against the robot autopilot and a direct presidential order. In the end, he saves the Earth, gets the girl-bot , and shows the humans that anything is achievable as long as robots are doing most of the work.
The humans do not fare as well as the delightful protagonist. Unable to provide for or defend themselves, the humans submit to a mindless, robot-run dystopia aboard a space cruise ship. The machines decide that pop culture and gluttony renders the humans incapable of anything except heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.
Wall-E is a scathing critique of humanity’s lazy, unhealthy, and polluted consumption culture. It details the importance of caring about humanity and the environment, which is a wonderful thing. However, it is to be criticized for giving children the unhealthy notion that robots will not start a genocidal insurrection if allowed control over human existence.
Up is a movie about a retired balloon salesman who kidnaps a child and flees the United States to find sanctuary in South America. Much like the The Incredibles, our protagonist sets the plot in motion with an instance of physical assault. Only instead of following a bleak yet hopeful account of superhero perseverance, this narrative is built up by the saddest montage in the history of children’s animated cinema. Having lost his true love and soul mate, Carl Fredrickson decides to live the libertarian homesteader’s fantasy and secedes from American society, violating a number of FAA regulations and probably earning himself a place on the Department of Homeland Security’s terror watch list. Like most Pixar characters, Carl completely disregards his social responsibility, as well as a few municipal codes, and presumably causes massive floods of sewage, a dangerous natural gas leak and sudden power surges during liftoff.
Up is also a chilling narrative about loneliness and abandonment. Carl loses his wife Ellie; Russell’s father left him; Muntz is shunned by the science-hating American public; Dug is rejected by his fellow dogs. Each character handles their depression in a unique way, Carl with stubborn and delusional devotion to the dead, Russell with blind belief in his mother’s lies about his father, Muntz with murderous rage, and Dug with shameless clinging behavior. Armed with this psychological smorgasbord, the endearing cast takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride during which only the coldest robots from Wall-E could resist shedding a few tears.