Friday, June 30, 2017

What would Walt Disney think of Pixar?

When I was in junior high (I guess they call that middle school these days), we were asked to write a book report on a biography of someone famous. Most people chose presidents. I chose Walt Disney. There might be some people today that don't know that he was an actual person and just think that's the name of the corporation. But Walter "Elias" Disney was one of America's business tycoons that created theme parks and among many animated things, Mickey Mouse. And if there's anything that I remember from writing that report it's this: Walt Disney was most definitely not perfect. Sure he was innovative and successful, but he was the subject of many controversies (not the least of which was that he might have been anti-Semitic and even racist). The debate on those claims (I don't think) was never settled. So yeah...the man was a flawed human just like everyone else.

At the same time though, I ask myself (sometimes) when I think about the man who created the machine that now owns the biggest studios in Hollywood, "What would Walt Disney think of ____?" and then fill in the blank. Because Cars 3 was recently on my mind, naturally that question turned to Pixar, which is a studio I wholeheartedly love. I like Pixar more than Dreamworks and Illumination (Despicable Me franchise), although there may be singular movies in those studios (like the How to Train Your Dragon ones) that I consider masterpieces.

In an interview that his daughter, Diane Disney, gave, she was asked this question: What do you think he'd [Walt] think of all the best animated movies today that are computer animated? She responded that "He'd love that."

Without even having met the guy and only having watched Pixar films, I would agree. Pixar films are designed to transport us not just out of our lives, but out of the theater itself. They remind us of simpler times, the memories and emotions that make us who we are. Pixar takes all of us on trips to our childhoods, our happiest moments, our saddest moments...for some reason this animated studio can tap into all of that through their stories.

Or maybe that reason is simply that the ones who work at Pixar understand that the most important stories resonate with people because they appeal to a core truth of being alive? What do you think (if you, dear reader, are also a fan of Pixar films--to be honest, if you're not we really shouldn't be friends). They also tend to deal with something that might be considered darker in tone in a way that many of us find readily accessible.

Or maybe Pixar movies are great because of the influence of one creative genius. In particular, I'm thinking of Brad Bird, who is someone that (I think) Walt would have championed. Brad Bird's IMDB profile gives him eight Pixar credits (all very influential from senior creative team to director) that include: Inside Out, Monsters University, Brave, Toy Story 3, Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles 2 (due out in 2018). Brad Bird is a great technical director but more importantly his films always have that touch of a tender heart which separates the pedestrian animated films from those which will last and resonate emotionally for years to come.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Please let me know in the comments.

I will be taking next week off from blogging as I have a friend coming into town and all sorts of things planned.


  1. Of course I knew Walt was a real person, having grown up watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.

  2. Brad Bird is great, but it's John Lasseter who made Pixar what it is. You can see his influence in that once Disney hired him to be over all of Disney animation, Pixar began to stumble.

  3. I love Pixar but hate the sequelitis trend they've been following recently. I understand why they do it (easy money) but I really doubt Walt would approve of that. I really think he'd be proud that Pixar's sister company, Walt Disney Animation, has finally figured things out lately. Since 2010, they've really been the top dog of the animation companies with Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana. Pixar can't match that during the time.

    Of course Disney promoting Pixar's John Lasseter to lead both organizations certainly played a part. I think it is safe to say that Lasseter is a man who has best tapped into the mind of Disney.

  4. Did you see the doc on Disney? I think it was last year? PBS? Can't recall the details now, but it was two installments (I think) and they went really in depth. It was quite good.

    Yeah, I think Disney would have liked Pixar. He championed cutting edge technology and animation, so it would have been right up his alley.

    Incredibles is one of my essential films. Doesn't matter what part's on; if I catch it on TV, I'll watch it to the end.

  5. Like Liz A., I recommend the PBS documentary on him, but also the movie "Saving Mr. Banks." There's one scene in that movie in which Walt talks about his childhood, and it wasn't pretty. Maybe that's one reason why he created an extremely happy make-believe world.