I just returned from a Disney cruise. I won’t pretend that it was creatively stimulating, in fact, spending seven days in a G-rated paradise just left me jonesing for whiskey, swear words and a fist fight.
However, it left me plenty of time to contemplate the Disney/Pixar catalog of films (seeing as they play in rotation 24-hours a day, with little else other than the lifeboat drill channel and Fox News).
I came to appreciate the existential dread that fills each one. It is common and easy to build death into the stakes in any dramatic conflict, however Pixar films go one step beyond by flaunting mortality, time’s erosion and predation from the first frame.
Typical plots may show us the villain’s willingness to kill, but Pixar pits the characters not merely against their own death but against the inevitable death of everything.
Toys will be forgotten. Fish will be eaten. Cars rust. Ants grow old to die and be replaced. Superheroes are abandoned. Relationships and dream die too soon.
Admittedly, Cars 2 does not fit this mold, but even in Monsters University there is the line (paraphrased): What is the point of a monster that isn’t scary? What’s at stake for Mike is not humiliation but utter redundancy.
The universal success of these films (I offer) is that they strike at a universal theme (despondency, fear, terror) in the face of death and then give us the same antidote each time: friends, family, social purpose.
In PixarLand (which I might consider visiting) being alone is futile; bond or die.
Of course this theme also makes for highly successful dramatic arc-marketing synergy as bonding (to these characters and the world) is exactly the hope of any successful franchise.