“You’ve got a friend in me” …The cymbals clang… “You’ve got a friend in me…When the road looks tough ahead and you’re miles and miles from your nice, warm bed… You just remember what your old pal said…you’ve got a friend in me…” Randy Newman crooned to me as I sat in my normal chair thinking about what to write. This song brought classic Pixar images to my mind. Mike Wazowski and Sulley. Buzz and Woody. Dory and Marlin…the list goes on and on…
(If none of these names come to mind, then I highly suggest that you make a hot cup of coffee and sit down and watch every single Pixar movie ever made. 24 hours. It will definitely be worth it. )
As I thought about these different Pixar friendships, I began to think of the different Pixar characters. Monsters. Robots. Toys. Cars. Fish. Rats. Retired superheroes. Bugs. What was it that all these characters had in common? Well, they weren’t Disney princesses or soaring superheroes. These were the characters that we, the audience, don’t always hear from. Sure, monster movies began with Frankenstein and Count Dracula, but when has there really been a movie from the monsters’ perspective? Or the toys? Or the rest of the Pixar characters?
Pixar sneakily took the characters that usually play supporting roles and gave them their own stage and spotlight. That’s why you are able to see a rat cook or a robot fall in love. I can just picture John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter sitting around a table like King Arthur and his knights of the round table. After a tall pile of crumpled idea papers heightened, one of the three probably voiced: “ What if we came up with a character who hasn’t had a movie of his own? An underdog character?” Someone else probably had the great animation muse whisper in his ear: “TOYS”. Yeah, maybe more of a scream. Thus was birthed Toy Story—a movie from the toys’ perspective. Sure, toys have had other movies, but not many from their own perspective.
And toys were just the beginning. Next came a bug circus followed by comedic monsters and then by lost fish. Suddenly a retired superhero was revamping his career and a rat cooked in the top French restaurant. Pixar took normally ignored characters and gave them a story—a purpose. Now, you and I (as the audience) can become friends with these underdog characters. For the child, the monster under the bed will become a funny friend and not a horrifying scarer. Rather than thinking of a robot as a meaningless piece of machinery, we can see that it is still capable of love despite its pre-programming. Not only is Pixar giving its audience a new look at characters, but it’s also planting creative seeds within kids.
Maybe the next time you see a child scribbling down his own story or coloring in his little green monster, you can think of the writers who inspired him. The writers who taught those children to take a second glance at characters—that there is more that meets the eye to their little dinosaur toy or the chubby caterpillar on their windowsill. So, when you see one of these children, encourage them, rather than rolling your eyes. And rather than snickering, inspire them. Don’t underestimate their imagination.
And, that’s how magic is made.