Collin Garbarino on the Subversive Conservatism of Pixar
Pixar might be the most subversive force for good in contemporary American popular culture. Since the release of its first feature film, Toy Story, in 1995, the studio has been creating superb animated films, with innovative computer animation, engrossing storylines, tightly knit plots, likeable characters, and compelling themes. Where other studios rely on celebrity voiceovers and pop culture references to entertain the teens and parents during an otherwise banal kids' movie, Pixar weaves seamless narratives that appeal to both children and adults. But it does not merely provide stylish entertainment; in most cases, these films identify some form of cultural cancer and attempt to remove it.
Pixar did not begin as an edgy, countercultural media outlet. Its subversive tendencies have grown as the studio has matured. The early movies each brought something fresh to the screen visually, but the stories all emphasized a common theme: the importance of relying on friends and family when one is faced with challenges that demand personal growth. Though this theme remained prominent in subsequent Pixar movies, other, more controversial ideas began to be added.
With the release of The Incredibles in 2004, Pixar began getting a little edgy. This movie critiqued our culture of mediocrity and sense of entitlement by showing that, contrary to what is taught on Sesame Street, not everyone is exceptional. This theme is also expressed in Ratatouille (2007), which taught that not everyone can grow up to be a master chef.
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Collin Garbarino is an Assistant Professor of History at Houston Baptist University. He lives with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.
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