“To Infinity and beyond!”
were the words that rang throughout the cinema as children cheered on their favourite character rushing to the rescue. They whooped and they cheered, their elation clear as they excitedly re-enacted the scenes they had watched with their own toys back home. A world of possibility had been opened to them, and they relished in the countless hours of fun to be had. Fast forward 15 years later, those same children now well within their late teens or even adulthood. “To infinity and beyond!” rings once more in the cinema as the trilogy comes to a close. Memories of those countless hours come rushing back, and for a brief moment, those same children are sitting in the cinema once more.
Picture the first time you ever watched a Pixar movie. For many of us, that event could have happened when we were barely at our parents’ knees, unable to clearly express how we felt as we watched those movies. For many of us, we might not have been able to understand all of the themes written in the movie. But for all of us, in spite of the large gap in time since then, the feelings of excitement, joy and whimsy are still as clear as day to us. The mere mention of a Pixar movie we’ve watched previously, let alone watching the movie again, is enough to overload our senses with a rush of nostalgia for the past. Those emotions represent what Pixar has perfected into an art form since their first film Toy Story: the power of storytelling.
Pixar’s first few films built the foundation for what Pixar represents even up until this day: Films with colourful, vibrant settings and lovable characters. Toy Story featured a cowboy and space ranger toy working together to get back home. Finding Nemo featured a clownfish looking for his son across the ocean. Monsters Inc. featured two monsters trying to get a little girl back home. In all of these films, the character’s come off as genuine individuals and not just computer-generated images on a screen. Over the course of these movies, the audience gets to learn more and more about these characters and root for these unlikely heroes. It is through these characters that Pixar begin to tell their individual stories, and how they intertwine together to make a greater picture.
Take for instance, Marlin and Nemo from Finding Nemo. Marlin’s character is that of a father who worries about the safety of his son ever since the loss of his mate and the rest of their eggs. Nemo, on the other hand (or fin?), grows up to be adventurous and anxious to find out more about the world, almost to the point of recklessness. When you bring the two characters together, it evokes a very relatable story of parents having to curb the fine balance between protecting their children and allowing them to discover all that the world has to offer them. The writers behind Pixar’s success understood that epic tales or romantic retellings were good at entertaining audiences, but it’s the simple stories that happen in our everyday lives that we are most capable of understanding and empathising with.
As Pixar went on to produce more and more films, their means of storytelling became more and more ambitious. Where their first few films focused on telling stories through character interaction, their later films would go on to use visuals and background music without dialogue to convey their story to the audience, to critical acclaim. One of Pixar’s most acclaimed films, Up, featured a sequence of events that lasts about four minutes and twenty seconds. To anyone who has watched or even heard of this film, they’d understand the volumes of praise heaped upon this sequence.
The sequence depicts the story of Carl and Ellie, the protagonist of Up and his wife, and their life story. In those four minutes, without a single word of dialogue, Up manages to tell the story of the two and their simple, yet happy life whilst overcoming the tragedies that occur. The motivations and feelings of the characters are evident even though none of the characters give any verbal confirmation, and the music, which transitions from light and upbeat to sombre and slow-paced, set the tone for the scenes and indicate to the audience how the characters can be assumed to be feeling as well. The amount of raw emotion in that sequence is something that can never be captured in words. The look of worry etched on Carl’s face, the quiet yet accepting expression of Ellie as she sits in the garden, and the small smiles of encouragement they both offer to each other? Those aren’t just two animated bunches of polygons programmed to look at each other. Those are two characters who, in a few short minutes, have told us everything about themselves.
Stories define who we are as individuals; it’s how we each craft and tell our respective stories that differentiate how we want to go about our own lives. Pixar’s success is built almost entirely on their innovative and beautiful ways of telling their character’s stories. To anyone who experiences difficulty in telling others what motivates them, to anyone who struggles with saying too much or too little, and to anyone who wants to better tell their stories to the world, I’d ask that you look no further than Pixar’s works.
Written by Jun Min
Captions by Tiffany See