How Pixar allows for escapism—and then rejects the notion you need it at all

How Pixar allows for escapism—and then rejects the notion you need it at all

Photo Credits: Katherine Franks / Aggie

The production studio’s wholesome themes are meaningful to children and adults alike

It’s safe to say that most of us love a happy ending—even the most despicably cynical human can appreciate tearing up every once in a while, right? And we all know that children’s movies almost always give us that happy ending that we crave in life. I believe that that craving stems from the uncertainties in our lives. We never know where we will end up, if we will be happy or just content or who will stay with us, and that is just the beginning of the unknowns. These questions can send me into a downward spiral filled with endless fear and anxiety, and Pixar movies help me get away from that. 

We all have this desire to achieve a certain ideal in our lives. We want the job, we want the house, we want the lifestyle. But something that Pixar movies do amazingly is show us that we don’t have to reach that perfect ending to have a happy life. Below are some movies that perfectly highlight what Pixar does best. 

 Warning: spoilers ahead.

“Monsters University” is my favorite Pixar movie. Although it did introduce a few holes into the plot of “Monsters Inc.,” I loved seeing the slow progression of friendship. But the best part of the movie was the way it ended. Both Wazowski and Sulley are expelled for cheating and thus can’t get a scaring job at their dream company. However, they still get to work there. They start off as mailmen, then move up as janitors and continue climbing up the ropes from there until they finally land jobs as scarers. All of this happens in a mere minute of the movie when the credits are playing, but it’s the perfect way to end it. They got what they wanted, it just wasn’t exactly how they pictured it and I loved that. “Monsters University” shows that achieving your goals doesn’t have to happen in a straight, continuous line; there can be breaks, detours and loopty loops. It’s an important reminder that success isn’t measured by how fast we get to where we want to go. 

In “Onward,” a Pixar movie released just last year, brothers Ian and Barley go on a magical quest to resurrect their dad for a day. Because the magic went awry, the duo have to go on an adventure to find the missing pieces for a spell and save whatever time they have left with their dad. Ian soon sees through his own pain of not being able to meet his dad, and recognizes that his brother was also hurting because he never got to say goodbye to his dad when he was dying in the hospital. Towards the end of the movie, Ian gives up his chance of meeting his father so that Barley gets the opportunity for closure. Ian saves the day by giving Barley a little more time and conquering a beast they accidentally unleashed in the process of the resurrection. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. At the end of the day, Ian realizes that his brother had been with him through everything in his life; his brother had become his father figure. This sort of ending where a character acknowledges that other people’s needs are more important than their wants is a beautiful addition to Pixar’s heartwarming movie themes. 

Similar to “Onward,” “Up” is a good example of the concept of wants versus needs. In “Up” Russell earned his elderly badge and completed his training as a wilderness explorer, but his dad never made it to the ceremony. However, he did gain a fatherly figure in an unexpected individual: 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen. And once Mr. Fredricksen relocated his house to Paradise Falls, he realized—with the help of his beloved wife—that he needed to continue his life despite her being gone. He still needed to be happy and if that meant completely giving up their lifelong dream to live near the falls, then that’s what it had to come down to. Pixar gives their characters these hard decisions and child and adult viewers alike can empathize with them, internalizing their struggle and learning important lessons. 

While I love these themes that pull on our heartstrings, Pixar’s newest release outshined the rest. “Soul” places emphasis on the beautiful moments in our everyday life. It teaches us to throw out the idea that life is about accomplishing one big thing. It rejects the notion that we are put on this Earth for one sole reason and embraces the cliche that “life is short.” The movie forces the audience to realize that everything we do in our life doesn’t have to have a meaning behind it; there doesn’t have to be a bigger picture. We sometimes get so busy and wrapped up in our own emotions, problems or goals that we gloss over everything that is good because it seems too minute to be meaningful. Small moments like when we are laughing with our family, where we see a random rainbow or when our friends pick us up to go on a random adventure to In-N-Out often go unnoticed because they’re “mere moments.” But “Soul” pointed out that those things matter—they are what make us human and make us feel alive. There is no one important meaning in our life; it’s the small things that make the difference. 

Pixar continues to weave existential themes into their movies, which is what makes them special. A lot of us watch children’s movies for the escape—life gets a little overwhelming and sometimes the best way to destress is to focus on some silly child’s problem for an hour or two. But when Pixar makes movies like these—movies that completely contradict the way we are taught to view life—it makes us stop for a second, breathe and appreciate what we have, and the need to escape doesn’t feel so overwhelming anymore. 
Written by: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org