The power of Pixar penetrates cinema and media arts
The advanced studies class turns its attention to the magic of Pixar. | Photo Courtesy of CMA Department
Many companies come to mind when thinking about movie production. Their earthshaking blockbusters and memorable flicks ensure cinematic giants, such as Warner Bros., Paramount, Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox, to have an enormous influence on American culture. However, none of those companies have proven quite as beloved as the animation giant known as Pixar, who stands alone in prestige and popularity. By creating iconic and beloved characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen, Pixar has generated an enormous fan base throughout the world. Their films have permeated popular culture so that their characters have become household names and their movies interweaved with countless childhoods.
This semester, the cinema and media arts department capitalized on Pixar’s renown in their advanced studies and critique class. This class takes a semester to focus on a famous director, such as Akira Kurosawa and analyze their work. This time around, the department decided to study the works of Pixar.
Although Pixar regularly produces films that evoke an otherworldly sense of awe-inspiring magic, the true magic comes out in the making of the film. Cinema and media arts professor Michael Gonzales who teaches the class, explained how the uniqueness of Pixar sets it apart from its competitors. For example, Pixar has the famous “Brain Trust”—a board of high-ranking members of Pixar who serve as creative council for each of Pixar’s films and ensure the plot gets the necessary attention.
Gonzales explained how the class looks at much more than just the finished product of the films. They analyze how the company works behind the scenes while also taking an in-depth look at the preparation that goes into making one of their films.
“We look at everything,” Gonzales said. “We look at the history of Pixar. We also look at how Pixar is run as a business.”
They use “Creativity Inc.”—a book about harnessing creativity by Edwin Catmull, the current president of Pixar—as their textbook. The book chronicles how Catmull came into a leadership role at Pixar without having leadership experience. Gonzales and his class seek to learn valuable lessons from him that will help prepare them for their workplace.
The class also hosted two guest speakers, such as Bob Zalt, an imagineer who worked at Disney, and Ron Husband, a recently retired distinguished animator with Disney, who worked on beloved films such as “Beauty and the Beast,” Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” The class highlights the experience of guest speakers, as well as Biola alumni who work at Pixar or other animation companies, to help prepare students for the workplace and build a network to support them.
Approaching Pixar with our walk with God
Although a seemingly infinite amount can be learned about Pixar and their films, Gonzales stresses that students must learn how to view business and the film industry from a Christian point of view. He hopes to prepare his students to effectively represent Christ in their workplace. The class learns such lessons by taking a deep look at each lesson Pixar teaches in their films.
“We’re looking at how it’s made. For me at Biola, one of the more important things is what is the moral of the story and then how do we find Scripture to support it,” Gonzales said. “That is the integration of faith and learning, as far as I’m concerned.”
He uses the example of the film “Up,” which deals with the paralysing grief that comes from losing a loved one, and “Toy Story,” which deals with friendship. Gonzales explained how viewers should take these lessons to heart.
“Most movies do have a hidden moral message… There needs to be more life lessons learned from movies that we see,” Gonzales said.
Sophomore cinema and media arts major and member of the class Sierra Stoltzfus explained the benefit of discussing these films.
“This open doors for us to consider what aspects of our faith we see in these creative developments,” Stoltzfus said. “We also study the processes the writers and directors go through to create a Pixar film and learn a lot from their perseverance through struggles, which inspire us to do the same when it comes to producing our own creative content or approaching any aspect of our walk with God.”