Recently I read Creativity, Inc, the memoir of Ed Catmull. You might not recognize the name, but you are familiar with the company he runs: Pixar. Catmull is co-founder of the studio, and has been overseeing it since the early days as part of George Lucas’ empire.
In the book, Catmull describes the unwavering dedication to story as a fundamental belief of Pixar. Sure, they are also on the cutting edge of computer graphics—having the honor of releasing the first computer animated movie—but slick animation means nothing if the story is flawed. He notes several times when a movie’s development had to be paused or scrapped due to a weak story, costing the company millions. That is how important story is to Pixar.
Power of Stories
A story is a powerful thing. It can bring us to tears, have us cheer with joy, and move us to do mighty things. And some of the best stories are ones that are long-lasting: fairy tales we tell children, the works of Shakespeare, and classic movies of the 20th century. Box office sales and popularity don’t make something a great story; rather, it is the emotions you feel after you hear or read or watch the story.
Stories make us want to be better, to live better lives, and to do heroic things. They enable us to quit our job, to succeed in our career, and to pursue our dreams. They inspire us to love our families more, stand up for truth, and to seek justice.
Good stories are hard to come by today. Some stories rely too much on CGI effects, slick marketing, or celebrity endorsements. But the meat of the story is weak, convoluted, or redundant. And when a good story is discovered, it is milked for all its worth with sequels, movie rights, and merchandising.
Fortunately for us, Pixar remains dedicated to the power and impact of story. Sure, they still put out sequels and overdo the merchandising opportunities1 But Pixar is consistently creating original stories that move both the heart and the imagination.
Last night, my wife and I saw Inside Out. This movie will likely go down as one of the top Pixar stories ever, and by far the most emotional. Director Pete Docter—who also helmed 2009’s Up—has a true gift for making animation not only come alive, but to make the animation truly emotional. Who knew that you could come up with a compelling story, and then present that story, almost all of which takes place inside a tween’s mind?
And the Pixar short that came before the movie was just as good. Called Lava, it is a love song from one volcano to another. In just a few minutes, Pixar makes you care for and cheer for a dormant volcano to find love. I never thought I would ever write a sentence like that, but that is the power of story, and ultimately the gift that Pixar has with stories.
After all, they are part of Disney. ↩