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Thread: Disney/Pixar -- Conservative/Progressive

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    Disney/Pixar -- Conservative/Progressive

    Lately I've been struck by how fundamentally different the worldviews of Disney and Pixar cartoons were (this has started to fade now that the two are both controlled by Disney).

    Disney movies tend to take place in an idealized past -- a time when monarchies weren't an unelected and oppressive burden on a nation's people, but instead beautiful people ruling in an enlightened way over happy villagers. They also exist in an idealized rural setting -- all the cute animals, none of the backbreaking agricultural labor. That all makes them start from a conservative point of view. But what really underscores the conservative mindset is the story arc. Generally, the theme is restoration. Something has happened that has disrupted the natural order of things, and happily-ever-after occurs when the heroes do something to restore the world to its original power dynamics, often with the help of a supernatural stand-in for god.

    In Cinderella, the privileged daughter of a wealthy man has been put into a subservient position, following her father's death and remarriage, but then with the help of a fairy godmother, she find her prince. In Sleeping Beauty, a princess has been cursed into an eternal sleep, but then with the help of three fairies, a prince wakes her and restores her parents' kingdom. In the Little Mermaid, King Triton's kingdom has been usurped by Ursula, but then a prince who loves Triton's daughter intervenes and the proper king is restored. In the Lion King, Simba's uncle has teamed up with some foreigners to depose his brother, but with some magical encouragement from his father's ghost, Simba triumphs and restores the original dynasty. In Hercules, Zeus's jealous brother snatches his son, Hercules, but by the end Hercules has been restored to his proper place on Olympus. In Beauty and the Beast a prince has his proper form magically restored and returns to ruling his kingdom. In Aladdin, Jaffar has stolen the throne of Agrabah, but with the help of a genie, Aladdin restores the proper ruler to power. In Mulan, the Huns have captured the proper emperor of China, but then Mulan, with the help of a magical dragon sent by her ancestors, restores the emperor to power.

    Time and again, you have the elements of a disruption of traditional ruling authority, a magical intervention, and a restoration of traditional authority, which is treated as a happy ending. That's a fundamentally conservative world-view -- it portrays the traditional order as divinely-ordained, and suggests happiness lies in helping to preserve that order.

    Compare that to Pixar. Generally, they exist in a more contemporary time, and so they don't generally indulge in the conservative passion for romanticizing the past. But their progressive outlook really shows in how they often celebrate a disruption of a long-standing order. Their worldview suggests that the way things have always been may not be a good thing, and that people need to be shaken out of their ruts for the situation to improve.

    In Toy Story, Woody has always been Andy's favorite toy -- ruling as a kind of benevolent dictator over the play room. His position is challenged by the arrival of a newcomer, and by the end, the status quo has changed significantly, with Woody having come to understand he may not always have his position of privilege, and that's OK. The subsequent Toy Story movies also embrace change, with Andy eventually outgrowing the toys entirely.

    Monsters, Inc. exists in a world where the long-standing way of doing things is for monsters to frighten children in order to harness their fears for power. Sulley is in a privileged position because he's the best at getting a scare. By the end, the morality of this fear-driven economy has been questioned, and ultimately replaced by a laugh-driven economy that privileges the former sidekick, Mike.

    In Finding Nemo, the opening status quo has the hyper-conservative Marlin sheltering his disabled son from the threats of the world. By the end, Marlin has conceded to his son's disruption of the status quo, and is actively encouraging him on adventures.

    Ratatouille looks like maybe it'll do a Disney-style restoration, with Gusteau's restaurant restored to its hallowed place in the Parisian food scene, but it swerves at the last minute and disrupts it, with Gusteau's restaurant being shut down and a whole new restaurant being run by the former outcasts.

    Wall-E, Up, and Brave all end up with a very different world than they started with. But Inside Out may be the ultimate reflection of that Pixar aesthetic. It's all about the necessity of fundamental change, even when things are lost. By the end, Riley's imaginary friend has faded away, Joy is no longer the effective queen of the control room, core memories have been tinged by sadness, and major pillars of Riley's personality have completely collapsed, to be replaced by all new interests. Yet all that is seen as a necessary part of growing up -- we're made to see how shallow life would be if we were constantly distracted into a state of joy, and we never moved beyond the interests of childhood.

    That's the place Pixar comes from -- not dismissing the importance of the past or even treating it with scorn, but emphasizing the beauty of progressing beyond it, rather than conserving or restoring a traditional order.
    Last edited by Arkady; 16th May 2018 at 07:27 AM.
    Thanks from Ian Jeffrey

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