Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Acid-Laced Satire of Pixar’s Movies

Since the release of its first movie, Toy Story, in 1995, Pixar animation studios has had one of the most remarkable winning streaks in motion picture history. 
  
As of this year, they have released eleven movies—all of them international blockbusters. Combined, these pictures have grossed $6.63 billion (unadjusted) worldwide—just at the box office. God Alone knows how much Pixar has grossed through video and DVD sales; an additional $10 billion is a reasonable guess. 
  
But if Pixar’s movies had been merely successful, they wouldn’t be noteworthy. There are lots of film studios that have released extraordinarily successful pictures that no one remembers—or which no one wants to remember. 
  
What sets Pixar apart is the quality of its movies: They’ve all been good
  
Some were merely very good, like A Bug’s Life (1998) and Cars (2006). Several have been excellent, like Monsters, Inc. (2001), the three Toy Storys (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2007)
  
A few have transcended the medium of film altogether, and become art. I would argue (very good-naturedly) that The Incredibles (2004), Wall-E (2008), and Up (2009) all fit into the category of art. (As an aside—again, very subjectively—I would say that the most beautiful of all the Pixar movies was probably The Incredibles; it was certainly the best lit, with a painterly eye for composition and color that would have pleased NĂ©stor Almendros or Gordon Willis.) 
  
But even the Pixar movies that have been (relatively) so-so have had their transcendental moments. For instance, in Toy Story 2, there is the “When Somebody Loved Me” sequence, where Jesse the cowgirl doll tells the story of how her owner, Emily, outgrew her: 


It is a remarkable sequence—remarkable in its simplicity, remarkable in its perfect execution, remarkable in its overwhelming power. I have watched this sequence many times, with small children as well as hardened adults: I have never seen anyone not be moved by this sequence, which captures something indescribable, yet universally human. Even small children who do not speak or understand English know exactly what the sequence is about—and are moved in exactly the same way. 
  
If that isn’t a definition of art, then I don’t know what is.

There are several other such transcendental moments, in Pixar’s films: The opening ten minutes of Up, describing Carl and Ellie’s meeting, their 30-year marriage, and Ellie’s eventual death, in one effortless, heartbreaking miniature; the final few seconds of Monsters, Inc. when Sully goes to visit Boo; the routine of Wall-E’s average day on earth, now that all the people have left the planet.

These are just three sequences that I recall off the top of my head—there are literally dozens of other such moments, in these children’s films.

Because they are children’s films: Children are Pixar’s main audience. Yet adults love Pixar’s films just as much as children do, because—unlike other animated films—Pixar’s movies are never patronizing, never condescending, never too-cool-for-school.

This is important to recognize, and ought to be highlighted:

Unlike, say, DreamWorks Animation studio’s films, Pixar never tries to be “edgy”. It never makes movies that are putatively for children, yet filled with constant winks at the adults over the heads of the kids.
 
In DreamWorks’ Shrek franchise (I use that salesman’s word deliberately), there is a constant stream of references to other movies and cultural touchstones—many of them R-rated, and therefore unknown by the children the Shrek movies are aimed at—that are placed there for no other reason than to pander to the adults in the audience.

I personally can’t stand DreamWorks Animation films precisely for that constant wink-wink,-aren’t-we-clever references in their movies. That constant winking—that constant breaking of the suspension of disbelief—gives DWA films the feel of tawdry, brassy shiny trinkets that are being hawked by a shifty salesman.

Pixar doesn’t have that because, at bottom—and unlike the filmmakers at DreamWorks Animation—the filmmakers at Pixar believe in the story they’re telling. They’re not trying to sell anything—they’re trying to tell a good story, an honest story, and they never for a second think that the story they are telling is beneath them. And unlike DreamWorks, Pixar has the self-confidence to know that a good story appeals to every age, every demographic, and so there is no need to pander, or wink, or patronize.

That’s why Pixar’s movies are consistently successful at the box-office, whereas DreamWorks’ films are hit-or-miss. Snide twenty-somethings with no children are just as enthralled by Pixar’s movies as small children with their parents, or the middle-aged, or the elderly.
 
However—maybe precisely because Pixar films are so generous in spirit—few people seem to have noticed the incredible social satire going on, in Pixar’s movies.

What these pictures are offering is not “gentle satire”—Pixar movies offer the harshest social commentary of contemporary American society of anyone working today, in any medium that I can think of. It’s satire laced with acid, and it is incredibly powerful precisely because it is packed into something so seemingly gentle and sweet: Children’s movies.
 
At first, you don’t notice the acid-laced satire in Pixar’s movies, because all of them are swathed in such an immersive story-telling. The satire would be far more noticeable in a chintzy, “ironic” DreamWorks Animation production, precisely because of DreamWorks’ films’ constant wink-wink at the adult audience over the heads of the kids.
  
Pixar, on the other hand, never distracts its audience—child or adult—with anything extraneous to the story. That relentless engagement paradoxically renders the audience slightly myopic: You don’t really notice the satire Pixar is getting away with unless you take a step back. 

I first started to notice this—both the acid-satire, and the slight myopia you get in a Pixar film that makes you blind to the satire—in 2005 with The Incredibles.

The film is about a family of superheroes—all of them with superpowers—who are forced by the government to deny their true super-natures, and conform. They pretend to be “normal” by hiding their extraordinary powers, often at the cost of their personal satisfaction and happiness.

Thus the film very accurately captures the mistaken notion—so prevalent in the United States—that to be against elitism is the same as the denigration of excellence. It is a contemporary American attitude that not only foments the mediocre and the second-rate, but in fact celebrates the mediocre and the second rate.

For instance, early in the film, Dash, one of the Incredible’s children, complains that everyone at school is getting a medal. This promiscuous award-giving is quite common, in American schools. When Dash complains about this indiscriminate “celebration” of everyone’s “achievement”, he’s told that it’s because everyone is special—to which he replies, “If everyone is special, then no one is.”

That’s pretty much the essence of The Incredibles: The movie is really a defense of elitism, pointing out how the celebration of everyone’s achievements, equally, denigrates and denies true excellence, and that the denial of true excellence is the denial of the self in favor of the collective.

At the end of the picture, after the Incredibles family has had to use all their super-powers to stop the evil villain Syndrome (who has no innate superpowers, but who uses technology to essentially cheat his way to excellence and fool people into believing that he is super), the family of super-heroes goes back to living their conformist suburban existence—only now, their conformism is a self-conscious disguise, rather than a denial of their true selves, as it was at the start of the story.

The Syndrome character puts paid to any notion that this social satire is accidental, or unconscious: At one point near the end of the movie, Syndrome makes it clear that he will mass produce his super-power gadgets, so that everyone can have super-powers: “When everyone is super, no one will be.”
 
Truer words never spoken.

Cars in 2006 came close to a serious critique of America’s perverse urge towards corporate sponsorship and yen for life in the commercial, corporatist fast-lane. It was the antithesis of, say, Iron Man and its sequel, which deliberately, gleefully revelled in the fact that its hero was a corporatist scion, owner and embodiment of a vast corporation that manufactured weapons used to kill people. Talk about decadence!—but anyway:
 
The main character of Cars, Lightning McQueen, an up-and-coming race car, is hell-bent on getting a sponsorship deal with a big company, presumably for more money. His pursuit is derailed when he lands in a small forgotten town, Radiator Springs, and is taught a lesson in humility and small-town, neighborly values.
 
The two key figures of Radiator Springs—and the two key figures in Lightning McQueen’s growth—are Doc Hudson, a former racing champion, and Sally Carrera, a former big-city lawyer. The one becomes Lightning’s mentor, the other his love interest.
 
What’s interesting is, both of these characters deliberately turned their backs on big-city corporatism—precisely what Lightning McQueen was chasing—and retreated to Radiator Springs in order to lead a simpler, more honest life. Both characters took a good long hard look at American corporate achievement—and rejected it, even though it was within their grasp.
 
Under the influence of these two characters, Lightning McQueen learns the value of living in Radiator Springs, and comes to recognize the empty values of the corporate, money-grubbing world he was pursuing, and which his nemesis, Chick Hicks, cannot get enough of, and is still blindly pursuing.

At the end of the movie, Lightning McQueen goes back to the big race, supported by his new-found small-town friends rather than corporate sponsors, and through an act of self-sacrifice done to save another car, deliberately loses the race to Chick Hicks (whose victory thus becomes hollow and meaningless, though he is too enthralled in his empty ambitions to realize this). Along the way, Lightning McQueen gains self-respect, and a sense of what is valuable, and what is not.

But Cars squandered its message. Much like Jerry Maguire, which in the end tried to eat its cake and have it too, Cars was clearly aiming for a denial of corporate capitalism and the empty perks of that life, in favor of the less ambitious but more fulfilling life of Radiator Springs—but in the end lost its nerve.
 
The film ends with Lightning McQueen both embracing corporate capitalism and small-town, individualistic values. Cars didn’t quite have the nerve to carry its message to the end, which would have been for Lightning McQueen to have followed the lessons of Doc Hudson and Sally Carrera, and completely rejected the glitzy but empty corporate world and its accoutrements, in favor of a smaller, more honest life in Radiator Springs.

Wall-E has no such failure of nerve: The most powerful Pixar critique of contemporary American culture was embodied in the 2008 hit Wall-E. Without question.

The story is simplicity itself: Wall-E is a garbage robot, left behind on the earth to compact all the garbage that has accumulated on the planet, and rendered it uninhabitable. He is all alone, as he goes about his lonely and monotonous routine. One day, a probe named EVE comes to see if the earth is once again habitable, so that human beings might return. Wall-E and EVE fall in love. Adventures ensue. Love conquers all (this of course being a children’s movie).

But along the way, Wall-E scores some rather stunning points—satire laced with acid that would make Oscar Wilde blanche.

First off, the reason the earth is uninhabitable is because of all the human trash that has suffocated the planet, trash that is the byproduct of a rampant consumerism brought about by a huge mega corporation called Buy N Large—an obvious dig at Wal-Mart, SuperValu, and all the other mega-retailers.

In the debris Wall-E is slowly compacting, we see clues to the sort of life the humans led: Materialistic, acquisitive, superficial, cheap and tawdry. As the name of the store implies, everything is super-sized.

Once EVE returns to the humans, Wall-E of course hitches a ride on her return spaceship and follows her back to the mothership—this is where all the human beings are living in ease and corporate comfort. The name of the mothership is actually the name of the corporation sponsoring the voyage: The Axiom.

On the Axiom, Wall-E discovers what has become of all the human beings that used to live on the earth:

They have become morbidly fat whales, covered in a layer of blubber, moving along in personal transportation devices eerily reminiscent of those electric carts so prevalent in contemporary American shopping malls, the carts provided by the shopping malls for free for people too fat and out of shape to walk to the stores in the mall.

Aside from being sickeningly fat, the humans on the Axion are perpetually glued to video monitors inches from their noses, obsessed with the endless stream of mindless audio-visual stimulation—while ignoring the reality going on around them.

They are all pleasant—not a single one of the sickeningly fat humans is mean, the way most villains are in movies. Worse than being mean, the villains in Wall-E are passive-aggresively bad: They use pleasantry to disguise their true natures, the idea of comfort and safety as the disguise to carry out their awful deeds.
 
Or actually, no, that’s not it: It’s not that the villains in Wall-E are evil, and disguise their evil behind the pretense of concern about comfort and safety. Rather, their psychotic concern about comfort and security leads the morbidly fat humans in Wall-E to do evil, villainous things.
 
They’re not evil—their fear makes them do evil.
 
Does this obsession with both comfort and safety remind anyone of anybody? To me, it reminds me of mainstream Americans: Of their willingness to sacrifice any and all rights—including habeas corpus—for the sake of comfort and safety. Of their willingness to allow their government to commit torture and murder, for the sake of security.
 
As to the morbidly fat people clogging the spaceship Axiom, every time I have a conversation with a foreigner about Americans, the issue of the fatness of the people inevitably, invariably comes up: The only people who aren’t shocked by the number of unwholesomely fat Americans are Americans.

I have so far discussed in superficial detail only three pictures, The Incredibles, Cars, and Wall-E. But similar critiques of American society can be found in most other Pixar films, to a degree that is completely absent in other animated films. Or even live-action films, for that matter. And let’s not even bother with contemporary American literature, which has become a playground for—at best—mediocre talent.
 
Pixar is producing the best art in America today—art with an edge.
 
Now, if these bits of sly social satire were embedded in only one, or even only two of their pictures, then it might be easy to dismiss it as a random thing.

But all of Pixar’s movies have this acid-laced social satire to one extent or another, a satire harsh enough—and visible enough—that it shouldn’t have escaped so many people’s attention. After all, millions upon millions of people have seen these pictures. More people—perhaps a majority of people—should have noticed what was going on. I mean, really, how many morbidly fat, lazy people obsessed with their Facebook page went to see Wall-E? And enjoyed the movie? Yet didn’t see themselves in it? And didn’t leave outraged at having been made fools of?
 
Most. If not all.
 
This goes to something really interesting: People are so enthralled by Pixar’s story-telling that they fail to see themselves in those stories. Just like those stupid wink-wink references I was deploring earlier, references that go over the heads of children, a lot of the social satire in Pixar’s movies sail on by, over the heads of its audience.
 
That’s the way you do satire. That’s the way you poke fun at your audience: You make a story so engrossing, the audience is never allowed to lean back, look askance at the screen, and say, “Wait a minute—are they they talking about me? Are they making fun of me?

37 comments:

  1. Gonzalo, have you ever wondered how abstract art, the mindless and worthless paintings some call "modern art" became a mainstream phenomena in the USA?

    How is it that after thousands of years, suddenly a scrawling that a three-year-old could do (and does) is the high-point in art and human expression?

    Well, according to this:

    www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

    CIA had (has?) a program, from 1947, which fostered and promoted Abstract Expressionist art (aka mindless smudges) with around the world for more than 20 years.

    This was done as a Cold War "weapon", to convince the Soviets of the superiority of the Western culture, in a true "the king has no clothes"-story fashion.

    This was the start of a period, from the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans started to dislike and even despise modern art, culminating in the statement by President Truman, who summed up the popular view "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot."

    This is one of the reasons why gifted artists now turn to making advertisements, movies, and Pixar animations, instead of paintings.

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  2. I haven't seen any of these movies but the Incredibles sounds a lot like Harrison Bergeron, and Wall-E like Brave New World.

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  3. The reason Americans fail to realise they are being made fun of is because they are so ignorant and oblivious to the fact that most of them are stupid. I am a European living in the USA and Americans have no grasp of sarcasm, or humor that makes fun of them.

    Americans also fail to grasp simple jokes, how do i know this? because my wife is American, and so so many times i have had to explain simple sarcasm as if she were a child, but still it does not sink in.

    I am not bashing Americans, it s just that they have been brainwashed from an early age into thinking that the USA is the only country in the World, thus the majority of Americans have no real perspective of other cultures other than those they see on television, thus if you start to see overtly obese people in every aspect of your life, this becomes normal and acceptable.

    In US schools kids are all equal, all are special, all are winners, hell you even get a diploma for leaving high school. But of course, as is reality, not all are wiiners, not all are special, and never equal, but this fact is only realised when these kids are released into the wild after many years of captivity in households that foster and pander to this ideology, which of course is to late for may.

    A study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.


    As the saying goes: America is the best half-educated country in the world.

    GL: You should write a piece about Americas status anxiety.

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  4. Wall-E's human hambeasts aren't the villains. They are the victims. They've been told what to think by the corporation that sent them out for so long that they are asleep at the wheel.

    When they are able to see the truth, they stand up to the (literal) corporate drone, the autopilot. Even the captain, who in fiction is usually a conservative reactionary. In Wall-E he goes from petty timeserver to cunning plotter for freedom.

    And the human hambeasts get out of their chairs and become farmers. It's simplistic, yes. It's also full of messages of freedom, individualism, and hope. Not bad for a kid movie.

    In the end, Wall-E is about revolution among the masses.

    Nate

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  5. To Andy Shand,

    Let's quote you:
    "The reason Americans fail to realise they are being made fun of is because they are so ignorant and oblivious to the fact that most of them are stupid. I am a European living in the USA and Americans have no grasp of sarcasm, or humor that makes fun of them.

    Americans also fail to grasp simple jokes, how do i know this? because my wife is American, and so so many times i have had to explain simple sarcasm as if she were a child, but still it does not sink in."

    Followed by,
    "I am not bashing Americans"

    Sorry, but are you an idiot? Europeans are all stupid people who don't know to write logical comments on blogs. I'm not bashing Europeans.

    You've based all of this criticism on your silly anecdote about the woman you live with. How about this: maybe, just maybe, your jokes carry the taint of cultural relativism that makes them harder for your wife to understand? Maybe your sarcasm is cryptic and follows the same poor logic as your comment? I'm not bashing you, of course.

    By the way, you're exhibiting the exact behavior you're criticizing so harshly in your post. While I do tend to agree with most of what you're saying, you're a giant hypocrite.

    Also, surveys aren't studies.

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  6. So..... Your saying that in a nut shell Bennie and the Inkjets would be better of issuing Pixar Dollars instead of FRN'S???

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  7. I have watched Wall-E, alone and with my 5 year old son, countless times.
    There is so much in it, like the garbage orbiting the Earth, the spaceship designed like a theme park with its survivors-visitors, constantly holding soft drinks. The obsession with cleanliness and the army of robots dedicated to the task of keeping the premises, reminds of Disney's policy.

    'Cars' is also very good and 'Up' really reaches into someone's heart.

    Yet, Pixar, as well as Dreamworks, are threatened by a new virus, evolved from the greed virus, and called 3D!

    To paraphrase a famous US politician, I would say that: 3D is the greatest hoax ever perpetreted on moviegoers.

    The only interest of 3D is that it enables its promoters to collect more money at the box-office.

    My personal policy is to boycott all 3D movies, with the exception of 'Avatar', which was really designed for 3D from the start.


    Click on my name to visit my blog.

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  8. Anonymous at 9.24pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg7YjwZzNz0

    A song by Americans for Americans.

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  9. Gonzalo, I must say, I enjoy your style almost as much as your insight, ie. a helluva lot.
    As a father it has been my good fortune to experience all the Pixar movies (except The Incredibles; I’ll be on the lookout now though) multiple times, and I must agree with your analysis completely. The only thing you missed, IMHO, (perhaps because it’s not Pixar) was the inclusion of what I consider a comparable form of modern televisual art, The Simpsons. A recent example here: http://forafistfulofdollars.blogspot.com/2010/11/simpsons-banksy-intro.html

    The claim by Anonymous, above, that the fatties in Wall-E were the victims is patently wrong. They, just like the borrowers in today’s monetary meltdown, were merely given what they desired, with no thought for the consequences. Your villians are simply facilitators, and if they don’t meet the demand with supply, someone else will.

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  10. Sorry, but the clip from toy story, IMO, is not moving, it is incredibly sentimental (and symptomatic of the main problem with many Hollywood films). I think the music is one of the main reasons it doesn't work for me, it telegraphs what is going to happen.

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  11. It's not that people don't see themselves when they're the target of the satire, it's just that it's too painful to face the truth. Denial, rationalization or projection hurt less.

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  12. The underlying difference between Pixar and Dreamworks is the latter is founded by 3 "Irish" guys (SKG) and for some reason all those interesting characteristics that GL has pointed out seem to permeate throughout their films not just their animation films.

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  13. Anon, I can't imagine why you're taking issue with Andy Shand. I mean, come on, lots of what he said is spot on. And it annoys me too that these are my fellow countrymen. Sometimes I think this slovenliness upsets thinking americans more than europeans.

    Something annoying about the Euro-dudes though. Many will judge all americans to be of the steriotype sort, even if you clearly demonstrate reasonable edicate, free and creative thought and a non-absurd body profile. Oh, American? You're That! No discussion necessary.

    So many of them also are working on an early breed sense of elitism that they're completely unaware of. I didn't see it in Andy's comment thought.

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  14. to Andy Shand;

    Mr.Shand;

    You generalize from a very small sample.It is like going to Harlem and coming to conclusion that 99% of the US population is black.Yes,there are fat, ugly, stupid people.Even if they constitute the majority of the society (which I doubt)-what does it matter ? Why do you care about Grazing Multitude at all ? Our country provided much more than it's fair share of people who wrote History with a Lightning.

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  15. "The underlying difference between Pixar and Dreamworks is the latter is founded by 3 "Irish" guys (SKG)"

    "Irish"? What, are you allergic to the word "Jewish"?

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  16. To Anonymous at 10:41

    According to George Washington, as well as several of the founding fathers, the "grazing multitude," or the American public, lack the ability to effectively govern, which is why Americans need to be, and get, educated in political matters.

    In order to be a self-governing people, Americans need to be knowledgeable of political processes and take place in those processes. Deference is the beginning of tyranny!

    If as you say, I am only taking a very small example of the general population of the USA, then why is that those elected to govern your political system and enact policies that enable Americans to thrive and prosper seem to lack basic common sense, examples are: Christine O'Donnell, Sarah Palin, and a host of others who are clearly 3 sandwiches short of a picnic.

    If you doubt my reasoning, then Google "dumbest nation in the world" one has to question why France, Germany, Italy, UK, and all the other countries in the World are barely mentioned, is the internet media picking on the USA unfairly?

    Your comment "what does it matter" well it does matter how the World perceives your culture. Educating children matters, the financial stability of the USA matters, because if it continues to deteriorate to levels that give credence to the notion that in fact the USA is the "Dumbest Nation on Earth" then by definition your country will sitting in the corner wearing a hat with the "D" on it.

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  17. Mr.Shand;
    Probably you are right.That is why I am (over)reacting to your comment like the proverbial Pavlovian dog.I am still stuck in the good old 50'(all times are good when old).I look around and do not like what I see.Europe is not much better either.Germany-majority of population are old farts (aka senior citizens) the rest is frantically breeding human waste from Africa and the Middle East.Holland-the same picture plus the liberal values pushed to the limits.Is France much different ? I do not think so.It is the general decline of Western Civilization.Nevertheless,in the 20 century USA changed mightily the course of human history-for better or for worse I can't tell.

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  18. Interesting how Andy brings up the schools. He complains that the schools really don't push reality, something that conservatives have been fighting the liberals, who control the school system, for years. Yet Europeans love the American liberals, conservatives not so much. Europeans making fun of us is pretty damn amusing.

    Maybe you need to realize that we know your making fun of us but really don't give a damn. All I know is my ancestors fled Europe to make a better life for their families. Really, your making fun of us just comes off as petty jealousy and a litle high schoolish.

    For someone who's throwing around the word "Dumbest" like its candy on Halloween, tell us what national office was Christine O'Donnell or Sarah Palin elected to. You know it's better to keep your mouth shut and be perceived a fool that to open it and prove it.

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  19. I know a young Swedish guy living in the dominican republic, said he's never going back there. Taxes are too high and the government has pretty much given the country away to Iranian immigrants who have no intention of assimilating. More (although minor) unintended consequences of the 'growth at any cost' mantra (you're country is unlivable).

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  20. "then why is that those elected to govern your political system and enact policies that enable Americans to thrive and prosper seem to lack basic common sense"

    Americans thrive and prosper dispite the policies the government enacts. We do our best work when the governmnet gets the hell out of the way.

    You may live here Andy but you neither know or understand this place. And you lecture us about our lack of education.

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  21. In the US 2.3 million people educate their kids at home-look up Home Schooling Organization.Estimated 14 million completely ceased to file and pay income tax.About 1/2 does not vote and much less cares about this crap.Guns are readily available-if you gonna die you gonna die like Hero and not like slaughtered European cattle.Life goes on.It is hard but not impossible to enjoy a modicum of Freedom not found anywhere else.

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  22. @Anonymous 4.49PM
    Americans certainly have guns, which they keep at home in a closet, while watching TV.
    In the meantime, Europeans, such as Greeks or French, don't have guns, but they take the street and go fight the government and its police forces, with whatever means they can put their hands on.

    If it must end up in slaughter, in Europe, the fight will probably take place in open air, face to face, while in the US, the forces of evil will have to search house by house, as they do in Iraq of Afghanistan!

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  23. @brunolem
    Precisely what Greek and French are fighting for?They want to keep their good government jobs.US definition of a "good job" is "the job that pays more than you are worth".Can some province in France abolish unconstitutional law passed in Paris-no.Even in theory.In the US a state can nullify federal law.Many of them are doing that presently.It is one of the Founding Fathers ideas worth fighting and even dying for.

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  24. Gonzalo, I learned of you on a podcast called Two Beers With Steve. Your theories were called into question. Respond Respond Respond!

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  25. One scene in an animated movie resonates in my mind above all others as the most scathing and yet hopeful depiction of modern society ever portrayed. In Finding Nemo, after Marlin finds Nemo towards the end, they swim through a school of tuna. The tuna are all headed to work and consumed by their own individual thoughts. Suddenly, a fishing boat scoops up a whole bunch of the fish and begins to lift them to the deck of the boat. Nemo, small enough to swim between the holes of the net, manages to swim around to many tuna and tells everyone that they have to "swim down" against the pull of the boat. Somehow, he manages to convince enough tuna to swim down until a critical mass is reached and they all begin swimming down until they gain enough momentum and power to break the pull of the boat and they all survive. Almost as if preparing us to act in unison in response to some future crisis in which a very small group of people will try to take advantage of the whole. Either way, the satire just works to remind us of one critical thing: we must always remember our strengths, of which we really only have 1.

    Numbers.

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  26. I went straight to the video store and rented The Incredibles. It was truly a great movie. Thanks for recommending it. Your interpretation puzzles me, though. What I experienced was a critique of technological and bureaucratical superiority to human judgment and capacity, not a defense of elitism. To say that "When everyone is special, no one is special" is not necessarily elitist, but unambiguously contradictional. Just as it would be to say "When everyone is the same, no one is the same because there is nothing to conform to". These are examples of the kind of divergent and creative thinking all of us must handle all the time. It is also where machines and large scale organizations consistently fail.

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  27. This post is amazing. My brother and i noticed exactly the same thing with Pixar and we even have them ranked in the same order as you. We also despise 'shrek'. Also, i saw you on the Keiser Report and was very impressed with you there. You're doing a great job. Keep it up!

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  28. Have to disagree.

    Americans understand the points being made:

    WALL-E: Yes, we know and are concerned that we are turning lazy and fat.

    INCREDIBLES: Yes, we all disdain the "everybody gets a trophy" and "we don't keep score" nonsense creeping into our kids' lives.

    CARS: Yes, we feel that we have lost something essential with the growth of our consumer culture

    These are very simple themes that I am sure just about everyone watching these movies perceives, and is well familiar with.

    To be uncomfortable with a cultural trend, but not yet to have, each person individually, begun to turn it around, is not the same as being ignorant of it.

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  29. I think there's a case to be made that commercial animation lost the plot after "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," at which point the Id of folkloric authenticity was renounced in favor of an ever-mounting Ego of mere technical fluency (compare "Snow White" with "Pinocchio," especially in terms of backgrounds and atmosphere). The Pixar stuff all comes out of the latter tradition, which is why no matter how high it may set the bar of competence in execution, there is always a relative lack of depth or risk.

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  30. Dear Mr. Lira:

    Thank you for an exceptional post. I have become a semi-regular reader of your blog precisely became of posts like these.

    However, I must disagree with you (and agree with Anonymous 11/9/2010 2:10 AM). Americans generally understand Pixar's critiques.

    As I understand your argument, we are morbidly fat, lazy boobs that do nothing but consume unhealthful food and transient, ephemeral stimuli, while excreting nothing but waste. Assuming this is correct, the sheer amount of media that Americans consume makes them more sophisticated and discerning consumers than most. The latter point is consistent with your criticism of DreamWorks movies. Their too-cool-for-school meta-references depend on this sophistication. (For the record, your analysis of DreamWorks movies is spot-on.) Americans, as discerning media consumers, flock to Pixar movies because they are superlative works.

    Given Americans' media sophistication, it is logical to assume that Americans understand Pixar's satire. Indeed, that is your point ("More people—perhaps a majority of people—should have noticed what was going on"). But your conclusion--Americans do not understand they are being satirized because they are bamboozled by Pixar's storytelling genius and high production values--does not follow from your premise.

    Of course, not all Americans understand Pixar's satire. Blind-spots are not peculiar to Americans. (I remember fondly a lecture on American bad taste and cultural hegemony given me by a French couple in spandex bicycle shorts over Turkish coffee in Cairo, Egypt.) Yes, Pixar stands out from the tacky, tawdry, and lowest-common-denominator crowd that constitutes American popular culture. Nevertheless, I don't look askance when Pixar satirizes me. Pixar produces the very culture it satirizes. My nephew's birthday party featured disposable, plastic Wall-E party supplies. Mr. Incredible costumes featuring built-in plastic molded muscles are available online, and now everyone can act like a super hero for Halloween. Cars' biting take on consumerist, corporate culture rings hollow given that Pixar licensed that satire to generate nearly $1 billion in toy sales in 2006 alone. Pixar may make art, but its satire is knowingly disingenuous. Americans, as a whole, are dreadfully ignorant and insufferable, but they understand that a hypocrite satirist merely a good storyteller.

    Regards, Anonymous

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  31. Americans have more to worry about than being a little overweight when our President is a secret Muslim and our schools deny the truth of the Bible.

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  32. Good Story.. you have to check Adult Toy Store..

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  33. This is my favorite movie and i am waiting for its next part.

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  34. i have watched its first part.This was very interesting.

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  35. I thought that Pixar's commentary on WALL-E was pretty overt, whereas the commentary on other films, like Cars, is more subtle. Mr. Lira failed to mention the one that I found the most subversive: Monsters, Inc. In that film, the entire society is taught, and accepts, the idea that children are lethal, a complete fabrication of the state. All it took was one Monster actually testing the claims of the government to see it was all nonsense. This applies to so many areas of our current culture... the one that leaps immediately to my mind is the war on drugs, but people can probably apply many meaning to this film.

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  36. People have wasted their time watching all these movies? And GL calls them art? And further, some have confessed to watching them with kids? You know, trash in, trash out. Do you feed your kids a diet of fast food and call it nourishment? WOW.

    Commercial entertainment produced by giant corporations focused on mass for profit consumption is now called "art" - wonderful. Here's a hint: go find some of the great products of Western or Asian art and expose your children to that. Rent a video of opera or ballet. Very young and quite average children will be fascinated by the movement, the emotion, the sound etc. Expose kids to the richest, and intellectually and emotionally, the most satisfying art which is the classical art of the great world cultures. And do it to the point where they come to find almost all of the rest to be boring. Yes, very boring.

    Here's the specter of people, congratulating themselves for being "superior" to the mediocrity of the American public schools, and then being witless to the point of confusing pop entertainment for art. Oh, and yes, I did this with my own kid, and yes, I am an elitist.

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    1. You people are debating which country is what under an amazing piece of writing about pixar films? Im 15 and even I can see how stupid that is.
      Anyway Gonzalolira, thankyou for writing that, I am a media student studying satire and that explained how to recognise satire perfectly.

      Delete

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