CC Issue 01 / Theology / Faith

Pixar and a Philosophy of Life

Earlier this week I happened upon a fascinating interview with John Lasseter, one of the founders of Pixar Animation. In the interview he chronicled how he founded Pixar after being fired from Disney and then went on to achieve incredible success in virtually every movie the studio has put out. What caught my attention most in the interview, however, was the philosophy this man and the studio he founded espoused about art and the thrust behind their movie-making.

This philosophy came out no more clearly than when Lasseter described a new computer modeling process used to create life-like water in their new movie, Cars 2 (which I have not yet seen). He said that the aim of using this new technology was not for people to walk out of the theater and say, “Wow, did you see how realistic that water looked?” Rather, he wanted viewers to be immersed in the storytelling, which, if done properly, will be enhanced by the more realistic-looking computer generated water. People would notice if the technology were not there, he said, but it should not be the focal point.

Something about this philosophy of filmmaking rang true to me. I am neither a filmmaker nor even much of an artist, but this interview started me thinking about my own view of life. Am I focusing on the main thing, or am I trying to draw attention to a minute aspect of the whole, however important it may be, and thus drawing away from the significance of the whole?

As human beings we have such a bent toward self-centeredness. We naturally want to be noticed, to be appreciated and liked. God calls us, however, to live lives of other-centeredness, and fundamentally God-centeredness. We can live with a very small, myopic view of the world and try to make something great out of ourselves, or we can choose to play a small piece in the grand story of what God is doing in this world. Will I be a vital piece of that story, one that would be sorely missed if left out? Will my life be a glorious reflection of the beauty of God? Will I allow myself to be a piece of what God is doing in this world or will I try to establish my own kingdom and seek my own glory? The choice is up to me.

When the main thing is kept the main thing, wonderful things start to take place. Lasseter and Pixar want to keep the story as the main focus in their movies and see computer graphics, no matter how realistic, as a means toward the end of drawing viewers into that story. Perhaps this emphasis on story is the reason for much of Pixar’s success in the past where other studios have not fared as well. And perhaps this is why Cars 2 has fallen on hard times. Most critics say that, unlike other incredibly popular Pixar films, this film is lacking in plot and storyline. Maybe this time Pixar did not practice what it preaches!

When we keep our part in the big picture of God’s story in mind, things begin to fall into place. This is what we were made for and what we ought to live for—God’s kingdom, not ourselves. As Jesus said, when we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). May we not get so caught up in ourselves that we miss the big picture. Ultimately, it won’t matter how successful we are in life (details in comparison to the big picture) if that success does not further the one Story that will matter in the end.

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