DREAMWORKS, PIXAR AND PROPAGANDA

You probably don't think of animated children's features as having a social propaganda component. If you do think that children's entertainment should teach values, you probably don't realize that there are competing values in the world of mainstream entertainment for young people.

Compare the values presented by the companies Dreamworks and Pixar. These are the two big animation companies and they present very different world views.

Pixar movies:

Dreamworks movies:

Notice the treatment of physically strong characters in these movies. In the Dreamworks universe, the big strong guy is on the margins of society. Shrek is ostracized, a hermit, feared, misunderstood and all the rest. The physically imposing grasshopper characters of Antz were biker types, renegades. Much is made of the social situation of the Mammoth in Ice Age. He's a herd animal without a herd.

In the Pixar universe, the big strong guy is a celebrity. Buz Lightyear, Mr. Incredible, the big furry monster. What about Simba the big strong Dreamworks Lion King? In his first encounter with a girl he gets his ass kicked?

In the Dreamworks product, the big strong characters must either be suppressed, tricked, manipulated or otherwise productively guided by smaller, smarter characters. For example, Shrek's Donkey and the Mammoth's Weasel serve basically the same dramatic purpose. They practically have the same lines in some scenes. Without them the big strong guy would either hurt himself or neglect his dramatic duty. The big strong guy in a Dreamworks production is a reluctant hero.

Big strong guys in Pixar films don't need any persuasion or guidance to get out there and do what's right. If anything they enjoy their hero status too much and are guilty of recklessness. The big furry monster in Monsters Inc. takes guidance from a little fast-talking one-eyed monster, but in Pixar Land the little guy is a kind of appendage, more of a trainer or agent who keeps his position due to the loyalty of the big strong monster. The big strong monster would be a star athlete even without the smarter little guy.

These two companies present opposing views about facing the world.

The essential message of Finding Nemo is that rather than hiding out among the tentacles of your anemone you should get out in the world and get a little scuffed up. Life is at its heart all about risk and injury, and safety is of some lesser value.

The storybook people of Shrek's world hide out in their hollow stumps and nag and annoy and flatter the big strong, socially marginalized (therefore expendable) guy to do the dirty work of saving them all. There's the implied reward of rescuing a beautiful princess, who turns out to be cursed so she's ugly half the day. And the big reward when he finally gets the girl? The spell is broken and she's ugly 24/7. Thanks for saving all us fraidy cats, suck-kerrrrrrrrr.

Other Pixar films, Bug's Life, Toy Story, Incredibles are full of characters joyously running around loose, getting into stuff, chafing at their restraints. The chief preoccupation of Dreamworks characters is trying to shift responsibility for action to somebody else. They're constantly hoping their present adventure would just go away.

I doubt that either of these world views are presented deliberately. More likely they are the result of management hiring and promoting like-minded people, so eventually a company world view arises organically and unconsciously. Also, in spite of the tone of the previous paragraphs, neither world view should be taken as absolute. Surely there's a time to hunker down and a time to go forth, but these two companies have taken sides on the opposing life strategies.

10/05/04


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