8 Dark Life Lessons Kids Learn From Pixar Films
Pixar has inspired and entranced children and parents alike for more than 20 years. I think a large part of the appeal is that their movies often teach some of the darkest lessons you'll ever learn as a child, and that takes an enormous amount of pressure off of mom and dad's backs. See, parents understand that it's their job to make their children feel special. The world's job is to crush that shit into a fine powder and then snort it off of the naked corpses that used to be their dreams. And nobody is better at teaching those lessons than Pixar. For instance ...
Toy Story: Everything You Know About The World Is A Lie
Pixar's first feature-length film, Toy Story, sees the likable cowboy doll Woody all but replaced by Buzz Lightyear, a Space Ranger toy who thinks he is an actual Space Ranger with the ability to fly, sent on a secret mission to defeat the evil Emperor Zurg.
It takes a fall from the second floor of their sadistic neighbor's house and the loss of an arm before Buzz finally realizes that he cannot fly because he is only a mass-produced (albeit sentient) toy. His entire life has been one massive delusion.
It's just like when someone finally told me what they really thought of my guitar playing.
The Horrifying Truth:
Whatever your worldview, it's wrong. Your place in the universe is infinitely less important than your tiny child brain can possibly grasp. The Powers That Be (aka your parents) are hiding a whole lot of terrifying crap about the real world that would pop your brain like a festering boil if you found out. So until you're mentally capable of handling the world's filth, it's mom and dad's job to delude you into thinking you're special and important. You are Buzz Lightyear, and your job is to be awesome and loved.
Of course, adults don't do this to be manipulative butt-asses. They do it because it takes an immense amount of confidence and self-worth to handle the world as it actually is. Had Buzz entered the world thinking, "I am a faceless chunk of worthless plastic," he wouldn't have even tried to be anything more. He simply would have resigned himself to the toy box while the world went to shit around him. And that, kids, is the first step to a hardcore meth addiction.
"Mommy, why is that other Buzz Lightyear really thin and covered in tattoos?"
Don't worry, though; one day you too will take a fall, lose an arm, and see the world for what it really is: a preteen boy, laughing maniacally and exploding your friends with firecrackers while he makes you watch. Speaking of which ...
Finding Nemo: The World Is Trying To Kill You
Right off the bat in Finding Nemo, Marlin and his wife, Coral, are taking a tour of their new digs, putting the babies to sleep and generally enjoying how none of them have been eaten yet. Then a pike comes and eats everyone except the dad and Nemo. Welcome to the world, kids.
Shortly after, Nemo is taken by a diver, and Marlin spends the rest of the film thwarting death while looking for him. He has to either outsmart or outrun sharks, angler fish, jellyfish, gulls, pelicans, crabs, whales, and humans to rescue his only son. At every turn he is almost eaten, or killed, or eat-killed.
The original title, Finding Out That Everything Is Out To Get You Just Like You Feared,
So Stay Inside Forever And Force Death To Come To You, didn't test well.
Nemo himself spends the entire film staring Death in the face. The seemingly safe fish tank that the dentist puts him in is basically a cell on death row: The fish are counting the days until the dentist's evil niece turns up to execute them all. You can tell from their tone and actions that they've seen it happen dozens of times.
The Horrifying Truth:
Death is coming for us all. Every second of every day, it stalks us. Nowhere is safe -- not even your own home. On the rare occasion that you must venture out into the open world, everyone is an enemy. And the ones who aren't will likely be extremely stupid and unreliable.
My version of Finding Dory ends after 30 seconds of no one missing her.
Your No. 1 priority in life is to survive, and often that means finding a few people you trust and sticking together. Find a good hiding place, and do everything in your power to stay there. If you ever have to venture out of your comfort zone, you must always be on your guard, because everyone everywhere is out to eat your entire goddamn face clean off of your stupid, frail little body.
Metaphorically. Most of the time.
Toy Story 3: You Are Totally Replaceable
The Toy Story movies make it clear that all toys are replaceable, but in Toy Story 3 Pixar takes this to new lengths. Two characters, Lotso and Barbie, are replaced (Lotso by a new Lotso-Huggin' Bear and Barbie by crappy teen mags) by the very people they love most in the world. Lotso gets replaced within a day or two of going missing and Barbie is told, "There are a hundred million just like her." We even get to see where the discarded toys end up.
Supposedly you also discover their ultimate fate, but I just remember everything being wet and blurry.
But the most horrible moment in the film is when Lotso finally makes it back, after days trekking cross-country, to find his owner holding an exact replica of himself, unaware that he is not there. I'm genuinely surprised that, at this point, the filmmakers didn't have him pull out a gun and blow his own brains out right there on the spot.
The Horrifying Truth:
You are not unique. Whether it's that boy/girl you really like or that job you really want, there will always be someone else just as attractive/funny/qualified to replace you. Even within your own family, you are replaceable. Your parents could have another child at any moment, whom they will favor more than you.
Or, if you're especially irritating, they might just start favoring the nearest inanimate object.
The odds of you being the absolute best at something are 7 billion to 1. It's far more likely that you are just another average Buzz Lightyear in a never-ending production line of other Buzz Lightyears -- all of them equally awesome ... all of them equally flightless. And to the people who produce them, they're all just molded plastic and stickers. If one of them gets damaged in the factory, oh well. Here comes another 10,000. This is the most difficult lesson many children will ever learn about the world. A frightening portion of the Internet population still haven't learned it.
Brave: Life Sucks If You're A Girl
If you think being replaceable is tough for kids to hear, wait until you've seen Brave.
This was Pixar's first attempt to tell a story from a female perspective, with Merida, the Scottish Katniss, front-and-center. She rails against her queen mother's demands, the worst of which is her arranged marriage to the eldest son of one of the clans who are allied with her father, the king. Well, that and her hair. Mousse didn't exist back then.
Every male character in Brave is a bumbling idiot of one variety or another. The only people who have their heads even partially screwed on are Merida and Queen Elinor (even after she's transformed into a bear). Despite this, they have no real power. The king is in charge, even if the queen has to feed him his lines. And Merida, the main character, even after the denouement, will still have to choose between Larry, Curly, or Moe as her husband.
"Just close your eyes and think of ... dammit, wrong country."
The clans are led by four slapstick chieftains whose only skill is fighting, yet the female characters are expected to follow their lead. I know that this is set in medieval Scotland, but there is a depressing symmetry between the actual message of the film (it's a man's world, sister -- get used to it) and Pixar's first female director being replaced by a man halfway through production.
The Horrifying Truth:
The game is rigged in favor of men. If you're a boy, great! Let your maleness dangle in the wind. If you're a girl, don't take it personally; it's just that your inferior female brain cannot do all the things that a man's can. That's why you don't earn equal pay and why even Hermione Granger is pissed off.
You probably remember the controversy where Merida made 80 percent of what Wall-E
was paid, despite having far more lines.
And no matter how many times we prove that males and females are dead-equal in terms of mental ability (and in some cases, slightly favored on the female side), the world just doesn't care. And probably won't for many, many years. You live in a world that is literally and figuratively ruled by dicks. It takes the entirety of civilization to change that, but very few people are making the actual effort. So until that change actually happens, you're kind of fucked.
A Bug's Life: You Cannot Beat A Bully ... Not By Yourself
A Bug's Life follows an inventive ant voiced by Dave Foley, Flik, who sets off on a quest for warriors to help his colony beat up the bullying grasshoppers (led by Kevin Spacey's Hopper) who demand a chunk of their food every year. Flik enlists the aid of a bunch of actors by mistake and has to convince everyone involved that they should go with his idea of scaring the bejesus out of Hopper and Co. with a life-size model of a bird (his own design).
It's the same way they tried to stop Kevin Spacey's character in Seven.
Things don't quite go according to plan. Toward the end, Flik confronts Hopper and calls him out on his bullying. The result? Flik ends up looking like he just went 12 rounds with Ivan Drago. The only reason Flik doesn't get kicked to death is all the other ants gang up against Hopper. Then, when even that's not enough, a real bird eats him alive. Which, incidentally, is exactly the way my own childhood bully was defeated.
The Horrifying Truth:
Every family sitcom from their inception through the 1990s eventually had an episode where a bullied kid is taught to fight by his father. Then, when the kid punches the tormenting bully a single time, the entire conflict is resolved forever. The bully learns "punch not good -- hurt face" and that maybe he wasn't as much of a badass as he thought he was.
A real badass would have blackened both eyes.
What A Bug's Life harshly points out is that, no, it doesn't happen that way. A bully kicks your ass because he can kick your ass. He's bigger and stronger, and often has much more experience fighting. Which means that not only can he throw a punch, he knows how to take one too. He's not going to run away when tiny knuckles contact his stupid, sociopath head.
If you want him off your back you're going to need an entire village of people to back you up. And even then, it's still going to take someone much bigger and much stronger to beat them into submission. Because bullying is about power and control, two things that you simply cannot take away from them on your own.
Unless you conveniently live near your natural predators.
And before you say it: Yes, I know that the best way to beat a bully is to get his disturbed ass into the hands of an adult authority and get him some genuine therapy. Good luck producing that solution when he's pulling your underwear over the top of your head while kneeing your nose into a permanent S shape.
Up: There Is No Such Thing As A Hero
Carl and his beloved Ellie (say nothing; I'll start crying) are lifelong fans of the adventurer Charles Muntz, who disappeared years earlier to clear his name by proving that a weird-looking bird actually exists. That's understandable -- we've all been through that at some point.
Decades later, Carl finally gets to meet their hero, in the very place he and his wife had planned to go to all their lives. That must have been a real treat for him: proof that he was not crazy to fly his house all the way to Paradise Falls. Where the grass is green and the girls are ... talls? A fitting bookend to his physical and emotional journey ... right up until his lifelong hero tries to murder him.
Although, he is inspirationally spry for being like 140.
The Horrifying Truth:
Your heroes will let you down some day. They could turn out to be (even if some of these cases are alleged) a liar, a rapist, a pedophile, a pedophile who writes songs about his victims, an adulterer, an adulterer who pays for his illegitimate children in secret, or a murderer. It's just a matter of time.
Deep down, we all suspect that Woody's into some weird, weird shit.
It's fairly earth-shattering the first time you realize that the person you idolized was a human all along. And that given enough fame and power, many humans just become flat-out evil. I think it was the Bible that said, "It's easier to make a needle out of a camel than to find a sports star who doesn't blood-fuck their way to a championship." Or something like that. I'm not good at Bible stuff.
Ratatouille: The Talentless Will Take Credit For Your Work
Ratatouille shows us that it's not just our heroes who can abuse our trust. Remy is a rat with an ultra-sensitive sense of smell and taste with a natural talent for cooking (it's a kids' film). He meets a young man called Linguini, who has nothing going on in his life. Together they hatch a plan: Remy will hide in Linguini's hat and help him become a successful chef (it's a kids' film).
This is still more sanitary than most real-life restaurants.
It works, and Linguini quickly runs up the ladder, enjoying private meetings with the boss, much more responsibility, an assumed pay raise, and, oh yeah, love. Remy, meanwhile, does all the work and gets none of the credit. Even after the film concludes, there are only three humans who know for sure that Remy is the real cook, and all of them lose their jobs.
The Horrifying Truth:
The more brilliant you are, the more likely that you're going to have hangers-on who will bleed you dry and take as much of the credit for what you achieve as possible, if not steal it from you wholesale.
And it's not just isolated to the world of inventions and bullshit corporate thievery. Everyone has been (or will be) in a job where they've found a small way to tweak the system in order to increase productivity. Maybe they find that using paperclips instead of staplers saves $100,000 a year. Or maybe they find some redundancy that can be eliminated from the computer system, saving hundreds of hours of work. And almost all of us will sit back in shocked silence as we watch our stupid, asshole manager receive the praise for that idea.
Although, "having a rat work in the kitchen" might be one idea you don't want to speak up for.
Unfortunately, it's inevitable. And, in most cases, you can't do a damn thing about it because standing up for yourself makes you look like a crybaby tattletale. You're undermining your manager or your co-worker, and most of the time the idea you had isn't enough to promote you in the first place. So the second your boss' boss leaves, you have to deal with a pissed-off manager who thinks you're out to fuck him or her. To you, the credit means everything. To the people higher up on the ladder, credit is just semantics.
Monsters University: Sometimes You're Just Not Good Enough
In Monsters University, the irrepressible Mike Wazowski trains his whole life to become a scarer. He tries the hardest, knows the most, works at improving himself day and night, but he just can't do it. He is, in the words of Dean Hardscrabble, "just not scary."
Mike has to step aside and let the larger, naturally scarier Sully (who comes from a family of famous scarers) succeed in his stead, leaving Mike to do all the paperwork and lead Sully through every move he has to make. Even after the film ends, we are treated to a credit sequence that shows us how they got to where they were in the first film: By Mike's ingenuity they climb from sorting the mail to cleaning the floors, from serving food in the canteen to working in the warehouse, until, finally, they become scarers. Well, Sully does. Mike becomes his scare assistant. How deeply fulfilling.
This is not an award that will make your parents think putting you
through four years of university was worthwhile.
The Horrifying Truth:
No matter how hard you want that dream job (be it astronaut, NBA all-star, or just the best poop-shoveler at a dairy farm) and no matter how hard you work toward getting it, sometimes you just aren't good enough. The few people who reach that level are a fraction of a fraction of the population who have the perfect combination of looks, body type, charisma, competitiveness, commitment, talent, networking skills, and luck.
In the Monsters universe, that's basically the Brad Pitt look.
Yes, there's something to be said for persistence and even making the initial attempt at landing your dream job. That can never be understated, especially to an impressionable child. But the one lesson we always leave out, the one Monsters University had balls enough to point out, is that it's just as important to recognize when you simply don't have what it takes before you dedicate your entire life to something that just isn't going to happen.
Sometimes, you just have to settle for the next-best thing. And that's not always a bad thing. Especially if you figure out a way to stay in the same industry as you originally intended. No, you may not be dong-blessed enough to star in your own porno, but you can sure as hell hold the boom mic while other people slap nasties.
Thanks, Pixar. My kid is now crying into her breakfast cereal because she just found out she'll never get to ride a unicorn.
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For more from Matt, check out 6 Reasons Burton's Willy Wonka Is Actually A Serial Killer. Then check out 7 Insane Easter Eggs Hidden In Movies And TV Shows.