Not writing every week makes me feel like Spider-Man did after he succumbed to the flu and temporarily lost his powers. It’s disorienting. I mean…I’m not, like, so delirious that I’m going to roll up to a party and reveal my true identity as a superhero, but you catch my fictional drift, yeah? (Can you believe Spider-Man actually did this?! Google a summary of “The Amazing Spider-Man #87: Unmasked At Last.”)
Anyways, as I try to find some time to write about two of the main things occupying my time outside of Pixarland*, I thought I’d share an essay I recently wrote to get into the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado this fall.
Until next post, Your Friendly Virtual Spider-Man
*Spoiler Alert: Chipotle and online dating!!!
To Infinity and Beyond
I was raised in a household without conventional religion and politics, but with an excess of Dr. Seuss and Pixar instead. I let their stories inform my view of the world because when you’re raised in a small town in Maryland, books and movies are your world—your religion and politics, really. I distinctly remember seeing “Toy Story” in 1997, one year after its release on VHS, and it did something to me. If “surreal” had been in my vocabulary as a naïve seven-year-old, that’s the word I would’ve chosen to describe that viewing Experience—surreal, otherworldly, novel. First, I turned inward, finding relief in seeing things on screen that had been in my head. This is what life would be like if toys could talk. Second, I turned outward. To infinity and beyond. This is what life might be like beyond the boundaries of my town.
It seems appropriate, then, to choose “Toy Story” as the film I’d take with me into the distant future, as it gave me a future to dream of from a very young age. I can only conjure up in my head what the “distant future” will look like. Will my family and friends be alive? Will I be the sole survivor in a post-apocalyptic planet, struggling valiantly against a hypothetical artificially intelligent species? Will there even be a movie industry? Will I even remember what movies are?
For both personal and historical reason, “Toy Story” would therefore be an important film to bring with me as a reminder of the role that art played in the 21st century. “Toy Story,” in short, is a paragon of Art, of the expression and application of human creative skill and imagination. It was the first animated feature film made entirely with CGI, and it sparked interest in numerous industries after its release. The world of robotics, video games, and personal computers experienced significant paradigm shifts as they started considering the technological implications of machines that could render characters lifelike and “real.” It was exciting, groundbreaking, and surreal. Like my first viewing of the movie. I’d want to remember this exciting time in the distant future.
More important, though, “Toy Story” was Pixar’s first feature film. It marked the beginning of Pixar, which is an undeniably invaluable American icon when you consider its contributions to the world and the people in it. Stories perpetuate culture, and Pixar is one of the century’s masters of Story as it continually preserves culture through the medium of animation. And “Toy Story” was the beginning of this, a model for how animation can illuminate the truths that deepen our understanding of human emotion and potential. The bond between boy and toy. An even more imaginative bond between a jealous toy and another toy that comes in and just wants to feel useful. “Toy Story” is Pixar at its best, promoting our most sacred stories and in turn preserving what is best about the human race as it exists today. I’d want to remember this, too, in the distant future.
In 2005, “Toy Story” was selected into the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” I was 16 at the time, and independently of its achievement, I decided I wanted to work for Pixar. Six years, two universities, and ten internships later, I was there. I’ve been interning at the studio since January, and I know—now more than ever—that “Toy Story” must be appreciated eternally for its beauty and emotional power.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place in Pizza Planet. Buzz climbs into the claw machine, standing knee to face in front of dozens of vulnerable aliens. “A stranger,” Alien #1 says. “From the outside,” Alien #2 adds. When visitors arrive at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA, they’re greeted with a smile and a name tag that reads this very line: “A stranger from the outside.” I can imagine myself in the aforementioned distant future, wearing this name tag as a stranger on another planet. It’s dark and dusty, things askew, as I creep toward indistinct figures in the distance. It’s an unknown race that I’ve only seen fictionalized in movies and books. But now it’s real. I approach cautiously, pulling a “Toy Story” Blu-ray DVD out of my backpack and placing it on the ground in front of me as a peace offering. I grab a sticky note and a pen and walk away after leaving a short note behind. It says, “This is my world. Talk soon.”