I’m a big Pixar fan. Have been for a long time. Basically every Pixar movie I’ve seen has either been good, great, or fantastic. They have no duds… so far, anyway. If you read or hear interviews with the creators at Pixar, you’ll often hear that the most important process in creating a movie is finding a good story. The animation (though stellar) comes second.
What makes Pixar movies compelling is that they have good stories, good characters, good animation, and good jokes. It all comes together. Lately, though, I’ve noticed their internal conflicts have been a bit dull.
For those of you unfamiliar with fiction terminology, there are two major kinds of conflict in a story—external conflict and internal conflict. An external conflict involves two external forces (usually separate characters or groups of characters) fighting against one another.
If your character is trying to escape from a psychotic killer, trying to get out of debt, or trying to find the perfect mate, your character is involved in an external conflict. While these external conflicts can be mildly entertaining or visually stimulating to watch, they are not very intellectually stimulating.
If your character isn’t sure whether someone is a psychotic killer or not or whether she wants to escape or not, if your character is thinking about whether she might embrace debt or try to get out of it, if your character is starting to doubt how satisfied she’ll be with the perfect mate, then your character is involved in an internal conflict. Should I stay or should I go? Who am I? Do I really love this person? What’s wrong with my life? These struggles are struggles we can relate to and involve a lot of introspection and tough choices, a lot of times with no easy right answer.
Without giving away the plots of any movies, I’ll just say the last two Pixar movies I saw had both internal and external conflicts, but the internal ones were dealt with quite quickly, and they actually weren’t even dealt with at all. Let’s just say if you’re wondering “Should I stay at this job or not?” and then you get fired, you didn’t really have to make a choice, did you? If your girlfriend may be a normal person or a serial killer, and that thought haunts you, her coming at you with a butcher knife pretty much puts the doubt out of your mind.
Pixar, your jokes are still funny. Your animation is always improving. And your characters are still interesting. Please keep them interesting by fully exploring those internal conflicts. Don’t just make the internal conflicts moot because the external conflicts involve chase scenes and characters who seemed nice at first but turned out to be totally evil.