Disappointed with the way Pixar’s storytelling is going

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Are you talking about Up and Toy Story 3?

    While I can’t comment on Toy Story 3(Not released here ’till August…), I thought that Up had some of the most interesting internal conflicts I’d seen in a western movie for quite some time.

    I know you don’t want to give away the plot, but I’d really like to hear why you found it lagging?

  2. Spoiler Warning: In Up, Carl has the choice to help out the kid or complete his goal of moving the house to a particular spot. If it was a truly compelling internal struggle, he would make that choice and live with the consequences. The way they set up the plot, he first achieves one goal (move the house) then achieves the second goal (help the kid).

    So he really has his cake and eats it too. That isn’t an internal conflict. If you can make everyone happy, there is no conflict. If you can choose both choices, the choice isn’t tough.

  3. SPOILERS: I disagree. Sure, he moves the house, but in the end, he has to sacrifice it in order to save the kid. The internal conflict is his fight against his longing to go back to his old life, and his struggle to accept that he is old, that his wife is gone, and that he will have to give up his childhood dream to save the kid.

    Sure, the house does end up back on the cliff, but he doesn’t know that when he sacrifices it.

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