Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read.
The Pixar Theory is old news, everyone. You know it. I know it. Lee Unkrich practically breathes it into the cease and desist letters he claims his lawyers send me. And then there’s Joshua Eyler, who graciously wants to speed the process of a new Pixar Theory along. So much to unpack here. Perhaps we should begin with a tweet?
My new post (with all due respect to
@JonNegroni‘s original): “It’s Time for a New Pixar Theory”
First problem: I am due zero respect.
Is it clickbait when you know the person writing the post? Let’s say it’s not because Joshua is also an educator, so surely—
Negroni suggests that “every feature-length movie made by Pixar Animation Studios since 1995” takes place “within the same universe” and can be precisely placed chronologically into a connected timeline with Brave as both the first and the last movie in the sequence
Well, now it’s The Good Dinosaur because—
(it’s complicated–you’ll want to read the original).
But it’s time…for a new one? You’re really asking readers to read a LOT.
You…you are a teacher.
Furthermore, in a later continuation of the theory, Negroni goes as far as to say that the films even comprise “a single, overarching narrative.”
Eyler links to a post I wrote about Finding Dory, but the whole “overarching narrative” thing has been a thing in the theory since the beginning. NEW!
The original post was immensely popular, and it led to further commentary, YouTube videos, a book, and something like celebrity status for its author.
Still waiting for that celebrity status to kick in.
When I first read it, I thought the piece was really enjoyable, and it made me consider the films more carefully than I had before.
“Now it’s not enjoyable and now I don’t consider the films more carefully!”
Later, his ideas even inspired me to develop a course at Rice University on the Pixar films.
I mean, it beats making the students watch a video…
Jon himself was a guest speaker, via Skype, during my students’ presentations of their own Pixar theories, and he was very gracious in his comments.
Fortunately, my egotistical celebrity status hadn’t kicked in yet.
I do remember this talk, which happened about two years ago or so. I don’t know if I was “gracious,” but I remember answering a lot of questions and diving into the students’ research into the movies. I won’t say the experience was normal, because I’m not a liar, but it was…gracious?
To be clear, he has also said in numerous venues that his intention is to provoke thought, not to give the final word on the meaning of the Pixar films.
You probably sense that there is a “but” coming.
Stop teasing us, Josh.
Jon’s Pixar theory is a lot of fun, *but* in the end I just don’t buy it.
As a reader, you have to stretch the limits of logic to their breaking point in order to accept that all Pixar films are pieces of one big story and that they somehow occupy the same universe at different points of time.
Not really? The shared universe premise is actually kind of easy to believe, mostly because of the easter eggs and cameos. My original theory is a bit illogical and limit-stretching, which is why I wrote a book that makes it all a bit more believable, but you don’t have to buy into all of that extra stuff in order for the theory to work—
In order for the theory to work, all of these statements also have to be true:
I sense a long list coming…
The writing teams, directors, producers, animators, and all of the other influential groups at Pixar had to develop this idea before they made their first feature film and then carried it through every other film they have ever made.
But the point of the theory isn’t to prove this was done on purpose. If anything, the “fun” lies in how open they leave the movies for differing interpretation.
That alone strikes me as next to impossible, but when you add to it the fact that some Pixar folks themselves have disavowed the one-narrative part of the theory and that the films were not immune to production shake-ups, then it becomes even more difficult to find evidence to support the Grand Master Plan behind the Pixar Theory.
And other Pixar folks have encouraged the one-narrative part of the theory, as many of them are glad fans are spending so much time appreciating their hard work, even if it isn’t necessarily true. These other Pixar folks you mention are probably and rightfully frustrated that they’re constantly asked about this theory by reporters, even though they’ve already made their case about it many times.
Easter Eggs like the Pizza Planet truck, which appears in many of the films, have to be more than just fun-to-spot allusions and homages to other Pixar movies. The Pixar Theory invests the Easter Eggs with great symbolic weight–making them go beyond nifty, but surface-level, connections between films and instead forcing them to serve as the glue for the larger narrative that Jon pieces together.
Can you really “force” glue?
Look, I’m really starting to think that Josh here has no idea what the point of this theory is. He’s evaluating it as a thesis instead of a thought experiment, to the point where I now have to defend myself for…having fun with easter eggs? What is happening right now?
Finally, for this theory to work, the meanings of individual films cannot stand on their own but must also serve the all-encompassing story of the BnL company’s technological machinations and the effect of their efforts on the earth, animals, and humankind.
Why? Since when does the theory take away from the narratives of the individual movies…at all? It’s like saying The Avengers ruined Iron Man because Gwyneth Paltrow had a cameo or Thanos was in the background doing…something. All of real history is basically one narrative with a lot of differing stories and meanings that all contribute to it, and what I set out to do with the Pixar Theory itself was craft a connecting narrative that lives up to the spirit of the Pixar movies I love.
Promised myself I wouldn’t cry.
Oh, and the main narrative of the Pixar Theory isn’t just a cautionary tale about BnL and technological overreach. It’s also about how love transcends time and…and…great, now I’m crying.
As a teacher of literature, I’m always willing to admit that more than one meaning can exist at the same time,
So do that.
but the theory promotes the importance of the bigger narrative oftentimes at the expense of the beautiful, powerful, individual messages of the films themselves.
When? How? Many of the movies in the theory only get one paragraph, and it’s mostly just background explanation. Provide your sources, teach!
As a fan of Pixar movies, I think this is what gets under my skin the most.
No, I think you’re just annoyed that people like my crazy short story theory “too much.”
Jon often defends these inconsistencies by saying that we shouldn’t take the theory “too seriously.”
What inconsistencies? So far, you’ve only pointed out your irrelevant interpretations of a theory that asks you not to take this so seriously.
Also, I don’t believe I’ve ever “defended” the theory with excuses like that. I usually just defend the theory with my own arguments, while also saying at the outset that the point of the theory is to have fun, which none of us must be having right now in this Snarcasm piece. Except for Lee Unkrich of course.
I never look at my own work with the theory and try to argue that the flaws are forgivable because the theory shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fix the problems, make the theory better, and let it be something of intellectual substance (as much as one can do, obviously). Josh characterizes me as a snake oil salesman trying to huckster the townspeople by comparison.
We should just have fun, he says, and enjoy the fan theory.
So do that. Or don’t. I don’t really care at this point.
This strikes me as a defensive move more than anything else,
Of course it does.
Even though I always say “have fun” at the beginning of my Pixar Theory articles and the original theory itself. But I never defend the theory by saying, “Don’t take it so seriously, BRO!”
particularly because of the number of words he has written expanding on the theory.
So…me saying “let’s have fun” is a “defensive move” because I’ve written “a lot of words.” How in any universe does that make sense, teach?
why shouldn’t we be able to analyze fan theories with the same kind of intellectual rigor that we apply to anything else that exists in popular culture?
Also, why is Joshua Eyler, a higher educator, using logical fallacies to accuse me of being anti-intellectual?
Seriously, I can’t stress enough that if you’ve spent at least ten seconds browsing my Pixar posts, I’ve done nothing but analyze and offer logical explanations for each of these theories while still trying to keep them fun and interesting. Assuming I do the opposite and undermine analytical thought is a Straw Man that’s really easy for me to disprove with the mere existence of Snarcasm itself, especially because so far, Josh hasn’t even raised one actual issue he has with the theory itself, just the fact that it exists.
if Jon believes what he says about not taking fan theories too seriously, why is he more than happy to pick competing theories apart so carefully in his nicely written, and pretty darn funny, Snarcasm posts?
First of all, mentioning Snarcasm is an easy way to get a Snarcasm, so kudos Josh. You sly dog.
Second, Snarcasm is anything but taking fan theories too seriously. It’s literally a character, sort of like The Nostalgia Critic or Alex Jones or one of Johnny Depp’s hats.
Third, I don’t pick apart all competing theories or fan theories in general. Only the ones that are…well, dumb. Or clickbait. There are scores of Pixar theories and other pop culture theories that I regularly promote on this website and point to as great examples of what makes fan theories so fun and entertaining. Snarcasm is a way to impolitely point out the ones that are just…bad.
And I don’t think that’s the opposite of having fun. It’s fun to have standards with these theories and write about them online. It’s fun to put on a character and deconstruct terrible theories while later posting videos of ones that are better than any I’ve come up with myself. It’s not fun having to write this particular Snarcasm, granted, because I feel like I’m in high school again trying to argue why Young Goodman Brown is about losing your virginity.
I think it’s about time for a new Pixar Theory
When has it never been time? Theorize away, teach.
one that takes the individual films on their own terms and then works outward from there to find connections rather than going the other way around.
That’s…just…the Pixar Theory? Slightly changing the methodology doesn’t change the theory itself or make it smarter. It’s certainly not making anyone else smarter.
If we do this, we find that the films do not necessarily work together to form a cohesive narrative.
Whelp, then let’s pack it in, boys.
Instead, they operate as a collage pointing us toward an important theme.
If there was a Pixar equivalent of Jesus, I’d use his name in vain right now. Oh wait,
WALL-E help us.
Going further, I don’t really see them existing in the same physicaluniverse as much as I do a consistent philosophical universe.
Hold up, Josh. Some teacher told me there’s a HUGE problem with that because for that to work, the writing teams, directors, producers, animators, and all of the other influential groups at Pixar would have to have the exact same, uh, “philosophies” and oh, what about those darn production shakeups, Josh? WHAT ABOUT THEM?
Yes, the Pixar films are linked together all right, but they are connected by ideas
Translation: “It’s time for a new Pixar Theory. But not really. It’s just the old Pixar…statement.”
All of the films, in some way or another, work with the twin themes of loss and rebuilding, and by exploring the degree to which the movies wrestle with these ideas, we begin to see the contribution of the Pixar films as contemporary works of artistic importance.
Which breaks down immediately because then you have to argue that the very basic ideas of “stories” link Pixar movies to countless other films. All you’re doing is pointing out parallel details and…that’s it. That’s not a theory, that’s just you bragging at a party without being able to read the room.
You…you are my high school teacher.
For some of the films, the concepts of loss and rebuilding are simply drivers of the plot, whereas in others they are the springboard for more sophisticated reflections on our lives and what we value most.
“Also, the themes I point out are inconsistent! Foolproof! Please don’t take this too seriously.”
In what follows, I briefly go through each film to discuss how it explores these themes.
I hope to WALL-E I never have to sit down and actually read this entire thing, because it’s anything but brief. And in any other context, it would probably be a straightforward, even thought-provoking think piece on what Josh likes about Pixar movies. Instead, he’s presenting it as some sort of competing shared universe theory, despite it not being about a shared universe by his own definition.
So it’s almost like this is clickbait. Almost…completely like clickbait.
Josh starts with Toy Story.
The first film of the Pixar dynasty
Dynasty? No. Nope. I’m done. This is over. Let’s skip to the end.
In the end, I think Pixar has achieved something remarkable.
Real hot take, there, Josh.
As a production company, it has created a body of films that, taken together, teach us about the power of loss to shape human experience and–at the same time–how we rebuild new lives, new futures, both for ourselves and for our society through perseverance, courage, and love.
See, here’s the problem Josh. I really think this “theme” you got going here really takes away from these standalone movies and their own themes about literally everything else Pixar movies have provided as original stories. And my teacher—you might know him—said to me recently that you can’t think about two things at the same time, so…
Now that’s a theory I can work with.
Go nuts. Or more nuts, I guess.