The rise of independent podcasting, explained by someone who lived it.
My podcasting story is similar to most, in the sense that it is mostly…unique. A lot of people start different podcasts of various shapes and sizes, usually with similar goals in mind. But they’re all working within the same ecosystem of a burgeoning, on-demand streaming platform that has taken over traditional radio in the last decade.
Recently, The New York Times did an entire story on whether or not we’ve reached “Peak Podcast,” whatever that means:
Like the blogs of yore, podcasts — with their combination of sleek high tech and cozy, retro low — are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation. (Who doesn’t want branded content by Home Depot and Goldman Sachs piped into their ears on the morning commute?) There are now upward of 700,000 podcasts, according to the podcast production and hosting service Blubrry, with between 2,000 and 3,000 new shows launching each month.
For context, there were approximately 270,000 podcasts available just four years ago. In short time, podcasting has developed into a mainstream pastime, and one that is still seeing new adoption overseas. How did this happen, and so quickly?
The answer depends on the type of podcast you’re curious about. I can’t speak much about podcasts owned by corporations, or shows that exist on major networks. Their machinations are removed from my own experience. But I can speak to the phenomenon of seemingly ordinary people gathering around a microphone and reaching an audience far larger than they anticipated.
In other words, I can probably best explain the rise of podcasting by sharing my own story with the medium, and how it’s changed and grown over the years. Six years, to be exact.
Toy Story 4 is doing well at the box office. Three weeks into its release, the sequel has earned over $650 million worldwide, with a good chunk of that being made domestically (which means higher profits for Disney and Pixar).
Soon, Toy Story 4 will surpass Finding Nemo and Inside Out at the domestic box office, but it might only just barely catch up to Toy Story 3. It stands no chance of making the same amount as Finding Dory and Incredibles 2, which are two of the highest grossing animated films of all time.
This is a bit…unexpected. Box office prognosticators like myself predicted a much stronger showing for Toy Story 4, one that would at least keep pace with Finding Dory. Why? It’s a summer release, Toy Story is a beloved franchise, reviews have been stellar, and it’s been almost a decade since the last film. These were all factors that contributed to the massive box office success of Incredibles 2 in 2018 and Finding Dory in 2016.
The same just isn’t happening for Toy Story 4.
To reiterate, the film is doing extremely well by Pixar standards. Just not Pixar sequel standards (disregarding Cars 3, of course). The film should be outperforming Toy Story 3, taking into account inflation. What was $1 billion in 2010 amounts to a far greater sum in 2019. Pixar made Toy Story 4 with the hopes that it would make more profit, not about the same or slightly less.
It’s hard to pin down what’s precisely contributing to this underperformance. It’s been a weak year for animated movies overall at the box office, especially sequels. How to Train Your Dragon 3, The Lego Movie 2, and The Secret Life of Pets 2 have all done far worse business than their predecessors, even with good reviews on their side.
No matter the exact reason, at least one thing is clear. Pixar and Disney now have to reckon with the reality that the sequel gravy train isn’t as long-lasting as they might have hoped. New Pixar sequels won’t necessarily be huge moneymakers, for reasons that are admittedly nebulous and unpredictable. There’s a ceiling to how many movies Pixar can deliver within a single franchise before moviegoers get bored. Audiences just don’t seem to be as invested in a fourth Toy Story as they would be a fourth Avengers film, apparently.
But this is good news for Pixar fans. By and large, we want more original films from the studio, and the underperformance of Toy Story 4 lends credence to artists who want to challenge resourcing decisions. They can now argue that a slew of original Pixar films is badly needed in order to refresh their existing IP in the years before we get an Incredibles 3 or Inside Out 2, which are probably the only sequels most audiences would be curious to see anytime soon.
That said, there’s also a downside to Pixar rethinking their lineup of films in the latter half of the next decade (keep in mind, their next four films are already originals). Yes, they have new incentive to focus on original films because sequels to existing sequels simply aren’t guaranteed hits, but this unearths a new problem. What if Pixar stops making as many original films that don’t have to be franchise starters?
Put more simply, Pixar might stop making films like Coco and WALL-E because stories like that are too standalone in a cinematic landscape where franchises practically rule the box office. Why green light the next Ratatouille or Up when more resources and effort can be put into the next Incredibles, which is a film with so much spectacle, you can’t help but want it to continue.
My worry is that the next truly great original idea for a Pixar film might be tossed aside in favor of something more financially feasible. Or worse, an original idea might be tampered with in order to fit a sequel paradigm outside its intended draw. This is all speculation, and we simply don’t know what Disney and Pixar are truly considering for their next creative output. But we know they’re paying careful attention to what is making money at the box office right now. And they’re not films with satisfying conclusions. They’re films that never really end.
This post contains spoilers for Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame…obviously.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.
At the end of Toy Story 4, one of the series protagonists chooses to end a long career of service to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — after fulfilling one last mission in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves, whom he thought was lost to him forever, thus saying goodbye to his old life and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership upon someone who isn’t a white male.
Let’s break that down in case you don’t believe me.
At the end of[Avengers: Endgame/Toy Story 4], one of the series protagonists [Steve Rogers/Woody Pride] chooses to end a long career of service [being an Avenger/being Andy’s favorite toy] to his community of friends and allies — including a longtime rival known for having multitudes of gadgets — [Iron Man and the Avengers/Buzz and the other toys] after fulfilling one last mission [saving half of all existence/saving Forky]…
…in order to finally renew a life with the woman he loves [becoming lost in time in order to be with Peggy Carter/becoming a lost toy in order to be with Bo Peep], whom he thought was lost to him forever [his main duty to save the world forced them apart/his main duty to be there for Andy forced them apart]…
…thus saying goodbye to his old life [serving the needs of the world/serving the needs of a kid] and bestowing an old-fashioned symbol of his heroism and leadership [the Captain America Shield/the Sheriff Woody badge] upon someone who isn’t a white male [Sam Wilson the Falcon/Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl].
Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame released in theaters within two months of each other.
After my first viewing of Toy Story 4, I confronted a lot of the movie’s themes on a mostly surface level. I followed Woody’s journey to its completion, and I reckoned with some of the more basic, obvious lessons the film imparts when it comes to realizing our purpose later in life, reexamining long-held worldviews, and letting go of the past in favor of new possibilities.
But this is Pixar, so there are of course even deeper lessons to confront and maybe even challenge. I came across a noteworthy line of criticism from film critic William Bibbiani, which takes aim at the film’s handling of our main antagonist, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks).
Warning: spoilers for Toy Story 4 follow. If you have not seen the movie, I recommend you come back after doing so. You will be spoiled on parts of the ending, otherwise.
From Bibbs on Twitter:
Bibbiani brings up an interesting point here about ableism and identity, specifically as it relates to Gabby Gabby. You could argue that his point also concerns Forky, but he’s not a character trying to change himself so others will love him. He simply decides to accept a new role as a toy because he’s already loved for simply being himself.
No, it’s Gabby who has the more complicated turn as a character. She calls herself “defective” right out of the box because her voice box doesn’t work, hence she tries to steal Woody’s, all for the sole aim of gaining the love and affection of Harmony, a child in the antique shop. Ultimately, she succeeds in repairing her voice box after rationally pleading with Woody, who voluntarily gives it to her. But…Harmony still rejects her.
As Bibbs points out:
I jumped into the conversation, as well:
This is an intriguing perspective from Bibbs because ableism is one of the least-recognized downsides for a lot of films, usually because filmmakers don’t understand or think about these implications when telling stories about people with disabilities. By his estimation, Toy Story 4 stumbles in how it unintentionally (at best) sends a message about kids needing to change their flaws in order to be accepted and loved.
At this point in the conversation, I was unconvinced either way. I could see Bibbs’ point, which is one I’ve personally recognized in a lot of other films that handle these ideas carelessly. So I rewatched Toy Story 4 with this criticism in mind, ready to come out with a fresh perspective.
The result? Now, I see Toy Story 4 in a new light. Because it’s saying something surprisingly relevant, at least when it comes to my own disability. Let me explain.
I was born with a genetic hearing disorder. Basically, the bones in my ears have been bad at vibrating sound since I was a baby, so as I’ve gotten older, my hearing in both ears has harshly deteriorated. If I can hear you, I probably have no idea what you’re saying, or I might only catch half the words. It all sounds like a garbled mess to me, and the ringing in my ears doesn’t help.
In a lot of ways, I’m about as “defective” as Gabby Gabby. I’ve had a lot of trouble over the years connecting with people, mainly because I can’t hear them. And few will give me the time of day because they either think I’m ignoring them, not listening, or am just aloof. It’s the kind of disability where people don’t realize you have it unless you explain it. My version of getting a new voice box was getting hearing aids for the first time. They changed everything for me.
So while watching Toy Story 4 the second time, I nearly broke down as Gabby explained this to Woody. She felt like deep down, her identity was a connection based on being herself, or how she feels she’s supposed to be. I was equally blindsided by the moment when Gabby is still rejected by the person she’s yearned to be loved by for years. Without getting too personal, this has happened to me multiple times on a similar level.
Toy Story 4 isn’t a movie about changing yourself for others. It’s a movie about lending validity to what you truly want out of life. If you want to be loved, you deserve to go through whatever it takes to bring your true self to others, using any advantage you can acquire, as long as it doesn’t harm others (Gabby learns this thanks to Forky explaining Woody’s backstory to her). If you want to help people and devote your life to service, that’s OK, too. Woody learns this lesson about it being OK to change your mind about your purpose later in life, rejecting long-held fears of becoming a lost toy.
My disability isn’t a monolith. Not everyone should interpret this movie as a validation of feeling like you need to be “repaired” if you don’t want to be or think you need to be. Woody doesn’t want to change himself in order to become Bonnie’s favorite toy and thus relive the Andy days. He simply moves on to a group of people who love him for him. And losing his own voice box doesn’t make him a lesser toy in anyone’s eyes.
If anyone told me that I shouldn’t have gone through what I did in order to get hearing aids simply because people should just love me for me…well, I’d politely tell that person to mind their own business. Granted, that doesn’t have to be the same response for someone else with a different disability. But that’s the point. The beauty I saw in Toy Story 4 was in its embrace of other worldviews as plausible and worthy, and the fact that not everyone will want the same things you do in life is a hard, but useful lesson to learn.
In the scene where Gabby is eventually accepted by a lost child, they are indeed at least partly connected by the voice box working. But I see this as a wonderful moment, because for the first time, Gabby is heard for who she truly is. Sadly, not everyone can easily fix something like this. Woody can’t force Bonnie to love him like Andy did. Eventually, he stops trying because he knows she’ll be OK without him, and he’ll be OK without her.
I’ve already come across people who find my hearing aids off-putting in some way, even if they try to keep it to themselves. I can’t do anything about that. But with these little devices, I can finally be who I really am around people when I’m not typing away, alone in a room. I can go into a movie theater and stop struggling to understand what the characters are saying. That’s a gift, not me giving something up in order to make other people happy.
All that said, I’m still keeping an eye out for how other people are engaging with this film, for better or worse. A movie can’t be all things to all people, and even the best ones can have messages that need to be analyzed in how they might diversely affect different groups of people. If you had any complicated feelings about Toy Story 4 one way or other, please share in the comments below. You deserve to be heard.
The Toy Story movies have always been filled with lots of toys, and rightfully so. But every film so far has mostly played around with the character of Woody the cowboy doll. His story has progressed both positively and negatively to some extent over the years, from his fear of being replaced in the first Toy Story, his fear of being thrown away in Toy Story 2, and his fear of being forgotten in Toy Story 3.
Almost a decade later, Toy Story 4 confronts a new fear for Woody that not very many family movies even attempt to tackle: a fear of no longer having a purpose.
You can read the full review here. I’ll be adding some complementary thoughts about the movie over the next few weeks and beyond. There’s a lot to think about, good and ill. But mostly good.
Pixar movies aren’t really known for having great plot twists. But there are still a few good ones here and there that we can appreciate.
So which Pixar “plot twist” is the best? This isn’t an easy question to answer, and obviously Pixar fans will spar and disagree over the top 5, let alone the very best. That said, I’ve devised my own rating system for each of Pixar’s most relevant plot twists, and to answer this question for myself, I’m breaking down the Pixar filmography movie by movie to assign these ratings and form my own conclusion accordingly.
But first, let’s define what a plot twist really is as best we can. To keep things simple, I consider a plot twist to be a radical shift in the expected outcome of the plot. Normally, we would only consider these to be plot twists if they happen closer to the end of the story, but I think a great plot twist can be revealed as early as the second act.
(Warning, this post contains spoilers for every single Pixar movie!)
Let’s begin with Pixar’s first feature-length film: Toy Story.
Previously, that accolade went to Finding Dory, a movie that grossed a little bit over $486 million domestically and a little over a billion worldwide. Incredibles 2 has been a much bigger winner domestically, making more than $602 million in North America and another $562.5 million worldwide. It’s current total has it at $1,164,826,913 (via Box Office Mojo), which means it has topped the movie that just kept swimming to become Pixar’s highest grosser. It’s also notable because a few weeks ago, the sequel was already the first animated movie to gross over $500 million domestically, and now it’s north of $600 million.
As Rawden mentions, Frozen is still the highest grossing animated film of all time, but Incredibles 2 is hot on its heels, just recently surpassing Minions.
Now, box office only says so much about the quality of a film, but it does paint a compelling picture, one that at this point can’t be denied. In order for Pixar to maintain their high standards with original content, they made the controversial decision to bank on sequels over a decade back. We now see Finding Dory and Incredibles 2 to be among the most profitable films of all time, animated or otherwise, and on the horizon there’s Toy Story 4 and a slew of original stories essentially funded by this box office success.