Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pixar knows me

I was on the El returning from a class in the city. All of my classmates had claimed seats and I was left to choose among the several empty two-seater rows. I sat down next to the window, pulled out my iPod and shuffled it on up.

There were a few stinkers. Even I will admit that my iPod is not full of awesome songs. Most of the time I'll sync it with whatever I've randomly uploaded onto iTunes, regardless of if I've even listened to an album all the way through. Sometimes when I shuffle the thing, a dozen songs will pop up that I only recognize the titles of. So I move on.

I skipped past some songs I didn't feel quite in the mood for. Past McFly and some musical theater (gasp). Then a little ditty came on that I haven't listened to for a few weeks, but that I absolutely love. It was Randy Newman's "We Belong Together."

"We Belong Together" written & performed by Randy Newman

Back in elementary school I wasn't huge on the Toy Story films. Granted, I'd seen them both multiple times. And I did know the songs. But for me Pixar seemed like a boy's club, catering to boy culture. I wasn't allowed in - and if I was it would be going against my traditional 2D Disney animation roots.

To some extent I was on the fence about how much enthusiasm I had for the third and final film in the Toy Story trilogy. But because in the last several years I'd become enamored with Pixar culture, I decided to go in with an open mind. I was finally more aware of the greatness that can be created by some imaginative computer software nerds (I say this with the utmost affection and envy because I'd love to be one of those nerds), and there was no looking back.

Monsters, Inc. proved to me that there was room for emotions even in this perceived boy's club. To this day, I will not go through a viewing of the movie without reminding everyone in the room that it was the first film that ever made me cry. In the final scene in which Sully returns to Boo after sending her home and watching her door be destroyed, the word "Kitty" unplugged my tear ducts and made me feel like a weirdo sitting in a room full of unaffected children and their parents.

I loved the character of Boo after seeing the film. That Halloween I bought a giant pink shirt and my own Little Mikey stuffed toy so I could pretend I was the adorable little girl who couldn't stop saying "Mike Wazowski."

When Finding Nemo came out a couple years later, it was just another piece of evidence that Pixar was a force to be reckoned with, not only with its niche audience of boys under the age of 12, but in mass appeal through its pairing of beautiful artistry and wonderfully concocted stories with realistic relationships embedded in them.

The movie showed us that a father-son relationship could be as strong and as hard to travel as the EAC (oh, I'm so clever), but that in the end devotion and friendship can power you through any difficult circumstance. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory added an even greater aspect to these films - the memorable comedy that placed Pixar in a spot of greatness away from traditional animated films that cater to children and into its own generation-crossing category.

And then came the most beautiful (and my favorite) Pixar film, WALL-E. While earlier Pixar films had illustrated a surface level romance between characters like Woody and Bo Peep (Toy Story), Flik and Princess Atta (A Bug's Life) and Mike and Celia (Monsters, Inc.) among others, there was nothing that could come even close to the loveliness that was WALL-E and EVE.

The relationship between those two characters rivals even the best romantic films, and they weren't even human. Just watching WALL-E made me feel like love is possible in the world - a kindred spirit might exist despite the barrenness that surrounds us. When WALL-E grabbed at EVE's hand, though it was firmly pressed against her as she sat in some sort of sleep mode to protect the plant WALL-E had found on earth, I felt my own heart swell with how wonderful romance can be - even if at the time I'd never been as in love as these two little robots.

Not even a year later, Pixar came out with one of the most touching scenes of any film ever created - a feat they were able to accomplish in less than five minutes. Carl and Ellie's love story in Up, though surrounded by a film that I was not that enthusiastic by, was one of the most amazing short montages I've ever seen. This cemented my original theory that Pixar had graduated from wonderful stories about guardian-child relationships (Monster's Inc. & Finding Nemo) to beautiful tales of romance and lost love.

And finally came the story of loss of self and embracing the future, Toy Story 3. When I finally returned to this series in my senior year of high school, it hit home in a way that the first two films in the trilogy never quite could. Instead of being simply about the personal plights of a bunch of toys belonging to some nebulous boy who wasn't really much of a character at all (I'm sorry, Andy, but you really weren't that interesting), Toy Story 3 brought together the toys we had watched in the first two films with their owner in a way that connected on an emotional level.

Andy, if you were real I would have a huge crush on you.
Many people will cite the final scene when Andy gives away his toys to a little girl named Bonnie as among the most touching moments of any Pixar film. For me, a girl who hadn't really connected with the Toy Story films much prior to watching the third installment, it was the beginning of a new realization that this silly film trilogy about a boy and his toys had all of these intratextual messages and morals that made it among the best films of all time.

When I was watching Toy Story 3 in the theater with my friends, I was crying because I felt a kinship with Andy. He was going away to college the same year I was. Coincidence would have it that the film would come out just a few months before I went off to school far away from home, leaving behind all my beloved toys and mementos.

When I was listening to "We Belong Together," the beautiful Academy Award winning song from Toy Story 3, on the way back from class today, I was crying because I was reminded of all that Pixar represented for me. Not just the relationship I had with Andy after watching the final Toy Story film. Not just the admiration I felt for Marlin's devotion to his son in Finding Nemo. Not just the romance between WALL-E and EVE that I aspired to in WALL-E.

It was all of those things combined.

Randy Newman is known for his upbeat pop songs and tender ballads filled with cultural references and wonderful melody lines. But what he's less known for (regardless of it being absolutely essential to his style), is his wonderful way of connecting us back to our youth and ourselves through his music.

"We Belong Together" is a wonderful song about friendship and loyalty. Underneath its very catchy exterior lurks a message of hope even for those who lack the fulfillment of finding true love or even true friendship. "The day I met you was the luckiest day of my life," he sings.

While I sat by myself, I was overcome by a feeling of sadness that I had never been able to find the love of Carl and Ellie, of WALL-E and EVE, of even Mike and Celia. I lamented over the loss of my mother.

But I also felt such luck at having so many people in my life who love and care for me. All these feelings brought forth by one little song by Randy Newman.

Not only is Pixar the perfect melding of sadness and beauty, of hopefulness and loss, it is also a testament to how all of these things can be translated into a wonderful enveloping text - the medium of animated film.

When I was little I had no idea how great Pixar was. Even a few years later, I couldn't quite grasp it. But now I feel like I know Pixar. Or at least Pixar knows me.

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