The Pixar Lesson

I recently watched the documentary The Pixar Story and I wanted to take a quick post to reflect on the films, the company, and the inspiring story behind it all.

Starting out as a rag-tag team of animators, scientists, and just plain creative minds, the Pixar team (though not originally known as such) were trailblazing an area of animation that most of their peers, and superiors, wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole. Having grown up in the world of technology, my generation often forgets that most computer advancements are still relatively new. Even now, the field of computer animation is continuously growing and discovering new ways of doing things. When Pixar first came into creation, CGI films were practically unheard of; now, you can’t meet a kid (or adult) who hasn’t seen (AND ENJOYED) one of Pixar’s CGI masterpieces.

While there are plenty of big names currently and previously associated with the company, some of the most influential contributors to Pixar’s initial success include Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and the incomparable John Lasseter.

After releasing their first feature film in 1995,  the studio continues to create some of the world’s favorite family films. So what was that initial film that sparked such success? Toy Story. Massively entertaining for both parents and children, Pixar managed to find the perfect recipe after a number of rewrites and reworkings. Now, Toy Story is a classic that few haven’t seen.

Defying the odds, sticking with a company that originally seemed to be nothing more than a money pit– the creative talents behind Pixar have alway been so dedicated to their jobs. When asked to produce the Toy Story 2 movie in conjunction with their then partner Disney, Pixar found themselves in a bit of a crisis as they faced deadlines they weren’t sure they could make. What’s more, they soon, though not soon enough, realized that the original storyline they were working with was…well…bad. And so Pixar started over, from scratch, despite the insistence of Disney executives that the story was “good enough.” Good enough, however, wasn’t good enough for the dedicated artisans at this amazing studio.

The Pixar Story documentary not only told the interesting history of the company, but reminded me of the role each of those films has played in my own childhood. I can still remember watching all those films– Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Finding Nemo— for the first time. While I didn’t truly appreciate their genius when I was younger, they never failed to amuse me. Even now, with each rewatch, as I pick up on the subtle adult humor and painstakingly intricate detail put into the animation, I can’t help but smile and laugh.

In the end, the real lesson that can be taken away from The Pixar Story is intrinsically tied to their parent company Disney’s own mantra:

“All our dreams can come true,
if we have the courage to pursue them.”

-Walt Disney

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Kids Connect on Social Networks

Over school breaks I work in childcare at my local YMCA. I love the kids and their endless imaginations, especially when they’re younger and mostly unhindered by the fads of technology. The older kids (and by this I mean 8 to 12ish)  have a tendency of bringing in their Gameboys and Cell Phones. They want to show off, especially the ones with phones (why on earth an 8-year-old needs a cell phone is beyond me, and I will not get into that discussion right now). Growing up primarily in the 90s, my older brother and I coveted our video games, but there’s no doubt that as the years pass, the craze of technology is targeting younger and younger audiences.

Because of what I’ve seen, I really shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that there are social networking sites for children (13 and under)…but I was.

I first heard about this phenomenon when I read a headline that I thought indicated that Disney was starting a social networking site for children. Well, this was too much for me, and I couldn’t help but click the link to the article. Upon reading the full story, I realized that Disney was not starting a network, they were purchasing one that was already in existence. Worse yet, this site, known as “Togetherville,” is just one of many such networks!

According to an article (from last year, no less) off of Mashable.com, the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) prohibits social sites to collect personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental permission. And yet, as a tech-saavy generation, many kids have learned to bypass this law…by simply lying.

A recent study revealed that 75% of kids, ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, have a profile on a social media site– and the numbers are only growing. Keeping this in mind, markets have opened up for ‘fun and safe’ networks for younger children. Five of the most thriving sites are:

1. Togetherville


The key to this site is the role a parent plays– they help sign their child up, create a profile for their child, and  are even responsible for picking out the child’s friends by sending email invite. Information on the site is limited to child-friendly material– YouTube videos, games, and projects. In many ways, this site is a Facebook Jr. Instead of ‘liking’ something, a child can ‘heart it.’ They can also buy and sell items using virtual money that their parents, free of cost, can give to them; this is called an allowance.

To safeguard their audience, which is primarily made up of children under the age of 10, Togetherville stresses the importance of a parental figure. Children must also agree to a code of conduct: “I agree to not say anything mean or hurtful, not say embarrassing things about myself, my friends, or my family, and take responsibility for what I say on Togetherville.” By involving children in the application process such as this, one of the best lessons to come out of this site will certainly be the message it sends about appropriate internet conduct, especially in terms of internet bullying and safety.

2. What’s What


Lauded as the “most secure social network for kids,” parents are once again a key factor in registering their child. The main difference here, however, is that parents must submit their credit card information  as well as three “mug shots” (taken with a webcam) to verify their identity. The intended market for this site is children ages 8 through 14. Drawing a slightly older audience than Togetherville, What’s What also gives the kids more freedom– they can interact with people they may not know in real life, but they can’t make friends outside of their age group (or grade year in school) without parental permission. In other ways, this site is again similar to Facebook– liking, making friends, joining groups, creating profiles. And, of course, parents have the control to edit or delete any information they may wish on their child’s profile.

3. ScuttlePad


Of course, this site also asks for parental permission, but kids also get to play a part in the process of registration. The site asks for their birthday, favorite color, and first name. After joining, they are free to use the site much as we use Facebook, but with one MAJOR catch. The site is programmed so that only a given set of words are allowed to be used in a specific format.

The site seems relatively secure, but possibly characterless due to its strict regulation. While the site may be fun for younger kids, older kids would quickly outgrow their stay.

4.giantHello


Per usual, parents help their children sign up, this time by either supplying the last 4 digits of their social security number, or by charging their credit card a grand total of one cent. Reviews say that the experiences on this site are most similar to those on mainstream social media sites. This means that a larger portion of older children prefer giantHello.

Once again, the site mimics Facebook in several respects: the kids have “walls,” friends can comment, statuses can be updated, photos can be uploaded, and fan pages can be joined. Friends must be asked via email, or given an actual invitations– yes, I’m talking about on paper– featuring a code to enter to connect. Certain celebrities, including the ever exciting Jonas Brothers (or is that so one year ago of me?) have fan pages that are updated through their Twitter accounts. This is an interesting feature since it actually does connect them to a real social networking site, albeit a filtered one.

5. Skid-e kids


Rather than asking for the constant approval and permission of parents, Skid-e kids relies primarily on staff moderators to keep the site secure. Photos are checked, messages are filtered, and stories are edited to make the site kid friendly. But the parental element is not completely eliminated– parents and kids alike are invited to create profiles.

The site features plenty of free games, although many are introduced with ads. Kids can also upload videos, comment, message, and updated statuses. Skid-e kids tends to draw an older crowd due to the rebellious nature of 10 year olds who don’t always want to have to get their mom’s permission to make any move.

 

While skeptical at first, on completion of reading the article, I have to admit my mind had been changed a bit. Perhaps these sites are beneficial, if only because they keep children off networks such as Facebook and Myspace, where the material is certainly not always G-rated. The sites also seem to strive to connect with parents, as well as children. I also really the concept of teaching children, at a young age, about proper online etiquette. Hopefully such an early introduction can help cut back on cyber-bullying by instilling a sense of respect and understanding.

We live in a world of computers, and it’s only natural that this upcoming generation take to it from an even younger age. But still– sometimes it disturbs me to see the 6-year-old who refuses to go outside and play because he prefers his gameboy, or the 10-year-old texting some buddies from school.

What do you think? I’m not trying to make social commentary, nor is this some guide to raising children– I’m honestly interesting in other people’s opinions. Perhaps someone has a first-hand experience? So…tell me about it?

Why Toy Story 3 deserves Best Picture…but won’t get it.

First, let me admit to being late to the game. I’ve only JUST seen Toy Story 3. For months I’ve had to avoid spoilers. My friends, having grown up with the series like myself, had all seen and loved the film, and were anxious to talk about it. But I plugged my ears and carried on, somehow missing out on every opportunity to see the film until I Netflixed it.

The. Movie. Was. Wonderful.


I honestly believe that Toy Story 3 is one of the best films to have been released this past Oscar year. No, I haven’t seen all the pictures rumored to be Best Picture contenders, but I certainly feel confident enough to make a case for Toy Story 3. Critics predict that TS3 will most definitely get a nom, most likely even a Best Picture nomination due to the increased category sizes (10). Yet, critics also overwhelming agree that the chances of TS3 WINNING Best Picture are slim to none. Their most definite lose in the category is not due to any deficiency in quality, but rather it can be pinpointed to the simple fact that TS3 is a “kids’ movie.” Yes, TS3 is quite obviously labeled a “family film,” “child-friendly,” “fun for the whole family”– but what the average viewer fails to understand is that TS3 is much, much more.

Let’s first look at the reasons why TS3 should win Best Picture. As the Oscars website says, the golden statue is symbolic of “superior achievement…Although it measures just 13½ inches high, the Oscar statuette stands tall as the motion picture industry’s greatest honor. Officially named the Academy Award of Merit, the Oscar is given in recognition of the highest level of achievement in moviemaking.” So how do you judge the quality of “moviemaking”? Well, for the purpose of this write-up, and seeing as I’m no expert movie critic, I will explain my argument based upon my own beliefs in what makes a good movie good.

  1. The Cast/Acting: As a cartoon (which, by the way, is a major strike against TS3’s winning Best Picture) we clearly do not see the actors portraying the characters, but a quick view of the cast list reveals a myriad of seasoned veterans in the film industry, led by the admirable Tom Hanks. Other voice talents include those of Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton, and John Ratzenberger (whose voice “appears” in EVERY Pixar film). The award count, both of nominations and wins, amongst this group is too great to cover. Okay, so clearly the cast is of film history, but further proof of their absolute talent is the impact the characters they have created have had on multiple generations. At 21, I grew up with the series and could name any of the toys. My parents, of the baby boomer generation, could also name any of the toys, because let’s face it– parents want to watch this movies as much as their kids do. I work at a daycare (ironic when looked at in reference to the film’s content), and I know the range of children who come in who can also name these characters. From the two-year old who cries for the Woody doll every time he comes in, to the 8-year-old who (maybe a bit begrudgingly) admits to wanting to play with Buzz. The characters have spanned generations, and are loved by each and every one of them.
  2. The Script: Something I particularly noticed about the “human” dialogue was how believe it was, possibly because I can recall having the exact same conversations within the past couple of years (the mother’s reaction to her sons emptied out room/son going away? Yea, I’m pretty sure they snuck into my house for that one). Of course, the witticisms of the toys are beyond hilarious– and intelligent. From Lotso’s silly sigh of “F.A.O. my Schwartz!” to Bonnie’s toys informing Woody that they “do a lot of improve,” I was laughing almost throughout the film. I possibly mistakenly chose to watch this film with my mom who is a notoriously loud laugher and due to her constant cracking up, there were multiple occasions when I had to rewind a bit to hear some dialogue we might have missed. And it’s also heartwarming, as are several of the moments in the movie.
  3. The Storyline: I will begin this part by stating how frightening I found particular scenes to be in this movie (fire burning at the dump!! My stomach was in my throat). Overall, the story was phenomenal. The plot was perfect and went right along with the other two movies, as well as remained relatable to viewers– Andy ages and goes to college, I’ve aged and gone to college…are my toys mad at me? The story also had everything drama (moving on to another chapter in one’s life, letting going of the past), humor (mentioned above), adventure (an escape to rival Ocean’s 11 or Shawshank Redemption), horror (once again, dumpster and fire), romance (Jesse & Buzz, sitting in a tree…Oh, and whose heart didn’t break when it was revealed the Bo Peep had gone on to a new kid?), and…foreign influence (Yo quiero Espana Buzz).
  4. The Appeal: I’ve already mentioned this various times throughout this post, but there is no denying the widespread appeal of this sort of movie. A greater audience will be able to enjoy this film–to laugh with it, to cry with it–than any of the other contenders. This movie does the practically impossible by defying age boundaries. At the box office, most adults went with children, but I know a great deal more who went on their own. I know grown men who admitted to bawling like a baby at the movie. I know children who call this film their favorite, as well as adults. Critics loved the film, not just for children, but for themselves. The Toy Story franchise in general has a vast appeal that nearly no other movie has, or will ever have.

In an earlier post I mentioned the unique campaign Pixar was running for TS3’s consideration in the award season race. It is the clever and brilliant ideas such as that can be found throughout the whole Toy Story franchise. And yet, it’s a cartoon. It’s a Disney cartoon. While the Academy members who vote are certainly more able to appreciate the film’s genius than the general population, there is still a certain taboo to the idea of a cartoon (actually, computer animated) becoming the Best Picture. After all, an animated film isn’t suppose to be though-provoking, deep, emotional, moving, AND entertaining. That would just be preposterous…right?

Honestly, I can’t rave about TS3 enough. But, then again, this is only one person’s opinion. I would love to know how others felt about it– Sound off below?

Toy Story 3: “For Your Consideration” Campaign

It’s Oscar season, and any movie that was any movie is asking for the academy’s “consideration.” While some campaigns are less organized, such as Justin Timberlake’s personal crusade to gain The Social Network some Oscar glory, Disney has once again pushed the envelope.

Animated films, no matter how amazing, are often overlooked in the Best Picture category. Only twice before have animated films been even considered for the honor– Beauty and the Beast (’97?) and last year’s Up. But Disney’s Toy Story 3 refuses to be ignored. To combat the often neglectful eye of the academy, Disney is running what appears to be an ingenious campaign for Toy Story 3 in an attempt to be considered as a Best Picture nominee.

Disney has released a series of imaginative posters comparing their Toy Story 3 to past Oscar Best Picture winners. Taking scenes from the actual film featuring all our favorites–Woody, Buzz, Jesse–each poster features the tagline “Not since [movie]…”

Spoofs include Lord of the Rings, On the Waterfront, and an all too funny picture of Jesse with the tag “Not Since Annie Hall…”

The website is featured below, and I’ve attached a few pictures to this post. Really, the photos are worth a look…and consideration (whether you’re from the academy or not).

http://www.waltdisneystudiosawards.com/toystory3/photos.php

Not since On the Waterfront…

Not since The Sting…

 

Not since The Sound of Music…

http://www.waltdisneystudiosawards.com/toystory3/photos.php