Wall of childrens' art with characters from Finding Nemo

For over two decades Pixar has delivered the most epic animation films of all time. And I saw all 20 recently! They infuse the minds and hearts of audiences worldwide with fast moving and attention-grabbing storytelling. They offer our eyes a simple yet mythic message about our connectedness as people and the innocence of a moral imagination.

What are the themes of their work?

And what can we learn from Pixar to further advance a human imagination that does right by all and can be in service to people and planet?

As Pixar films are significantly watched by children and their parents, there is a very deep connection made to family and belongingness in every film. In Finding Nemo, Marlin searches frantically with his friend Dory all over the ocean for his son Nemo. And what parent wouldn't! And yet there is always a collaborative element and team effort to every story. Nemo was found thanks to the incredible effort of many characters such as the sea turtle Crush. Perhaps we humans can bring exponential value and deeper appreciation to the importance of continuing to build voluntary associations of like-minded hearts and minds.

In the movie Cars, Lightning McQueen finds an ally and friend in the tow truck Mater and the entire small town community of Radiator Springs.

In Monsters Inc., Sully and Mike go through every tragedy and celebration together as one. We all belong committed to advancing a better life for all. 

Pixar teaches us that value over and over. And any meanness and antagonism are overcome again and again!

Every Pixar plot is determined to help us discover a life message through the lenses of its characters. For example, in the movie UP it takes grumpy Carl the whole film to move past his sense of loss after the death of his wife and his home flying away.

There is a hero's journey happening on screen and perhaps in all of us, all the time. A separation. Abysmal moments. But just like in real-life, Pixar is full of a community of characters helping move the plot through one or more rites of passage toward a righteous conclusion.

You will see plenty of pandemonium and chaos in Pixar films. For example, in the film Ratatouille it is not too often that a food critic eats a delicious meal prepared by rats in the kitchen of a restaurant! It is wrestling through the chaos that helps all characters unmask and excavate their essence and purpose in each Pixar story. Plots are supported by extremely expressive forms personification, humor, emotions that help us understand how the characters feel. These qualities are illustrated quite well in Wall-E and Inside Out, where life-affirming machines and a spectrum of emotions in our brains are able to help us understand our complexity, our insensitivity, and our lower natures a little better.

Despite harsh phrases like "we scare because we care" (Monsters Inc.) there is the "big ol blue" (Finding Nemo) web of life always available to help bugs, toys, incredible families, stubborn children, dinosaurs, and everyone discover a new way of seeing and a common ground for celebrating life on this little blue and green planet of ours. This very same quality offers adults watching these films perspective and social commentary for reflection on our day to day moral and life issues.

Pixar has made a killing! No doubt. But it has delivered the art form of story by grabbing our attention consistently and intentionally for over two decades. That creative interruption is the hallmark of a disruptive moral imagination.

Can those in positions of power, wealth, and leadership adopt a narrative with a more disruptive moral imagination?

Yes. We need it. We can't treat people and planet like some Toy Story characters felt: "We're all just trash, waiting to be thrown away!"

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About The Author

Henry Cross's picture

Henry Cross grew up in sunny Miami, Florida. Upon graduating high school, he moved to the politicized Washington, D.C. and double majored in History and Politics at the Catholic University. He served as a social studies teacher in Prince George’s County Public School in 2008-2009. In the fall of 2009, he moved to New York City to continue and grow his work in education and service.

He joined Hosh Yoga in 2011 as a teacher and Program Director. And since 2013, he founded and expanded programming for the organization with Hosh Kids and Hosh Seniors. Henry's entrepreneurial spirit helped developed the organizational, program, and financial capacity of the nonprofit to deliver self-sustaining and self-supporting health and wellness services to over 3,000 children, adults, and seniors every month in a cost-effective and fairly-priced way. And from 2014 to 2016, he participated in a philanthropic role by expanding the programming, policy, and public advocacy efforts of the Sonima Foundation as Community Relations Director.

His work has been featured by the Huffington PostElephant JournalBlog Talk RadioThe NYC Social Innovation FestivalSocial Venture Institute, and multiple Brooklyn and Queens newspapers. He is an appointed New York City official of Community Board 5 in Queens, serves on a Department of Youth and Community Development Neighborhood Advisory Board, and on the board of directors of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. And in 2015, Henry was selected as an etsy.org business fellow and awarded Top 40 Under 40 Nonprofit Rising Star. He finds joy in his community work service everyday and loves ballroom dancing!

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