Pete Docter, writer and director of Up as well as previous Pixar hit Monster's Inc., says he's come to expect this kind of reaction. "We hear it on almost every movie. We heard it with Nemo. On our first movie, Toy Story, which was a movie about toys, we had investors tell us, 'We see no marketing possibilities with this movie.'"
That doesn't mean that he and his fellow filmmakers at Pixar don't take their obligation to investors seriously. Rather, Docter says they believe that telling the best stories they can is a better way of ensuring a good financial return than mimicking the content that worked for other animated releases. "What makes people want to buy stuff is that they like the story and the characters. The dolls are like a souvenir of the movie, so if you like the movie, you'll want a souvenir, and if you don't, then you won't. Our job as far as merchandising goes is to make the characters in the movie likeable. I look at the character of Carl [the old man] and think, 'Who doesn't want an action figure of an old guy like that?'"
Docter also believes investors' demand that animators bow to pop—culture trends is hurting the quality of animated films in general. "We're so bombarded now by our tabloid culture, and it's like, 'Please, give me a break.' That's just not the style that I've ever been after. I grew up loving the old Disney movies like Bambi and Dumbo—there's just such a charm and grace about those films, and I like to think Pixar picked up where they left off. My dad took me to see Snow White, and there were no crazy gags in it. But there were laughs and heart, and that's what makes it appeal to generation after generation. Those are the kinds of films we want to make, so we [at Pixar] don't approach the story looking for ways to insert pop culture references or crass jokes.
What could gospel preachers learn from Pixar?
The church today is enthralled by the gimmicky. We are like drug additcs digging through the trash so that we can pull it together for the next big score. That's the way we typically approach the message. What next big thing can we bait our hook with so that the fish will bite? So we listen to the marketing experts. We put Jesus on a T-shirt and a bobblehead in order to get the 'word out'. Sadly, such cow towing actually reshapes the message that we have.
Because of the inherent power of the gospel, because of the work of the Spirit when we preach, proclaim and give evidence of lives shaped by the gospel, people will come to Jesus Christ in true faith. If we stick to the purity of the message and seek to exalt the message and the person the message is about, we will find people come to Jesus as if be a supernatural appeal. Like Pixar we should believe in telling the best 'stories'--the gospel story of God's kingdom. Like Pixar we should take "investors" serious in that this is the thing they actually need. Like Pixar, we should also avoid fad driven appeals because it robs something from the message we seek to convey.
The gospel will win the affections of people. This is what the gospel does, this is the power of the Trinity and their gospel. When we seek to win the affections of people with things other than the gospel so that we might give them the gospel, we will find people passing us by as soon a we try to ween the off of the elixir and on to the pure gospel. Even more, the longer someone is accustom to the elixir that we add, the more we will have to mix in with the pure message in order to have the same effect. It is like drugs to which the body becomes accustomed so that to have the same effect the dose must be increased. Over time what happens is the mixture that began with just a little additive to make it 'go down smooth' becomes unbalanced: more additive and less medicine. When day we wake up and we have nothing but additive left.
Back to the analogy with Pixar: when you tailor the message for the appeal and for the souvenirs you wake up one day and realize you aren't really selling the message your are just a trinket dealer with some cheap junk.--junk that is pretty much like everybody else's.
Why is it that Pixar gets something about its 'product' that the church can't seem to grasp about its own?