The RELEVANT Pixar Bracket: Final Four
In this round, writers made blind cases for their movie, writing 300-500 words without knowing what their opponent was doing in opposition. Jon Negroni went longer on his verdicts, too.
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[bsc_tab title=”Toy Story 3 vs WALL-E”]
Toy Story 3 VS. WALL-E
Jaz Persing vs. Abby Olcese
The Case for Toy Story 3, by Jaz Persing
I don’t feel great tearing down WALL-E while our aching planet so badly needs its eco-friendly message, but here’s what I will say: In what I have learned about humans, we don’t accomplish a lot of change when we’re just working off the willpower of what we should do. Even when that’s articulated in a lovely way like WALL-E, that energy only lasts so long.
Real change happens when we know our inherent beloved-ness, that we are enough and that love pours over, informs and fuels everything we do. That’s what Toy Story gives us. In a beautifully simple picture of the dangers of scarcity mentality, the movie shows the life a more abundant mindset can bring about.
Woody loves Andy deeply, and defines himself by Andy’s love for him. But when that attention moves to Buzz, Woody quickly resorts to tearing Buzz down, sulking and feeling insecure. Buzz has taken Woody’s spot on the bed, so to speak, and Woody is so afraid of what that means for him that he resorts to darker measures to push Buzz out and take back his place.
Woody is every one of us at one point or another, hustling for worthiness when we were worthy all along. There’s nothing we can do to earn or lose the grace we’re given, but when we enter this panicky moment of clinging to our patch of the bedspread, we forget we are loved and enough. And, often we lose that thing we hold onto in the first place. Woody’s lost his home, and he and Buzz encountered a far more dangerous situation at Sid’s house.
When we neglect to see our own worth and play the scarcity comparison game, we shut ourselves off from relationship. When Woody’s finally able to overcome his insecurity, he’s able to see how terrified and disillusioned Buzz is in learning the truth about himself. Woody is only able to save Buzz by admitting how afraid and insecure he is himself, and it’s out of their moment of being together in weakness that Buzz is able to rally his strength and save them both.
Upon returning home, Woody not only regains the love he sought from Andy, but he earns a deeper, lasting friendship with Buzz. They accept they’re both inherently valuable toys, and find there’s enough room in Andy’s room for them both. We all need this reminder that there’s enough love to go around, that this town is big enough for the two of us, kid. Without this down-to-earth reminder, it’s hard to do any of the grander planet-saving that WALL-E proposes.
The Case for WALL-E, by Abby Olcese
I’ll admit that defending WALL-E against Toy Story is tough. Toy Story is an instant classic that paved the way for all the other movies we’re arguing over in this tournament. But while Toy Story proved that feature-length computer animation could be done, WALL-E shows us how far that tool can go. We’ve moved far beyond Andy’s room here, into a desolate, lonely post-apocalyptic future. It’s likely the darkest, most condemning place the studio has dared to take us so far.
But even in that place, there’s still beauty, humor and hope, combined with Pixar’s trademark attention to detail that makes the world director Andrew Stanton creates feel lived-in and thoughtfully crafted. Through Stanton’s plucky robot hero, we see that even in a world full of junk, there’s possibility for invention, ingenuity and joy through recognizing the value in what we already have—repurposed toys, classic musicals, even twinkies.
But Stanton recognizes this childlike wonder is nothing without a community to share it with. WALL-E craves companionship. The malfunctioning robots he meets on the Buy N Large spaceship seek acceptance, too. Even the humans, surrounded by screens that leave them isolated amid a sea of other people (sound familiar?) discover new dimensions to themselves, and a taste for exploration, once WALL-E bumps them out of their dormant state.
There’s been some discussion that WALL-E loses steam once the film leaves Earth, but I disagree. Yes, we lose the spare, gorgeous brilliance that makes up the film’s first half, but not that sense of creativity. It’s not lesser quality, just different. Iconic sound designer Ben Burtt (who also worked on the original Star Wars trilogy) takes the spotlight here, creating unique, charming voices for a cast of rebellious space bots who are every bit as fully-realized as WALL-E and EVE. The beautiful shot composition continues here, too, encouraging us to stop, look around, and take in the simple wonder of our surroundings.
The importance of Toy Story can’t be overstated. Without it, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But to suggest that Pixar’s first movie is also the pinnacle of their achievement does a major disservice to the ambition and growth the studio’s shown over the course of its existence, which WALL-E is a prime example of. If you need more convincing, just take a look at the writing: Toy Story famously required a murderer’s row of script doctors. WALL-E only needed Stanton, Jim Reardon and some story help from Pete Docter. The strength of Toy Story is mainly concept. WALL-E is the whole package.
JUDGE JON: Jaz and Abby are as polite as can be here, and they both earn points for honing in on why their movie is better. However, Jaz is almost too gracious, avoiding any real criticisms of WALL-E that might have strengthened her case. Abby, on the other hand, lays out some compelling arguments for why it’s strange to consider Pixar’s first movie their best, as if to suggest they somehow peaked. On the other hand, Jaz provides a touching series of points specific to how Toy Story matters to people on a deeper level. This came down to who made the more comprehensive case for their movie, and in that sense, Abby’s strong points and good defense clinched this one. She’s headed to the finals.
[bsc_tab title=”Coco vs Inside Out”]
Coco VS. Inside Out
Chris Lopez vs. Josh Pease
The Case for Coco, by Chris Lopez
Inside Out is a brilliant story contained in a forgettable box. The film cares more about the narrative within Riley than without, and that undercuts the relate-ability of Riley’s motivations and the significance of the film’s resolution. There’s no doubt human beings are driven by an affective compass as opposed to a rational one. However, Inside Out takes this to a level that makes a puppet out of Riley. I couldn’t connect with the difficulty she had with transitioning into a new season as a young kid because I was constantly reminded that it’s not her responding but the little personified emotions responding within her.
This imbalance is most pronounced in the ending, when Joy allows Sadness to take the lead on Riley’s emotional intelligence. Riley is prompted to exit the bus and return home while Joy encourages the other emotions to share Riley’s memories. This is supposed to be when the protagonist acts in light and in spite of their foils and moves toward resolution. But in this case, it’s been done for Riley—talk about cheap. Learning to embrace the emotional complexity of memories is the most important step toward healthy maturation. While it’s clear Inside Out wanted to portray this type of human growth, the plot mitigates its strongest themes.
Coco also deals with the complexity and power of remembering the past, but does so without cheapening the journey toward that lesson. Coco explores how collective memories can become personally and communally suppressive by way of tradition. Understandably, music is forbidden from being played or pursued in Miguel’s household because it ruptured their family, but should the mistakes of the past require us to live in preventative fear in the present? Coco takes us on a fantastic journey to answer that question.
Whether in la tierra de la muerte o vida, Miguel’s choices have clear and compelling consequences for himself and others. I can believe Miguel’s inner transformation because he is the one making the decision to listen and depend on others. Coco suggests that remembering the past for a better present and better future requires us to question, resist and engage with family and tradition. That’s profound (and more nuanced than Inside Out).
Coco says a healthy memory is informed by dependence on others. Miguel needs the popular religious tradition of Dia de los Muertos to reorient him, Miguel’s wider family needed Miguel to reconsider their tradition and Hector needed his family to remember him so he continue on. The answer isn’t only within ourselves.
As both films suggest, we as humans can be (self)destructive when it comes to remembering, but Coco’s communal and cohesive approach to memory offers more considered ideas than the inward gazing Inside Out.
The Case for Inside Out, by Josh Pease
The most powerful scene in Inside Out doesn’t involve Bing-Bong. It’s at the end, when Sadness lays her hands on the control panel, and Riley—on a bus, running away from home—is finally able to mourn everything she’s lost. She stops the bus and heads home to her parents, who realize their well-intentioned “make the best of things” mentality has been killing their little girl’s heart. I was in a theater the first time I saw Inside Out, and I bawled during this scene, because in so many ways Riley’s story is my story too, only I’m a 37-year-old man, and I just learned how to grieve the pain in my past over the last two years.
Our world is full of people desperate for intimate human connection, but we lack the emotional skills to find it. We know how to bring our joy, anger, disgust and fear to the forefront of our interactions, but what place is there for sadness? If a friend asks me how I’m doing, it’s easy to say “GREAT!” “I’m really annoyed” “ugh, I’m so sick of …”, or even “kinda anxious today, actually.” But saying “I’m really sad” would stick in my throat. That’s an emotion never modeled for me growing up, and one that didn’t have a place in my family, friend and church worlds. Saying “I feel sad” is vulnerable. Weak. Terrifying. It has taken a decent amount of therapy just to admit to myself—and my wife, when I’m feeling brave—that I feel sad. Just like Joy, I would rather Sadness stay in a small circle to the side where it won’t inconvenience me.
But Inside Out’s revelation—and it’s more profound than any message in the Pixar canon—is that sadness is a pathway to community, connection and intimacy. When we bury our vulnerabilities and soldier on we cut ourselves off from the capacity to love, and be loved, instead becoming the worst version of Joy, artificially forcing an “it’s all okay” smile on our face. This is what makes the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead so beautiful: Jesus doesn’t just resurrect Lazarus, or fake a smile at the tomb, he weeps. Because death sucks. And this world is broken. And some things are worth crying for. Jesus says “me too” with his tears, and through his tears we know He is with us.
Coco is visually breathtaking, culturally immersive and never more important than in a time when certain leaders drop profane insults on other countries, but it’s also deeply flawed. The first hour only works if you don’t immediately guess that Hector is Miguel’s missing relative, and that’s obvious from the first minute. And De la Cruz’s insta-switch into a monstrous villain is unearned and jarring.
Inside Out, in contrast, is a perfect film: just as ambitious as Coco, with better pacing, a better reveal, higher rewatchability and a message rooted in the gospel. Inside Out shows there is comfort for the weary and heavy-laden—at least those courageous enough to admit to it—for they will find rest.
JUDGE JON: Chris laid out the terms of this debate right away, with a striking offensive against Inside Out, but dumb luck benefited Josh. Without reading Chris’s essay, he referenced the exact scene Chris chastises and unintentionally rebuts the point by placing himself in Riley’s shoes, arguing that the choices of the main character are Riley’s, personified emotions or no. From there, Josh lays out a seriously persuasive case for Inside Out as an impactful film with specific examples and a faith angle that really shines, plus he doesn’t hesitate to take a few more digs at Coco that were lobbed before in previous rounds, mostly unchallenged. Based on these arguments, Josh is heading to the finals.
VERDICT: Inside Out