What do Pixar movies and the parables of Christ have in common? Before answering the question, a little background information is in order.
Pixar Animation Studios has produced eleven feature films to date, each one of them a tremendous success with fans, critics, and at the box office. Unless you’ve been living in a pop culture-free zone, you’re more than likely familiar with films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and Up, to mention just some of Pixar’s movies.
Not only are Pixar films amazing technical achievements, impressing viewers with high quality computer generated imagery, they also offer an almost countercultural hope that contrasts with many darker films. This doesn’t mean, though, that Pixar ignores the big issues and questions of life. Their most recent film, for instance, Toy Story 3 grapples with loyalty, dealing with change, courage, facing mortality, and more, while their 2009 film Up explores deep questions about life, death, and grief.
As I state in my recent book The Wisdom of Pixar and my Christian Research Journal article on the same topic, Pixar films also offer insights into wisdom and virtue. Whether intentional or not, Pixar movies often include themes that resonate strongly with classic Christian virtues such as hope, love, justice, and courage. These virtues connect with us because they are woven within the very fabric of our God-given moral nature.
But Pixar movies would not be successful if they did not contain great storytelling. That’s why Pixar spends a lot of time developing story, characters, and the worlds their films take place in. Although the public anticipates a new Pixar film nearly every year, these films have often been in development for as much as 4 or 5 years, with Pixar employees spending a good deal of time developing the story, characters, and setting.
Now to the comparison with the parables of Christ. We sometimes forget that Jesus had a powerful and effective way of communicating. He didn’t give dry lectures or preach ethics out of a textbook. Instead, he often turned to storytelling. We call these New Testament stories parables—relatively simple stories that communicate a moral message. These stories contain compelling characters who often find themselves in unique situations. We remember parables such as the ones featuring the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son because of the power of story that runs through them. Story, it seems, is one of God’s most powerful ways of reaching us, emotionally and intellectually.
Pixar is not a church and it’s not preaching at us through its films, but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean some powerful insights from their stories. Like the parables of Christ, Pixar movies can leave vivid images and ideas with us, if we’ll take the time to ponder them and, more importantly, apply those virtuous insights practically to our lives.