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By Michael Lee · July 4, 2019
What are the top themes explored in Pixar movies and what can screenwriters learn from them?
Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.
Theme has multiple definitions:
All three of these definitions combine to showcase the story theme of any movie.
The theme to your screenplay can be the subject or topic of the story, whether it’s obvious or hidden in between the lines of the story and characterization of your characters.
That theme recurs and pervades throughout the whole screenplay — each and every scene.
And it gives your screenplay a particular setting and ambiance.
A theme can show itself organically in your writing, without you having to chase it or force-feed it to the reader or audience, or it can be something you are well aware of as you write.
A movie’s theme is what offers the audience a cathartic experience — something that stays with them when they walk out of that theater. And this is true to the reading experience of your screenplay as well. You want that reader to close the script and be affected by the screenplay. You accomplish this by showcasing life themes that audiences and readers can relate with.
So with that lesson in mind, here are Pixar’s best and most relatable themes. Knowing Pixar’s success, consider exploring similar themes in your own writing or take note of how these films presented their themes so that you can apply such lessons to your own themes and stories.
This theme was explored masterfully in Monster’s Inc. The notion that laughter and happiness are more powerful than fear can be applied to so many life lessons and contexts in this day and age. The world of politics could benefit from this theme, could it not?
Brave showcased a theme that youth and adults can take home and apply to their own life. You don’t have to be trapped by the destiny that others feel you need to embrace.
If you come from a family of doctors, lawyers, or accountants, you don’t need to follow that destiny if your passions lay elsewhere.
The end of Toy Story 3 showcased this theme, but it’s something that offers a broader reach. It’s not just about toys. It’s about always retaining some of your youth and the joy that comes with that.
A Bug’s Life embraced the working culture of the ant. But it’s more than just the message of the many are better than the few. It’s about the fact that people can do amazing things if they leave their differences behind and focus on how alike we are, as opposed to how different. And when we realize that, we can do anything as one.
Wall-E showed us a character that never gave up hope. No matter what, he always managed to keep a positive mindset, even when he was trapped on a planet all alone, craving for love and companionship. And through his adventures, he never gave up hope — even when all odds were against him.
Finding Nemo embraced the theme of trust. Nemo needed to trust in his father’s protective side while his father needed to trust that his son was growing up and needed to be given trust. And his father also needed to learn to trust Dory, even though she was suffering from a disability that prevented her from being able to trust herself.
The Incredibles proved that family is everything. Even when each family member has their differences with one another, there’s not stronger than family and there’s no one else you can turn to more than your loved ones.
An age-old lesson of life explored by Cars. This theme reminds people that the journey is what life is all about. That’s where you meet your friends, experience the world, and learn life’s lessons along the way.
While the featured life lesson from Ratatouille in this video is just one of many themes present within the film (some can be found above), this theme harkens back to the notion that we can do great things together, as opposed to apart.
Remy and Linguini can cook wonderful food together. But apart, they struggle for a number of different reasons.
Up proved that despite life’s setbacks and heartbreaks, the adventure of life can still continue. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, this life we’ve been blessed with should be embraced — even in our twilight years.
What other themes did these movies explore? What Pixar movies and themes did the video forget to include?
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