Pixar & God,a look behind the movies

Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM talks with Robert Velarde – Author of “Wisdom of Pixar,” an animated look at virtue

Velarde: We have a long history of Pixar movies, going back to 1995, with Toy Story through Toy Story 3, another phenomenal success. It is a great way to get people interested into not only Christian virtues but in building their own character

Rice: You’re not suggesting that Pixar is a quasi-Christian movie house. You are suggesting that there are virtues which can be garnered from a careful viewing of these movies.

Velarde: Exactly, I would not say that Pixar is out there to make Christian films that are overtly Christian, I would argue that the films themselves contain elements of classical Christian virtues, things like justice, love and friendship and courage. You find that throughout many of their films and that’s the reason they are so appealing.

Rice: So why did you decide to write “The Wisdom of Pixar”?

I’m a big fan of Pixar and have been since 1995…I’m a Christian philosopher and I thought it would be fun to watch the movies and apply some of the lessons we get from these characters to the Christian life…”

Rice: You make the point that in a sense, film is the new literature for our generation, something that many people can relate to. Talk about the digital entertainment age that we find ourselves in.

Velarde: We have really shifted…to an age of entertainment that is largely based on things like film and television. I know there is always going to be literary folks…but I think that for the culture at large, a lot of people are moving to not ask questions not what have you read, but what have your seen? I think learning to adapt…and to integrate films into our discussions and our spiritual lives.

Rice: I know one of the challenges for parents…is to use the culture around us to help teach young people to think critically, to think Christianly about entertainment media, about different virtues that we might find around us. Pixar seems like a good source for that kind of discussion starter.

Velarde: Yes, I think so… one of the chapters in the book is about the movie “Wall-e” and technology and our use of technology and are we using it wisely or not…and that can even apply to things how we view and enjoy films and music and different aspects of entertainment that we find in our culture.

Rice: Why do you think Pixar has gravitated toward the kinds of films that lend themselves to thinking and conversations about virtue?

Velarde: I think that Pixar has people that are very good storytellers and if you look at history of literature you find some common characteristics there…I think part of it is that they know how to tell a really good story with really interesting characters and what draws us into these characters are the struggles that we have ethically… and the decisions that they have to make, whether it’s for courage, love or friendship or justice…these themes run through Pixar because they are great story tellers.

Rice: One of the main points of writing the book is your emphasis on virtue…Talk about why virtue matters, especially in the Christian life today.

Velarde: Virtue is certainly a part of the new testaments teachings of Christ…his essay in morality is centered around the concept of love…to love God and to love others…and you have thinkers like Augustan and Aquinas and C.S. Lewis that really help to focus on developing our character and make right moral choices…building our character, building our virtue is something that is important and something that God wants us to do.

Rice: Certainly the Pixar doesn’t replace our learning about such things in scripture, but reinforces the notion and how we function in the world today and these still have value in how we relate to one another.

Velarde: Pixar has done a great service…kids really enjoy watching Pixar movies…but we can draw some practical life lessons of Christian life and the kinds of choices we can make when facing different challenges.

Rice: How does virtue come across in the movie, “Finding Nemo”?

Velarde: I can relate to the struggle of the character who is trying to reunite with his son and the struggles he has as a parent, but really…family is really what it’s about. I think that the whole concept of family is virtuous…you generally find strong depictions of family…you have everyday people who have these challenges as parents and siblings.

Rice: Another movie you focus on is the film, “Up”, which was much more touching that most people expected…and was pleasantly surprised how much I like the movie…what are some of the virtues and wisdom you found in that movie?

Velarde:…What you find in “Up” is the theme of love, which is the foundation to Christian ethics and you have a pure love between a man and his wife…and that’s what drives the main character to do what he does and at the end he’s discovered that his entire life that he has had has been a wonderful adventure…”

Rice: How does the relationship work with Pixar and Disney in terms of what they choose to product?

Velarde: I had the opportunity to visit Pixar…and one thing to keep in mind is that Pixar itself is geographically separated from southern California…you have a group of people at Pixar who have been together a very long time with what they call a brain trust, a relatively small group of individuals who work on Pixar movies…you have family at Pixar, fathers, mothers…who want to enjoy the movies…”

Rice: You mentioned in Toy Story’s latest edition was just released, talk about what Toy Story 3 has to say about identity.

Velarde: Toy Story 3 came out in mid June…the theme of identity is found is all of the Toy Story movies, most in the first one, with Buzz Lightyear who doesn’t really know he is a toy and thinks he is something else, I apply that to the Christian life and how knowing who we are helps us along the way and our purpose in life…Toy Story 3 continues with the theme of family, loyalty and courage, especially in the character Woody who remains loyal to Andy…”

Rice: Tell us about the story line of “A Bug’s Life.”

Velarde: I write about “A Bug’s Life” in relation to justice…the underlying message there is that you have a group of ants that are being repressed by grasshoppers, who are really like bullies…it’s a call to justice to do what’s right…there’s always a sense of moral right and moral wrong…it shows how someone can be a moral reformer and how that’s always easy but it’s the right thing to do.

Rice: You write about “The Incredibles” and how courage is depicted in that film.

“…the movie is a good example of the kind of virtue we want to build in our lives …when we have the need to call up certain virtues, like courage, it’s instinctive, part of our character that God has built into us, that we are able to make those decisions.

Rice: Do you think that movies like the Pixar films are going to replace the future generations for C.S. Lewis and the series like the Lord of the Rings? Is this what likely going to be what most influences young people in the future?

Velarde: There is always going to be a place for the printed page, books like the Chronicles of Narnia…it depends on the parent, as a parent myself, I want my children to be familiar with some of these wonderful classic stories…as film continues to gain prominence and we are surrounded by video on demand…I encourage parents to use talking guides to talk to their children about these virtues.

Rice: You are the father of four, when you are watching these films…how do you engage in conversation, how do you incorporate a reflection on the virtue?

The one thing I don’t want to do is ruin the fun of these movies for my kids because the movies are so entertaining. I like the see if my kids have questions about the movie first about the movies and some of the decisions the characters make or some of the stories play out…and in my book I give a lot of other questions to ask…I don’t want to turn it into some kind of homework assignment. I want to make it a fun thing for the kids and if they can take away even one little thing about virtue, I think that’s a great place to start.

Rice: What’s the virtue in Ratatouille?

I ended up writing that one about ambition, which we don’t normally view as a virtue…I talk about in Ratatouille is the contract between self-centered ambition and Godly ambition…and I talk about how Remy the rat wants to make things, he wants to be a chef and apply that to the Christian life in the sense that God has made a creative being and we have the capacity to offer so much good in relation to our artistic ability.

Rice: You write about the movie “Wall-e” and technology, talk about how that challenges the viewer.

Velarde: Wall-e is set in a futuristic time period, where human beings have ruined and trashed the earth and neglected their stewardship duties of the earth. Really I talk about what technology means in our lives and how that can bring things like social media…do we really take the time to think about what is beneficial or detrimental to some of the aspects of this technology…and how we can use technology virtuously in a way that is positive.

Rice: What advice would you give parents, as they are watching the Pixar films?

Velarde: I think the best advice is to do your best and be a Godly parent, have your focus be on loving God and loving others as Christ has told us to do…parent carefully and lovingly and using things that you may not think but will communicate the Christian message…”

Rice: How do you decide if a movie is appropriate for our children?

Velarde: …See the movie first yourself and see what you think of it…or if that’s not for you, go online and read the reviews…and visit sites that focus on the family and other sources like that.

Rice: How do you hope the readers will read “The Wisdom of Pixar,” in their appreciation for producers, like Pixar?

Velarde: I hope that it will equip them with the tools to be able to think about film, characters, decisions, in a way that is more meaningful…that we can some discussion there about decisions characters make.

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