Spoilers, obviously. The Pixar-Disney partnership has set box office records, won awards, and featured prominently in the childhoods of countless fans around the world. They’ve successfully crafted a formula to appeal to all ages as well as cashing in on merchandise, making anything bearing the “Pixar” label must-see viewing material and capitalist fodder.
But for all their popularity among families, and especially young kids, there’s a vindictive streak running through the narratives of virtually every Pixar movie to date. One that makes it clear that, for the folks behind the movies, their primary fan base is also the object of some seriously pent-up vitriol.
If you look past the charm, quirks, celebrity voices, and bright, friendly colors of Pixar’s movie library, you just might start to notice the subversive anti-child messaging running through all these supposedly child-friendly films.
10. Toy Story: All Children are Intolerable and Deserve Punishment
The first Toy Story is the one that started it all. From establishing computer animation as the new primary medium of children’s movies, to the Odd Couple-ish buddy-comedy shtick that has defined every single Pixar film ever since, to the trope of shoe-horning a chase sequence into the final act to make the climax seem more urgent. Toy Story set the standards for Pixar’s money-printing machines to start churning out cash.
Unsurprisingly, this is also where the studio began stuffing anti-child propaganda right into the narrative and texture of its films.
Sid is the nearest thing to a villain in the first Toy Story, because he gets his kicks from playing with toys in a way that reduces their shelf life. He’s wholly unaware that they’re actually sentient and feel pain. That ignorance of the world, by the way, is kind of the essence of childhood. Kids are pretty narcissistic early on because their brains need time to develop the capacity for prosocial behaviors, thoughts, and cognitive habits. You might expect toys, whose self-professed purpose in life is to enrich the lives of children, would have some patience for the developmental needs to youths–especially when they are socializing with what they believe are inanimate objects.
Alas, Part One of the original race-to-the-credits climax involves Woody rallying Sid’s toys together to announce, in the most psychologically traumatizing way possible, that Sid’s toys are alive and angry with him. What he thought was “playing” he is now forced to acknowledge as “torture,” because he never before knew his toys were alive. So while Buzz gets the benefit of the doubt throughout the whole picture while he comes to terms with the nature of his existence, Sid’s mind and identity are thrown into turmoil for cheap laughs. Because, apparently, kids that play rough deserve to be punished in a way that will compound over time. Sid is the villain because he was just being a kid.
It might be easier to overlook Sid if the next two Toy Story movies didn’t double-down on conveying how terrible all children–not just those who light fireworks outside of the Fourth of July weekend–really are.
For example, the very end sequence of the original plays on the notion that the only greater threat than a maladapted child is a dog. Andy is getting a new pet, and Buzz and Woody are terrified.
Toy Story 2 immediately dispenses with this notion, going out of its way to establish that the relationship between toy and dog is even more secure than that between toy and child. While the toys all go limp and passive when kids come around to play, they get to enjoy playtime on mutual terms with the family dog, enjoying the same kind of camaraderie and secret handshake closeness as they do with one another. Even their preferred owner is more dismissive and emotionally distant than the dog.
While Andy neglects his toys and allows them to get lost, stolen, or simply given away out of boredom, his dog is an enthusiastic participant in rescue missions as well as playtime. By Toy Story 3, the contrast is even starker and sadder. The dog is too old and tired to play with them, but still wants to. Andy, by all indications, has every opportunity to give the toys the attention they want, but chooses not to.
Later in Toy Story 3, it becomes even more clear that while their avowed purpose in life is playtime with children, their parameters for actually enjoying this activity are narrow to the point of contradiction. Going to the neighborhood preschool daycare is presented as parallel to serving hard time in a prison labor camp. This toy gulag shows just how terrible Pixar thinks children are at their youngest. Easily as violent as Sid, but without a whiff of irony or self-awareness in their actions, these children abuse, destroy, debase, and terrorize without clear intent or even gratification. While the toys of the first movie knew that they could frighten Sid into changing his behavior, they apparently see toddlers as beneath any sort of intervention. This time, they just want to escape.
Preschool, for toys, is purgatory. But every other relationship they have with children seems to be some new form of hell.
9. Finding Nemo: Children are Psychopaths and Make Adults Stupid by Proximity
Did you know Sid makes a cameo in Finding Nemo? He’s just a few years younger, and looks like a little Australian girl who likes fish.
This movie about ocean life and set almost entirely underwater manages to feature a single speaking human child character, and unleashes pure unmitigated hatred on her, cajoling the audience to loathe her kind right along with the filmmakers. The studio’s attitude about this representative figure is made clear upon her introduction, which is heralded by the iconic, chill-inducing string music nearly everyone will recognize as being from the signature Psycho “your doom is nigh” soundtrack. They might as well just come out and say, Darla = Psychotic.
Just like Sid, Darla is an obnoxious, yet typical, kid who plays inappropriately with her belongings. She doesn’t have the worldly awareness to know she is hurting them. She is too young and hyper to be compassionate or empathetic, and apparently no adults have explained that shaking fish is bad for them. So naturally, we are meant to hate her for it.
And just as with Sid, they use Darla’s despicability to lend some payoff to the climax as well: to the extent of their ability, the fish in the dentist’s little aquarium (and their pelican friend) slap the childish whimsy out of Darla and do their damnedest to traumatically frighten her away from any future pet fish. It is, in effect, the same thing the toys of Toy Story do to Sid, and pretty clearly communicates what Pixar seems to think is the only way to change children’s behavior: abusive psychological recalibration by means of fear conditioning.
Oh, and since this all goes down in a dental office, a random, nameless young patient who overhears all this chaos and screaming is naturally terrified, which is hilarious because terrorizing children is just the best, even when they haven’t done anything wrong (see Monsters, Inc.).
You might have imagined that there’s some ecological message in Finding Nemo about not interfering with nature or leaving animals alone in their natural habitat, but the fact that Nemo’s kidnapping was motivated by an uncle trying to find a special gift for his niece sort of changes that narrative. In essence, even seemingly intelligent adults behave stupidly and irresponsibly on behalf of their children.
If that seems like a stretch, keep in mind that this sort of behavior is literally the first thing that happens in the movie. Nemo’s mother gets herself killed by trying to go up against a barracuda.
The entire set-up to the key events of the rest of the movie–from Nemo’s gimpy fin to Marlin’s neurotic overprotective streak–all stems from this opening tragedy. Marlin, for the record, isn’t insane at that point. He very explicitly urges his wife not to get herself killed, and takes the pragmatic view that, according to logic and basic math, they can take another crack at the whole reproduction thing, but will absolutely lose any kind of confrontation with a barracuda. Marlin is right, his wife is wrong, and the lesson he learns then becomes: children must be protected at all costs and without regard to common sense or practicality. He then spends the entire remainder of the movie unlearning that lesson until he finally lets Nemo go be his own fish.
8. Finding Dory: Children are Out of Control War Machines
All the classic Pixar commentaries on children get another go-round in the Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory.
When Dory and her octopus companion Hank find themselves accidentally plopped into the tide pool exhibit, they have to run a gauntlet of grabby, sticky-fingered little children ruthlessly smashing, squeezing, poking, and generally molesting everything within reach. The scene plays rather similarly to the Omaha Beach sequence from Saving Private Ryan. It is all horror, chaos, panic, and pain.
It should be noted that tide pool touch exhibits are pretty standard fare for aquariums. But they nearly always have an attendant, as well as signage, indicating that the “two-finger touch rule” is the appropriate manner of interaction. This rule is exactly what it sounds like: if you want to get hands-on with the creatures on display, you don’t go in and squish the crap out of them. You very gently and deliberately use two fingers at a time for minimum intrusion. The only alternative is to not touch anything at all.
Given the degree of research the filmmakers did into every other aspect of the aquarium and sea life on display in the movie, it stands to reason that they knew about this standard rule. But, they decided that children are incapable of self-restraint or following directions, and turned this trait into an entire sequence. And, just as in their other films, the children earn some small amount of comeuppance when Hank unleashes an inky explosion, apparently frightening the children to tears so that they clear the area and leave the animals on exhibit alone.
It isn’t quite as dramatic as what Sid or Darla go through, but it gets to the same conclusion: children, left to their own devices, are awful, senseless little monsters. The only way to control their behavior is by frightening or, if possible, hurting them.
7. Monsters, Inc.: Children Shouldn’t Be Allowed in Public
One of Pixar’s most inventive and original films also took a slightly different approach to the apparently absolute problem of children, and posited that an entire universe of sentient beings would unquestioningly believe that human children are quite literally toxic.
Unlike in other movies, the children in Monsters, Inc. aren’t being punished for any apparent misbehavior. Their trauma is part of an entire critical industry that relies on monsters scaring children as frequently and deeply as possible. Of course, as Toy Story acknowledged, there is a limited window of opportunity for any child-facing line of work, and kids don’t stay young and impressionable enough to revert to a state of screaming, bedwetting madness on command. Thus, this movie’s first message: children–especially young children–need to be targeted for fear conditioning as early and persistently as possible.
“But,” you might say, “the whole plot of Monsters, Inc. proved that children aren’t actually toxic at all, they are actually just cute and hilarious and want to play!”
Except that is exactly the opposite of what the first Monsters film establishes. The reality is that the monster community had been seriously underestimating the full danger and destructive potential of children. The raw energy contained in these radioactive little Manhattan Projects is actually exponentially greater than had ever been understood. They power up monster machines by mere proximity–cordless charge technology isn’t even standard in modern smartphones, much less appliances and city power grids. Yet a single laughing child can light up a whole neighborhood. Clearly, children aren’t toxic to touch, but they are by no means harmless, much less safe to have around without protective measures.
The subtext might seem to be that positive vibes (laughter) are more “powerful” than negative emotions (fear), so it pays for everyone to aim for laughs. But the message to parents could just as easily be read as: we hate it when your children cry, but it is even more disruptive when they start cackling and screaming out of joy. Either way, kids need to shut up and learn to respect their surroundings, and do their noise making under private, controlled conditions.
Why else would the monster authorities forbid Sully from contacting Boo again at the end of the movie? The monster universe just can’t risk letting children in to run amok, even if it takes more than physical contact to unleash doomsday.
The bottom line from Pixar here is that children may be a precious resource, but that doesn’t give them license to go out and about like actual members of society.
6. Brave: Children are Immune to Consequences and Non-Physical Punishment
Pixar pretty well spells out what they think of little kids in the opening narration of this flick.
Merida’s commentary sets up her relationship with her mother–and, by extension, the social conventions of her community–so that the rest of the narrative can help her change both, and become a responsible, autonomous adult.
As for her brothers, she describes them as basically the opposite: anarchists who laugh at society’s laws and the conditions for community membership, and who “get away with murder.”
When Merida’s mom gets turned into a bear, she vacillates between human and bear behavior, trying to cling to her humanity (and maternal role) while racing against the clock to undo the spell. When Merida’s brothers are transformed by the same spell, they just look different, but behave much as they always have.
As far as Pixar is concerned, the three boys are essentially the same either way: destructive, mischievous, with insatiable appetites and no real interest in playing by rules, conventions, or basic human decency. While her mother risks losing her humanity forever, the three little bears are indistinguishable from their former selves, save a little extra hair and teeth.
The main arc of the story plays on how a little teenage tantrum can escalate into something much more serious. Under these conditions, though, Merida rises to the occasion, saving her mother and their relationship, as well as coming to terms with the limits of her own personal freedom as a necessary compromise for being a member of her community. For younger kids, that’s just not in the cards.
While Merida grows as an individual, the end of the story is the same as the beginning where these little brats are concerned. She gains agency, as well as a newfound, mutual respect with her mother, and generally comes out of it all a more mature, willing member of society. Her brothers, presumably, learn nothing, because unlike the children in most of Pixar’s other movies, these kids never receive any punishment, and never have anyone scare some sense or self-control into them. Without the kind of trauma that Sid or Darla encountered, Pixar apparently can’t find a way to get children to change course.
5. The Good Dinosaur: Children are More Like Pets Than People
This one starts out with a novel premise: what would have happened to the world if the dinosaurs never went extinct? The answer is, among other things, that human children would be little more than pet dogs to the dominant species of the planet–and that seems to be for the best.
It is a simple story with a simple agenda. The Good Dinosaur shows the world what Pixar views as the real nature of children, without all the trappings and camouflage of developed society. These children are primal, filthy, animals, capable of only basic emotion and utterly dependent on the caretaking of more complex and intelligent beings.
It isn’t even subtext here. The titular dinosaur is looking for companionship, courage, and of course his own family, but settles in the interim for a pet. Pets, after all, are a great gateway for learning responsibility, and the feral child–along with some classic road movie hijinks–helps Arlo grow into an adult by forcing him to make hard choices and put the needs of someone else above his own at times.
Once that coming-of-age journey is complete for Arlo, he recognizes that his old pet and companion no longer belongs with him, and should return to live with his own kind. They may have been friends, but ultimately Arlo is developing the confidence and social skills needed to thrive among his own kind, while his pet human is just acting on instinct and dopily following his master around.
While Pixar’s other films all use the buddy-comedy structure to put two mismatched but essentially equal characters together, this time the studio apparently decided that even anthropomorphic animals are fundamentally more relatable and capable of carrying a narrative than a child. So instead of two reluctant friends, we essentially get a man and his (dispensable) pet.
Basically, a child may be a good alternative to loneliness and isolation, but ultimately it is more of a project than a legitimate partner.
4. The Incredibles: The Only Thing Worse Than a Kid is an Even Younger Kid
In Pixar’s first foray into the comic book/superhero genre, the writers decided that the ultimate villain is just a hero-worshiping savant who never really grows up.
When we first meet the future villain of The Incredibles, he is just an obnoxious, albeit precocious, child who wants nothing more than to live out his fantasy of being a superhero, Incrediboy, just like his idol Mr. Incredible. Only at this point, it isn’t made explicitly clear that Incrediboy is destined for super villainy. So when Mr. Incredible is curt and dismissive to his biggest fan, it just seems like the natural reaction to the sort of pest this kid clearly is.
The next time we see him, he is still doing the exact same thing, only as an adult, and calling himself Syndrome–a super villain trying to convince the world he is the last superhero. On the one hand, it looks like Mr. Incredible was right for not embracing Incrediboy as his sidekick (or “ward,” whatever that was supposed to entail…), as Incrediboy caused more problems than he solved with his genius inventions. Yet Mr. Incredible can’t win, because the man-child that is Syndrome has spent his life using all his skills and knowledge in an effort to live out the youthful fantasy he felt he was denied.
And his talent for inventing hasn’t matured any more than his emotional range or social skills. Almost as soon as he puts his giant death-robot plan into action, it malfunctions–just like his first outing as Incrediboy–and it is up to Mr. Incredible to save the day. So far, Pixar seems to be telling us that kids are always causing (or compounding) problems, even when they try to help. It’s up to adults to clean up after them. Pixar also seems to be emphasizing that the only respectable occupation for children is growing the heck up, as Buddy/Incrediboy clearly failed to do.
But Pixar’s anti-child commentary takes a new layer after all the fighting seems to be over, and Mr. Incredible, along with his friends and family, victorious.
Syndrome makes a last-ditch effort to spite Mr. Incredible and kidnaps his infant child. In what Pixar apparently considers the ultimate form of ironic justice, that infant goes berserk on Syndrome, ultimately leading to his fiery death. Not only does Syndrome fail to manifest as either superhero, or an effective nemesis to Mr. Incredible, but Mr. Incredible doesn’t even deal the final blow to put him down.
Just like fighting fire with fire, the silver bullet for taking out a childish Pixar super villain is just another child. Nothing stops a tantrum like having an even more infantile character come along and, with no apparent self-awareness or objective control of his actions, cause an even more volatile ruckus with his own respective tantrum.
3. Inside Out: All People Suck, But Especially Young People
The more movies they make with human characters, the more it seems like Pixar hates all humans, but especially the younger ones.
Where the plot of Inside Out is concerned, the real-world stakes are pretty low (a girl runs away from home, but then doesn’t), but the mechanics of Riley’s brain demonstrate that, as far as Pixar is concerned, the decision-making of young people is dominated by impulse, fantasy, irrationality, and frequent synaptic breakdowns.
During the brief glimpses we get into the mental headquarters of the adult characters, we see that the emotions and cognitive machinery are all running smoothly, if not efficiently. Riley’s father is living in a series of constant sports highlight reel replays, alternating between obliviousness and responsiveness to his family. Riley’s mom is, apparently, patiently suffering through a life of dissatisfaction and frustration with her husband. Riley, meanwhile, is apparently a model of insecurity, falling apart the moment she begins to see her formerly happy memories get tinged with sadness.
And it isn’t until Riley starts having outbursts that her parent’s minds start reacting wildly, desperately, and often inappropriately. She is presented as being the ultimate source of discord in her parents’ own emotional self-control.
The low stakes and simplistic characters of the movie seem designed deliberately, not just to make the proceedings all the more relatable, but to suggest Pixar thinks, “This is what all people are like.” By extension, the cataclysmic destruction of Riley’s personality through the dissolution of her memories, climaxing with a complete emotional shut-down after a series of manic outbursts, seems to be Pixar saying, “This is what all children are like.”
Given the fact that all of the action right up through the final “resolution” takes place over the course of less than a week, the writers are really leaving the door open for Riley to have this kind of emotional-identity crises just about 52 times a year. The fact that Joy narrates the story seems to fit the definition of an unreliable narrator. Joy, even by her own account, is incapable of taking a remotely nuanced approach to anything–she only presses one button to operate Riley. So having her start a story by saying, essentially, that everything has been great up until now, and it looks like this was just a hiccup in everything being great forever, seems more than a little suspect.
Pixar wrote the adults as drones, sluggishly navigating their lives under the primary of influence of a single emotion, and relegating all decision making to that impulse. By portraying Riley’s mind as a hodgepodge of emotional impulses competing for control (and variously winning and losing that control), Pixar casts all young people as perpetually prone to malfunction, and fostering subsequent turmoil among their parents’ minds as they try to react and interpret their children’s random mosaic of behaviors appropriately.
2. WALL-E: Childishness is the Downfall of Humanity
On the face of it, children don’t seem to figure too strongly into the plot of WALL-E. But Pixar telegraphs several times that the ultimate dissolution of humanity comes from their slow regression into giant babies.
While it seems like the whole story was written as some cautionary tale to promote environmentalism, the filmmakers very clearly express that the problem with Earth and all of humanity isn’t just that we neglected our planet–it is that we allowed robots to take on the role of parents, while we all collectively regressed to childhood.
The most obvious is the scene conveying this is that in which the ship’s captain must stand on his own feet–by all indications, for the first time in his life–and, like an actual toddler, try to reach the controls of the ship. This isn’t just a throwaway joke, either. It happens right at the climax of the film, when the title character is in the greatest peril.
As much as the film takes potshots at consumer culture, it is also screaming, “you’re a big dumb baby” at all its human characters. The whole fleet is shown to be entirely automated, with every wish and need of the human passengers tended to by the paternalistic robots and AI systems keeping everything together–exactly the way parents, in Pixar’s view, are constantly enabling their little ankle-biters to run amok in the world, heedless of the messes they leave behind or the workload they create for everyone else.
The one time actual infants do show up, it is made clear that their lives are not demonstrably different from the adults’. They’re pampered, plump, and essentially useless, incapable of doing anything for themselves and possessed of only the loosest control of their limbs. They lack self-control, self-awareness, basic social skills beyond “I want” and “I need,” and are prone to causing all sorts of mayhem when left unattended for any amount of time.
The title character is the ultimate stand-in for the overworked, underappreciated parent. While the children are all outside playing and enjoying themselves (on the ship), WALL-E is stuck back at home (Earth), literally cleaning up after them, so that when they come back they can, presumably, mess it all up again while they get dinner served to them.
The commentary isn’t just that humans should stop being so preoccupied with technology and so wastefully hedonistic. It’s that the more we depend on technology, the more we act like kids. And apparently nothing is worse for the planet than everyone acting like little kids, because Pixar hates children.
1. Up: Children are the Source of All Unhappiness, Even if You Never Have Any
Audiences fell in love with Up largely because of the incredibly emotional, beautifully rendered opening sequence, which tells the story of the entire lives of a couple. The simple, heartbreaking, wordless storytelling of this sequence sets up the main story, as well as the grumpy, despondent main character in a way few movies manage to do. But even more importantly, it makes the scene toward the end of the movie, when Carl rediscovers his wife’s journal, even more powerful.
The message of the film, judging from these two iconic scenes, is that Carl thought he had somehow let his wife, Ellie, down and failed to share with her the life she had always wanted. But he discovers that life with someone you love is always an adventure–and all she really wanted after all.
The subtext, however, is a little less affirming when taken in light of Pixar’s pervasive baby shaming. The game-changer is that everything was cool and froody right up until Carl realized his wife wanted babies–lots of babies–only to subsequently learn that, for whatever reason, she couldn’t have children of her own. This marks the first discordant note in the musical summary of Carl and Ellie’s relationship, and seems to start Carl’s quest of overcompensation that leads him to Paradise Falls.
The mere idea of children seems to have blinded Carl to the entire rest of his life with Ellie. Rather than taking every subsequent impediment to their adventures in stride, he seems to be keeping score of all the times he let Ellie down, and becoming ever more desperate to make up for it all. He stumbles into retirement and solitude, angry at the world, all because he thinks his marriage was a series of setbacks and disappointments. Rather than making the most of their time together, the movie indicates that he brooded over this supposed void of fulfillment right up until his wife died, and then some, counting all the missed opportunities in her adventure book, and never looking past these pages to see what she had recorded of their actual, non-fantasy lives.
He therefore spends the remainder (and majority) of the movie trying to compensate, starting at page one. Obviously, by the time she has died it is too late to make up for having no children, so he instead pours himself into the only other unrealized dream that still seems within his grasp: moving the house to Paradise Falls.
Over the course of this journey, he slowly warms up to Russell, the resident tagalong buddy-counterpart and Boy Scout, who the movie makes painfully clear is in desperate need of a father figure, and clearly sees that being fulfilled by Carl. Carl, meanwhile, eventually reads the entirety of Ellie’s adventure book and decides to leave the whole fantasy of Paradise Falls behind in order to spend more time with his new friend/foster son, Russell.
But the worst part is, we can’t be certain he really learned his lesson, because once he ostensibly sees that the adventure of life is what you make it and that letting other people in is still worthwhile, he is stuck playing father figure to Russell. He could be doing it because he’s learned to genuinely appreciate Russell’s company, and he enjoys sharing his own childhood pleasures with a new generation. But we’ll never know, because the movie also makes it clear that there are some serious daddy issues going on with both Russell and Carl, and that no matter what Carl thinks of the relationship, at least 50% of the members see it is something close to father-son.
Is he making up for misreading all the best moments from his marriage, or still trying to compensate for never having kids of his own with Ellie? We’ll never know, and maybe, just maybe, he can’t even tell the difference himself. He spent so much of his life equating children with the first step to fulfillment that he can’t any other way to spend his remaining years.