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There are a lot of elements that make Pixar movies special, but certainly one of the most important is their timelessness. The films not only try to avoid big, splashy pop culture references, but even hide elements of modernity in an attempt to make sure that the content can be as well understood by kids and adults today as they will be for future generations. Of course, this is a far from easy thing to implement, and is actually an issue that the filmmakers at the studio deal with on a regular basis.
Las month, I had the pleasure of doing an early press day for Pixar’s upcoming Finding Dory in Monterey, CA (the main setting of the film), and it was during a roundtable interview with a small group of journalists that director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins spoke to the problem that comes with the desire to make their movies timeless. The question I posed to the two filmmakers initially concerned pop culture references, though Stanton went on to explain why even elements of the everyday world create a challenge when considering the enjoyment of the film by children 100 years from now. Said the director,
The story demands you acknowledge the real world that’s out there, and we had a little of that with this film. We were like, ‘Should we have people with iPhones?’ and the truth was, we’re saying [Finding Dory] is six months later from the first one - yet, then I fight with my whole grandkids problem. What if somebody sees this movie and they don’t care? They don’t know that it’s non-cell phone 2003. You can convince yourself either way, and so I said, as long as you don’t need a cell phone, let’s not put cell phones in.
Driving home his point further, the Finding Dory director referenced his work on the Academy Award-winning Wall-E, which has a particular moment with a piece of Apple technology that proved problematic for the filmmaker in retrospect – though it was an issue that he himself predicted. Said Stanton,
That video iPod had just come out when I put it in [Wall-E, and I joked, it’ll be gone before this movie even comes out. Sure enough, before the movie came out, that was done… I remember those Bugs Bunny cartoons, those Warner Bros. cartoons when they were making fun of all the celebrities at the time? Humphrey Bogart gags, James Cagney… and I didn’t know who they were. I still watched it, but they’re not the ones I go to over time.
The good news is that when it comes to pop culture, there is a way to get around the "whole grandkids problem," and it happens to be something that the folks at Pixar excel at: Easter Eggs. Following Andrew Stanton’s comments, I asked the filmmaker if the timelessness factor of Finding Dory would prevent it from including any references to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, given that both movies use the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a key location in their respective plots. Fortunately, Stanton didn’t completely rule it out, saying,
There’s nothing stopping us from putting in a bunch of hidden things.
Pixar’s thoughts regarding pop culture references and modernity obviously aren’t shared by everyone in the industry – with many studios pumping their movies full of them - but where do you come down on it? Do you like timelessness aspect of Pixar movies, or do you think it wouldn’t hurt for them to provide a bit more time and place?
Finding Dory will be in theaters on June 17th, and stay tuned for more of our early press day coverage!