Why Pixar Hasn’t Answered Major Questions About Toy Story And Monsters Inc., According To Soul’s Director

Buzz Lightyear and Woody Toy Story

One of the greatest things about Pixar is the company's willingness to take big swings when it comes to creative ideas, and develop stories that nobody else on Earth is telling. This has led them to have incredible success over the last 25 years, but there is a side effect of that approach that can be summed up in one word: questions. Its fascinating to peer into the lives of toys when humans aren't around, and discover why it is that monsters scare children, but there are always lingering details that can leave fans scratching their heads. There is, however, a really simple answer for why this is: there is only so much information about a broader world that can be packed into a standard-length feature film, and only so much that is needed to tell a proper story.

Pixar's latest, Soul (which just landed on Disney+ this past weekend), is another movie that is guaranteed to be parsed and examined by fans for years to come, generating questions that the film itself doesn't address in its 100 minute runtime, and director Pete Docter recently discussed this common occurrence during an interview with The Huffington Post. The filmmaker (who is also presently the chief creative officer of the animation company) spoke specifically to common queries about Toy Story and Monsters Inc., and while talking about an example from the former he got to the heart of the matter:

We went through a lot of discussion on Toy Story, the first one, about like, ‘If Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy, why does he go rigid when a kid walks in the room?’ We had a lot of explanations and talk about that, too. And in the end, nobody cared.

At the end of the day, Buzz Lightyear freezes when he's around humans because that's something that needs to happen so that the story can function as planned. As intimated by Pete Docter, who was on the original story team of Toy Story, a person can come up with any number of explanations for why it happens (maybe it's a toy instinct thing?), but at the end of the day it's not really something that matters because it's not something that the audience is thinking about or focusing on as the story plays out.

Another example addressed by Pete Docter came from his feature directorial debut, Monsters, Inc. Have you ever wondered what was going on with Boo's parents while the young girl was hanging out with Sully and Mike in Monstropolis? Well, you'll be happy to know that the folks at Pixar also thought about that during the making of the movie, and that it was actually almost directly addressed – but the reason it wasn't is because it didn't fit with the flow of the film. Said Docter,

This is one of these questions that we asked ourselves. And we went through a lot of different machinations of writing scenes. We didn’t actually board any, but we felt like, OK, the audience doesn’t need to know this because Sully doesn’t know. And we’re with Sully. So who cares? Whatever her parents think, we’re just going to ignore that. And it turned out pretty OK.

Ultimately it's just one of those gaps that audiences are expected to fill in themselves – which, when you think about it, is something that comes with the experience of watching every movie.

At the end of the day, part of the challenge of making a Pixar film that engages in whole new worlds and ideas never before explored is just making sure that the audience is being provided with all of the information that is necessary to understand the story. Pete Docter explained in brief,

I think the short answer is you just have to kind of try to guess where the audience is going to find importance, or at least push their interest there.

One would certainly have a hard time arguing with the success that Pixar has had with that approach, and that very much extends to their latest release. Soul – which is one of the best films released in 2020 and is an absolute must-see – is now available for your viewing pleasure exclusively on Disney+.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.