Discussing The Wisdom of Pixar with Robert Velarde
- Friday, September 17, 2010
So for A Bug's Life, for instance, I [focus on] justice because you have, of course, these bully biker gang-type grasshoppers picking on these ants, and it really appeals to our sense of justice, having to make what is wrong, right.
Then with something like The Incredibles, I thought, "That is a perfect one for courage." And my chapter on that opens with Frozone, voiced by the great Samuel L. Jackson, and he is just getting ready for an evening of dinner with his wife and, instead, he sees this giant robot out there. He instinctively knows what to do because he has got courage and virtue in him. He does not have to pull a book off the shelf about ethics or philosophy, and that appealed to me, instilling those kinds of virtues in kids.
CW: That's a good point about Frozone, even though it has been many years since he has put on his "super suit." When you were writing the book, which film and/or virtue was your favorite to write about?
RV: You know, I tell people I wrote the book as a fan and a father. The one that strikes me the most impressively is Finding Nemo. And I think that is just the whole theme of the father and the son and their separation and trying to get to him and trying to find a good balance between being protective of your children, but not overly protective, and helping nurture them and their faith in life to get them through what they are going to face. In fact, the director of Finding Nemo is a Christian, Andrew Stanton. And he has said that Nemo is really at its heart about faith overcoming fear and how we can do that as parents.
CW: One of the things I appreciated in your book was that you also explore the truth of how many virtues can have a negative side—a vice side—if taken to the extreme. Can you talk a little bit about how that looks in some of these films? In particular, the one that struck me was how you looked at that side of ambition in Ratatouille, but feel free to expound on the vice concept with any other films if that is what comes to mind.
RV: Sure, and that is a good point. I write about in my book that virtue has its opposite, which is vice. And virtue is sort of this excellent thing we are supposed to pursue. We are even told biblically in 2 Peter 1:5 to make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. And the vice side is something that is good that has sort of been spoiled, and it is now missing the good that should be there.
As far as the films are concerned, I think there are a number of good examples there. In Ratatouille, I write about godly ambition, which is something that is good, as opposed to selfish ambition, which is not. The character in there, of course, is Remy the rat who wants to be a chef, and he has a very good ambition there. He admires human beings for their creativity, their artistry, and their ability to make things, not just consume things.
CW: As moviegoers in general, or as Christians who are appreciating culture specifically, it is easy to look on G-rated films like these fantastic Pixar movies as something we can use as teaching tools or to emulate virtues. Can we extend these principles from your book into any bit of popular culture that we encounter? And if so, how? And if not, why not?
RV: I think we can, because the book, at its root, is about what we call "virtue ethics." It is a system of ethics that goes back to thinkers like Augustine and C.S. Lewis and others that really focuses on building our character instead of trying to follow a list of do's and don'ts, which would be more of a legalistic approach.
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