Dr. Jamie Jenkins: What We Can Learn from Pixar

People are more important than ideas

If you have been to the movies much in the past 15 years you probably saw at least one of Pixar Studio's creations. With this month's Toy Story 3 they have released 11 animated feature films since 1995 that have generated $9 billion in revenue.

Initially, Pixar was a high-end computer company whose core product was the Pixar Image Computer, a system primarily sold to government agencies and the medical community. The Image Computer never sold well. In a bid to drive sales of the system, Pixar employee John Lasseter premiered his short animation creations at SIGGRAPH he computer graphics industry's largest convention, to great fanfare.

In 1986 Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple, bought the computer graphics division of Lucasfilms Ltd. for $10 million and created Pixar with 44 employees. They began making animated short films and commercials. The next year their first fully computer animated film, Toy Story, was released and grossed $363 million worldwide. Within two years 375 people were employed.

On January 24, 2006, Pixar entered into an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to merge the two companies. Pixar is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.

The offerings of one of the most critically acclaimed studios of all times include Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. The studio has earned 24 Academy Awards, 6 Golden Globes, 3 Grammys, and many other awards.

John Lasseter was one of the founding members of Pixar and has been a part of every Pixar film to date. John's first job for Disney was as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyland in Anaheim. He is now Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney animation studios and Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering.

"Celebrating the geniuses at Pixar has practically become an annual event. After the release of each successive film, the company is hailed for its gargantuan imagination, its seemingly-endless ingenuity, its unparalleled ability to entertain children and adults alike, and, of course, for its reputation as not only the best set of storytellers in the field of animation, but in Hollywood itself" (LiveJournal.com).

To what can all this success be attributed? No doubt there are a lot of answers to that question. Creative thinking, risk taking, industriousness, and many other characteristics that are essential to Pixar's success. But Lasseter, referring to the process of making Toy Story, said they believed that "people are more important than ideas." That might be the key.

Another insight into the genius of this film studio is seen in a comment by Andrew Stanton, the director of Pixar's fifth hit, Finding Nemo, in 2003. He said, "We had to work hard to be as naïve as we were in the beginning."

It might be wise for the Church to heed the words of Lasseter and remember that the Gospel is about people. God loved people so much that God sent Jesus to rescue them and show them how to live. People were more important to him than religious ideology, institutions, or anything else.

The Christian community would do well to remember that the Good News of Jesus Christ is always simple and sufficient. We can refine, expand, and complicate it- sometimes without even trying. Perhaps we need to work hard to retain the simplicity of the Message and to maintain a child-like attitude of faith.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," July 12, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]