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Disney+ Review: Inside Pixar (Episodes 3, 4 & 5)

November 15, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The other day, I had a chance to review the first two episodes of Inside Pixar, the very good new docuseries on Disney Plus that introduces us to some of the individuals who help tell the stories we all know and love at Pixar Animation Studios.

The show is being presented in four collections grouped by theme, with five short episodes in each. Now that the complete first collection, Inspired, is available to stream, here are my thoughts on the next three episodes, which weren’t made available for me to review in advance.

The third episode in the series, (Inspired: Steven Hunter, For That Kid), focuses on Steven Hunter, the Canadian filmmaker behind the wonderful Pixar SparkShort Out, which is the studio’s first (and hopefully not the last) film to openly explore LGBTQ themes.

Born and raised in the small town of Chatham, Ontario, Hunter speaks candidly about growing up as a “gay nerd” in the 1980s, and how important it was for him to tell a coming out story in animated form, using a fantasy scenario to make it accessible. He talks about the process of developing the film as part of the studio’s SparkShorts program, a space for artists to experiment with different styles and telling new stories, as well as the ways that the story intersects with his own life. It’s a touching and nicely done companion piece to Out, which is also available to stream on Disney+.

The fourth episode, (Inspired: Jessica Heidt, Who Gets All the Lines?), introduces us to Jessica Heidt, a script supervisor at Pixar who noticed a pattern across the industry where the majority of films had more speaking roles for men than women. Striving for more gender balance in the studio’s films, Heidt helped develop software to map the speaking roles in scripts by gender, with the goal being something close to a fifty-fifty split like we have in real life.

One of the most interesting parts of the episode is seeing how she was able to implement these changes during the production Cars 3, working with the filmmakers to add more female supporting characters to the film. Heidt also admits though that this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and artists should still be free to tell stories in their own ways, with the software serving as a useful tool to get them thinking during the writing process about who gets lines. Notably, we are told that the upcoming Soul is about fifty-fifty in terms of speaking roles for male and female characters.

The fifth and final episode in this collection, (Inspired: Dan Scanlon, Where Ideas Come From), is all about the studio’s recent film Onward. Director Dan Scanlon talks openly about drawing upon his own experience of losing his father as baby, and how this shaped his relationship with his older brother, to tell the fantastical but grounded story of two elf brothers on a quest to see their deceased father one last time using magic.

Scanlon touches upon growing up as a very artsy kid who gained local fame in his hometown of Clawson, Michigan for his caricatures, as well as the lucky break that he received at Pixar when he was brought on to direct Monsters University. The episode serves as a heartfelt testament to the importance of opening yourself up and tapping into a very real and vulnerable place to find the story that matters most to you, and it really gives us a deeper appreciation of how personal a film Onward was for its director.

As I noted in my review of the first two episodes, Inside Pixar is a beautifully shot and beautifully edited series. This remains true of these three episodes as well. The entire Inspired collection is just under an hour long, and it offers a compelling introduction to five different individuals who are all doing great work at the studio, both in terms of telling stories and moving the needle in terms of representation.

Inside Pixar Collection 1: Inspired is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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