Why I Watch Pixar Movies Instead of Reading Education Books All Summer


I watch Pixar movies. I watch them with the kids and talk about the bigger themes of life. I know, I know. I should be thinking about my "craft" as a teacher. I should be brainstorming ideas of projects. And I do some of that.

However, the school year is when I grow myopic. It's when the local, immediate context dominates my mind. By the year's end, I can feel a little lost in the detail and the data and the day-to-day life of the classroom. 

That's why I watch Pixar movies (along with How to Train a Dragon, by Dreamworks). I do this, because these are carefully crafted stories with true character development and meaningful themes. The theater is our secular cathedral and movies are our myths. They tell us, no challenge us, to think differently about life. 

It's why the first twelve minutes of Up! has everything and nothing to do with the classroom. It's reminding me that life is a vapor and you can get so busy doing the things you need to do that you miss pursuing your dreams. Ultimately, this leads me back to my classroom. It might not lead to a series of new strategies, but it helps me reset my mindset as I start the school year. 

Here are a few examples:
  • Up! - This movie has two closely related themes that I need to hold onto during the school year. The first is that you never know the whole story (from the villain to Kevin to the twist in the end). The second is the idea that the joy is in the journey. 
  • Finding Nemo - This movie always has me wondering if we've made school to safe and therefore made it unsafe in the process. It also has me thinking about career and family and the deliberate decision to abandon it all to chase after my three kids if they ever wander too far. 
  • Cars - The notion that people matter more than achievement is something I need to hear every school year. 
  • Monsters, Inc. -  I love the theme that the "enemy" might not be evil so much as misunderstood and that if we take some time to build a relationship, the dangerous kid might not be so dangerous after all.  
  • Toy Story - As I push toward the veteran status (in my school, ten years is a long time) I find myself going back to the Woody versus Buzz Lightyear idea. I need to know that I will lose some influence when someone more novel and more energetic comes in. However, if I can be humble, I can partner with that person and offer something as well. I know that's not the major theme, but that's always my take-away. 
  • Wall-E - After teaching technology PD and going to a tech conference, I need a reminder that in the process of building stuff (maker spaces, technology, etc.) we can lose our humanity. The satire in that movie is timeless and brilliant. 
  • The Incredibles - When we hide, we often hide the best parts of us along with the worst. And we do so in the name of fitting in. 
photo credit: Raymond Larose via photopin cc
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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11 comments:

  1. Pixar shorts are also great for teaching teachers:
    http://edmacgyver.blogspot.com/2009/04/what-does-rabbit-have-to-do-with.html?m=1

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  2. Absolutely, John. You have some insightful points here.

    “It's reminding me that life is a vapor and you can get so busy doing the things you need to do that you miss pursuing your dreams.”
    That's one that cuts deep.

    I'm saving this in Evernote with a reminder to read this again in September. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I really appreciate this post, John. Now, if I can just get Evelyn to pass me the popcorn...

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  4. I've found a similar benefit from reading children's literature this summer. I decided to immerse myself in books to avoid being obsessive about planning for the fall, while still learning about a new grade band. I've been surprised to find that my escape has been changing me. Somehow, reading about the Danish resistance to the Nazis and the plight of the Pullman Porters and the courage of a girl with Asperger's who is overcoming grief is starting to make me braver, more willing to take risks.

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  5. Thanks John, I'm glad to know there are more of us out there who stay away from educational books during the summer. Even though it's not Pixar, a favorite of mine is Ratatouille. Films like these take us back to what our core beliefs are. Happy viewing!

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  6. One theme that runs through all of these (along with your post) is the "ticking clock." It adds a significant amount of tension to each story and the same could be said for our summer unless we take an approach such as yours. Your insights will certainly help me think about and work toward what will really make a "happy ending" to the summer recharge. Thanks John.

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  7. Love reading this! So good to be reminded of all these things each school year
    Thanks

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  8. Love reading this! So good to be reminded of all these things each school year
    Thanks

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  9. We are headed out to the movies tonight with the kids. Hope there is a good message in Monsters University! Thanks for sharing your message. We can learn so much by examining the messages that are in the movies, because we often get caught up in the day to day.

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  10. I love reading your blog each day. I posted a link of your blog on today's blog post. Keep up the good work. It's nice to read your blog. Take a look at my blog where I linked my top blog picks: http://thenewprincipalprinciples.blogspot.com/2013/07/top-principal-blogs.html

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  11. imagine.. if public ed's focus.. was to connect people . to their people.
    in the city.
    as the day.

    happy feet.

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