Knowing When to Quit or Shift Gears, an Analysis of Pixar’s ‘Newt’

In 2008, before the release of Wall-E, Pixar announced an upcoming project called Newt. The film was scheduled to come out directly after Toy Story 3 in 2011, but was then pushed to 2012 to make way for a project called The Bear and the Bow, which later became known as Brave. Centered around two blue-footed amphibians named Newt and Brooke, Newt’s official press release stated:

What happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species, and they can’t stand each other? That’s the problem facing Newt and Brooke, heroes of “newt,” the Pixar film by seven-time Academy Award winner for sound Gary Rydstrom, and director of Pixar’s Oscar-nominated short, “Lifted.” Newt and Brooke embark on a perilous, unpredictable adventure and discover that finding a mate never goes as planned, even when you only have on choice. Love, it turns out, is not a science.

Upon its conception, the story appeared to be another Pixar hit. At an official press conference, additional details from the story were announced, revealing that the protagonist lived in a college laboratory ever since he was captured as a tadpole. From his cage, he could see a flow-chart that revealed the mating rituals of his species, but unfortunately the final instructions were a mystery hidden behind the laboratory’s coffee machine.

Despite the clever and relatable pitch, issues within the plot came to surface after the first act. In the story, scientists manage to catch our hero a mate, only to find out that the couple had absolutely nothing in common. Shortly after the hook, the story began to fizzle out despite the director’s solid concept and diligent team. In May of 2010, production on Newt was cancelled, marking it the first incomplete project from Pixar Animation.

Speculators believe the project came to a halt due to competitive outside factors. In 2011, 20th Century Fox came out with a film called Rio, where Blu, a domesticated macaw from Minnesota meets the wild-and-free Jewel, and the two take an amazing adventure to Rio de Janeiro. Pixar denies this coincidence as being Newt’s extinction.

In the book, Creativity, Inc., Pixar Animation President Ed Catmull describes the event with a heavy heart. “While it cost us time and money to pursue, to my mind it was worth the investment. We learned better how to balance new ideas with old ideas, and we learned we had made a mistake in not getting very explicit buy-in from all of Pixar’s leaders about the nature of what we were trying to do.”

The billion-dollar animation studio appears to release hit after hit while continuing to experiment in risky endeavors. Consider their short films — Presto, Lifted, or Geri’s Game — that are attached to every theatrical release. These three- to six-minute shorts do not deliver direct profits to the company and cost around two million dollars to develop.

Catmull writes, “Externally, [the shorts] help us forge a bond with moviegoers, who have come to regard them as a kind of bonus — something solely for their enjoyment. Internally, because everyone knows the shorts have no commercial value, the fact that we continue to make them sends a message that we care about artistry at Pixar; it reinforces and affirms our values.”

Carl and Russell in Pixar’s Up!

When reading about the care that goes into each scene and plot point, it’s clear that Pixar holds unquestionable virtues. Each film is worked and reworked until new and exciting ideas are uncovered. Consider the story of Up, where seventy-eight year old Carl Fredricksen travels by way of balloons to Paradise Falls with an unintentional stowaway named Russell.

Developed by Pete Docter, the original concept came about quite differently. The original version involved a floating castle disconnected with the world below. Inside this hovering fortress, two contrasting brothers constantly fought about their dissimilarities as each expected to inherit the kingdom. One day, the duo fell to earth and met a tall bird that would help them better understand one another and potentially lead them back home.

Only the title and the navigating bird made it to the final draft. The story needed to take these drastic turns to become what it eventually became. The heart that came to life within Up took years to beat and part of that intensity was developed by the undying vision of the director and his need to discover the emotional core of the film. According to Pete Docter, “Life should not be easy. We’re meant to push ourselves and try new things.”

Mike in Monster’s University

Pixar creates an open environment where employees are free to share and learn from others. With everyone on an equal playing field, this candor creates a freedom so current projects can outshine individual fears or doubts. They trust one another in a way where failure is acceptable as long as a lesson has been learned and progress has been made. The only rules made within their organization were designed to generate productivity and express personality, unlike other businesses where rules are often designed for inner office politics.

In addition to an open environment of conversation, every Pixar film has been made to elicit emotion. Important stories are those that resonate with audiences. Truth is essential. The emotional core inside of the shiny wrapper is how Pixar resonates with viewers of all ages. Within that steadfast center, these stories can wrestle with heavy issues such as loss, abandonment, purpose, and grief.

Andy’s childhood toy Woody feels pushed to the side in Toy Story when the new-and-improved Buzz Lightyear arrives. A timid clownfish named Marlin must face his fears when his son goes missing in Finding Nemo. In Inside Out, Riley’s emotions — Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness — must navigate mixed sentiments as a young girl deals with a family move and her unfamiliar teenage emotions.

Regardless of the animated surrogate in question, each story invites individual viewers to take a journey through the eyes of a vibrant character. Every scene has the dedicated care of a 300-person animation team, formulated within the vision of a dynamic director, on the blueprint of a carefully written story. Most importantly, free expression reigns unrestricted and strongly encouraged from everyone so weaknesses are brought to light and unforeseen wonders can be reshaped and worked into something magnificent.That is the Pixar way.

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