On Wednesday, April 13th at 6 pm in Blow Memorial Hall, Jerome Christensen, a professor of English at the University of California, Irvine presented a lecture entitled “Toys United: The Supreme Court, Pixar, Disney, and the Conscience of a Corporation.’ The lecture was about the corporate culture of two of the most prominent companies involved with the production of animated movies in America today: Disney and Pixar. Before beginning his lecture, Christiansen announced that he had a very personal connection to the College, as his brother is an alumnus.
Christensen began by summarizing the widely unpopular recent Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. Citizens United states that corporations are entitled to free speech in the same manor that individual citizens are guaranteed under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Christensen commented on the radical changes this means to American corporate culture, but yet, the movie studios, including Disney and Pixar, have often used “studio authorship” or using the studio’s brand name to help produce and market their movies.
Christensen then talked about a controversy about movies that surrounded one of the most acclaimed films of all time: 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart. The film, though widely acclaimed today, was a major source of controversy because of how it depicted the American political system. The fallout from the film included anti-trust legislation conducted against the movie studios. However, further elaborating his point of the idea of “studio authorship,” he said that one of the lawsuits against the film did not mention Frank Capra, but listed Columbia Pictures as the author of the film.
Christensen used three movies from the two respective animation studios to point out how each one views it’s corporate culture. For Disney, this film is the 1940 animated classic, Pinocchio. As Christensen stated, no company takes it’s corporate culture and seemingly wholesome media image more seriously than Disney. Pinocchio appears to be an metaphor for the creation of Disney films themselves, because like the puppet Pinocchio, early Disney films took tremendous care and were more unique and artistic than other films coming out at the time. Pinocchio’s kindly maker, Geppeto, could be seen as a metaphor for Walt Disney himself, or perhaps the greater corporate entity as a whole.
For Pixar, the films that best define their corporate culture are the first Toy Story movies, released in 1995 and 1999. Rather than featuring a Geppeto that puts the love and care needed to sculpt a Pinocchio, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, the two main toys who are the protagonists and the focus of the two films, are manufactured by a nameless person or machine. The primary reason that Woody and Buzz exist is to be entertainment for their owner, a boy named Andy. Pixar seems to realize that it exists in a world that features far more mass-produced merchandise, but also has a moral center that justifies the mass-produced culture.
Christensen concluded by talking about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, which included Apple CEO Steve Jobs becoming a member of Disney’s board of directors due to his involvement with Pixar, and what that means for the corporate cultures of both companies.