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FILM 3340: National Cinemas - Deconstructing Pixar


Instructor: Dr. Virginia Bonner
Messages: vbonner@clayton.edu 
678-466-4769 fax
Fall 2023 CRN 80711
3-0-3 credit hours
ENGL 1102 & FILM 2100 (C)
Meetings: MW 11:15am-12:30pm in UC 272
Screenings: On your own via D2L streaming
Office hrs: by email, phone, Teams, or in person in Carnes Hall 105
Web Address: http://www.virginiabonner.com

Course Objectives

Pixar's inventiveness with digital animation and narrative storytelling revolutionized American cinema after the 1990s. This semester, we will study how selected Pixar films achieved this, and also how they reflect, shape, and skew American and international identities. We will no doubt enjoy watching these films that, for most of us, are wonderful childhood--and adult--memories. However, we will now revisit those films with fresh eyes in order to appreciate not only Pixar's landmarks in animation and storytelling, but also to deconstruct how Pixar perpetuates American stereotypes.

We will focus primarily on how ideologies of nostalgia, memory, capitalism, nation, and identity (including gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability) are constructed in both early and recent Pixar films. Of course, these Pixar (and now Pixar/Disney) films are cultural products; they were created within particular historical and cultural contexts. As such, we will study how their creative circumstances yielded their particular intersections of these very American ideologies. But we will also consider how audiences can interpret these popular culture texts in ways not necessarily designed or even forethought by Pixar.

Course Format

Pixar's list of films is impressive, so our class will cover LOTS of Pixar movies! We will view at least one film per week--sometimes two. However, assigned readings will be comparably light, and there is no written paper assigned for the course.

You will be responsible for lively class discussions about our films and readings. This means that you must have read and screened all material before class; daily quizzes will help you keep pace with our material. Again, there is no formal written paper required for this course, but a thorough command of the film terminology you learned in FILM 2100 is expected in our discussions and on your tests.

Please always arrive five minutes early to class lectures, not only because we will start promptly and you'll miss important stuff (especially our five-minute quiz at the start of class!), but also because late arrivals are extremely disruptive. If you must arrive late, always use the back door to enter the room quietly and then sit quietly on the aisle; do not step over people to get to a favorite seat, since this blocks the view of the screen for others. Do not text, eat loud foods, sleep, answer cell phones, operate computers, check email, work on other projects, talk with classmates or talk back to the screen loudly, or leave the room for food or other non-emergencies during class lectures; these are a time for serious study of our film texts so you should be taking copious notes during each film viewing and class lecture to prepare for your quizzes, class discussions, and exams. You may wish to bring a penlight to classes to help you take notes in the dark. Anyone behaving disruptively during class will be asked to leave.

Film Screenings

Please note that the films are fundamental to our course together. That is, in order to succeed in the class, you must watch the assigned films before the class meeting on your own outside of class. Most of our assigned films are available for free via streaming hyperlinks posted on D2L, and some are also on DVD reserve in the CSU library. Do NOT watch films on YouTube or other poor quality, truncated versions of the films, and do not watch on a phone! These films will be the primary subject matter of our exams, so high quality screenings viewed each week are important; definitely do not rely on having seen these films when they were first released, as a child, or even last month, since we will be approaching them from very different perspectives now than we did then. If you do not plan to watch the films on your own, you should plan to take the course in another semester when you can commit to the time necessary to succeed. Note that we will view additional excerpts from selected films during class lectures.

Required Texts (Available at the campus bookstore or online vendors or as e-books)

1.     Richard Neupert, John Lasseter. Illinois University Press: 2016. (ISBN 0252081641) ebook available online via CSU Library

2.     Shannon R. Wooden and Ken Gillam, Pixar's Boy Stories: Masculinity in a Postmodern Age. Rowan & Littlefield, 2014. (ISBN 1442233583) e-book available online via CSU Library

3.     Selected PDF files posted in D2L. 

Selected readings will be assigned from these additional texts:

1. Meinel, Dietmar. Pixar's America : The Re-Animation of American Myths and Symbols, Springer International Publishing AG, 2016. ebook available online via CSU Library

2. Brown, Noel. Contemporary Hollywood Animation : Style, Storytelling, Culture and Ideology since The 1990s, Edinburgh University Press, 2021. ebook available online via CSU Library

3. Clarke, James. The Films of Pixar Animation Studio, Oldcastle Books, 2013. ebook available online via CSU Library

4. Herhuth, Eric. Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination : Animation, Storytelling, and Digital Culture, University of California Press, 2017. ebook available online via CSU Library

Note: If you have added this course during the schedule change period and/or were not present for the syllabus review the first day of class, please meet with me the following day to review course requirements and policies.