For a long time, it seemed like Pixar was untouchable when it came to critical accolades and box office success. The recent output of Brave, Monsters University, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur all have their fans and detractors, but for a good stretch they were putting out seemingly incomparable films. The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., Wall-E, and others all showed not just visual acuity unseen in most animated endeavors, but also a keen understanding of story and characters that simply didn’t exist within most family friendly movies. But what about Pixar films, specifically their scripts, that resonate so well with audiences? A new video essay examines why the works of Pixar are so relatable:

As compiled (and narrated) by Kristian Williams, this video reveals that the fundamental aspects of creating a Pixar film forces writers to contemplate some deep questions. As part of the 22 rules for crafting a story at Pixar, one question stands out to Williams: “Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.” Williams then goes on to discuss the ways that filmmakers proceed to justify not just the story, but also why must it be a film (as opposed to another medium), and what is the larger story being told.

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That, to Williams, is the hook for why these films are so relatable. They aren’t just about good vs. evil, or a love story, or some sort of adventure tale (though they may have elements of all of those), but instead are grounded by the characters’ emotions, drives, and goals. By making it so personal, even human despite the characters being toys or fish or robots, the film ends up becoming universal and easily understood on a fundamental level. It’s an interesting look at the ways that Pixar has succeeded with their world building and characterization in manner to which most other studios simply don’t pay enough attention. There’s a reason that these films are emotional rollercoasters of tears and laughter, and it’s because the audience sees themselves, their true selves, reflected on the screens in front of them.