Essays · Movies

How Pixar Pays Homage to Classic Cinema

Pixar sneaks some pretty subtle references into its movies — can you catch them all?
Toy Story 2 Pixar
By  · Published on March 27th, 2018

Pixar sneaks some pretty subtle references into its movies — can you catch them all?

While adults have to simply endure most animated kids movies, Pixar movies are crafted so that parents can enjoy them alongside their children. For over two decades, Pixar has pumped out sophisticated animated narratives that often touch on distinctly adult themes like loss, aging, and death. But beyond their relatable themes, Pixar movies also cater to adults by sneaking in clever references—some subtle, some overt—to classic cinema.

These cinematic easter eggs, which reference everything from Citizen Kane to Star Wars to Kramer vs. Kramer, also ensure Pixar movies’ longevity. Sprinkled with allusions to cultural staples, the movies retain their value over the course of a viewer’s life. We can enjoy the movies we loved as kids as much in adulthood, and we may even appreciate them even more profoundly from a grown-up perspective. Pixar isn’t just looking to crank out kiddie hits; it wants to make enduring films with multi-generational appeal, paying homage to classic cinema while innovating the art form.

In his video essay “Pixar’s Tribute to Cinema,”  Jorge Luengo Ruiz rounds up all the cinematic references peppered throughout fifteen years of Pixar movies. Ruiz notes that the Toy Story trilogy is especially packed with visual allusions; hat tips to Indiana JonesVertigo, and Jurassic Park enrich the series by tapping into our shared cultural lexicon. Some of the more explicit references (like Finding Nemo’s “Here’s Brucey” homage to The Shining and musical sampling from Psychocreate some seriously comedic moments, while other more subtle references (like The Incredibles‘ extended allusion to Die Hard: With a Vengeance, which takes the shape of a tense standoff sequence between Mr. Incredible, Frozone, and a cop) demonstrate a profound appreciation for cinema itself, and assure us that Pixar intends to honor and build from the pantheon of great films.

From Toy Story to Coco, Pixar continues to top itself and raise the bar for animated movies. By appealing to both parents and children with clever cultural allusions, Pixar affords its movies longevity and complexity. Check out the video below and see which of Pixar’s cinematic references you caught on your own.

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Writer, college student, television connoisseur.