Pixar, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Art of Wow


Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet? Because I have, and I freaking loved it. It had a lot of what I call ‘wow moments’, scenes that are visually eye-popping or especially emotionally captivating. Sure, a lot of movies have big set pieces or stories that strike a chord, but sometimes there are scenes where the only reaction I have is wow. And for my money, there is no place better on earth for those moments than Pixar.

For the visual side of the wow, I find that typically the scenes that do it for me are the ones that visually have a lot going on. The earliest Pixar example I can think of is the Door Chase scene from Monsters, Inc. When Sully and Mike ride the door into that massive cavern, full of hundreds of thousands of brightly colored doors whizzing all around, it’s a dynamic moment.

There’s the scene in Ratatouille, when Remy climbs out of the sewer and first gazes on Paris. Or, when WALL-E hitches a ride to The Axiom, surrounded by the wonders of the Universe. Even the erstwhile Cars franchise that Andrew loves to hate on has one, when Lightning and Sally go for a drive. But my favorite is when Carl first sees Paradise Falls in Up, because it blends the two types of wow moment, visual and emotional.

Some examples of this second type, which Pixar does so well too, are: Anton Ego’s review of Gusteau’s, the ants standing up to Hopper together, and EVE bringing WALL-E back with a ‘kiss.’ All these have something in common: they are emotional pay-off moments. They are the type of scene that the movie had to earn.

Coming back to Guardians (spoilers ahead, btw), there’s one visual wow that stood out to me, the reveal of Knowhere, but the best wow, of course, was Peter reaching out for Gamora’s hand, and remembering his mother. It is a moment that was earned, both through the blunt friendship storyline, and through the more subtle emotional journey that Peter Quill completes. A movie doesn’t need to be Serious Drama or an Oscar contender to have validity, to be meaningful or affecting. But it does need a certain emotional honesty, and must earn the viewer’s investment. That’s what Guardians did for me, and is the reason why I’m a huge fan of that movie.

One last thought on the wow moment concept. It is a thing which I think is harder to pull off via the written word, but can be done. In fact, it is exactly the kind of moments I try to create in my own work, including the book just published, Absent Hero. It’s the emotional journey that is key in the written word, I think, as you can’t control the visual information as well. And with every big piece I write, everything starts and ends with the character’s journey. I hope, when reading of Wendy’s journey in Gone To Wonder, you can find a wow moment or two.


cover3The first episode of Gone To WonderAbsent Hero, is available now from Amazon.com. Seventeen-year-old Wendy Danek is a superfan of the revolutionary theme park Finnegan’s Wonder, a place where stories come alive around you. But her world is thrown upside down when the Wonder pulls her into a story she never imagined she could experience. Will she save the Wonder, or end it? Pick up a copy of Absent Hero and be Gone to Wonder!

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