Treasure Island

“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”
-Roberst Louis Stevenson

Growing up in the 90’s was the best time for Disney musicals. There was Aladin, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Mulan, Pocohantes, and Muppet Treasure Island. Muppet Treasure Island was one of my favorites because I loved all things, pirates. A particular memory stands out to me that exemplifies my fascination for the Jolly Roger. One summer, probably in the mid-90’s, my Mom forced me to go to day camp. This day camp had everything a fat boy dreaded: high humidity, tag, shirtless swimming, mediocre cold lunches, and overly energetic counselors.

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In an attempt to forgo the see-through white t-shirt, I decided to opt out of swimming. Instead of having fun with the hyperactive kids, I sat under a shade tree and read an enthralling book on pirates; it explained pirate culture, swashbuckling battles, and treasure hunts. I think this event in my life stands out to me because it was the first time I realized that I was an old man in a young body. Today, my Mom and I laugh about those times, and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer have to carry around a tube of Preparation-H in the case of post-tag chafing. With this background and love of pirates in mind, I was excited to crack open my next classic, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Treasure Island was published in 1883 and is actually a children’s story written by Stevenson for his stepson. This novel is responsible for most of modern culture’s pirate imagery: Billy Bones, a parrot on the shoulder, a peg leg, Long John Silver, X on a treasure map, pieces of eight, “Yo ho, yo ho, and a bottle of rum!” The main character is Jim Hawkins, a boy who stumbles upon a treasure map and then goes on an adventure to retrieve it – one in which goes completely awry after Long John Silver and his pirate crew attempt to take the treasure for themselves. It is a coming of age story for Hawkins and the reader witnesses his transition from a cowardly boy to a courageous man.

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Throughout the book, there are various father figures for Jim and Stevenson highlights how difficult it is to decipher a person’s real character. For example, Jim loves hanging out with Long John Silver because he is fun and personable; on the other hand, Jim feels disconnected from the stern captain of the ship and feels uncomfortable in his presence. Unfortunately, Long John Silver ends up being the anti-hero who leads Jim astray while the Captain remains a bedrock of sense who eventually leads Jim safely home. Stevenson highlights the difficulty that children face when trying to decide good vs. bad, friend vs. foe, and caretaker vs. conman. The people we spend time with significantly impact our character and our life choices. Think of all the bad habits in your life; how many of those habits are the result of your friends’ and past social activities? Be weary of the Long John Silver in your own life and realize that there may be treasures waiting just outside your echo chamber.

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Animation Domination: The Creativity of Pixar

I remember watching classic Disney movies growing up like Aladdin and The Lion King. Disney in the 90’s was like Micheal Jordan in the 90’s-insanely awesome. What I really loved about the Disney movies growing up were the songs; I was a little weird fat kid who would sing these songs in my bedroom and pretend that I was in the school variety show. Anyways, as I got older, Disney started to move away from musicals and they really didn’t have any good animated films until just recently with The Princess and the Frog and Frozen. Thankfully, a movie company came about which filled this animation gap and provided us with a whole new set of characters to love. This company was Pixar Animation and to learn more about their unique history, I read Creativity, INC.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.

Pixar began in 1979 as a special effects division of Lucasfilms after George Lucas’ huge success with Star Wars. Lucas wanted to push the field of special effects so he hired Ed Catmull, a PhD scientist, who was renowned for his advances in computer animation. Catmull was the president of Pixar from the beginning but Pixar was far different than the company we identify today. Back in the 80’s Pixar was best known for its computer hardware equipment and special effects. What would change Pixar’s history forever was George Lucas getting a divorce. Because of Lucas’ split, he had to sell off some of his subsidiary companies. Almost every industry kicked the tires of Pixar including General Motors who was very close to buying them. Enter Steve Jobs. Jobs would buy Pixar for 5 million dollars and he had the early vision of Pixar selling computer hardware across the country. After a dismal decade of sales and an infusion of over 50 million dollars by Jobs (to keep the company alive), Pixar gave up their hardware business. During the 80’s however, Pixar did side work providing special effects and animation for commercials and featured films. Pixar worked with Disney during this time and as a result Disney offered them a three featured-film contract. The business was so near to failure that Jobs was close to selling PIXAR to Microsoft in 1994-a year before the release of Toy Story. Well, Toy Story was a complete success and Pixar would go on to make 15 critically-acclaimed-feature films: Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University, and Inside Out. In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for 7.4 billion dollars but it was maintained as a separate animation studio with Ed Catmull becoming president of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

The story of Pixar is really amazing and Ed Catmull is extraordinary when it comes to fostering creativity. Catmull believes that the key to creativity is candor between all individuals involved in the film making process. Candor essentially means that people are not afraid to tell the truth and that they need to be open to constructive criticism. Pixar has regular meetings (called Braintrusts) where everyone is allowed to put in their opinion while knowing that no criticism is a personal attack but rather a means of making the project better. There is little emphasis on hierarchy at Pixar which allows for more open communication between animators, managers, directors, and producers. Catmull emphasizes throughout the book that failure is a necessity and a vital part of the creative process. When Pixar movies first start they simply suck and are nothing like the final product-however through multiple failures and criticisms the movie slowly gets better and better. This acceptance of failure and openness to input is something I believe all people struggle with. I want to continually better myself and to do this I must be willing to fail. It is the times that we fall and get back up that really define our own life story.

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My favorite Pixar movie is Inside Out and my favorite Pixar short is Lava (listen to the song below)