Back in July, Jon Negroni went down an animated wormhole with his Grand Unified Theory of Pixar, an absurdly close reading of the studio’s canon that weaves together each of its 14 feature films to create a world that stretches several thousand years into the future only to eventually loop back upon itself. Negroni has condensed his original theory for Slate. (A longer version of this article originally appeared on Negroni's personal blog.)
The Grand Unified Theory of Pixar is a long tale, spanning centuries, of a struggle for the domination of Earth among humans, animals with humanlike consciousness, and sentient inanimate objects—AI machines. The theory begins and ends with Brave, the studio’s 13th feature film and one that falls at the very beginning of the animated universe’s chronology as we know it. It’s in Brave, set in the Middle Ages, where moviegoers find a character that they first met more than a decade before in a seemingly unrelated film set several millennia in the future, at the far end of the Pixar timeline. But we’re getting several thousand animated years ahead of ourselves. Before we can get there (and back) we first need to go over the two major things we need to take from Brave to tell the larger Pixar story:
1. This is a world with magic. The witches have the power to cast spells that can turn humans into animals. Their powers can also be used to manipulate inanimate objects.
2. The witch, as witches tend to do, behaves oddly, disappearing behind doors and obsessing over wood.
So, what happens to the animals that the witch experiments on? They repopulate and, thanks to evolution, slowly but surely become increasingly more human over the centuries that follow.
The next movie in the universe’s timeline is The Incredibles, which is set in the 1950s and ’60s and falls nine or so centuries after Brave on the Pixar timeline. Here we meet a super breed of humans who are systematically wiped out over the course of two decades. What’s significant as far as the theory is concerned is the manner of their demise. Buddy (aka Syndrome), who lacks super powers himself, relies on super advanced technology in order to seek his revenge against Mr. Incredible and his family.
Buddy invents the Omnidroid, an artificially intelligent henchman that gradually grows and adapts to the point that it’s able to destroy the remote that controls it, allowing it to betray Syndrome and ultimately be defeated by the Incredibles. (Buddy also harnesses zero point energy, which is way ahead of its time, but we’ll get to that later.)
This marks the beginning of the rise of the AI machines. The Omnidroid and Syndrome’s other advanced technologies have learned that force doesn’t work when trying to control humans. Instead, over the next few decades, the machines launch an industrial revolution, building a faceless corporation called Buy-N-Large that they use to dominate the consumer-obsessed humans.
Next comes Toy Story, where we discover that toys have somehow become sentient and operate by rules to please humans. (We also learn that BNL builds the batteries that power Buzz Lightyear.) In Toy Story 2 we find out that Woody comes from a popular show in the ’50s, and that his toy line is discontinued—something Jessie and Stinky Pete were aware of but that Woody was not. Why? Because the AI machines used zero point energy to gradually induce life in all inanimate objects, including toys. Since BNL came into being after Woody’s Roundup, Woody would have no recollection of this.
The next movie in the timeline is Ratatouille, taking place in 2007 Paris. Animals are beginning to experiment with human activities, such as cooking. This rebellion against their instincts shows us that the descendants of the humans-turned-animals from Brave have made it from Scotland to France, and likely beyond. The plot also highlights the growing animosity between animals and humans.
This brings us to the next movie in the timeline, Finding Nemo, which takes place roughly around the same time as Toy Story 3. We know this because Molly (Andy’s sister) is reading a magazine with Darla on the cover. This is the same Darla from Finding Nemo, and she hasn’t aged.
Finding Nemo continues to explore the animosity between animals and humans, but also shows us the result of growing intelligence among animals. Sharks are trying to be vegetarians, fish are helping each other across an entire ocean network, and animals are trying to get out of their tanks and cages.
Before this all comes to a head, we have to acknowledge Toy Story 3, which takes place in 2010. This movie really delivers the point that toys will do anything for their owners, even if that means losing their purpose and happiness. This bond between objects and humans sets the tone for what’s about to happen next.