But what makes these characters such successful protagonists is not their shiny spandex or catch phrases; it’s their humanity. Whether they show up as a helper robot or a rehabilitated great white shark, the fictional Pixar characters always reflect real-life human frailties. Yes, Mr. Incredible is incredible—but he also experiences a mid-life crisis. Yes, Lightning McQueen is the coolest car on the Piston Cup circuit—but he’s a jerk with some serious growing up to do. And yes, even Woody, who is perhaps the most likable guy you’ll find in the toy box, has his faults. Jealousy, anger, selfishness … they’re all there.
These flawed protagonists win the hearts of young and old with their three-dimensional personalities. Maybe their stories play out in an animated reality, but they connect with us because they are us. We are the “underdog,” the “has-been,” the “aspiring artist,” the child who “swam off” to do it on our own, only to find ourselves in great danger.