Blizzard’s animated shorts have led gamers and journalists alike to compare the developer to Pixar. While I agree that the visual elements are full of incredible artistry and top-notch direction, Pixar—Blizzard is not. On Team Blizzard, “Dragons” has been deemed the best short of them all. And to be honest, it’s damn badass and gorgeous. The shot composition makes every frame worthy of hanging on your wall. But that’s where any comparison to Pixar ends.
The storytelling in “Dragons” is excellent context for generating conflict. The story give us a small stake in the best part of these shorts: the time and labour intensive fight sequences. But for all the beautifully rendered CG dragons and Japanese sci-fi fantasy pastiche, the short says very little.
I get that we as people like to anchor our understanding in comparisons. It’s like [insert name]. The simile is important in that it gives us understanding. But it’s a disservice to the stories which Pixar creates for its audience. Off handed comparisons like “Blizzard’s shorts are like Pixar” make sense, but they do undermine a world class animation studio’s craft.
Pixar’s storytelling ability is vastly superiors to Blizzards. Anyone of their films, sans Cars and The Good Dinosaur, tells a better story than all of Blizzard game scripts, cinematics, and wiki pages combined.
For Pixar, story is their art. For Blizzard, story is content for a marketing campaign.
Yeah, yeah, art is all subjective. So how is Pixar better? There are no absolute arguments in art, but their are better arguments. Looking at Pixar’s animated shorts, not even their feature films. We see that the studio does way more with less.
The range of emotional tone and response is greater in scope and effectiveness. Yes, there was cheering in “Dragons” (from what I experienced at the Overwatch screening) and the occasional giggles. That’s about it. The Pixar shorts elicit laughter, awww’s, sadness, joy, thinking, and etc. Pixar almost always produces a sophisticated emotional palette to accompany their stories.
In “La Luna” there’s subtlety in the character interactions. We learn about the family in just a few seconds of movement. No one has to narrate the motivations of the characters. There are no heavy world building explanations, a device that often comes off as insecurity. Even language is removed from “La Luna”, leaning instead on the medium to communicate. Gestures and facial expressions work well. You don’t understand a word, but you know exactly what the characters mean.
But maybe the greatest reason why Pixar pwns Blizzard in storytelling is how subtlety, characters, and inspired creativity (no leaning on genre mashups like sci-fantasy here), come together to say something meaningful.
Pixar’s shorts have clear yet nuanced meanings. The themes of being happy with who you are and valuing empathy are presented in such entertaining ways they never fall into didacticism. Pixar’s shorts have a point: a perspective encouraging better human behavior.
Blizzard’s themes are a bit muddled, something about finding who we are and choosing between good and evil. “Dragons” has something to say, but that isn’t the point of its story. The point of Blizzard’s animated shorts can go two ways. On the forgiving side, the point is badassery—which it does very well. And on the cynical side: to sell copies of Overwatch.