Resounding Gongs, Clanging Symbols and Pixar’s "One Man Band"

In case you haven’t noticed, we at Mockingbird happen to be big fans of Pixar. […]

Todd Brewer / 12.1.10

In case you haven’t noticed, we at Mockingbird happen to be big fans of Pixar. Since most of our posts on the studio have focused on its feature-length output, we figured it was time to highlight one of their brilliant vignettes, “One Man Band” (video below). For further reading, see our book The Gospel According to Pixar.


The plot of “One Man Band” is fairly straightforward. A street performer, “Bass,” tries to persuade a young girl to give him her only coin. His light-hearted tune is interrupted by a new performer named Treble. With his fancy strings Treble wins the young girl away from Bass. The simple struggle over a single coin quickly escalates into a war. Without realizing it, each performer has turned away from the girl and only look at each other. They no longer try to charm the young girl with pleasant music, but each tries to outshine the other.

What we find in this short animated film is a simple, but powerful parable about the destructive nature of competition. The struggle between Bass and Treble frightens the girl, losing the coin (and a violin) in the process. The desire to win consumes each so that they can no longer recognize themselves or their surroundings. Instead of musicians holding instruments, they become brutes wielding weapons. Instead of playing a sweet sonata or a hearty march, their combined melody sounds like “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath.” What’s true of the short is true of life in general: any relationship containing competition will eventually end in defeat. The desire to be right or the need to assert your identity will ultimately kill any relationship (or church, for that matter!). Your rival can’t simultaneously be your spouse, parent, or child.

The parable hopes for an end to competition as the genesis of beautiful music. Musically-speaking, treble and bass represent the opposite high and low ends of audio pitch. The two are meant to be heard cooperatively in unison. The same can be said of our two street performers. Had they given up their desire to win and played together, they could have performed remarkable music. Instead of losing the coin altogether, they could even have been the beneficiaries of that large sack of coins.

True and loving relationships are founded upon the giving up all claims or demands for credit and recognition. In short, competition kills, self-giving love brings life.

In many ways this is an aural and visual demonstration of what Paul means in I Cor. 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Did I mention that The Gospel According to Pixar makes a great Easter gift?