Disney films have used MacGuffins as storytelling devices almost since the founding of the Walt Disney Studios. These devices – whether they be objects, characters, or even events or ideas in film, serve to set and keep the story’s plot in motion. At their core, MacGuffins are defined as something that someone wants, or needs (or needs to protect). Opposing forces duke it out over the possession of this precious item.
In Part One of this two-part series, we took a look at some MacGuffins in traditional Disney studio films. Now in Part Two, we’ll search for MacGuffins in the Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars universes.
If you do a web search for Pixar MacGuffins, you’ll come up with literal Macguffins! As in, the clan MacGuffin from 2012’s Brave – Lord Macguffin and his son Young MacGuffin. But let’s dive a little deeper here for a few key Pixar treasures.
I don’t think I’m alone in considering Boo to be the cutest MacGuffin in the Disney universe. Her puffy cheeks and incomprehensible toddler vocabulary make her a shoo-in for the “Most Adorable Monster” award. But while Sulley and Mike are busy hiding her (and trying to protect themselves), Mr. Waternoose and his henchman Randall are on the prowl for the missing child. The fight for this MacGuffin ends in a frantic closet door chase scene (which was at one point considered for a roller coaster theme in Disney California Adventure’s Pixar Pier).
WALL-E (which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth-Class) has no business being aboard the Axiom Starliner. His paramount discovery of a tiny living seedling (aka the MacGuffin) on the long-deserted planet Earth has caused the Axiom’s cyber security head AUTO to kick into “no-return” directive A-113. Thankfully, WALL-E, his love interest Eve, and a few responsible human crew members on the ship are able to overtake AUTO, and initiate a recolonization of the once (and future) beautiful planet Earth, using the very MacGuffin as the celebrated seedling of honor.
Have you ever longed to travel somewhere special? Spent your whole life dreaming of that trip of a lifetime? Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie dreamed of travelling to Paradise Falls, South America their whole married lives.
Sadly, Ellie passed before they could take their trip. But Carl forged ahead in the most outstanding and outrageous fashion imaginable when he turned his house into a floating tour ship. The MacGuffin of a dream vacation is what propelled Carl to keep living life beyond the loss of his beloved wife. Now that’s something worth celebrating!
Woody has been known to remind Buzz Lightyear – “You. Are. A. Toy!” Well, this toy found himself caught in a struggle between two overzealous forces in 1999’s Toy Story 2.
On one side – Al McWhiggin- owner of Al’s Toy Barn – who stole Woody in order to complete his rare and expensive toy collection. On the other side – Buzz and friends, who are desperately trying to find Woody and steal him back to safety. This is a Disney-Pixar film, and therefore the good guys (I mean, good toys) won in the end.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a carefully crafted and well-connected collection of individual stories forming a synergistic saga of galactic proportions. Every story relates in multiple ways to one or more other stories in the MCU. Each story has its own unique heroes and villains, but there is a common thread of shared components that makes the MCU an incredible tale being told. MacGuffins found in the MCU films share a common core as well, as we’ll see here.
The Infinity Stones
The MCU’s most significant MacGuffin is actually a collection of six individual MacGuffins. The Space Stone (blue), the Reality Stone (red), the Power Stone (purple), the Mind Stone (yellow), the Time Stone (green) and the Soul Stone (orange) make up the Infinity Stone collection. When combined, they allow the possessor to wield unmatched power in the universe.
Thanos – the granddaddy of all MCU villains (at least so far) commissioned a special gauntlet with which to combine and harness the power of these stones. But prior to Thanos’ master plan, the quest for the individual Stones remained a perpetual subplot through most films in the first decade of the MCU. Most of the stones have changed hands multiple times over the course of the MCU’s run to date. The stones’ ultimate combined power was only truly revealed in Avengers: Infinity War.
Super Soldier Serum
Captain America may forever be recognized as the ultimate super soldier, but many others have replicated (or “otherwise obtained”) a form of this physiology-enhancing serum.
Creation and ownership of this serum have been at the heart of several MCU films, including The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War.
The most famous film character to benefit from this liquid MacGuffin is Bruce Banner – aka The Incredible Hulk. Other notable beneficiaries in MCU films include Emil Blonsky (Abomination), Red Skull, Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier), and Alexei Shostakov (Red Guardian).
The MCU television series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier focussed heavily on the possession of the super serum, introducing us to the Flag Smashers, Isaiah Bradley, and John Walker (U.S. Agent – or better known as “Not My Captain America”).
Yet another common thread in the never-ending battle for power in the MCU is the notion of technology. Marvel set the bar high right off the bat 2008’s Iron Man, by establishing Tony Stark’s military technology as highly sought after property. We later learn, as the MCU progresses, of Tony’s father Howard Stark and the technology he helped to pioneer in his lifetime (including the previously mentioned super soldier serum). The fight for the ownership and use of Stark’s weapons looms large over all three Iron Man films, and serves as some legacy inspiration in the Spider-Man films.
Hank Pym – another earthly genius in the same vein as the Starks – created the technology to shrink and enlarge individual items. The technology – packaged up nice and tidy in the MCU as Pym Particles – was coveted in both Ant-Man films, sought for military advantage. But the same technology that allows for shrinking into the quantum realm also creates a distortion of time passage, essentially allowing for time travel. This additional feature of Pym Particles was critical to the storyline in Avengers: Endgame, as the particles were used to redraw history in an effort to undo Thanos’ tragic “snap.”
If you want to see first-hand how Pym Particles work, go have lunch in the Pym Test Kitchen at Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure!
As we discussed in Part One of our MacGuffin discussion, Star Wars creator George Lucas viewed the concept of a MacGuffin a little differently from Alfred Hitchcock, who popularized the phrase in the 1930s. Hitchcock viewed a Macguffin as inherently unimportant to the audience and even to the story as a whole, while Lucas felt that MacGuffins should be important to the story, and something the audience should care a great deal about. Lucas demonstrated his assertion in our first Star Wars MacGuffin.
R2-D2 and the Death Star Plans
“Commander, tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans!”
Darth Vader spends all of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope chasing down the stolen plans to his precious “technological terror” before the Rebel Alliance can analyze the plans and identify a weakness in the super station. This galaxy-altering information is programmed into R2-D2, making the droid and the plans one in the same MacGuffin.
The classic battle of good vs. evil hinges on the possession of these plans, and the rebels came out on top in the end. The story behind the theft of these plans was told in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and a similar battle over plans for the second Death Star played out in Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Did I say Boo was the cutest MacGuffin in the Disney universe? The Child (aka Baby Yoda, Grogu, and “the asset”) says “hold my blue milk.”
Fans of the Star Wars television series The Mandalorian were looking forward to seeing the origins of cult fan favorite Boba Fett’s mysterious intergalactic creed. Instead, they were introduced to a Force-sensitive fledgling being hunted down by the remains of the defeated Empire.
Our hero Mando initially wanted nothing to do with the little green guy, but he quickly sensed danger in his return to the Empire and rose to The Child’s protection. Mando managed to stay a step ahead of the Empire until a season two coup landed the Child temporarily in the Empire’s possession. It took a wee bit of Force control and a connection with a legendary Jedi Master to rescue our favorite Star Wars Macguffin from the clutches of the Empire.
Luke Skywalker, the moisture-farmboy-turned-Jedi-Master, is the definition of hero in a classic tale of good vs. evil. So how is it that he would be considered a MacGuffin? Well, Luke’s story arc within the Star Wars films occurred primarily in Episodes IV through VI – the original trilogy.
But in 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the entire goal of both the First Order and the Resistance is to find Luke Skywalker – the last known Jedi Master. The First Order wants to destroy him, and the Resistance needs his help in their desperate fight for freedom. The hope for finding Luke looms large over the entire film. But the highly sought after Jedi Master does not make an appearance until the film’s closing moments, when he is finally found by Rey – the film’s primary hero.
This was one of the most anticipated moments in the history of the Star Wars franchise, and it ended the film on a bantha-sized cliffhanger fans would need to wait two more years to resolve.
Real Life MacGuffins in Disney Films
Ok, go with me here. MacGuffins as defined by Hitchcock (and refined by Lucas) are used in fictional stories. But Disney films have produced a couple iconic MacGuffins based on non-fiction scenarios. For our last pair of MacGuffins, let’s explore these real-life circumstances.
1941’s The Reluctant Dragon is a pseudo-documentary taking viewers behind the scenes at Walt Disney Studios. In the film, a hopeful Robert Benchley sets out to visit the studios to pitch a story idea to Walt Disney himself. Benchley spends most of the film trying to find Walt, who is always (inadvertently) a few steps ahead of him. Benchley eventually finds Walt, who shows him around the studio on a personal guided tour.
In this time and place in entertainment history, the idea of seeing Walt Disney in his studios is something much of America had only dreamed of. This MacGuffin did not disappoint!
The Film Rights to Mary Poppins
While we’re on the subject of non-fiction and Walt Disney, let’s take a trip down to Cherry Tree Lane. 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks is a biographical drama about P.L. Travers – author of the Mary Poppins series of stories. The story focuses dual-fold on Travers’ tragic family life, as well as her temporary (and very strained) working relationship with Walt Disney.
Tom Hanks plays a doggedly determined Walt Disney, who spends the entirety of this fact-based film trying to convince the notoriously difficult Travers to sell him the film rights to her Mary Poppins stories. Walt’s resolve won out in the end, and upon securing this rather nebulous MacGuffin – the film rights to Mary Poppins – he made one of history’s finest musical films as a result. Thank you, Walt!
Well friends, we fought pretty hard to get our hands on these unique pieces of Disney story history. Did we find the MacGuffin you were looking for? Is there one you think we missed? Let us know with a comment below. Make your case, and we may revise this article and give you full credit for your MacGuffin!
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