How Pixar Hasn’t Lost Its Way

in Disney, Entertainment, Magic Kingdom, Movies, Movies & TV, Pixar, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

If you’re a fan of great storytelling filled with comedy, love, fear and an overwhelming amount of passion, you’re probably a fan of Pixar. The film studio has created a plethora of animated classics that have warmed our hearts, made us cry and made us smile.

Have things changed for the popular studio in recent years though?

Recently, an article from The Atlantic has been going around, claiming Pixar has “lost its way” since being purchased by Disney in 2006. I disagree. And if you’ve seen Pixar’s films in recent years, you might disagree too.

Toy Story 3” was the first Pixar film that was started after Disney’s acquisition of the studio. Obviously, this was a great start but the article argues that it was all down hill from there. Admittedly, the studio did follow that up with what is probably their worst film in “Cars 2.” However, when you look at the whole body of work, it is very comparable to what they did before Disney’s acquisition.

Since the inception of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001, Pixar has produced 14 films; seven before Disney’s acquisition and seven after. Of those seven films before the purchase, four of them won the award (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up). Of the seven movies that Pixar produced after the purchase, three of them won the award (Toy Story 3, Brave, Inside Out).

Obviously, this was a slight step back but to call it anything more than that is hyperbole.

The article in question also goes on to specifically single out “Brave,” calling it a “disappointment.” Is it really possible for a movie to gross nearly a quarter of a billion dollars domestically, win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and still be a disappointment?

Let’s not breeze over the fact that “Inside Out,” one of the studio’s recent films, is one of the most highly praised they’ve ever made. When looking at critics’ ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, “Inside Out” is only behind the “Toy Story” films and “Finding Nemo,” with a 98% score.

It’s easy to take a look at the abundance of sequels laid out on Pixar’s upcoming slate and immediately call Pixar out for lacking originality these days. Indeed, three of the upcoming four films are sequels. It is understandable to be frustrated by that fact, but to completely write off these future films as nothing more than cash grabs isn’t fair.

Look at Pixar’s track record with sequels. Obviously, the “Toy Story” sequels are beloved and widely recognized as some of the best animated films of all-time. Yes, “Cars 2” was a largely regarded as a step backwards for the company, but many would argue that “Monsters University” and “Finding Dory” were still very good films.

Finding Dory” in particular, the studio’s latest sequel, received a 94% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It was snubbed from the Academy Awards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a very enjoyable movie.

Cars 3” will be the studio’s next sequel, followed by “The Incredibles 2,” which has been a highly anticipated sequel that fans have been awaiting for quite some time. Finally, “Toy Story 4” will bring our favorite toys back to the big screen. Is it necessary to bring Toy Story back for a fourth installment? Probably not, but I’m not going to doubt Pixar’s ability to make audiences love it, especially given how widely loved the third “Toy Story” was.

Statements made about Pixar by the studio’s own President, Ed Catmull, have also come under fire. In his 2014 book, Catmull mentioned if Pixar were to only make sequels, the studio would “whither and die.”

That can obviously be taken negatively, given Pixar’s many sequels on the slate. But that is short sighted. Catmull’s point is Pixar cannot exclusively make sequels and still succeed. If the slate of upcoming sequels do flop and it looks like Pixar is in trouble, it is unlikely they will follow them up with “Finding Nemo 3” or “Wall-E 2.” They’d more likely give us more originals – like the upcoming “Coco.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Catmull shot down the idea that Disney pressures the studio into making more sequels.

“Some people don’t believe this,” Catmull said. “They don’t give us any pressure and they don’t pick any of the films.”

This should reassure moviegoers that the the original vision of Pixar has not been lost since the Disney acquisition. The sequels that we have seen, and will see in the future, have come solely from the brilliant minds at Pixar. When they decide that there is more story to tell, that is when we see familiar characters on screen.

In their article, The Atlantic implies many of Pixar’s movies are simply being made to renew an interest in theme park attractions across Disney’s parks. While that may be true on some level, it is certainly not a necessity for creating a popular ride. The article argues that “young parkgoers are less likely to be familiar with movies that are more than a decade old.” If you think that’s true, try to get on Magic Kingdom’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the middle of a busy season. The attraction – based on Disney’s 1937 classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – is still drawing massive crowds without any sign of a recent sequel. And that’s just one of many rides dedicated to Disney classics.

What this all seems to boil down to is Pixar is constantly having to live up to impossibly high expectations they set in 1995 with “Toy Story.” They have given us so many incredible classics that we can’t simply expect every film to be better than the last.

Is the “golden era of Pixar” behind them? Maybe – but if so, it has more to do with them losing the element of surprise and less to do with the quality of films that they produce.

Every time we go into a theater and see that lamp squash that ball, our standards shoot sky high. The fact that they can still occasionally meet and even exceed those expectations proves to me that Pixar certainly has not lost its way.


  1. Great article. I hear people say things like this and I just laugh. It’s like they expect that just because a company has a great track record that they will never have a flop. From what I have heard and seen, the Pixar acquisition under Disney changed very little in terms of Pixar’s film catalog. In some sense it was a win-win for both companies by bringing together more talent and resources for better things.

    I know I (and my family) are in the minority of “critical” viewers in that we really enjoyed Cars 2. We enjoyed it for what it was…a cheesy and fun adventure film. Granted, we’re huge fans of the “spy movie” genre with a full collection of the James Bond library and so that helped influence our enjoyment. But we have also legitimately enjoyed all of the other Pixar films we’ve seen (though we haven’t seen them all) both before and after full Disney acquisition (it should be remembered that Disney was involved with Pixar even before fully acquiring them).

    Expecting a film company to have nothing but success for their entire catalog is like expecting a great baseball star to hit nothing but home runs or a champion chef to never have a soufflé fall flat.

  2. TriSeb

    “The Atlantic implies many of Pixar’s movies are simply being made to renew an interest in theme park attractions across Disney’s parks”

    >> Well, don’t they have a strong grasp of the obvious? Must come from working with their hands.

    In 1984, Roy E. Disney said the following when he resigned (as shown in the documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty), wow, Duh.

    “The real heartbeat of this company– was, is and will always be the film business. Because from the film business comes the ideas that then generate new things in the parks, new promotions, new, a kind of a, a sense of continuing newest about the company in general … they told me, we really don’t even need it (film business) anyway, well that gave me all sort of (pounds chest) problems, because, I remember saying at one point, well if you really think that way then what you’re doing is running a museum.”

  3. Adam

    Great retort to the article from the Atlantic. And if I can add…look what Pixar has done to the resurgence of Disney films. Disney was in a slump and was revived under Pixar’s tutelage. Pixar’s very own John Lasseter is the CCO of Pixar and Walt Dinsey Animation and a Principal Creative Director for Imagineering.

  4. Stephanie Aghahowa

    I agreed with the Atlantic article. When he called Brave a disappointment, he was referring to the story, not the box office numbers (and, for me, it was, indeed, a disappointment.) And Brave should not have even won that Oscar, it should have gone to Wreck-It Ralph. Moreover, that article isn’t the first I’ve read that handed at the idea that Pixar had maybe greenlit certain sequels due to the merchandise sales (a perspective that I’m more than inclined to embrace when it comes to the Cars franchise.) I’m a HUGE fan of the first several Pixar movies. I think Toy Story 2 is even better than the first one, and that movie, along with Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles are literally at the top of my list of my favorite movies of all-time ( I’m 26 years old, if you’re wondering; I was 5 when Toy Stoty was released.), but that doesn’t mean I won’t acknowledge the fact that I think Pixar has fallen off creatively. And it’s not because they keep making sequels, its because the sequels, as well as thr original films that have come out the past 7-ish years have not been good (aside from Inside Out). I make a point of seeing all the major Disney movies in theaters, but I have no intention whatsoever of seeing Cars 3, and I will see Coco, but my expectations aren’t high. I don’t know if the slump in the quality of the movies has anything to do with their acquisition by Disney or not, but you definite cannot compare their most recent works to their earlier ones.

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