With the long awaited Incredibles 2, which is finally showing also in Latvia and is pretty great (go see it!), I wanted to take a deeper look in the world of Pixar Animation Studios, to look back and to see what the future brings.

Pixar origins takes us 32 years back, when it was under Lucasfilm computer division. In 1986 this computer division went independent. Steve Jobs at that time had been just fired from Apple and had started his own computer company NeXT. As Pixar was looking for investors, Steve stepped in and invested 5$ million for technology rights and $5 million as capital into the company, joining as the chairman, renamed it Pixar and started one of the biggest businesses in the film industry today. 

Pixar had been selling Pixar Image computers and custom software for a while because computer animation was very expensive at the time and the computers were not powerful enough for a full-length film. Although, short films were being made. In 1986 John Lasseter directed a short called Luxo Jr. about two desk lamps. It was the first CGI film nominated for an Academy Award (Best Animated Short Film). Pixar’s iconic lamp mascot that we see before every Pixar film is taken from this film.

Although, Steve Jobs invested more and more money into Pixar, their hardware products didn’t sell well. Steve more than once considered selling it, but instead made a 26 $ million deal with Disney, to produce three computer-animated feature films.

Steve gave Pixar another chance and Toy Story was made in 1995. At the time it was the highest-grossing film based on the opening weekend. The film was critically praised, earned three Academy nominations and is often said to be one of best animation film ever made. Pixar had the best start they could get, so they started building a 22-hectar studio in Emeryville, California and continued making fresh animation.

 And so Pixar went on creating A Bug’s Life (1998) and Toy Story 2 (1999), which in fact is the first film ever to be created, mastered, and shown digitally and also the first animated sequel to gross more than its original.

Disney decided to buy Pixar in 2006 (for $7.4 billion), just for the same reason Pixar is now getting worse – the lack of new characters.

Unfortunately, the studios had difficulties with Disney and its contract. After many negotiations Disney decided to buy Pixar in 2006 (for $7.4 billion), just for the same reason Pixar is now getting worse – the lack of new characters. In September 2005, John Lasseter (who now has stepped down from Disney in wake of #MeToo movement), by then Executive Vice President of Disney, was watching a parade at the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland and noticed that there are no characters created by Disney in the last 10 years, all the new ones were created by Pixar. Later he commissioned a financial analysis that confirmed that Disney had actually lost money on animation for the past decade. It doesn’t look like such a thing could happen to Pixar now but hopefully it will come up with new characters and more unique films.

Since the first Toy story Pixar has made 19 more films that all (mostly) have been praised and loved all over the world. But the problem with Pixar is its future – where is it going? 

Pixar had an amazing start with a long “golden age”, when the studio’s films won an Oscar for best animated movie seven times. The end of it, in my opinion is Cars 2 (2011) – the lowest rated Pixar film (39% on Rotten Tomatoes). It is understandable why more Car films were made – the huge profits. The Cars merchandise alone has generated $10 billion. That is 10 000 million dollars. However, it is sad that more and more sequels are being made and less original stories, with only few exceptions like Inside Out (2015) and Coco (2017). Before the end of the golden age, films like Up (2009) or WALL-E (2008) could make people cry in cinemas without even using words. For instance the opening sequence of Up with Carl’s and Ellie’s life together – it had no lines but it is perfect. So perfect that Up is the second animation film ever nominated for an Academy Award for the best picture, first being Beauty and the Beast (2017).

The touching plus that gave the old Pixar films a place in my heart is what the new ones are missing.

That’s the reason why, never mind how adventurous and fun is the new Incredibles, it will never be as great as the old Incredibles. 

On a level Pixar film plots are similar to the studio’s history. John Lasseter, animator and filmmaker, said that Pixar’s films follow the same theme of self-improvement as the company itself has: “With the help of friends or family, a character ventures out into the real world and learns to appreciate his friends and family”. It is seen the strongest in Finding Nemo (2003) and Cars (2006). Last year’s Coco seemed to also follow the same theme and was both a commercial success and a critical success (won an Academy award for the best animated feature).

Another thing to think about: Pixar’s golden age was about inanimate objects (objects that are not alive), which made the stories more magical and phenomenal. For example, Toy Story has toys, A Bug’s Life has bugs, Monsters, Inc. has doors, Up has a house, Cars has cars, Ratatouille has rats and a chef hat and the list goes on.

After the golden age, films with characters that are people, were made, without this backbone that previously made Pixar so great. Could that be the reason that made Inside Out (2015) so great – Pixar getting back to their roots? Pixar is amazing and unforgettable because it told us stories we had never heard before, but lately many unnecessary sequels that we are now getting are not as exciting because we have seen it already, never minding the technology development.

If we are looking at the future, things could change. For now only one Pixar film is stated to be released next summer – Toy Story 4. The crew is not so promising (but you never know): Thor: Ragnarok (2017) writer Stephany Folsom is working on the script, the director is Josh Cooley for who this will be his first feature film. But it will be interesting, for sure, because it will not continue the original trilogy storyline. Toy Story 4 will follow the romance between Sheriff Woody and Bo Peep (porcelain shepherdess figurine).

Children grow with the films, feel what the characters feel, look at life from many angles, and get inspired from them, learn many life lessons and look up to the characters.

Two more untitled Pixar films have been scheduled for spring and summer of 2020, which are said to be original projects. Last year another untitled upcoming film was announced and set for a 2021 summer release. After that, it was announced that Dan Scanlon (director of Monsters University) will direct it and it will be about a suburban fantasy world in which two brothers search for their missing father. In March 2018, two more untitled films were announced and scheduled for spring and summer of 2022.

John Lasseter himself has stated that “[a] lot of people in the industry view us doing sequels as being for the business of it, but for us, it’s pure passion…” 

Mainstream animation films are very important because they teach the kids lessons and are seen so widely. Children grow with the films, feel what the characters feel, look at life from many angles, and get inspired from them, learn many life lessons and look up to the characters.

Pixar is the studio that rewrote the rules of animation. Hopefully Pixar will make new, unique films that will struck both children’ and grown up’s worlds and will live up to the old ones, that will remain timeless.

August 14, 2018

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