12 Reasons That Pixar Is Still King Of Animation

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Following what many perceive to be their pinnacle in Toy Story 3, Pixar would appear to have lost their mojo and slipped from the pedestal that critics and viewers alike had placed them upon. With a track record as impeccable as the company’s was when starting out, backlash was to be expected the second they stumbled, and with a run as long as they enjoyed it’s no wonder there’s been such an outcry against them.

Even during that unprecedented span of hits, which included two Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards (Up and Toy Story 3), I wager that there was an underlying resentment waiting to rear its head at the first sign of trouble, not unlike how many sports fans like to see certain perennial contenders, such as the New England Patriots, fail.

In came Cars 2, the first (and so far only) Pixar movie to wind up “rotten” over on Rotten Tomatoes, and a sequel that the press would have you believe no one, Pixar included, really wanted. Everyone was in agreement that it was a money-making ploy, nothing else. Pixar cast aside their usual standards, as high as (if not higher than) the ones we all held them to, for the sake of making a quick buck. Never mind that one could apply the same narrative to the creation of Toy Story 3, the third installment of a franchise more or less equally as profitable as Cars. The difference is that one was nominated for Best Picture, as I mentioned earlier, and the other missed out on even taking home Best Animated Feature. One was a follow-up to Pixar’s beloved flagship series, whereas the other was sequel to the red-headed step child of their output up until that point.

Put another way, Cars 2 was doomed from the jump. All it had any chance of being commended for was improving upon the original, a pity prize really; however, it failed to manage even that, at least in the eyes of the Mater-hating majority which I so happen not to be a part of, despite sharing their distaste for Larry the Cable Guy. I feel, though, as if Cars 2 would’ve been blasted even had it been on par with Toy Story 3. People were simply ready to let the hate flow; the levy had held, barely, back when Cars was released, but this time it burst, never really standing a chance against such an outpouring.

Since then, it’s been a steady flow of negativity and what amount to conspiracy theories. One critic even went so far as to put forward that Disney and Pixar had swapped films, Disney getting Wreck-It Ralph and Pixar receiving Brave. One assumes, or at least hopes, he wasn’t being entirely serious, yet it wouldn’t surprise me if I were to find out that he, or anyone else, honestly believed that. It’s gotten so out of hand that I felt it imperative that I write this article in the hopes of stemming the tide a little by explaining why it’s not nearly as bad for Pixar as they all say. Why Pixar, despite it all, is still king of animation.

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1) If this is the worst, it really isn’t so bad

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Rather than waste my time putting into words why I believe Brave is on par with Finding Nemo, or why I think Cars 2 is (at worst) on par with the original, I’ll let others do the talking for me. Ignoring the Tomatometer, Cars 2 did pretty well for itself, all things considered. A box-office take of over $500 million worldwide, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Film, and a not ghastly rating of 6.3 over on IMDb. While it did miss out on the Academy Awards, being the first Pixar film not nominated in the history of Best Animated Feature (2001-present), it brought in money, which is what everyone thought its release was about in the first place, and it still has its supporters, myself included.

Likewise, Brave managed a similar box-office take, plus an Oscar nomination (and victory) to go along with a considerably more positive response (78% on Rotten Tomatoes; 7.2 on IMDb). Whether or not Brave deserved all that, namely the awards it took home, is another matter altogether. The point I’m trying to make is that though Pixar has had its missteps, even they are not without worth. Some might argue the contrary, but Cars 2 is not the Pixar equivalent of the direct-to-video sequels Disney used to produce. And while few, besides myself, think it acquitted itself as well as Ratatouille, Brave wasn’t as much a mess as one would expect, given its troubled production history.

Both are the sort of “bombs” that a fledgling animation studio, such as Blue Sky, would be more than pleased to have on their record. Could Pixar drop even further than them? There will always exist that possibility, but it’s not fair to judge them based upon what might happen in the future. As we stand right now, Pixar doesn’t look to be at risk of turning into Disney as they were during what I’ll call the “dark years.”

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2) They continue to challenge our expectations

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When news first hit that Monsters, Inc. was due for a sequel, the consensus was that it didn’t need one, that the original ended on so perfect a note (like Toy Story 3) that a sequel would be borderline unthinkable. Yet here we are, on the day of Monsters University’s release, and the consensus now seems to be that Pixar succeeded, in large part thanks to going the route of a prequel as opposed to a sequel. I too was worried that this would end up as a mistake, that this would be the first of their movies to really and truly let me down, but now I’m more optimistic. I won’t be able to get around to seeing it until next Tuesday or Thursday, at the earliest, on account of my work schedule, yet worry has been replaced with anticipation.

I should have known better than to ever count Pixar out, be it for one movie, as was the case here, or altogether, as many have begun doing. Just because Pixar is no longer perfection personified, that doesn’t mean they no longer have it in them to create another classic to rival their others. It’s when you least expect it that Pixar surprises you. Look at some of those so-called classics and ask yourself how unsure of them you were going in. A rat who wants to become a cook. A curmudgeonly, widowed old man goes on an adventure. A robot, unable to speak, tries to save Earth. Who would’ve thought these would go on to become three of Pixar’s most beloved films?

Better yet, who would’ve thought Toy Story 3, released over a decade after Toy Story 2, would actually improve upon its two predecessors in the eyes of many? Put simply, Pixar might not always make water into wine, but they do it often enough that I’ll never lose faith. As the cliché goes, if anyone can make it work, they can.

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3)  They know when to stop, as well as when to wait

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As I pointed out in the introduction, Toy Story is one of Pixar’s two most reliable franchises, alongside Cars. Both are hits at the box-office, as well as through merchandising. Were they to greenlight a Toy Story 4, it goes without saying that it would be an absolute financial boon for them. So it makes sense that rumors of a potential Toy Story 4 have been swirling ever since the release of Toy Story 3. Even to those clamoring for fewer sequels, the prospect is a tempting one. Not for Pixar though.

Toy Story 3 brought the series to as fitting a close as possible, and fourth instalments never fare well. Pixar realizes this, and so they’ve made it abundantly clear, though not clear enough for some people, that the Toy Story series, from here on out, will be confined to shorts. It’s hard to imagine a trilogy more universally adored than Toy Story and Pixar is content to rest upon those laurels.

Similarly, they knew better than to risk doing retroactive harm to Monsters, Inc. by attempting to follow up possibly the most touching ending in their entire oeuvre. Instead, they chose to go backwards, rather than forwards, with Monsters University. There remains a certain level of risk, of course, but however good (or bad) Monsters University is, it shouldn’t hinder anyone’s enjoyment of the original, as a sequel very well could.

Then there’s the matter of the long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles that everyone, and I mean everyone, thinks Pixar should’ve made years ago. Pixar knows there’s an audience for it. But Brad Bird refuses to go ahead with it until he has the proper story for it. Because, despite what’s been said in recent years, at Pixar it’s all about the story. They don’t rush sequels into production. Each and every film they put out is as carefully crafted as the rest. Some go over better than others, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t a labor of love on the part of the studio.

No one, I’m sure, takes a Pixar film underperforming worse than they themselves. So, in order to prevent that from happening, they’re not afraid to put off a sequel, whether it be momentarily or indefinitely, or to nix a project altogether when it’s not up to snuff, as they did with Newt. That doesn’t mean Newt won’t ever see the inside of a movie theater. Past Pixar movies were written off for a little while before something clicked and they were resurrected. What it means is that Pixar knows when to stop just as they know when to go.

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4) It’s not about the money

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If it were, there would be no hesitation to put The Incredibles 2 into production. Toy Story 3, Monsters University, and Finding Dory wouldn’t have been such a long time coming. This isn’t a case of Pixar biding their time so as not to look money hungry. Rather, it shows how much time and effort they’ve put behind each of them. Even before a Pixar film goes into production, it often spends additional years in development. Each film is like a child to them, meaning there’s no knowing when it’ll decide it’s ready and wants out. Sometimes the water breaks when you least expect it.

5) No one’s better at handling adversity

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And sometimes there are complications, a fact Pixar is well aware of. Back in their early days, not satisfied with Toy Story 2 as it was, they re-did it entirely in the span of about a year. What resulted was what I, and a number of others, think of as the best film in the trilogy. During the production of Ratatouille, Cars 2, and Brave, circumstances called for a change in leadership, Jan Pinkava, Brad Lewis, and Brenda Chapman each being dropped from their respective movies in favor of other directors (Brad Bird, John Lasseter, and Mark Andrews). The end results had varying levels of success, but all three made it through to completion and none of them were complete failures.

Reading about these sorts of things only strengthens my faith in Pixar that much more. Were this any other animation studio, these four films would’ve either become mired in developmental hell, not seeing the light of day until years down the line, if ever, or the results would’ve been even more disastrous. Pixar, on the other hand, took it all in stride and, in a couple cases, the resulting movies were the better for it.

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6)  They’re king at the box-office

Toy Story 3 Welcome to Your New Home 7 6 10 kc 12 Reasons That Pixar Is Still King Of Animation

Unlike other animation studios, Pixar has never had reason to be concerned about making a profit. This is largely a result of two things. Firstly, their budgets are always reasonable, at least compared to the likes of Disney’s Tangled. It helps that they don’t take the DreamWorks approach to casting, simply hiring on any celebrity who’s willing. Secondly, the Pixar name is one people know they can rely on. Parents can bank on each movie of theirs being child appropriate, and we can all expect a certain level of quality.

Pixar has had a movie or two that probably fell a little short of meeting their own expectations financially. That being said, what might be a letdown to them would constitute a success for just about anyone else. And to maintain such a consistent level of success proves that the moviegoing public still has the utmost confidence in Pixar and the films they produce. They remain the most trusted name in animation.

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7) Attention to detail

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My favorite type of animation is stop-motion. Animation as a whole is a laborious process; however, stop-motion takes it one painstaking step further. Then, as if to pile on even more, stop-motion animators often seem to revel in adding details that a casual observer probably won’t even notice or care about. And Pixar takes the same approach to each of its movies. It’s been said that they purposefully introduce minor imperfections into their films because it draws your attention to the human element. There’s also the research trip that precedes the production of every Pixar film. For instance, Brave had them venturing to Scotland.

Probably the best example, however, is the number of Easter Eggs there are to be found in any given film. Everyone knows about the Pizza Planet truck and how characters from upcoming projects are foreshadowed. Except, as this list over on BuzzFeed illustrates, there’s tons more you’d miss if you weren’t told to look out for it. Would I have caught that the garbage man in Toy Story 3 was Sid all grown up if I hadn’t had it pointed out dozens of times before seeing the movie? Admittedly, I’m not sure I would have.

My favorites are the details I know were personal touches. For example, Lee Unkrich, who would go on to direct Toy Story 3, let his love for The Shining, shall I say, shine through by deciding that the carpeting in Sid’s house in Toy Story would share a pattern with the carpeting inside the Overlook Hotel. The Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear commercial was also particularly convincing. So much so that, for the longest time, I believed it had been a real toy that predated Toy Story 3 itself. I wasn’t alone in thinking that either.

No matter what you think of the movies themselves, you can’t call them lazy.

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8) The shorts

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Pixar is to the short film what Stephen King is to the short story. Using their popularity, both have drawn much needed attention to a largely forgotten form. Likewise, both excel at it, Pixar especially. Of the 14 short films they’ve produced, 10 have been nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards, and 3 have won (Tin Toy, Geri’s Game, and For the Birds). They’re of such a high caliber that some would be willing to pay full ticket price just to see the short that precedes every Pixar movie. I wouldn’t go that far myself, but I wish I’d seen WALL-E in theaters, as it’s my favorite movie of theirs, and Presto my favorite short. And though somewhere down the line they’re sure to release a movie I don’t care for, I’m certain that the accompanying short will help ease my pain, as La Luna did for those who were disappointed with Brave.

9) Story comes first

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You can question Pixar’s commitment to storytelling if you so desire, but the results speak for themselves, I think. Out of the 11 movies released prior to Monsters University, all but A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Cars, Cars 2, and Brave were nominated for either Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. That’s over half of their output. You can also say that Brave winning Best Animated Feature invalidates all that, that an Academy Award nomination doesn’t say as much as you’d like to think it does, but they must be doing something right, since no other animation studio is a regular in the writing categories like they are.

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10) Everyone wants some of their Midas touch

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Pixar has a reach that extends far beyond animation. Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton, two members of Pixar royalty, both were able to make the leap from animation to live-action, to varying levels of success; John Lasseter and Ed Catmull basically run Walt Disney Animation Studios, in addition to Pixar; and Pixar’s “brain trust” has been asked to assist in the writing of a variety of other project, such as Jon Favreau’s Magic Kingdom, which they’ve done a treatment of.

The biggest whopper of them all, however, is that Michael Arndt, writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, is at work on the script for Star Wars: Episode VII. In other words, the man who put a bow on the series that defined my childhood will now seek to add to the legacy of a series that defined everyone’s childhood but my own, or so it seems. That, more than anything, tells you how much trust the industry has in Arndt and the rest of the Pixar staff.

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11) They keep it fresh

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Forget for a second that, out of the last four movies, Brave is the sole non-sequel/prequel and focus on the promise of the years ahead. Before Finding Dory comes out in the fall of 2015, Pixar will have released three straight original films: The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, and Lee Unkrich’s as-of-yet untitled movie about Dia de los Muertos).

That long a run’s only occurred once in Pixar’s history; between 2001 and 2009, moviegoers were treated to seven straight. That string of movies also happens to be widely considered their strongest, with Cars the only one not generally considered a classic. Am I saying this upcoming string of movies will match it? No, but I am saying that it can only mean positive things for Pixar. I also feel I should point out that it appears more original films are sure to follow Finding Dory, meaning Pixar won’t be transforming into a sequel factory, as some fear.

You should also forget that, besides Lee Unkrich and Mark Andrews, the old has yet to give way to the new, as that too is changing. From Monsters University to Lee Unkrich’s second film, only Finding Dory (directed by Andrew Stanton) will be without an infusion of fresh blood, with The Good Dinosaur being co-directed by two newbies, and Ronnie del Carmen joining Pete Docter as co-director of Inside Out. This too bodes well for the future of Pixar, as fresh blood is sure to bring with it fresh ideas, something Pixar is in dire need of.

In short, calm yourselves down and have some patience. Pixar will soon be as new and exciting as it once was, and you’ll probably wonder why you ever doubted them.

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12) The standards we hold them to

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Really, this is what it all boils down to. We expect more of Pixar than any other animation studio; it’s why Cars 2 and Brave were met with such disappointment. Had they been released by DreamWorks or Disney instead of Pixar, I doubt anyone would have reacted to them with nearly as much vitriol. But it’s Pixar we’re talking about. They’re to be held to a higher standard because they are the standard. The gold standard. When DreamWorks or Disney comes out with a movie that meets that is believed to have met that standard (ex. How to Train Your Dragon, Wreck-It Ralph), comparisons to Pixar are sure to follow. Until those comparisons stop, Pixar will continue to be the king of animation.

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  • Sparkus

    Long live to the king!

  • SubSumeYou

    Pixar? The king of animation? How insulting.

    • wiley207

      Looney Tunes is WAY better than Pixar in most cases!

    • wiley207

      Looney Tunes is WAY better than Pixar in most cases!

  • Peter

    i am sorry, but your defense of Cars 2 is inexcusable. The original Cars is my favorite of all Pixars movies, and I (along with a vast majority of the moviegoing public) was ready to embrace Cars 2 as the next in the long line of great Pixar movies. But toilet humor, killing and crushing cars, idiot jokes, are all far below the quality filmmaking that we have come to expect from Pixar. Mater didn’t grow (unlike McQueen did in the 1st movie). Mater’s Jar-Jar like acting leave those of us who love Pixar for its complex and intelligent characters disappointed. We don’t mind a money-making movie if it’s good. Cars 2 is not good, period.

  • Roxtaf

    Well i gave up on being sceptical about their movies a long time ago, i am starting to think no one ever tought them to fail.