McGinnis:Pixar’s animation dominationWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Pixar Animation Studios released its eleventh film to theaters this week with “Toy Story 3.” It grossed $110 million dollars in its opening weekend.
Of the studio’s previous ten films, none have grossed less than $160 million in domestic box office. Seven of them have been nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars, and five have won. (The number of nominations would probably be higher, but the category didn’t exist when the first three were made.) Last year, “Up” became only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture.
The studio’s movies have crossover appeal the likes of which is almost unheard of in modern filmmaking. They are beloved by virtually everyone, young and old, average moviegoer to the most devoted film buff. Even people who hate their parent company Disney make an exception for Pixar.
Why? What is it about this studio’s product that holds such incredible appeal? Why are Pixar movies so much better than any other “family” movies out there today? Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Here are just five of them.
1. The stories are usually based on a simple idea that every child believes. This is not to say they are unoriginal or unimaginative, but rather that they are built on a concept that really speaks to kids, and to the kid in all of us. Of course, our toys come to life when we’re not looking. Of course, monsters live in our closet. Of course, if you tie a million balloons to a house, it’ll fly.
Ideas like these are a basic part of childhood. Pixar’s storytellers remember better than anyone in Hollywood what kind of fable that children really gravitate to. That understanding gives their films an appeal unmatched in modern entertainment.
2. Everyone can identify with their characters. Even in the most fantastic situations, Pixar’s filmmakers craft distinct and relatable individuals to stand at their center. And though their leads often are not human beings, they always have very human traits.
I mean, is “Ratatouille” really about a rat that can cook, or is it about someone following their dreams against astounding odds? “WALL-E” really isn’t about a roving robot trash compactor, it’s about someone who’s been alone a long time, and suddenly finds love. The “Toy Story” movies are all about being a parent. At their core, each one of these films shines a light on some part of life. And no matter how unusual their characters are, we love them, because they’re us.
3. They are true family movies. Most of what comes from Hollywood labeled as “fun for the whole family” is really only fun for their youngest members. Other movies try to appeal to a wider demographic by sneaking in side references that are aimed squarely at the adults in the audience, but totally ignore kids.
Pixar’s movies, on the other hand, are made with everyone in mind. They don’t condescend to kids, but they aren’t juvenile, either. And like the best children’s fiction, they actually grow better with age, as time and life experience gives each story more resonance. That’s why, while most every other piece of garbage that is called a ‘kid’s movie’ will be forgotten, Pixar’s films will remain timeless.
4. They work with, but are not enslaved to, cutting-edge technology. On a technical level, Pixar has always been an innovator. When the company began as a part of the Lucasfilm banner, it was devoted to making advances in computer animation. But as it evolved and grew, the technical aspects of the company were joined by other priorities — creating and crafting memorable stories.
“Toy Story” was the first completely computer-animated feature film. But if the characters and narrative hadn’t been worth anything, who would have remembered it as anything but a footnote in history? With every film, Pixar grows in technical sophistication and expertise. But that growth is always dictated by the requirements of the stories they want to tell — not the other way around.
5. They love what they do. Do you have a Pixar DVD in your house? If so, watch the documentaries that come with the film. I have never seen one that doesn’t convince me that the company would be the coolest place to work, ever.
From creative chief John Lasseter down to the lowest men on the totem pole, everyone speaks with incredible enthusiasm about every project they are associated with. These are people who get the biggest kick out of their work. And when you love your job, that passion comes through in the fruits of your labor. And that love is plain to see in every frame Pixar puts on screen.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.