January 12, 2011

Imagination Trumps Merchandising: Fifteen Years of Pixar

In a genre that's since come to be dominated by the often crass commercialism of, say, Dreamworks Animation, the originator of the 3D animated feature -- Pixar -- remains a cut above the rest. Watching this compendium of their 15-year history, it strikes me that these movies feel like real events, with real people, begetting real memories -- but amazingly, they're just 1s and 0s. And despite the billions of dollars made and every manner of commercialism pursued, Pixar films still feel driven by imagination, not merchandising. Here's a look back, expertly edited by Leandro Copperfield:

My personal favorites are Monsters, Inc. and the first act of WALL-E. The opening of Up was also terrific. Oh, and The Incredibles was great, too. So was Finding Nemo... Anyway, how about you, which Pixar films top your list? Also, I mentioned Dreamworks Animation up top. So what's the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks (other than a dichotomy in critical reception)? Via /film, this drawing from poe-news has some idea (you'll have to lean in a bit because of the small font size):

[via ProVideo Coalition]

Your Comment


LOL at "and they all make this face". Great summary.

January 12, 2011 at 8:37AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Great illustration!

Having a 3 year old has turned me into a Pixar fan. I must have seen some of those movies 40 times. That shouldn't really be tolerable. I couldn't watch Apocalypse Now 40 times.

I'm a fan of Pixar despite the association with the evil Disney corporation. And despite the fact that Toy Story is the perfect premise for selling merchandise. Toy Story somehow seems to get across that the premise is really all about the limits of 3D animation. Nothing to do with merchandising. And I'm a fan despite having to live in the same house with Buzz fucking Lightyear. (Man that guy can talk.)

January 12, 2011 at 4:44PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Hilarious. Yes, my 4 year-old nephew is also Buzz-crazy. Has every toy. Knew who Buzz was before he'd even seen the first film. Thankfully, he also has the DVDs so I'd like to think he appreciates the films as well...

January 12, 2011 at 4:52PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Ryan Koo

To each their own. I actually prefer Dreamworks' films. Who can prevail against Puss in Boots' quips, the Madagascar penguins' genius or Kung Fu Panda's hilarity?!

I've liked some of the Pixar films (or, just one? Incredibles), but I get the feeling that Pixar has achieved deity status in many peoples' minds. Which is fine. I used to feel that way about Apple. But I broke free...

January 12, 2011 at 8:36PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Any Pixar character can prevail against those.

January 13, 2011 at 12:39PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Point proven?

January 13, 2011 at 7:28PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Eh, I just think that the Pixar movies have been better than any of the DW animated films. Shrek was good, and uh, Madagascar was good. The rest weren't. Very meh. Meanwhile Pixar has had some of the best (animated?) films of the decade. And

January 14, 2011 at 1:21AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM



January 16, 2011 at 6:01PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Pixar rocks!! just as the illustration explaions, i like pixar better because the story is much2 stronger... and the animation / scene is crazy. the strength of dreamwork's animation is the humor, not the storyline.

Pixar is the only animation film that makes you cry, happy, and full of meaning.. i mean ALL of them.. especially toy story 3, finding nemo, monster inc (the most meaningful scary monster movie i've ever seen!), Incredibles etc.

January 16, 2011 at 9:36PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


You guys are starting to hit on it I think. Pixar is much more interested in making dramatic films. Dreamworks makes comedies. Both have elements of the other. So I suppose it just comes down to the preferences of the audience.

Shrek 2 is still highest grossing animated film of all time in the US. Take into consideration inflation over a few years and the impact of 3D on prices, it still beats Toy Story 3 handily.

Just saying...

January 17, 2011 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


While I generally agree with what you're saying, I think Cars 2 is the definition of "crass consumerism." While all major movies are made to be profitable, Pixar movies seem like the product of a lot of passionate artists. However, it appears that the only reason Cars 2 was made was to get cash.

Take a look at these figures: http://www.filmslatemagazine.com/blog/pixars-cash-grab-with-cars-2-how-m...

March 5, 2012 at 10:18AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


For me the Pixar films are something completely different from the Dreamworks films. I liked both Antz and A Bug's Life when they came out, but after about a year, and now, way over a decade later, it's even more obvious what some of the differences between the two brands are.

The Dreamworks films are poppy and smarmy. They're like Seinfeld...they're often hilarious, but you're not ever going to feel any kind of deeper emotion out of them. I liked the first Shrek (despite that REALLY annoying song) but after the 2nd one with even more contemporary pop references and songs, I couldn't even bring myself to see the third Shrek film. These films have their shtick, but don't really deliver any emotional connection.

Pixar films win out for the same reasons any good film reaches out to people...it always goes back to universal themes (longing, loss, family, belonging, fear of abandonment...etc...) espoused in every screenwriting 101 book that everyone can appreciate of every demographic...

Even their character designs strongly helps people relate to the characters better. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics really hits on this point, and I realized that this is why I often find good animation more emotionally involving for me than live action... He had talked about how some comic characters are incredibly simple (Astro Boy was one example), but often the backgrounds are incredibly detailed...

So, just like realistic characters can make you delve into uncanny valley (with this whole talk about 3D animation, no one has yet mentioned those unwatchable Zemeckis cartoons---note: I'm not talking about Roger Rabbit, which is great---...), by making really simple characters, everyone can relate. Zemeckis himself should have a better understanding about this---he made you tear up when a Wilson volleyball floats away from Tom Hanks in Castaway!...

Anyway, just look at character design...the ants in Antz are hideous and grotesque in an opaque world, while the Bug's Life characters are simple and cute (in a 90's era Mac translucent world). Pixar considered using 6-limbed ants, but it was distracting and less relatable for people than the 2-armed, 2-legged version in the finished film. The fact that they kept at the drawing board and rethought the 6 limbs shows their Jobs/Lasseter perfectionism, while Dreamworks didn't work thru it (in their race to beat A Bug's Life to screens---Katzenberg of Dreamworks was former Disney head, when Disney had a 5 picture distribution deal with Pixar, so he knew all about A Bug's Life).

March 20, 2012 at 8:48PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Daniel Mimura

And there is the reason why Dreamworks gets away with the same character making that same face - year after year. You got an audience who latches on to the the Same catch-phrases over and over, and willingly repeat them on a daily basis over and over - Just Sayin' / Imho / Lol / Dig? - meh ......

August 10, 2012 at 5:13AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM