Henry: Pixar choosing money over muse

Posted on February 10, 2012 in Henry's Head, Perspectives
By Andrew Henry

The Free Press

Every movie production company has its ups and downs. Warner Brothers, Paramount, The Weinstein Company, you name it; the misses actually outnumber the hits.

In all of film history, there has never been a production company that’s been perfectly consistent in putting out high-quality movies. Never, that is, until Pixar came along. For the last decade Pixar has dominated the animated movie segment, producing high-quality movies that resonate not just with the kids, but with the adult crowd as well. Every Pixar film since 2003 has won the Oscar for Best Animated Picture, and two have even been nominated for overall Best Picture. Except two: Cars, and Cars 2.

At least Cars got nominated for Best Animated Picture. Cars 2, the most recent Pixar film, didn’t even get nominated and signifies the low-mark for Pixar, immediately following the high-mark that was Toy Story 3. You get to the top of Everest with Toy Story 3 and promptly fall off with Cars 2.

But what happened? Why would Pixar, a company known for its almost universal film appeal, lose its edge in the market? Simple: They sold out. And they did it with toys.

Toy Story 3 made 2.8 billion in merchandise revenue, and won two Oscars. The Cars franchise has not won much of anything, yet has made 10 billion in merchandise revenue. After Cars received mixed reviews and no awards, there seemed no plausible reason to make a sequel — if you forgot that money exists.

The fact that Pixar chose quantity over quality is what kills me the most. It’s not like they were starving for cash; every film has made over $360 million. The average gross of all 12 Pixar films is roughly $600 million. Every film since Wall-E has increased in worldwide gross, with Toy Story 3 hitting the one billion dollar mark in worldwide gross alone, a high point for Pixar. Cars 2? Half of that.

I’ve grown up with Pixar, and they’ve been a huge part of my life. They’ve produced some of the most memorable movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. My favorite superhero movie is The Dark Knight, but The Incredibles is a close second, truly a superhero movie for everyone. One of Pixar’s hallmarks is producing films that kids can enjoy for the on-screen action, and adults can enjoy for the more mature undertones that the little ones won’t pick up on for the duration of their innocence.

The Incredibles has a super-strong family man dad, a super-fast son, an elastic mom and a forcefield-wielding daughter, all of which are amazing to watch on-screen. But it also deals with infidelity, mid-life crises, marriage troubles and fitting in school. Pixar is so much more than just an animated filmhouse.

Possibly the most memorable experience comes from Up. There is a scene in this movie that to this day, stands as the most emotional piece of cinema I’ve ever seen (next to the “It’s not your fault” scene from Good Will Hunting). In it, we are introduced to cantankerous old man Carl via an extended montage of his entire life up to the events of the film. It goes from when he and his wife, Ellie, meet as curious children and follows up through their marriage, elder age, and Ellie’s death. They even show her in the hospital after discovering she had a miscarriage and how it affected her.

The most astounding thing, though, is that this is all achieved without words. Yes, it’s just music and film. I cried helplessly during this, and I still get choked up to this day every time I watch it. A friend of mine described it as “the essence of movie magic.”

Toyota is a car company known for having bulletproof reliability. But when their most famously reliable car, the Camry, started having unintended acceleration issues, they had to issue a mass recall, permanently tarnishing their reputation for reliability. This is starting to seem the case for Pixar and its animated films. This is a creative medium in a high-risk industry that demands consistency, and Cars 2 was a jarring misstep.

Animated movies can transport us into a movie like live-action movies simply can’t do. And seeing Pixar sell out for a few extra (albeit unnecessary) billions by producing a sub-par movie really stings. Maybe I’m being harsh. I mean, one bad apple in a bag of 12 is still a fantastic job record. But when your job is producing movies that are universally appealing among any-age audiences, producing a movie strictly for merchandising opportunities simply doesn’t cut it. Pixar: I want you back. We want you back. Make us laugh, make us cry.

But whatever you do, do not make another Cars.

Andrew Henry is an English major in his junior year.