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The Pixar Effect

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 The Pixar effect, by Josh Makuch, August 2015

How even the most famous animation studio in the world, Walt Disney Animation Studios, has succumb to the Pixar effect.

A single word popped into my head when I heard this issue would be Disney-themed – Pixar. I have grown up adoring the films they’ve produced. I was so obsessed with Monsters Inc. that I used to play a game where I closed my bedroom door and then re-opened it about ten seconds later pretending to be in a completely different world. In my defense, none of my friends lived nearby…

I still like to consider Pixar to be a fully independent studio

Whilst that was the first word-association that came to me, I still like to consider Pixar to be a fully independent studio, despite the hefty $7.4 billion Disney paid back in 2006. The venture certainly brought huge successes to both studios individually and collectively, but especially Disney.

 Ten years ago, Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio which created the likes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, had been going through a state of decline, and was a decade on from the company’s renaissance and string of successful releases. Pixar was thriving due to the consecutive successes of Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. The purchase can’t be seen as a panic-buy from Disney’s point of view as the acquisition had been on the table and within negotiations for some time, but Disney were well aware of how far ahead Pixar was in terms of animation compared to its competitors.

Disney were well aware of how far ahead Pixar was in terms of animation

And since the agreement, Disney’s animated fortunes have soared. The first signs of this coincided with a new direction in 2008’s Bolt – the first CGI feature made after the Disney-Pixar merge, and the first with John Lasseter and Edwin Catmull from Pixar at the helm. When it came out I compared it to recent Disney efforts, and found the characters were more believable, more visually appealing and much funnier.

But since then, Disney seems to have entered a neo-renaissance, whilst Pixar appears to have stumbled. Since the start of this decade, Disney has produced hits such as Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, and Frozen – which alone made over $1 billion worldwide, and become the highest grossing animation of all-time. Pixar has suffered the studio’s first ever critically panned feature, Cars 2, and following productions Brave and Monsters University struggled to reach typical Pixar success rates.

Disney’s purchase has however allowed Pixar to increase their market power, and boost their commercial exposure. Take for example, Planes, a film originally meant for a straight-to-DVD release from the Cars franchise. Critically, it suffered a crash landing upon cinematic release, but earned an impressive $220 million worldwide through the broader sale of toys and games. This may be viewed as a sell-out tactic… but I wouldn’t see Disney worrying too much about that.

And the future at Disney and Pixar appears to be a step in the right direction – to help meet the market-demand for improvements in Hollywood’s representation of the world. Together they have spoken about plans to better tackle diversity, starting with the release of Inside Out, already showing signs of becoming a Pixar classic on initial reviews, which features two female leads. The gender-equality topic will be addressed internally too in Disney’s upcoming Frozen sequel, which will again be co-written and directed by Jennifer Lee. And Disney’s first Polynesian Princess will debut in Moana, joining the Disney barracks shortly after the diverse cast of the last Disney animation release, Big Hero 6.

Here’s hoping the Pixar effect continues to help get the best out of Disney, just as it does with us every time we watch a Pixar animation.

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