“Business. Business. Business. Numbers. Is this Working?” Art vs. Commerce in the Post-Disney Pixar Studio

An piece written by Helen Haswell is a PhD candidate in film studies at Queen’s University Belfast.

“Her primary research area focuses on Pixar Animation Studios in relation to film production, marketing and distribution, and the impact of the studio’s acquisition by The Walt Disney Company. Her article ‘To Infinity and Back Again: Hand-drawn Aesthetic and Affection for the Past in Pixar’s Pioneering Animation’ was published in Alphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media in January 2015.”

In this short written piece Helen Haswell as looked at Pixar’s success before the Disney take over and after. She gives a brief description of the beginnings of Pixar in 1995, set up originally as an art centred studio with taylorism shown in their work process. Describing Pixar studios as ‘an animators paradise’.

“Pixar has been acknowledged with numerous awards both domestically and internationally, producing films that attract blockbuster and art house audiences, families, couples and cinephiles. The continued and growing success of the studio has been described as an anomaly and is held up as an exemplar for fledgling companies.” 

Pixar was bought by Disney in 2005 for $7.4 billion, which saw Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter assume positions as President and Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Helen mentions the films released since then, and points out the reputation of Pixar being disputed. The delayed release of Inside our and Good dinosaur resulted in no movies being released in 2014. This has not happened since 2005.

“Pixar’s reputation as “infallible” has been disputed. Following the phenomenal success of Toy Story 3 in 2010, the studio has been unable to replicate the flawless “Pixar formula”. Furthermore, the delayed release of Inside Out (2015) and The Good Dinosaur (2015), and the announcement of further sequels to the Cars (2006 and 2011) franchise, the Toy Story (1995, 1999 and 2010) series, The Incredibles (2004) and Finding Nemo (2003) suggest that the acquisition has initially had a negative impact on Pixar’s brand identity and studio narrative.”

“The title of my post is taken from The Lego Movie (2014), a film that was a commercial and critical success, but “snubbed” at the 2015 Academy Awards. Why am I mentioning it here? I think there are parallels between this and the change in attitude towards Pixar. Articles written about Pixar (the hype surrounding the studio’s early success, the comparison to Disney animation, the release of sequels, the lacklustre response to some of Pixar’s latest films – see reviews of The Good Dinosaur) all point to an apparent disconnect between Disney, as the multimedia conglomerate, and Pixar, as the independent artist-centred studio. This is summed up simply during the premiere screening of Inside Out at Cannes: audible cheers as Pixar’s name appeared onscreen, and boos for Disney’s. This is further exemplified in the marketing of Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. The films have been praised for their artistry, but have been promoted via fast food chain Subway and Sky Broadband. And the merchandise for these films seem somewhat contrived; Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?

My thoughts

Reading this I found it a little opinionated and some points I would disagree with. I would not say Pixar were ‘losing there touch’. Helen was implying that they have been unable to stay original, resulting in the production of sequels. I believe that the commerce side of a block buster movie has alot to do with the success. Although Helen ended her article with “Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?. ”  I have seen many merchandise of  the Good dinosaur, in not only toys but clothing, furniture and stationary. However, it was true it was not a big a success as hoped, but what child would not like a talking dinosaur? In short I believe., as the title of this article suggest, it is all about business business business, no matter what company, Pixar or Disney.

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