The true sign of my lack of financial chops is that the one stock prediction I ever made that I was completely right on was the one I did not invest money!! Many years ago, when Pixar was still a small, new kid on the movie block, I told my wife we should invest a thousand dollars in this company because it was going places. Of course, we were young and did not have the money to invest but I have thought of that prediction often over the years. Pixar of course went on to incredible success and was eventually bought by Disney for an extraordinary price. I think my stock would have been 20X the price if I had bought it the year I thought about it.
I mention all this not solely to make you feel sorry for me, but also by way of introduction to my passion for Pixar. This passion is unusual in that I am not a particular movie-crazed person or inclined to business dealings. But Pixar came along just as we were starting our family and I have seen nearly every film they have produced because I, like hundreds of millions of others, have found their films the perfect blend of children and adult themes done with a style and a depth rare to movies these days, much less animated movies. My interest in Pixar also grew during my years in Orange County California where the movie business was a regular part of conversation given our proximity to Hollywood. I remember the concerns expressed when it first became known that Disney was attempting to buy out Pixar: Would Pixar lose its independence? Would Pixar be forced to do sequels and dumb down its productions? The answer to these questions was that Pixar would be given an unusual amount of freedom within Disney to continue to operate according to its own values and vision and that if anything Pixar would help sharpen the production quality of other Disney animation films not produced by Pixar.
Well, it has been a few years since the merger and after watching Brave a couple weeks ago with the family I am more convinced than ever that Disney is damaging Pixar, although Pixar seems to be helping Disney. I base this conclusion on a few things:
1) Brave is simply not in the caliber of pre-DisneyPixar films. Its story line is nowhere near the depth of those films and its underlying theme is so much like classic Disney as that fifteen minutes into the film I knew the general plot theme. Compare the character development of this film to, say Walle or Finding Nemo—is there any comparison?
2) Judging by the brilliant Disney film Tangled, the consultation Disney is receiving from Pixar leadership is having a positive influence on Disney’s own line of animation films. Tangled was without question the strongest Disney animation movie in years and its winsome characters and delightful spirit felt more like a Pixar movie than Brave’s.
3) Pixar is doing more sequels that seem destined to be more bland than the original. Before being bought by Disney, Pixar had done only one sequel, Toy Story 2. Since then, there has been Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and, next summer, the sequel to Monsters Inc., called Monsters University, will be released. I am alone in seeing Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 as hollow shells of the original Pixar productions? Cars 2 in particular was weak and failed to garner the usual Academy Award for Pixar. I doubt that Brave will win and it seems unlikely that Monsters University will. Pixar has gone from a near automatic Academcy Award winner, to questionable in a matter of years.
Pixar is a powerhouse of creativity and wholesome storytelling whose films have left a mark on a new generation of children and adults. I have no doubt that there will still be great films from the studio in the future and I suspect that Disney’s own animation films will be improved from their interaction with Pixar personnel and methods, but the days of Pixar’s premier, near automatic quality seem gone.