Pixar began when George Lucas used some of his money to form a new division at Lucasfilm known as "Graphics Group". The company originally did this and that for a while, most notably the Genesis planet simulation from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the stained-glass knight from Young Sherlock Holmes. Working there was one John Lasseter, a former Disney animator who got fired for trying to push the company to experiment with computer animation. He created a CGI short entitled The Adventures of Andre & Wally B. in his downtime, with the assistance of computer genius Ed Catmull.
Seeking money for his divorce costs (and also because of the failure known as Howard the Duck), Lucas eventually sold it to Steve Jobs for $10 million. The company was named Pixar after their first product, a video rendering computer for medical use. Though it didn't sell very well, Steve Jobs continued to pour money into it, and Pixar repurposed itself as a firm creating computer-animated commercials for companies such as Listerine Mouthwash and Lifesavers candies.
At the same time, John Lasseter continued to use CGI to make short films and showed them around at conventions, specifically the computer-graphics convention SIGGRAPH. While other people were showing landscapes and technical demos, Lasseter's short Luxo Jr. was a masterpiece in storytelling that established several new CGI tricks and demonstrated the narrative ability of the art. Pixar's subsequent shorts secured their status as the leader in computer animation.
In short order, Pixar moved away from medical imaging, instead continuing to refine their RenderMan digital rendering software while making commercials even as they set out to accomplish a very lofty goal — to make the first ever feature-length all-CGI film. The rest is history: Pixar signs a distribution deal with Disney, Pixar makes a lot of hits, Pixar and Disney boss Michael Eisner have issues, Disney gets a new boss (whose wife was also Steve Jobs' wife's roommate in college), Pixar and Disney kiss and make up, Disney buys Pixar for more than $7 billion (for scale, when they bought the entire Marvel empire it cost $4 billion), making Jobs' ten-million-dollar purchase a real steal considering the purchase made him a major shareholder in Disney, and all is well.
And finally, things come full circle with Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, bringing it under the same umbrella as its own former division. Though, with John Lasseter in charge, you could look at it as Pixar itself now owning its former owner (kinda like how SBC Communications ultimately bought former owner AT&T or how Viacom briefly owned former owner CBS).
Pixar's films are well-known for their formula copied by every western animation company for the past 20 years. Nearly all of their films take their subjects and turn them on their heads (friendly monsters who only scare for their day jobs, race cars who learn to take it slow and that there's more to life than winning, robots who teach humans how to feel emotions again, etc.) and in doing so pack them full of humor (including jokes that go way over the heads of kids) and drama.
When Pixar makes a movie, more often than not, it will be well done at worst. 13 out of the 16 films released so far note have been nominated for at least one Oscar; in 2010, Up became the second animated film (and first CGI film) to be nominated for Best Picture, and the next year, Toy Story 3 became the third animated film to get that nomination. Only one of the studio's films (Cars 2) has really failed critically; on Rotten Tomatoes, the first two Toy Story films have perfect scores note . Many of their films sit on the Internet Movie Database's "top 250 films" list, and Pixar is usually topping that site's "50 best animated films" list.
Of course, if you think they're not business-minded, keep in mind that, until The Good Dinosaur, their films had never failed financially. Out of their films, only five note have failed to break the $200 million dollar mark in the US, and none of them failed to break the $200 million mark in foreign box office take; the studio's highest-grossing films, Toy Story 3, Finding Dory and Incredibles 2, made over a billion dollars worldwide. note The average domestic box office take of a Pixar film is around $250 million, and their films have made almost ten billion dollars total in combined domestic and foreign box office take. Also worth noting: every single Pixar film had opened at the #1 spot in the weekend box office until Inside Out's release in 2015 note . Sans Brave (while still a respectable #13) and The Good Dinosaur (at a less remarkable #21), all of Pixar's films are among the top ten highest-grossing films of the year they've been released.
Lest you think that they're just a bunch of artists, though, you should know that their first Academy Award wasn't for a movie — it was for PhotoRealistic RenderMan, the software that they make and license to other filmmakers that fuels an innumerable amount of CG in films. It was the first Academy Award given out for a piece of software.
They also seem to be a very personal and humble company:
- 10-year old Colby Curtin was a young girl who was dying of vascular cancer; her dying wish was to see the movie Up, so a family friend cold-called Pixar, which eventually led to them flying out an employee with a specially-pressed DVD for a private screening of the film just hours before the young girl passed away. Again, Pixar did this without any promotion or comments to the press in any way. This simple event is simultaneously selfless and heartwarming.
- They did a video for the It Gets Better project that really shows the diversity of their staff and their commitment to helping the community.
- Some Pixar employees visited Jason Segel and Nick Stoller for a few days and gave input on the screenplay for The Muppets, which became a hit.
- They tracked down John Morris, who voiced Andy in the first two Toy Story films and is all grown up, so he could reprise the role for the third one, 11 years after his last acting role. Similarly, Alexander Gould, the original voice of Nemo, was too old to reprise the role in Finding Dory, but they gave him a cameo role so he could return anyway.
Pixar itself is located in Emeryville, California on a huge campus of the type more commonly associated with tech companies in nearby Silicon Valley— complete with a high-quality cafeteria (with dedicated chef), an exercise facility, a soccer field, and hallways lined with concept art, employee projects, and life-size statues of Pixar characters (including a 2-story-tall Luxo lamp). The best part: it is possible (though difficult) to get tours.
Pixar's filmographyFilm series:
- Toy Story:
- Toy Story (1995) — The world's first full-length All-CGI Cartoon stars two toys who have nothing in common—a cowboy doll whose owner is a favorite of, and said owner's newest addition to his line of toys: a space ranger action figure who thinks that he's an actual space ranger. When they find themselves into the yard of a nasty kid who, unlikely to them, loves torturing toys, they'll have to do everything they can to escape. (First Disney/Pixar project. Re-released in 3D in theaters in October 2009)*
- Toy Story 2 (1999) — Left behind by Andy because of an arm rip, Woody gets toynapped by a toy collector at a garage sale and meets new friends he might be familiar with; meanwhile, Buzz and friends help rescue him from inside a toy store. (Same re-release as Toy Story)
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2001) — Buzz Lightyear's adventures with his Star Command friends, battling the evil Zurg.*
- Toy Story 3 (2010) — This dark, depressing, yet heartwarming take has Andy now all grown up and his toys in a daycare that's a sweet, sugary wonderland by day that's also actually evil by night.
- Toy Story of Terror! (2013) — At a roadside motel, toys start to disappear and our favorite toys figure out who stole them. TV special.
- Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) — The toys meet new dinosaur action figures they meet after Christmas. TV special.
- Toy Story 4 (2019) — A third sequel to the franchise to be directed by John Lasseter. Revealed at the 2015 D23 Expo to be a love story focused on Woody being reunited with Bo Peep, who was absent (and implied to be thrown out) from Toy Story 3.
- Monsters, Inc.:
- Finding Nemo:
- The Incredibles:
- Cars (2006) — A famous race car gets lost in Radiator Springs and meets new friends down at Route 66.
- Cars 2 (2011) — Lightning McQueen and Mater travel across the globe while one of them becomes a spy.
- Cars 3 (2017) — McQueen proceeds with helping a technician who also has her own moments at winning.
- A Bug's Life (1998) — To save his colony from a bunch of nasty grasshoppers, an ant enlists the help of a Ragtag Bunch of Circus Bugs who he thinks are "warriors".*
- Ratatouille (2007) — A rat visits Paris, France to make his dreams of becoming a chef come true.*
- WALL•E (2008) — After many years of cleaning up the Earth, a robot janitor falls for a new robot and gets sent into space.*
- Up (2009) — A balloon salesman takes his own house up to Paradise Falls and is partnered with a scout trooper.(The first Pixar film released in 3D)
- Brave (2012) — Takes place in Scotland during The Middle Ages, the recent addition of the Disney Princesses wants her mother to be changed. Unfortunate things happen.*
- Inside Out (2015) — The lives of five emotions whose job is to control the personalities of a girl. While two of them get lost and have to find a way back, three others stay behind and try to make the girl happy, to no avail.
- The Good Dinosaur (2015) — A young Apatosaurus finds himself lost and gains the help of a Wild Child to get home.
- Coco (2017) — A music-loving child whose family bans music travels to the Land of the Dead, learning about the importance of having family.
You can now vote for your favourite Pixar flick HERE!
- Pixar Shorts — a list of the studio's shorts.
- The Pixar Story (2007) — about Pixar's early history. Produced by Leslie Iwerks Productions and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
- To get a little information about the people behind the 'toons, see Pixar Regulars.
- Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure: An Xbox 360 Kinect video game featuring characters from The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Up, and the Toy Story franchise.
Tropes associated with Pixar include:
- Abandoned Mascot: Their first major mascot was the Tin Soldier from Tin Toy. He was later replaced with the lamp from Luxo Jr.
- Advertising by Association: Ads for their movies tend to reference previous Pixar films in this manner.
- All-CGI Cartoon: Trope Codifier, with Toy Story.
- Animation Bump:
- Pixar often make noticeable technology developments in between films, such as animation of fur in Monsters, Inc. and water in Finding Nemo.
- Just take a look at the difference between Toy Story and Toy Story 2, with only four years and one movie between them; the improvement is astronomical. For comparison, Toy Story 3 doesn't look that much better than 2 - no need to fix what wasn't broken. 3 does look significantly less artificial due to eleven years and seven films between them, but also out of necessity: their software had become so sophisticated with those films that they couldn't recognize the old software, meaning the characters had to be remade from scratch.
- Pixar also was partly responsible for the Bump that Disney's traditionally animated films went through in The '90s, since before they started making their own films they helped develop the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) that Disney used to make all of their 2D films after The Little Mermaid.
- Arc Number: A113 shows up in every Pixar film.
- Arch-Enemy: With DreamWorks Animation, though greatly exaggerated by some.
- Art Evolution: Invoked. "Art challenges technology, technology inspires art" is one of their mottos for a reason. Someone compared their first attempt at animating a baby in 1988's Tin Toy to the scene of Riley as a baby in 2015's Inside Out. "World of difference" doesn't even begin to describe it.
- Author Appeal:
- Much in the same way that the Looney Tunes directors each had their own take on the same handful of chatacters, each Pixar film reflects on it's director's personal taste. For example, Pete Doctor tends to favor simplistic, almost child-like designs with geometric shapes and bright, primary colors, while Andrew Stanton's films tend to be more ambient.
- Butt-pinching comes up in The Incredibles (Mr. and Mrs. Parr), Cars and the "El Materador" short (the old lady car slapping "Nice Butte" stickers on cars' behinds, Mater and the two Miatas, via yanking their rear bumpers with his crane), and Brave (The King and Queen Elinor).
- Parental/child relationships, or allegories thereof, are easily the most common narrative theme in their films, the most obvious ones being Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Toy Story 3, Brave, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, Coco, and Finding Dory. Most likely a case of Write What You Know, as most of the studio's star employees are parents.
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Initially averted; as of their first fourteen films, only three of them were rated PG. However, as The New '10s progressed, it seems like Pixar now plays this trope straight. The final nail to the G-rated coffin was when Finding Dory, a sequel to a G-rated film, was granted a PG, despite it being identical to Nemo content-wise.
- Bittersweet Ending: Their films actually put this trope to pretty good use. It's common in most Pixar movies for the main protagonist(s) to not get what they want but, through support from others and learning how to deal with it, manage to get over their troubles and continue on with their lives.
- Broken Win/Loss Streak:
- Cars 2 was the first—and so far, only—movie to be met with widely-negative reception from both critics and audiences. However, it still did well at the box office in spite of that, and the sequel actually outdid the original at the worldwide box office.
- Both of Pixar's 2015 movies.
- Inside Out became their first film to not open at #1 at the North American box office (due to heavy competition from Jurassic World), although it did have the biggest opening ever for a non-sequel movie and went on to do very well.
- The Good Dinosaur, on the other hand, became the first film in Pixar's 20 years of movie-making to lose the studio money. The film becoming a Box Office Bomb was mitigated by the success of Inside Out, and the smash hit of their immediate follow-up (Finding Dory) allowed the company to take such a blow in stride.
- Central Theme: Growing up, dealing with insecurities and flaws, morality, dreams and intentions, emotions.
- Crapsaccharine World: Like Disney, most Pixar movies, despite some of the bright colors, actually tend to be pretty dark. But despite that, there are still plenty of people who still grew up with Pixar movies much like Disney.
- Continuity Nod: They frequently reference past productions, from shorts (Luxo Jr.'s ball is a frequent sight) to movies (the Pizza Planet truck being the most blatant example)
- Demoted to Extra: It's a Running Gag, if not an outright rule, that every film of theirs features an acting role from John Ratzenberger. These roles get increasingly cameo-ish as time goes on.
- Dub Name Change: The release of Pixar movies in Chinese-speaking countries often leads to them being renamed "X Team" in Mandarin, a practice that even spreads to some non-Pixar CGI animated movies. Hence, Toy Story = "Toys Team", A Bug's Life = "Insects Team" etc. This sometimes leads to a Title Drop in the Mandarin dubs, like at the end of Cars.
- Dueling Movies:
- Averting this trope is the reason Pixar stopped production on Newt (Blue Sky's Rio had roughly the same plot).
- Retroactively played straight three times: ant movies, fish movies and rat movies.
- And it looks like it's going to happen again — The Book of Life is a Reel FX Creative Studios film about Dia de los Muertos. Pixar later released Coco. ¡Hijole!
- Early-Bird Cameo: Every movie contains a brief appearance by a character from their next movie. For example, Nemo appears as a toy in Boo's bedroom.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: In several cases, notably the Toy Story films.
- Extremely Short Time Span: Not counting prologues, epilogues, and flashbacks, the majority of their films (and which tend to be their most well-known and most beloved, although the correlation isn’t perfect)note take place over 1-3 days.
- Genre-Busting: Their films tend towards this.
- Ink-Suit Actor:
- Generally averted. Pixar prefer to cast the actor according to the character, not the other way around, but that's not to say they're occasionally guilty of this: several of the characters in the Cars films are based on a certain vehicle associated with their actor (i.e. Sig Hansen as a sentient version of the Northwestern).
- And then of course Frozone basically is Samuel L. Jackson.
- Killed Off for Real: Hopper, Syndrome, GO-4, Charles Muntz, and Mor'Du are the only five villains to actually die at the end of their respective films.
- Most Writers Are Male: John Lasseter on why Pixar hasn't had a female main character before Brave: "We're a bunch of guys."
- No Antagonist: Inside Out. There's not a main villain or even an unintentional bad guy. The conflict arises from Sadness accidentally creating a sad core memory, which ends up causing Joy and Sadness to be stranded away from Headquarters when Joy tries to prevent it, leaving the other three emotions at a loss as to how to stabilize Riley's mind. Though some characters briefly act antagonistic, there is no outright antagonistic character in this film. The antagonistic force is the concept of depression, but it's not given an Anthropomorphic Personification like the other emotions.
- Offset Blink: Watch the characters in Toy Story closely, and you may notice their eyes often don't blink at exactly the same time. This stylistic choice was used so often in the studio's early films that it is still sometimes referred to as the "Pixar blink". It is used much more sparingly now.
- Otaku: Watch some of their movies and just look at how many references they make to Japan. Lasseter is a long time admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, they've become professional friends, and Miyazaki's stamp of approval was instrumental in helping Toy Story catch on in Japan. Disney, under the direction of a Pixar-related employee, is the only studio Miyazaki blesses with English dubs of his work. Lassetter even flew Japanese girl group Perfume to the premiere of Cars 2 and surprised them with full knowledge of their back catalogue during lunch together. They recorded a J-Pop single for the film in which the characters visit Tokyo.
- Papa Wolf: About half of Pixar's male leads are fathers (Bob Parr, Marlin) or substitute fathers (Sulley, Carl, arguably Woody and Buzz) whose main conflict in their respective movies is involves and/or affects their children, as well as dealing with the physical and emotional baggage of that responsibility. Considering that many of Pixar's Regulars were starting to have families of their own during Pixar's earlier filmmaking years, it makes more than enough sense.
- Production Foreshadowing: Happens enough times for a Pixar movie to be the page image.
- Rousseau Was Right: A common theme in some of their movies is that something drives a villain to evil.
- Rule of Animation Conservation: Among the studio's self-imposed rules is that each project must be a story that could only be properly told through animation.
- Running Gag:
- The Pizza Planet truck. The only film of theirs it hasn't appeared in was The Incredibles, although it does appear in the video game adaptation.
- Giving a role to John Ratzenberger in every film.
- Putting a cameo of a character from the next film to be released, and the one listed in Shout-Out.
- Scenery Porn: The Incredibles's commentary mentions having entire meetings devoted to the placement of the food at the dinner table during one scene.
- Shown Their Work: While Pixar does mix some things around for the sake of Artistic License, it plays this very straight.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: All their films are heavily on the idealistic end of the scale.
- The Smurfette Principle: Despite their allocates, one major complaint about Pixar is the lack of films that have a notable number of prominent female characters. There have been attempts to remedy this as of late, to varying degrees of success.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Pixar's sidekicks tend to be more memorable than their leads. You can see from their sequels that they embrace it: Cars 2 centered on Mater, Monsters University on Mike, and Finding Dory on Dory. Averted, however, with the Toy Story films: despite Buzz Lightyear arguably being more famous and recognizable, Woody remains the focus of the sequels.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Many a Pixar hero doesn't get along well with his co-protagonist or sidekick for most of the film.
- The 'Verse: With each of the films making all kinds of countless Shout Outs to previous movies and shorts and even a few characters making overlaps and cameos here and there, this trope is almost impossible to ignore.
- This may not apply to all films however since The Incredibles is seemingly set in an alternate Present Day Retro Universe and Cars, well, for obvious reasons.
- Then there's The Pixar Theory by Joe Negroni which goes into great detail about how each film is possibly connected. And of course there are those who debunked each of Negroni's points: Pixar Theory Debunked.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Even though the morality is clear, the villains usually have a good motivation (or a Freudian Excuse) to make them less straight-up evil. Pete Docter said that a regular "doing evil for evil" villain is not a "real" one.
- White and Grey Morality: As mentioned in Well-Intentioned Extremist, the antagonists that show up in most Pixar movie are rarely straight up evil. In Toy Story, Sid is a destructive kid who has no idea that he's harming sentient beings, and would grow up to a normal adult by the third movie. In Finding Nemo, the closest thing we have to a "villain" is the dentist's daughter — who, like Sid, is simply a misbehaving kid who clearly has no idea how to take care of animals. Brave's primary antagonist is a "demon bear" who is mostly just acting out from instinct and is not malevolent for the sake of it. When he dies, the spirit of the man he once was thanked the main characters for freeing him from the curse. In Monsters University, the heroes faced off against a group of Jerk Jocks, but they're generally pretty harmless and is depicted more as an obstacle the heroes have to surpass to win the Scarer Games than an actual force of evil. Averted pretty hard in The Incredibles, however, as Syndrome has personally murdered or caused the death of literally dozens of supers, just to spite them for having superpowers. Coco is another hard aversion, as the villain murdered his friend and musical partner, then stole his songs and used them to propel himself to fame and fortune.