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Comment of the Day: There are good stories about Pixar to tell

Responding to my comment about the difficulty of writing anything interesting about Pixar nowadays, Brew reader Matt said:

It’s hard to look at Pixar as anything but perfect but if you don’t want to continually reiterate the same Pixar praise, you can instead start looking into some of the negatives surrounding the studio. Such as the recent antitrust lawsuit seeking class action status by a former LucasFilm Software engineer accusing Pixar, Lucasfilm, Google, Apple, Intuit, Adobe, and Intel of having “no solicitation” agreements with one another to curb competition for skilled labor and cap employee pay. Time will tell if it’s true or not, just hope they continue making entertaining films.

That’s a fascinating story topic, and it got me thinking about what are some other stories about Pixar that I’d like to read. Here are some suggestions:

* Non-union Pixar is notorious for paying lower wages than the other major CG feature studios. They can get away with this because the prestige of working on a Pixar feature trumps a salary. That’s an excellent position for a company to be in, but history reminds us that it’s not a sustainable approach in the long-term. The parallels between Pixar’s current approach and the Disney studio of the late-Thirties are eerily similar, especially in Pixar’s paternalistic approach to offering incentives to its employees. Take this excerpt from the New Yorker piece about Pixar’s cereal bar: “There was once a new arrival at the company, who thought the bowls provided at the bar were too small, and registered his displeasure in an email. He didn’t last. In Lasseter’s words, ‘If you’re that upset about how big the bowl for your free cereal is, leave.'” In other words, Pixar will give you free cereal as long as you eat it exactly the way they want you to eat it.

* Not entirely Pixar-related, but another story I’d love to read more about is Lasseter’s takeover of the creative side of Disney Feature Animation. Lasseter has ruffled plenty of feathers and pushed some of the top talents out of the studio (Chris Sanders, and perhaps Glen Keane next), but he’s also responsible for retooling Tangled into the studio’s biggest earner since The Lion King. Is Disney becoming more like Pixar? And is that a positive development?

* Of course, there’s also the old standby: the lack of female protagonists in Pixar’s oeuvre. The latest take on the topic is this piece in Persephone Magazine. For the record, Anthony Lane in his New Yorker piece argued that Elastigirl is a “single-handed rebuke to the charge–proved elsewhere–that Pixar has failed to place female heroes at the hub of its stories.”

Your suggestions for good Pixar stories?

  • True dirt. Painful. Irrefutable. Those stories are always the best. Preferably something that grievously intrudes upon the privacy of good people who deserve higher regard. That’s the stuff.

  • Andrew

    HEADLINE! Cranky blogger Amid Amidi tries to drum up hate for Pixar- just for the hell of it!

    • Sarah

      Dear Mr. Andrew – cranky blogger AA is simply applying some critical thinking, observation, what if attitude and some detective work. Look for the dirt behind the shine is always a good attitude to find out how things work at Pixar, Pepe’s Massage Joint, Wall Street etc.

      You get the point? Just because you like all Pixar movies, it does not mean people can not question certain aspects of the running of a corporate studio. There are always many aspects to every story…

      • Andrew

        Sarah- I don’t like all Pixar movies. I’m not defending Pixar- I’m calling out Amid’s method of starting a conversation.

        It’s one thing to initiate a topic about Pixar’s low pay, or Pixar’s shady dealings with Lucas. These are legitimate concerns that shouldn’t be whitewashed. I would applaud that kind of post.

        But its another thing entirely to start a conversation with this premise: “You know what? People like Pixar too much! Hey everyone- lets brainstorm reasons to hate Pixar!” Its starting with a conclusion (Pixar isn’t so great after all) and then looking for facts to justify that opinion, rather than the other way around. This is kind of the way Fox news works. You’re not reporting- you’re literally asking for help to create a smear campaign.

        I mean, the female protagonist issue? REALLY? We all know about Brave. Are we really so hungry for something to be offended about that we’re going to feign ignorance on that topic?

        AMID- don’t show your cards so clearly. You totally undermine your journalistic credibility by starting an article with an axe to grind, rather than with a lead to follow. At least PRETEND that you’re a fair reporter, concerned for the wellbeing of the artform and its workers, rather than a pissy self-proclaimed expert with a chip on his shoulder who’s just looking for a fight.

      • Pogo Bock

        Yikes. Defensive much? A thin skin is a symptom of a lack of critical thinking.

      • amid

        Andrew wrote, But its another thing entirely to start a conversation with this premise: “You know what? People like Pixar too much! Hey everyone- lets brainstorm reasons to hate Pixar!”

        That’s a good point except I didn’t start the conversation that way. I started it by asking “What are some other stories about Pixar that I’d like to read?” And this was in response to my complaint about the New Yorker article’s lack of substance or new insights into the studio’s creative operations.

        I have no “axe to grind” with Pixar or any other studio for that matter. I am simply as honest with readers as I can possibly be about my feelings. And I’m certainly not a reporter nor have I ever pretended to be.

      • You may not intend it or think you appear that way but the fact you contribute to a blog about animation news and opinion places you in the role of reporter whether you like it or not.
        It’s all about perception and presentation.

      • In the Intertubes Age bloggers are reporters are bloggers are reporters.

        It’s a distinction without a difference.

      • Hal

        @Elliot Actually, reporter isn’t so much the role Amid takes on… EVER. He’s more of a Virgil guiding us through the circles of animation Hell more often than not and on occasions taking us to to Limbo and Heaven (but lets be honest, its more fun to roll with the sinners). Amid’s an Op-Ep writer, not a reporter, and he provides a framework for current animation news in his own distinct voice and just posts links to the real articles. The only time he “reports” is when he posts animation-related events or trailers/shorts. Lets not confuse things here.

      • Thank goodness you’re around to point these things out.
        I shall refer to you in the future when I’m attempting to form my own opinions.

      • Stephan

        Pixar is an anti-semite who is cryogenically frozen?

    • Hal

      Andrew, I love taking Amid to task when he goes overboard but you know an “Amid trolling” article when you see one and frankly this ISN’T one. Personally, I LOVED the link to the New Yorker piece – that kind of animated sexual imagery is usually left to the DeviantArt pages not a prestige magazine.

  • tonma

    you know Pixar can’t possibly be the perfect home they want you to think, it is a business and it is in the shadow of Disney, same for Lasseter, but they produce darn nice stuff. I just wish we knew Pixar more by word of their employees and less for the studio tour clips in the dvds.
    but that cereal bar……. mmm I just don’t get it… no thrill at all.

    • Katie M.

      -.- especially since Dreamworks provides 2 free meals a day to their employees. And what about us lactose intolerant folk??

      • tonma

        Yeah! how long would they expect you to enjoy free dry cereal for snack, people can get constipated that way!

  • Katie M.

    Lack of female PROTAGONISTS perhaps. I find Pixar’s female roles very refreshing. Most aren’t hyper-sexualized or competing-with-the-boys type characters. They are comfortable as they are and have few gender expectations placed on them.

    • Iritscen

      I like your sentiment. What makes me cringe, personally, are the shallow “feminist” female characters that Hollywood always writes in such a pandering, one-note manner. The characters whose motto is “Anything boys can do, girls can do better” because some writer thinks he’s being so fabulously progressive to write that kind of character in the 21st century. The characters who suddenly learn expert sword-fighting or marksmanship with no real training as soon as they’re in danger, because, um, girl power!

      That said, I am really eager to see what Pixar is going to do with their female lead in “Brave”. I want to see them stretching themselves to write different kinds of characters, and strong female characterization is fairly new ground for them, Helen Parr excepted.

  • Paul N

    Your first bullet point involves the size of cereal bowls? “Pixar will give you free cereal as long as you eat it exactly the way they want you to eat it”? Seriously?

    • N. W. Smith

      Yeah, I’m with Paul N on this one – the bigger the bowl, the bigger the mess to clean up and the more food wasted, in my experience as the direct consumer, work-place observer and the parent/grandparent supervising said consumption.

      Anybody who complains about the size of the plates or bowls at an all-you-can-eat buffet of ANY kind isn’t some defender of the Proletariat – s/he’s an idiot with emotional/mental issues.

      • Hal

        I’m pretty damn sure that the bowl thing was a fun little “headline grabber” to a person who probably was let go for other reasons. However, the financial end (lower salaries due to prestige) is something worth discussing.

    • Skeptical

      Wow, is the Pixar love so great that someone who had the audacity to suggest that larger cereal bowls might be useful is “an idiot with emotional/mental issues”? Is that crime so great that such a person has to be driven from the company and mocked by John Lasseter?

      I know some very talented people who have not made it through the all-day group interviews at Pixar because a single person there had an issue with them. It would be one thing if Pixar were a tiny company, but they’re now huge, and any large company that cannot tolerate the slightest internal dissent is doomed.

      The cereal bowl story should be very worrying to anyone who cares about the future of Pixar. It’ a sign of deep, institutional rot from the inside.

      • Ergo

        No, it’s not. They guy’s getting free cereal and he’s complaining about it. Lasseter isn’t telling him to leave because he wants a bigger bowl. He’s telling him to leave because he has a bad attitude.

        If the bowls aren’t big enough, bring a bigger one from home. Or go for seconds.

        I work for a small animation company that gave us all free food. And everyone had their opinions about what that food should be, what should be avoided. And the company indulged everyone for a while.

        And it just got worse. People started making demands as if the free food was a right, not a privilege. In the end it got too exhausting, and the whole thing was stripped down to bare as bones stuff. And guess what the company said to anyone that didn’t like it? “If you don’t like it, leave.”

        Yes, Pixar may have it’s problems. But telling someone the company is not going to arrange for bigger cereal bowls is not one of them.

  • I heard it first at SCAD that Pixar/Disney pay raise was low but the fact you’re working at a studio with such a great legacy is supposed to make up for it.
    It’s nice to hear that not everything’s all sunshine and lollipops at Pixar. They keep promoting themselves as such, but I’ve heard otherwise from professors and interns at SCAD.

  • anonymous

    I remember hearing someone, who worked at Pixar, say that “A Bug’s Life” originally was going to have Princess Atta as the main character. It was going to be similar to Miyazaki’s “Nausicaa”, in which a much loved princess was going give up everything and leave her anthill in order to save it. But instead they added the “bumbling idiot” character and made him the main for whatever reason.

    • Maybe because there was no way a smart, courageous princess would mistake a circus troupe for mercenaries without looking like… well, a bumbling idiot.

  • Norm

    “the lack of female protagonists”

    How about the new lack of female directors? Even on their shorts.
    And how the one film they have announced that does have a female protagonist is being directed by males?

  • Dan

    An article about articles you’d like to read? Aren’t you a writer, amid? Slow day, eh?

  • Pepper

    UHM … just saying .. if that cereal bowl comment is true .. someone emailed Jeffrey Katzenberg about asking for a panini machine, and he thought it was a great idea so they bought one for the cafeteria (a cafeteria that offers free breakfast AND lunch, every day).

    Not that it means paninis or bigger cereal bowls are going to equal better movies .. but John Lasseter could have just said, “Bring your own damn bowl.”

    This is, again, assuming that story has truth to it. I kind of think Pixar can totally afford to get some bigger bowls.

  • Dan H.

    Honestly? The whole industry is an inbred, biased, croneyist institution and cartoonbrew is no different. Take a look at the TAG blog, the vitriol comments are hilarious.

    Best thing to do, work on your s**t and do what you want to do. Ralph Bakshi did it, Bill Plympton is doing it, Hertzfeldt, etc.

    It’s easy and fun! to criticize pixar because they are top dog, but the bottom line is: they have to make money. They will hire the best people that apply, they will make movies about s**t that interest the general public using tried and true story conventions, and they’ll even push the envelope as much as a big company like that is able to (which isn’t much).

    If you don’t like it, gtfo. Instead of just complaining about it, do something about it. Set up your own darn company and provide them with cereal bowls the size of their face and make all your movies around a “strong-female-protagonist”.

    No one does it though, or will do it, because you gotta really love your craft to push the envelope of it; that s**t goes unappreciated. It was true with painting/drawing, it was true with the picture shows, and right now animation is running its course down the art history lane.

    • david

      people are doing it and their stuff goes unnoticed because they have no funding to promote. 90% of success is that these major companies get distro deals. Look at all the current mainstream (megacorp) content out right now. PEOPLE STILL GO TO THEATERS TO WATCH POO. the lesser of poo evils(wakka wakka). movie watching is a pastime, it is a slave habit for slaves. People want to watch, read, and be distracted from their boring dull lives. Why do you think dumb videos on youtube have the most hits. We live in a world now where the LCD = majority. Corporate companies perpetuate by feeding LCD and dominating the airwaves etc. majority grows. it cycles.

      So there are tons of new indie animated films out there. I think this website has been posting them. But only fanboys and h8rs comment and it tops off at 10,000 views and then on to the next one.

      this argument of “if you don’t like it do yourself” lacks realism. the realism: To create on that scale you need money, time, and resources (people). Any normal working person has limited money, time and only one of them to make something happen. When you slave away doing free OT for some company because it’s a giant circle jerk of turd polishing where do you find the time to “do it yourself?” Most go home and play video games or collect toys or general fanboy stuff. Maybe some of them actually try to raise families (WHOA?!?!!?) Maybe some of them have lives outside of animation (NOOOOWAYYYBROOO!!!!!!!!)

      Tell me how can one solo artist compete with a mega corporation that exploits humans tantamount to laxative induced waste and charmin ultra wipes.

      Even Bakshi exploited. he took the popularity of crumb and used it to make his film. Artist using artist, happens all the time.

      Not everyone is Bill Plympton, nor did they train to animate on 5’s and be that efficient. They just were naive and wanted to draw for a living (most don’t even know how to animate). Now they are slaves to the system. So yadda yadda, you can do it yourself. Yeah you can make ironic webcomics and make 30 grand a year from selling t shirts. EFF THE MAN! The reality, if we ever want to this to change it will require every artist to get up away from their jobs and walk away. But that won’t happen because artists are insecure and afraid so they will continue being slaves. there will be more mass produced crappy content and the typical small patch of underground comics and short films.

      Dan h. how long does it to take you animate (cleaned up colored/rendered) 3 minutes of dialogue? heavy dialogue, fully animated? how about a 15 minute action sequence with crowd shots? How long? How many discarded sequences and footage does pixar/dreamworks throw out everyday because Jeffdog wasn’t ‘feeling it’? What you could do in 9 years, they pump out in 2 months, 2 weeks, probably less. go ahead, do it yourself!

      that being said, I will still work on my personal short films/drawings/art for my own sanity/indulgence but i’m not planning on being a major competitor with pixar or changing the game because. It’s just an outlet for fun.

      • Iritscen

        Dude, chill out. Some of us are okay with working for “The Man” and being part of a larger project than something we could do ourselves. And much of what you would refer to as “sheeple enjoying the lowest common denominator trash that Hollywood craps out” is simply a matter of movie makers knowing how to appeal to a broad base of people, which is not some dirty trick; it’s just sound storytelling.

        The hard truth is that many indie auteurs, such as Bakshi, don’t tell the kind of stories that large numbers of people want to hear. Bakshi wasn’t held down by the man. He had limited success because his work had limited appeal. Some of us have no interest in hearing stories about inner city life because we can’t relate to it and find it unattractive.

        Precisely because it *is* entertainment, and recreation, most people want a story that won’t challenge them too much, that won’t push their comfort zone. That’s just human nature. Tugging on the audience’s heartstrings with the same old familiar stories and art styles may seem exploitative to you, but it’s something that people enjoy having done to them.

        tl;dr: Accept that people are successful when they band together and make appealing work, and move on.

      • Jorge Garrido

        Iritscenn, that’s a drippy, soft response that pretends there’s no problem to megacorporations controlling artistic output. “Dude, stop whining, just accept it and move on!” The implies powerlessness.

        It used to be states and individual clients supported individual artists and small artistic collectives. Now everyone, in order to be successful, has to go directly to mainstream. That’s a MASSIVE difference in how the culture grew.

        Do yourself a favour, educate yourself. Take 40 minutes out of your day and listen this video:

        If you still think everyone has to passively “accept” that gigantic corporations, aligning yourself with them, or BELONGING to them, is the only way to have success in America nowadays, including and ESPECIALLY show business, film and animation, I’ll be impressed.

        Marc Maron once said the real face of oppression is the people behind you in line at the airport going “come on!” “dude, just take it!” “take your shoes up” “keep the line moving!” “let’s go!”

        “Chill out!”

    • David…so…you feel you can’t make the kind of serious art you want to make unless you have a gigantic production and marketing budget? If you make a low-budget movie, or short film, or write a graphic novel, and it doesn’t look opulent and make half a billion dollars, you’ve failed somehow?
      Society’s treatment of artists hasn’t been exactly consistent throughout history. One artist may have a cushy job with the royal court of Spain, another may be poor, depressed and cutting off his own ear. We all have to find our own way.
      But, y’know, staging a coup and capturing Pixar for your own would certainly be more exciting.

      • If you read David’s last statement, he says he’ll continue making his own cartoons.

        I don’t think his observations are defeatist. They’re largely realistic.

        Does someone who opens up a Mom and Pop style diner ever hope to take down or compete with McDonalds?

        If they do, they’re delusional.

        Probabilities are against them.

        But do they hope to make a living while providing a much needed service and fulfilling some other intangible needs in themselves and their community?

        Absolutely. And they’re not doing it by giving their food away for free.

        There are definitely more options than corporate billion dollar revenues and simply just giving independently animated cartoons away for free.

        Hell, even with what internet has done to the porn industry, they still make enough money to live solid lives. And it’s not through ad revenue.

      • Agreed.^^ (Maybe I didn’t read Dave’s comment closely enough.)

      • Funkybat

        I think the “mom & pop diner” analogy works, but to the opposite purpose to what was proposed. I believe that small groups of artists, even individual artists who are extraordinary, can and will take on Disney or Pixar.

        Consider “Five Guys” burgers. 10 Years ago, they were just some local hole-in-the-wall in suburban Virginia, popular with a small but rabid fanbase. At the time I lived like 10 miles away, and had never heard of them. Today, they are on their way to being a nationwide chain, and in the burgers-and-fries market, are regarded as serious competition for McD’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.

        25 years ago, Pixar was a scrappy startup of computer geeks and guys who left/were fired from Disney. As Disney animation rose to prominence again in the early 90s, Pixar rose as well, but before Toy Story no one thought of them as serious feature film competition for juggernaut Disney. Ten years later, they more or less took over the helm of Disney Animation.

        There will always be “challengers appearing” as long as a business is viable and doesn’t exert monopoly control. Pixar and Disney are not monopolies. And just because a rival rises doesn’t mean the old juggernauts will die. I believe there is room for the animation industry to grow, just as much as there is for fast food upstarts to appear and thrive.

      • I agree with your assessment, and I congratulate anybody on gaining national and international success.

        But there’s nothing wrong with staying small and independent either. Not everything has to compete against the big boys to be considered successful. Success is just achieving one’s goals.

        And if one’s goals are to pay the rent and utilities on time while independently producing and animating short films, then one is successful if they achieve that.

        Like you pointed out, it takes time to build that following. We live in a culture of immediate gratification and if something doesn’t appear to take off in a few weeks, it’s considered a failure which is a shame because the most successful businesses have been around for years before achieving success.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I always thought A Bug’s Life (a great flick btw) was an ironic story coming from a non-union shop; the ants slaving and producing for the greedy grasshoppers. It could be used as propaganda for unions; very easy to spin that way. ( In another irony I actually didn’t see it until video because at the time our local projectionists union* were on strike. I probably didn’t see a film at a theatre for 6 months.)
    As far as I know the story began as a redux of Aesop’s The Grasshopper & The Ant.

    *projectionist union is no more. What’s it tell you when during the strike the managers could operate the projectors?But I digress….

    • J.m

      looks like You need to watch a film called SEVEN SAMURAI by Akira
      Kurosawa, but if you don’t like BLack and white foreign language films you can always watch THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, it’s a western and Charles Bronson’s in it.

      • Murray Bain

        or three amigos!(which is also based on 7S) they are even entertainers mistaken for warriors.

        “cars” is also “Doc Hollywood”.

      • Gerard de Souza

        Indeed I should see Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven. Still…

      • Alan

        doc Hollywood was a ripoff of an episode of Andy Griffith.

  • Jane

    The lack of racial diversity in their films. I know most of their movies still feature non-humans but aside from Russel in Up they haven’t had another non-white main character. (No, Frozone doesn’t count, he’s not a main character.) and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change with Brave.

    Where as you have Disney featuring (maybe not perfectly) many races and ethnic groups over the last 20 years. Dreamworks too, but to a lesser degree. And they’ve been successful with those movies, so Pixar can be too.

    I’m not trying to start shit with this, I think Pixar is a very talented company, I just don’t see why with all that talent they can’t feature females or people of color more often.

  • Sam

    To me… Pixar is like Sunny Side Day Care center under Lotso’s management. Some artists have a hard time climbing the ladder because of all that established animators staying at the top of it, while others remain at the bottom and had to follow the rules, wait for their turn or maybe never.

    On the good side, you are guaranteed to have kids coming in to play with you all the time (employed) at Pixar, than being laid off like VFX houses, abandoned and only brought back like a battery when they need you. Once they are done, they lay you off again.

    This industry is full of it’s own downside, so it all depends on how an individual likes where they are. Some people are happy being at the bottom and paid less than other studios, some mind it. Some don’t like staying in one studio for too long and like to jump around, and others may prefer to stay put, stabilized. So yeah.

    • Jorge Garrido

      Isn’t it strange at almost every Pixar film seems to have an “initially benevolent authority figure/leader who turns out to be the villain?”

      Kelsey Grammer in Toy Story 2, Lotso in Toy Story 3, Kirk Douglas in Up, the Octopus Crab in Monsters Inc, Syndrome’s agent in The Incredibles, the Space Station in Wall-E.

      Are they trying to tell us something about John Lasseter?

  • Matt

    I think that there is plenty of bad things that can be said about Pixar, but people are afraid to challenge the status quo given how well their movies perform at the box office. For example? Cars. When examined on it’s merits as an actual movie and not a vehicle for Owen Wilson’s snarkiness and Larry the Cable Guy’s hillbilly humor, it’s just this cliche-ridden, mediocre comedy that appealed to kids because of it’s toyetic appeal and was sold to adults on the basis of it’s Pixar name alone. Someone, anyone, tell me why I’m wrong and why it isn’t the “The Black Cauldron” of Pixar’s animated library.

    • Cars is one thing that most recent Pixar films is not: simple and honest.
      It’s a lot like A Bug’s Life and represents (to me, anyway) a time when Pixar was interested in creating entertainment instead of desperately trying to be appear meaningful.

      • I think they’re desperately trying to BE meaningful, and I don’t think that’s a bad aspiration.

      • It’s not if it’s done with some honesty and sincerity.

        I’m hardly going to argue the point, though.
        People love these films and I’m not trying to convince anyone to do anything other than this.

      • Bud

        $9 Billion is hard to argue with. Cars may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it apparently struck a chord with SOMEone!

      • Jorge Garrido

        Elliot, don’t you mean interested in “making money?”

        I’m not a big fan of Pixar’s post-Nemo non-Bird films. I thought the message of Wall-E and the cheap, old fashioned emotional manipulation of Up to be hamfisted, obvious, and lazy in every way, but I have to admit that at least those films TRIED to do something a little different.

        Both films had premises that set up a very unusual movie… and both films destroyed that when their second halves became predictable family action-comedies. The chase scene, the villain, the emotional twist/realization that they need to do the right thing. All that stuff was found in spades in Cars too.

        Even the two fat humans in Wall-E who get out of their chairs, who they set up as being important characters, who were voiced by celebrities, were only there to fulfill a single story beat at the end, which was to briefly and anticlimactically save a bunch of fat babies from being smashed when the Space Station tipped over. Total hackneyed Hollywood story structure, based on hitting beats and formulas and making sure the third act is an exciting action, chase, or sneaking-around sequence. (And unlike The Incredibles, these films weren’t action films.)

        But BEFORE that, the first halves of both those films were very unusual, at least in premise. Up’s used an impossible and imaginative fantasy scenario as a metaphor for the emotional impact the events of the film had on the character. That’s straight out of Herriman. And Wall-E set up a very bleak future to criticize our culture. I have to admit, ham-fisted and cutesy as that opening was, it was ballsy. If they had sustained that throughout the pictures I would have been a bigger fan of them.

        Pixar’s “desperate attempts to be meaningful” were clearly the best parts of both those pictures. Because without that, every Pixar films not directed by Brad Bird is basically Cars. Same story beats, same audience manipulation. Same happy ending.

        DW Griffith would find these films old-fashioned.

        But these are kids films! Who cares that they were nominated for Best Picture and consistently win Best Animated Picture and get a pass from everyone, they’re not REALLY supposed to be innovative. They’re just kids films! And who cares that Miyazaki is never that formulaic or risk-averse!

      • I felt that the money making was a given.

  • It’s easy to criticize. If you feel that way make a movie yourself.

    • Jorge Garrudi

      Since when did you have to be “vetted” to have an opinion on something?

      Anyone is allowed to have an opinion on anything.

      “I didn’t like this movie.” “WELL WHY DON’T YOU GO MAKE A MOVIE YOU HYPOCRITE”

      • The Gee

        The thing is this:

        You are complaining about the monkey doing the Frug when you want to see it dancing the Fandango or the Funky Chicken.

        Dudes and dudettes, its only dancing monkeys.

        And get this:

        Not every one of them is specifically dancing for your pleasure. So, I agree with the sentiment that “if you don’t like the music, start your own ****ing band!”

        Otherwise, seriously consider what you are complaining about. No one is forcing you to watch animation or work in animation. If you can’t find your Elysian Fields filled with Dancing Monkeys, I’m sorry to hear that.

        Truly sorry.

      • Jorge Garrido

        A clumsy metaphor for a clumsy argument.

  • Exposing big league hypocrisies when you have evidence is one of the few joys of being a journalist. I wish this site would do it more, rather than going after harmless small-time offenders/bloggers.

    • Funkybat

      They key word is “evidence.” This business is big on rumor and innuendo, but I have rarely seen firm proof of the many horror tales people tell about individual artists and studios. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to have hard proof of a conversation or the actual rationale behind someone being fired, but in this day and age, I’m surprised more emails or video doesn’t emerge to prove some of these rumors.

      I treat most of what I hear as pure gossip, even though some of it is doubtlessly true, in whole or in part. Unless you’re there, it’s really hard to say, and I have been lucky to not be caught up in too much psychodrama between the artists I’ve worked with. But then, for a lot of people, gossip is “fun.”

  • Gray64

    I applaude the desire for in depth analysis, but to desire for negative information about Pixar simply because most of what you hear is positive seems a little…warped. The cereal bowl story you mention seems like a good example of this. Someone complained about the size of the bowls for free cereal? Really? ANd you (Amid) felt the need to tag the piece with “So Pixar will give you free cereal only if you eat it the way they want you to”? Best you can come up with? That one takes the prize for pettiness, folks. I worked in a book store where coffee was provided to patrons free of charge, and we would occassionally get people who’d ask that we provide different kinds of coffee; we took their requests politely and then ignored them, because management’s position was “we’re a business and we’re giving you something for free, so you don’t get to dictate the terms of the free stuff we give you.” Seems reasonable to me.
    The points you raise about labor practices are valid and deserve to be considered, but as for the lack of female protagonists…here’s the thing about that. Pixar allows for a lot of creative freedom, and thus far the folks coming up with their stories have, with no pressure from the execs, decided on male protagonists. I don’t see how you can complain about that, unless you’re in favor of executive meddling. Besides, Brave is on the agenda, right? Just about all of Dreamworks and SkyBlue’s stuff have had male protagonists, too, and no one’s complaining about that (yet). It maybe benevolently motivated, but it sounds a little too much like someone trying to foist their own agenda onto a creative entity. Public or private interests should not get to dictate the products of a creative entity. If you don’t like what they produce, or the way they produce it, that is entirely your problem alone.

    • It is possible to be dazzled by PIXAR’s achievements, hold it in massive regard, have a deep respect for the work and creativity involved in bringing those beautiful visuals to the screen, and still wish to see the wretched filth behind the curtain. As PIXAR is an organization created and staffed by humans, it must necessarily conceal a poignantly tender core of bad faith, disappointment, pettiness, spite, and executive caprice. Exposing that is as therapeutic as draining an infection. Knowing the intricate details of such things adds a pleasantly queasy dimension to the entertainment experience.

      • Gray64

        Wow. That’s…incredibly sad.

    • Hal

      I think the nagging sense is that Pixar’s standing upon such a high critical and commercial pedestal that they seem untouchable, when in reality they are still “only” the purveyors of exceptionally well produced mainstream entertainment. I love most of their films (and count their run between Monsters Inc and Ratatouille as probably the best run of any contemporary studio, leading to the best animated movie of the last decade, Ratatouille, period) but Wall-E felt like the first moment making commercial entertainment trumped the ambitions of pushing pop filmmaking towards art. WALL-E is EASILY the most ambitious cg movie (technically and narratively) made by a big studio up till that point, but the “happy” ending just felt forced despite the cute robots populating it. It could have been Pixar’s BAMBI (or perhaps their ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) if Wall-E remained braindead – a brilliant sci-fi social satire could have been a masterpiece by following through on its convictions. Instead it remains simply fantastic entertainment. Since then we’ve had UP!, Toy Story 3 and now Cars 2, and while they always make high quality entertainment there seems to be a lack of the same ambition. They make immaculate products, but that’s just it – now I’m discussing Pixar films in terms of products and franchises, which I never used to. Can’t help thinking there’s a shift going on towards the established branding of Disney, whether its the one absorbing the other or not, and questioning the actual man pulling the levers behind the curtain always puts the Great Wizard in a better perspective. The problem is the animation world in general has gotten so lousy that the care and love shown in the production values and polished visuals of Pixar’s output are blinding to whatever else may be going on – who would really want to question the motives of the studio that remains one of the few Shangri-Las for the artists of our industry? Moreover, I have heard that artists are less than enthused to be working on the Cars 2 and Monsters Inc 2s going on on. That sounds like the studio’s financial interests dictating the astounding creativity. I loved that I used to discuss Pixar in terms of the greater world of cinema… now its back to how much better they are than the surrounding glut of children’s entertainment. Regressive, no?

  • I’ve always felt a little uneasy about the idea of a creative “brain trust.” I think the positives and negatives are pretty obvious, and tie into a majority of the present arguments for how/why Pixar is performing the way it does. I don’t know if “the Pixar culture is under pressure,” like a recent VARIETY article claims… but I foresee some trouble ahead for talented and innovative young artists who cannot break through because the “brain trust” isn’t so trusting anymore.

    • some guy

      The brain trust is going to be the death of Pixar. They’re all getting older, (and moving on:Bird,Stanton) so they should be nurturing their successors, the new blood to keep the brand strong. (and they need some new blood with the excess of sequels coming) They have tried, with a variety of director’s working on shorts. But having a non brain trust person in charge of a full feature they get cold feet (Chapman, Pinkava). There’s only so high you can go in Pixar before you hit the ceiling, and the talent has to go looking for new opportunities (Bobby Beck started AM, Doug Sweetland & Rodrigo Blaas were offered more control based on the shorts they made while at Pixar)

      The films are all about white guys because they’re made by white guys. The only reason they’re doing Brave is because a woman brought it. They need some diversity in their directors to get some diversity in their stories.

      • Bud

        “Doug Sweetland & Rodrigo Blaas were offered more control based on the shorts they made while at Pixar)”

        I very seriously doubt that.

      • someguy

        both were offered feature film directing positions right after their shorts, Blaas’ is a full length version of his short. They’ve both been at Pixar at least 10 years, so they were happy there while they were still growing. I’m theorizing that they are jumping ship now because they hit the ceiling and there’s no more room to grow for them there. If Pixar wants to last longer then it’s 1st braintrust they have to let new brains in.

      • Jackson

        Blaas admitted he had prior contractual agreements with the short project he was attached to. And Sweetland seems to have left Pixar 2 years after finishing Presto (it came out with Ratatouille in 2007)–not exactly what I’d call “right after.”

      • David

        You’re going to lump Bobby Beck in with Doug Sweetland? Get real.

  • The Gee

    Criticizing the studio as a workplace and an organization is very different from dissing on what it makes. True, what it makes depends on the make-up of the studio and how it works but don’t confuse the two as being equally important.

    Personally, I think labor and management and the working environment stories are much more important than the ones about what the studio makes. What the studio makes is just less important unless it is dragging the company down financially. Right now, it seems like that isn’t the case. Which makes the other types of stories still being more important.

    Complaining about the content is a mug’s game, so to speak. And, unless you are content with splitting hairs, to most people complaining about it doesn’t mean much. People can understand and relate to a less than Disney-fied* workplace.

    *real and ideal or glossy fiction

    • Funkybat

      I believe that if one considers themselves an artist and a filmmaker, critiques of the content of a studio’s films is more relevant than discussions about the labor practices and management style. Of course, the two cannot be entirely separated, as the latter affects the former. Still, the conversation ought to start with “what do you think of/feel about *insert recent film/short title*?” That’s more to the point of the whole affair, which is supposedly to make motion pictures for people to watch and respond to. It’s the reason any studio worth it’s salt exists.

      Making money from those creations is very important, but any studio that puts the bottom line ahead of the content inevitably churns out derivative crap. Sometimes a movie will be crap even *if* the filmmakers were putting storytelling first, but that’s due to shortcomings of the creatives, not the prioritizing. Putting money ahead of telling the best story ALWAYS leads to subpar storytelling.

      If the end result of the filmmaker’s efforts is creatively worthwhile, is it really relevant to get into the internal workplace politics? If people are really that unhappy working there, despite the acclaim their collective work receives, they will leave. So in that case, I suppose departures of talented team members would be the main reason to begin conversations about labor & management vs. film quality.

  • Jim M

    Pixar’s process of engineering art will never allow it to reach the pinnacles of the artform that Miyazaki does.

    Pixar = Engineering Art.
    Miyazaki = Artiste/Auteur.

    See Catmull’s talk:

    • N. W. Smith

      Wanna bet that that there are tales that can be told of Miyazaki at least as “good” as those about Pixar? The only difference between despotism and corporate rule is the number of people screwing you.

      • Gray64

        Miyazaki is famously a control freak of Walt Disney proportions and practically a luddite who has threatened to fire animators for even suggesting that he might be wrong about any given element of his films.
        This is not to say he isn’t a brilliant artist. He is, but the man ain’t perfect.
        Has any American animation director ever been given the degree of freedom and control that Miyazaki has?

    • PeteR

      Of course, that’s bunk. And myazaki has made a few real stinkers, too.

    • Alan

      The Catmull talk is typical corporate b.s. Nary an original thought or concept–and from someone who is clearly out of touch with filmaking. He’s spouting the same tired corporate-speak that brought Disney down in the first place. But what do you expect from someone who trusts data over intuition?

    • Riza Gilderstern

      A lot of the same criticisms that have been made about Pixar’s internal structure could also be said about Studio Ghibli; where most of the films the company has produced have been done mostly by the same two old guys. Watch them all back to back and there’s a definite tried and true formula and common themes in those works as well. You may just be mystifying something that simply doesn’t really exist. We get Studio Ghibli films from a borderline indie film level so that’s our perspective on the films as being something auteur and artsy and that’s pretty much the narrative they use as a selling point to us in the states. In reality those films are just a hokey and moral as what commonly gets criticized in American animation. And I say that as someone who really loves Studio Ghibli films.

      • “A lot of the same criticisms that have been made about Pixar’s internal structure could also be said about Studio Ghibli; where most of the films the company has produced have been done mostly by the same two old guys. Watch them all back to back and there’s a definite tried and true formula and common themes in those works as well. ”

        AGREED! I love Ghibli films as well but it’s ridiculous to pretend there’s any less of a formula to their movies as Pixar’s.

        It’s not even a formula actually, it’s just the filmmakers making movies according to their perspectives and sensibilities, that’s all.

  • Blasko

    I’m not looking for any dirt on Pixar, but I am wondering why the company shifted from a focus on story and innovation to character and franchise. Several critics and historians have pointed to the tragic loss of Joe Ranft as the cause of this shift, and I wonder if folks who have worked for the studio feel the same way.

    From my perspective, Pixar is following the same trajectory as one of their founders: George Lucas. Lucas was always better at making films when he had to less to work with. Once he had the moolah and software to build his universe, his films became sloppy and vapid. Yes, Pixar’s films will make money (and so will Lucas’s, no matter how many prequel/sequels he cooks up), but do folks on the inside of Pixar feel that they’re franchising and merchandising themselves to death?

    • PeteR

      Lucas was not a founder of Pixar.

      • anonymous

        Not directly. Pixar was originally part of Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics division and later sold to Jobs and Apple. The rest is history.

  • The reality is that people who want to keep working in the industry don’t want to slit their own throats with bad news stories about places they have worked, or about places they currently have friends working. Besides that, it smacks of tacky.

    Combine that with the fact that there is so much hero worship of Pixar and some other studios that younger people just don’t want to believe anything negative about the place at all. Recent salary surveys show that on average, Pixar pays less than most other places.

    Like Disney, Pixar has many top talents leaving the studio in order to work other places. Is this any different than any other company? Not really. People come and go all the time at studios for a variety of reasons. But maybe reaching out to the people who have left would reveal a common thread that would shed some light into something about the studio that would cause this other than the usual reasons?

    If readers really want “the dirt” on studios, you need a place such as Cartoon Brew that will keep sources confidential while researching facts so they know what they are publishing is in fact true and not just sour grapes. I don’t know if Cartoon Brew has the ability to do any of that. Until there is some anonymity, you’re not going to hear the real stories from the trenches until we’re all old men and women.

  • J.m

    Pixar’s first animated thriller synopsis

    An Unemployed fellow named Bob Artie goes insane after losing his job at the most magical company in the world after he complained about his daily cereal bowl ration. Now he is after the man in the hawaiian shirt …
    He is now…..a “Cereal Killer”

    a Thriller with music by academy award winner Mike Giacchinno

  • Tom

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Be considerate and respectful of others in the discussion. Defamatory, rude or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

    • Adam

      Please explain this comment.

      • The Brewmasters

        Adam – We shouldn’t have let that comment slip by. The baseless assault on the religious convictions of Pixar employees was completely inappropriate and irrelevant to any discussion about the studio.

  • You’re kidding, right?

    Steve Jobs bought Pixar from George Lucas for five million back in the eighties. I remember Jobs being called crazy for this acquisition.

    • Bud

      I think Pixar, as a company, was founded as an entity AFTER the purchase. The folks that founded Pixar (Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, and John Lasseter) were employees of Lucasfilm–primarily creating the EditDroid.

      • Back in the 80s CINEFEX published pictures of the X-Wing rendered by what I suppose became PIXAR. According to the magazine, Lucas thought the results “uncool” and decided to continue the physical assemblage of effects models from mass-produced toy components, to be shot with motion-controlled film cameras. At the time, I thought “The output of this new technology looks ten thousand times better than filming cobbled-together model kit parts!”

  • Ethan

    Pixar does this, pixar does that… It’s a studio, not a person. and the media are playing that game way too much. Let’s talk about WHO said what, and WHO did what at pixar. (ha, it’s confidential, you need to know someone willing to risk his job to tell you).

    With major animated features, it’s way too often the studio’s name or the executive producer getting the recognition or blame in the media, it’s rarely the directors or writers.

    The studio’s name and branding seems to have so much value, that it looks like anyone working at pixar wouldn’t be allowed to make anything other than the pixar type of film and look. The genre is now stable, the target market is stable, the fan base is stable, and expectations are stable. How can they possibly do something ELSE now ? It could flop and destroy the valuable brand! Can’t let that happen!

    So… who did that ?

  • Can’t believe that if you’re privileged enough to work at Pixar you’d complain about cereal bowl size which is laid on for free….. really need to 1. Be thankful you can animate for a living, 2. Animate at Pixar, 3. Have had the training and opportunity and contacts to get there, 4. BUY YOUR OWN BOWL if it still means that much to you.

    • Ethan

      Yes, but the opposite can be said too, if an employee asks for a larger cereal bowl, and gets fired just because he asked, is that a reasonable attitude toward the workforce?

      Maybe I’ve been lucky over the years that my employers appreciated the work I do (or simply tolerated me), but that work have always been profitable to them, it’s a business relationship. You get a salary and company perks, and you give them the best work you can, they own your work, they make money with it. Let’s suppose a billion dollar box office a year, for a company of about 800, that would be an average of 1.25 million dollar box office per employee, that excludes the ancillary revenues, DVDs, toys, etc…

      I don’t know the details about that cereal story, first time I read it is here. It was mentioned publicly by the studio chief, that employee being ridiculed not worthy of pixar. It’s a cautionary tale: NOBODY will ever ask for anything now, they’d be scared of getting fired.

      Please excuse my cynicism for a moment. There’s a similar technique used to train dogs: the dogs are punished if they ask for food, so they’ll stop thinking you owe them anything and will always be thankful you give them food at all. Perfect obedience.

      It does make a company more efficient, but there might be some subtle side effects once in a while. For example it could make it harder finding directors to work on your projects. That’s just a made up example.

      • Alan

        Not to mention the cereal bowl story is a fabrication.

      • Norm

        How is the cereal bowl story a fabrication?

        It came directly from the New Yorker article if you actually read what’s written above, and there’s a direct quote from Lasseter about the story in the same article as well.

        If anyone is fabricating the story it’s probably the writer or John himself in the sense that they said an employee expressed their “displeasure” about the size of the bowls. More than likely the employee might have asked about the possibility of getting some bigger sized bowls for the cereal bar and Lasseter took offense to the request.

  • Thunderchild

    Ooh, do DreamWorks Next!

  • Not a New Guy

    Free cereal at Pixar? Amazing. Complaining about the size of the freaking cereal bowls (which Pixar supplies), to eat the free cereal? Dumbfounding.

    Seems a reality check is needed. Pixar supplies free cereal, bowls in which to enjoy the free cereal, and some clown has the audacity to whine about his bowl not being big enough. There is always the door, if you can’t hack the free cereal. That does not make Lasseter a dictator, does it?

    Truly, the Age of the Entitlement is upon us. Yikes.

  • Alissa

    Isn’t firing a guy over bowl-size a little harsh? Why not just revoke his cereal rights or something? Kind of reminds me of a certain fictional queen from a well-known story who had a penchant for screaming, “Off with his head!” for the slightest offense.

    Just strikes me as silly. If we’re not allowed to whine or gripe once in a while then we’re no better the mass-production droids with manic Joker-esque smiles plastered into place.

    • Ergo

      He never fired him, he just reminded him that no one is forcing him to work there.

  • Hal

    Wow. The PIXAR CEREAL BOWL is almost as obnoxious now as the PORTAL CAKE.

  • Rob Turner

    My lecturer was friends with someone at pixar who had been there for six months straight without going home once,and not realising how long it’d been until after production. i’m only a student so i don’t know really if that level of commitment in a company is standard or not
    it’s like m. night shyamalan’s “the village” where it’s a completely isolated community.

  • Keegan

    Are they seriously complaining that there aren’t any lead female protagonists in Pixar movies?! WHY?!?! That’s such a cookie-cutter character type. Disney has been doin’ it ever since The Little Mermaid, and I don’t think I could handle it if Pixar did it too.

    • Ergo

      Yeah, but those are weak female characters, characters that most women I know find a tad insulting and out-dated. The supporting female cast memebers in Pixar films are to a high standard. I’d love to see one step forward and be a lead.

      Brave is a nice step forward, but I want to see more.

  • I’ve never worked there. I was with a college animation class on a field trip once from the South Bay. The bus driver got lost, so we were 30 minutes late. The Pixar rep who greeted us teachers and all the students in the lobby was having a nervous breakdown because our lateness threw off his “schedule”. He was clearly under tremendous pressure of some kind. The poor impression he made on all the students was that he did not “get it” that these were just students, NOT precious Pixar employees. His nervous anger was not just directed at the bus driver, but all of us at once and it was totally inappropriate. EVERYONE felt badly. He should have zipped it, cooled it, and behaved professionally. Instead, he blew it, pure and simple. This actually happened.

  • Gorgilla

    “The Pixar rep who greeted us teachers and all the students in the lobby was having a nervous breakdown because our lateness threw off his “schedule”.”

    Yeah, he obviously had nothing better to do than wait around for a tour group to show up half an hour late. I guess he he didn’t realize what a gift it was to have you in the building.

  • Pixar should do a story with a monkey in it….

    • Ergo

      People love monkeys. It’ll make millions.

  • RupanIII

    I don’t dislike Pixar, but I find it strange how they have such a cult-like following, to the point that it’s almost dangerous to criticize or suggest that they’re anything but brilliant. Anyone remember critic Armond White’s Toy Story 3 review? Granted, some of his stuff can be off-the-wall/contrarian, but giving a bad review to Toy Story 3 really shouldn’t result in being inundated with racist death-threats.

  • Rufus

    Pixar is the anti-Dreamworks. And that’s awesome. Although I was initially confused by Chris Sanders being booted of American Dog back in the day (and although I am convinced the studio would’ve made far more money with that as opposed to Bolt), I have to say, I trust Lassater’s choices now, because they’re backed by his experience. It’s easy for us dill-weeds to say this or that when we have never done what John does for a living.

    Criticizing has never got anyone anywhere, so I’ll just say – I hope I get to have as much creative freedom as Lassater does, and when I do, I know I’ll make the best choices I can, all factors considered.

    • Ethan

      Please look again in your newspeak dictionary:
      You misspelled Lassater, it’s “Lasseter”.
      You also misspelled John, it’s written “God”.

      Criticizing is important. The reason you have rights, labor laws, artist guilds, and unions today is because the people before you weren’t afraid of criticizing.

  • nick

    While Pixar have yet to have a main female protagonist I think it’s worth noting how diverse and interesting a roster of female characters they’ve brought to screen. Main-stream animated films from the ‘Renaissance’ of the Little Mermaid to present day tend to present their prominent hero female characters with a depressing set of norms;flirty eyelashes, waspy waists, ‘girly but spunky’ attitudes and what not. from Ariel to Tiana to Princess Fiona to Astrid of HTTD, there’s a few exceptions to the template. Pixar’s female creations rarely fit this mould, and when you look at characters like Dot, Jessie, Dory ,Roz, Helen & Violet Parr, Edna Mode, Colette, EVE (and even Kevin!) I think you can’t but concede that most of Pixar’s female characters are, like the males, tackled as people first; their gender a compenent of their character rather than a defining factor. I look forward to seeing Brave and what they do with a heroine as the main protagonist, I doubt they’ll dissapoint.

  • The Pixar “cereal bowl” story is amusing, particularly in light of this strange, desperate need to dig up dirt on the company. It’s all very amusing to me, and smacks of hipster jealousy. No doubt when Pixar stumbles and crashes back down to earth (as all people eventually do), the haters will be licking their chops and clucking like hens.

    In any case, the cereal bowl story is fascinating, and after some reflection, I have to agree with John Lasseter. Any person who’s willing to complain about an issue so trivial – the size of the cereal bowl, really? – is bound to be someone who is going to complain about every little thing, and that’s going to spell trouble in production.

    Really, c’mon. This person couldn’t just…I dunno…bring their OWN cereal bowl to work? Problem solved! Here’s another clever solution to the problem…go back to the cereal bar for a second serving! Problem solved again! Thank you, thank you, I’m only doing my best because I’m so clever and smart.

    My guess is that John Lasseter has learned this lesson the hard way: Don’t surround yourself with negative people. They’re not going to work hard when the chips are down, and they’re not going to have your back when everyone else is against you. You need people who are fighters.

    Whining about the size of your cereal bowl, really? I mean, c’mon, really? We’re all on a one-way ticket to the grave. How’s THAT for something to protest?