Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar had made six highly successful animated films funded by Disney and had secured a reputation for high quality productions. In the process their relationship with Disney's Chief Executive Officer, Michael Eisner, had soured. Eisner was jealous of Pixar's success at a time when Disney's own animated films were unsuccessful. Pixar's deal with Disney was due to expire, yet Eisner was determined not to renegotiate the terms of a Pixar/Disney deal, which Pixar's owner Steve Jobs felt undermined Pixar despite their established track record.
Disney and Pixar
As part of the existing film deal, Disney retained the character rights to the Pixar films they had financed. Eisner planned to churn out straight-to-video sequels to the Pixar films they had financed. These would be made by a new Disney animation division called Circle 7 Animation, unofficially nicknamed 'Pixaren't'. Eisner confidently predicted that his next Disney animated film, Chicken Little (2005), would be a huge box office success and prove once and for all that Disney did not need Pixar.
Eisner's leadership was not going uncriticised. Roy E Disney, Walt's nephew, had resigned as Disney's vice chairman and was leading a 'Save Disney' campaign designed to remove Eisner from power. Following Chicken Little's underperformance, Michael Eisner resigned in March 2005. Roy E Disney returned and cordial negotiations with Steve Jobs and Pixar resumed. In January 2006, Disney announced it had negotiated with Jobs to purchase Pixar for $7.4 billion, on condition that Pixar remain an independent production company. Pixar's president Dr Edwin Catmull became president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and perhaps more importantly John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney.
In mid-1994, while finishing Toy Story, Pixar's 'brain trust' had met in the Hidden City Café in Point Richmond, California to discuss what their next film should be. Ideas about insects had been made as A Bug's Life, a proposal on investigating what if monsters were real became Monsters, Inc. and an idea for setting a film beneath the sea had become Finding Nemo. Two other ideas had been proposed at that meeting. One was about the last robot left on an abandoned Earth. The other was about cars.
Pixar's films are summarised and reviewed below, with recurring characters and actors in bold. The short films accompanying the main features are listed too, as is a selection of some of the cameos and in-joke references. There are far more; for example, the number '95' is common, referring to the year in which their first film, Toy Story, was released. This includes the race number of the main character in Cars, Lightning McQueen.
7. Cars (2006)
|Directors||John Lasseter & Joe Ranft|
|Plot||A young racing car is on the way to the final race in the series to determine who will win the coveted Piston Cup when he finds himself in the run-down town of Radiator Springs. Ordered to repair the road, he is befriended by a rusty tow truck named Mater and learns that local judge, Doc Hudson, is a former legendary racing car. Will McQueen be accepted by the town's eccentric inhabitants or learn from Doc Hudson before his next race?|
|Setting||Radiator Springs, a small town in a world populated with cars|
Cars had long been a subject dear to John Lasseter, whose father had been a Chevrolet dealership's parts manager. It also resembles a 1952 Disney short film, Susie the Little Blue Coupe. Although work began on planning a story back in the 1990s, it wasn't until Joe Ranft took over to write the story that the project began to take shape. Much of the research for the film took place along America's Route 66. John Lasseter has declared that Mater is Pixar's most successful character, and he quickly acquired his own spin-off series. Tragically Joe Ranft died in a car accident before the film was released, and it was dedicated to his memory.
Despite having Pixar's lowest box office gross since A Bug's Life, Cars was 2008's second most successful animated film, being beaten at the box office by Blue Sky's Ice Age: The Meltdown. Cars was released six weeks after Pixar was acquired by Disney. It also became the second Pixar film to have a sequel commissioned, following Toy Story, when the twelfth Pixar film, Cars 2, was released.
8. Ratatouille (2007)
|Directors||Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava|
|Plot||Remy is a rat with a refined sense of taste who dreams of being a great chef, inspired by chef Auguste Gusteau's belief 'Anyone can cook'. Remy finds that Gusteau's restaurant, which has just hired a new garbage boy named Linguini, is struggling. Linguini befriends Remy who hides under his hat and can control Linguini's actions by pulling on his hair, while Linguini takes the credit for Remy's culinary skills.|
|Setting||Paris, early 21st Century|
|Oscars||2008 Best Animated Film|
Ratatoille was first proposed back in 2001 by Jan Pinkava. Pinkava had been born in Prague and raised in England where he had gained a PhD in theoretical robotics. After directing computer-generated adverts in a firm based in London, he applied to Pixar where he wrote and directed the Oscar-winning short film Geri's Game. Although he wrote the script and designed sets for Ratatouille, in 2005 Brad Bird rewrote the script and took over directing.
Ratatoille was the third animated film set in France that a Disney-owned animation studio had made since they began constructing building the Euro Disney theme park, following Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Before Euro Disney, the only animated film set in that country had been The AristoCats (1970).
This film was nominated for five Oscars3, a record at the time for most nominated categories for a computer animated film. Its Best Animated Film Oscar was well deserved. Despite stiff competition it was the second most successful animated film of the year; though beaten at the box office by Shrek the Third it still outgrossed The Simpsons Movie, the second most successful traditionally animated film of all time.
9. WALL·E (2008)
|Plot||In the far future the heavily-polluted Earth has been long abandoned, with only a single sentient garbage robot named WALL·E and a cockroach surviving. A probe named EVE arrives from a starliner, for whom WALL·E develops feelings, yet when WALL·E shows her a plant EVE apparently deactivates and is collected by the starliner. WALL·E accompanies her into space and discovers the surviving members of humanity have grown obese and reliant on computers to do everything for them. Although the plant proves that mankind can return to Earth, the ship's autopilot has other plans.|
|Setting||Earth and the spaceship Axiom in the far future|
|Oscars||2009 Best Animated Film|
WALL·E is not a film that can be adequately summarised in a couple of short paragraphs, dealing as it does with romance, consumerism, obesity rates, narrow-mindedness, finding beauty in unusual places and ecology to name but a few. WALL·E himself appears as a cross between R2-D2 and Number 5 from Short Circuit, with a surprisingly expressive binocular-shaped face. The idea behind this film had been proposed back in 1994, with Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter working on developing the idea, before Docter concentrated on Monsters Inc. and work did not resume until after Stanton had finished Finding Nemo. The film developed from asking 'what if mankind had to leave Earth and someone forgot to turn off the last robot?' and assumed that the robot would start to become attached to the rubbish he was sorting. In particular, WALL·E finds inspiration and learns about love from old musical Hello, Dolly!.
This film was nominated for six Academy Awards, a feat only equalled by Beauty and the Beast (1991). Many of the film's sleek designs, including EVE, were inspired by Apple products, as Pixar had been owned by Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, who at the time was a shareholder and director of Disney. It was the third most successful film of a highly competitive year, beaten at the box office by DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
10. Up (2009)
|Directors||Pete Docter & Bob Peterson|
|Plot||As a child and young man, Carl Fredricksen and his best friend, later wife Ellie, dream of emulating their hero explorer Charles Muntz and going to the exotic Paradise Falls in South America. After Ellie dies with their dream unfulfilled, Carl is put under pressure to sell his house and move to a retirement home. Instead he turns his house into an airship lifted by thousands of balloons, piloting it to South America, unaware that a young boy called Russell was on the porch at the time the house took off. They soon find themselves in Paradise Falls, where Charles Muntz is hunting a prehistoric bird.|
|Setting||Suburban USA and Paradise Falls, South America, 20th & 21st Century|
The first 11 minutes of this film surely count as animation at the pinnacle of perfection. A film about a grumpy old man was perhaps not the obvious choice, but the plot about a house that escapes into the air, inspired by Pete Docter's recurring desire to be able to escape from socially awkward situations as a child, is uplifting in more ways than one.
The character of Dug the dog was in fact developed for a different film project, and was added to the film after the initial story had been developed. Similarly the character of Russell was an even later addition, inserted to allow Carl to show his caring side and to help the film flow, rather than feel episodic.
Carl's face shape and his possessions were all visualised as being square and set in their ways, while Russell's face was created to be the same shape as the balloons. Like the balloons he lifts Carl's spirits and sets him free. Pete Docter's daughter Elie plays Ellie.
This was the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture Oscar after Beauty and the Beast and the first computer animated film to have been. The film was the second highest-grossing animated film of the year behind Blue Sky's Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.