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Pixar’s 11th Blockbuster & Expansion
by Doniphan Blair
At CineSource, we are also quite curious how Pixar does it, especially since we're students of narrative, we're the only film/video mag north of Burbank, and our offices are just down the street, making Pixar the largest film/video biz in our 'hood. So we submitted a request (or two, OK three). Alas, as the publicist said, very nicely: they were very, very busy - what with the release of "TS3" and vacations and all.
There's also the small fact that CineSource is neither the NY Times nor Variety. (We also don't write reviews like them - not that Pixar would ever merit criticism!) And we did ruffle a few feathers once by saying Pixar tech-superman Paul Cichocki was "second tier" - i.e. not a director or producer - but by no means second string (we apologized profusely in a long email).
"Toy Story 3" arrived last month amidst a flurry of minimalist billboards (a cartoon character and the abbreviated "TS3"), a nicely articulated trailer, and a blizzard of brilliant reviews. It is "as sweet, as touching, as humane a movie as you are likely to see this summer," noted the NY Times' A.O. Scott (6/16/10) while the contributors to Rotten Tomatoes.com gave it a whopping 99% on the "tomatometer." Summer theater-goers may make this Pixar's biggest hit yet, according to CineSource's animation maven Karl Cohen (see
To be sure, some people simply don't like animation. An English bloke recently informed me that Disney was "crap," even "Fantasia" and Snow White's entrancing entrance in her eponymous feature. Generally speaking, however, children - as well as adults and critics - worship Pixar; hence their box office Midas touch. An unbroken string of 11 hits: It's uncanny, it's unheard of, how does Pixar do it? Hollywood is literally dying (at the box office) to know.
To make matters worse, Pixar is in Emeryville, an arty enclave of the People's Republic of Berkeley. Perhaps there should be a special flight from Burbank for studio execs wanting a quick primer course: "How to Make a Hit." Pixar could charge a million bucks, per day, per exec - a bargain for the latter, if it saves them millions in their next outing, and a good money maker for the Emeryville office. Owned by Disney, East Bay Pixar won't take home much of the billion Cohen expects "TS3" to gross.
Not to mention the merchandizing associated with "TS3" is expected to hit two point four billion worldwide this year alone, dwarfing theatrical box office and DVD combined. Pixar's "Cars" (2006) - their poorest performer thus far, albeit still a massive hit with $462 million tix/DVD sales worldwide - has brought home some five bill in merchandise to date. "TS3" has already beat all previous Pixar movies in national receipts and will "set a new benchmark in Pixar's already phenomenally successful history," according to KnowYourMoney.co.uk.
What's Pixar Doing? A question on the minds of many, including an Emeryville street artist.sAmer Film Fest. photo: CineSource
At any rate, this is what we've been able to glean from the filmmaker waitresses at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, which is kitty-corner to the new Pixar construction (see photo, left), and from Oakland filmmaker Rick Butler, who did Pixar's making-of-docs "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." "They will support people for a long time," said Butler. "Until you make one for the ages. That is the great lesson to me, it's all about story." The Pixarians will write and rewrite, critique and re-critique, even dump a finished scene, if the story is not quite "there."
So what's the underlying story that spins "TS3"'s success? David Edelman of "Fresh Air" described it as "rooted in a child's fantasy" - but not as in a kids' movies. "It's about aging, loss and death." (Take that, Walt, who went cryogenic to beat the reaper, perhaps due to a premonition about owning the future Pixar.) "To discard (toys) carelessly is to dishonor the past that shaped us ... the idea is almost Buddhist," Edelman concludes.
Considering this narrative genius, we can only fantasize what might happen if the Pixar tackled the stories sprouting a few blocks south of their deluxe campus: kids growing up listening to nightly gun duels, or watching artists in the lofts across the street drive their Priuses to work in really cool places like Pixar. Or how 'bout the California malaise of living in a virtual paradise but not being able to find true love? Now there's a narrative "for the ages," alas, that one may take even more genius than Pixar has.
Pixar is also very open-minded and egalitarian, or shall we say, Northern Californian. They often give projects to younger staff, like "TS3"'s director Lee Unkrich, who will turn 43 this month. Happy Birthday Lee, congratulations neighbor, and when is "1906," the live action earthquake movie - which will, of course, be another monster hit - coming?
Posted on Aug 09, 2010 - 04:41 PM