Once upon a time there was a little animation studio with big digital dreams. It was called Pixar and it was so innovative it changed the movie industry. It was so crazy good that a new category was invented at the bloated Oscars suck-fest to shovel them awards. After a nervous start, Pixar had the big bad studio wolves shitting their pants. But wolves love to eat little Pixars, and one of those big bad studios named Disney bought the plucky rebel and chopped off its balls. Nobody lived happily ever after. Except the accountants. That’s the big picture.
In detail, Pixar began as a rebel alliance dedicated to making animated films in ground-breaking ways. Crackpot genius Steve Jobs and innovative engineer Ed Catmull crossed their fingers and pulled off a miracle. Everybody in the animation industry thought they were arrogant wannabes. But no, they held the future in their rebellious hands. But upstart Pixar needed money and distribution so they signed a three picture distribution deal with a devil called ‘Walt Disney Feature Animation.’ Old school Disney had so little faith in the strange group of nerdy outsiders that they insisted that Toy Story 2 — one of the greatest film sequels ever made — be released as kiddie material on straight-to-video.
Common sense eventually prevailed, and Pixar shat out a string of wondrous films that is still unrivaled in cinematic history. There was something special about seeing a Pixar movie back in the glorious early days of digital animation. There was nothing else like it on the screen. William Goldman’s old adage that nobody knows anything in Hollywood didn’t seem to apply to the weirdos on the Pixar campus. They knew nothing and everything, maybe because they weren’t actually in Hollywood. Even their worst movie, Cars, didn’t stop them from trying some daring shit. Pixar’s magic could hide the illogical conceit of the daffiest plot behind their stunning animation and nobody seemed to care.
Pixar followed Cars with a string of four beloved films: Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. Each was a marvel of form, emotion, and storytelling. Each had moments that were among the best frames ever immortalized on film.
Then Pixar crapped the bed. What happened? Disney bought Pixar outright in 2006, and Pixar’s magic wand fizzled. Disney’s controlling corporate influence didn’t metastasize overnight, for the gestation period of creating an animated film is long, but sure enough, the nerve it took to tell crazy inspired stories about rats who want to be chefs or exploring the secret lonely love lives of trash-collecting robots was neutered. This gave way to making movies with socially acceptable stories. Ho-hum.
Why? Because Pixar started as a rebel alliance and was all about taking risks. But when Disney bought them, they shut down the risk-taking and moved the trajectory into wholesome, family entertainment. Disney has gotten rich by selling complacent Americans on the illusion that everything Disney is part of the Happiest Place On Earth. They should call the Disney experience the Safest Place On Earth because that’s what people really want. A Disney movie is a hundred minutes of shelter, a place the family can be together, protected. You won’t find a Disney movie admitting the horrors of 9/11, dead kids at Sandy Hook, or the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church. Nope, Disney sells the fantasy of safety. If it costs $119 to enter Disneyland, terrified parents are happy to pay for refuge.
Pixar is no longer an animation studio interested in out-of-the-box ideas. They’re Disney Lite. Starting with Cars 2, every new Pixar release has either been a sequel, focused on human characters that don’t require animation, or a dumb run-of-the-mill concept that could easily be made by any half-wit with a computer. As a result, Pixar has diluted its brand from gold into piss. There is nothing mystical about seeing the Pixar logo before a movie anymore. Blame money-hungry fear and white liberal guilt.
America has become a safety-first nation and Pixar’s mutation with Disney reflects this. They play it safe. There is no risk in spending four-to-seven years making a movie about girl empowerment (Brave) or showing respect for another culture (Coco). There is no risk about wanting to fit in (The Good Dinosaur).
But there is a risk in bucking authority and being seen as an individual. Pixar used to be a master at this kind of storytelling. Even in a crapfest like Cars, rebellion is core to the plot. The toys in the Toy Story films are a hodgepodge collection of misfits and forgotten outcasts, each with its own strange background, each a lonely heart judged by character, not its cultural signifier. The same with the monsters in Monsters, Inc., or the fish and sea creatures in Finding Nemo. Now, in lieu of interesting movies, we get calculated appeals to diversity that are nothing more than corporate marketing ploys.
Under the authoritative cloak of the Disney empire, Pixar has been gutted. Their films have been commodified to the point of boredom and that’s a damn shame. They no longer present challenging worldviews or offer any thoughtful insights that can appeal to both children and adults. Instead, they’ve turned their movies into the most consumable product possible. It’s empty of intellect, and nearly poison. The films preach safe life lessons to malleable kids, but the main focus is selling a vast armada of shitty consumer products, most of them made in China. Movie tickets, stuffies, toys, bags, plastic crap, DVDs, subscriptions to the new Disney streaming service. Want to fry your brain? Try watching the Cars video spinoff Planes, or play the video game Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure. Or save the time and suck down a gallon of corn syrup. Cinderella’s clock has struck midnight on Pixar and the fairy princess has become one of Disney’s most reliable money-making whores.