The Perfection of Pixar

2761354396_dffe9c8e8cBack before Pixar was populating cinema screens with their unique brand of pixelated perfection, typical animation (including underground and Japanese) could be quite neatly divided between two eras –– before and after Disney. Though Toy Story wore the Disney brand when it splashed into theaters in 1995, it was Pixar who planted the flag in the gee whiz golly wow of an entirely new kind of animation, generated by computer but steeped in the sort of sincerity of spirit that soaks into the soul of any age.

Pixar has released ten films in total, each a massive hit with both critics and box office. Even the weakest (Cars in my opinion) is better than most animated movies intended for an audience with single digit birthdays could ever hope to be. I have loved Pixar since well before I had children, but it isn’t just the movies, it’s the company itself that fascinates me most.

Pixar is my favorite film studio, but they might be my favorite creators of all time. Pixar inspires me to do my best work, and it is easy to watch their films with fresh eyes, each time discovering new things –– like the crash of a symbol in the chorus of a song I’ve sung in my head a thousand times before. Pixar has crafted the perfect marriage of art and commerce to inspire anyone from artist to entrepreneur.

Here are 7 reasons Pixar has come parallel to perfection

1) The Pixar crew are constant learners. There seems to be a direct line between the speed of our emerging technology and our specie’s ability to listen. Sure, we can get email in our pocket, but in many ways it seems we’ve never been more willing to break the speed limit on the way to sudden solutions, instead of taking the time to evaluate our surroundings and realize our true potential. For over 25 years Pixar has constantly asked themselves, what? why? and (most importantly) why not? They have shattered boundaries with every film, leaping light years of learning at every level. Any business would be booming beneath a lucky star to see this sort of growth; any artist would be fortunate to find that sort of creative fuel.

2) Follow your heart. Pixar makes it look easy, but many of there successes should have never worked on paper. Yes, they make it look simple, natural and obvious, but the majority of Pixar deeds were done first by them. Pixar didn’t place near as much weight on practicality as they did on bowing to the grace of their muse. It is impossible to argue with their batting average. Ten for ten is enough to turn any artist, filmmaker or otherwise, ivy green with envy. But Pixar never did it by playing it safe, they did it by playing with fire.

3) Constant teamwork. Pixar takes the idea of teamwork and smuggles it across the border. Of course I have never been inside the Marin County compound, but from everything I’ve ever read or seen, it is easy to harbor the impression that Pixar is a close knit family of friends, neighbors, mentors and apprentices, all reaping the benefit from an environment of solid trust and bonding. There is zero turnover at Pixar.

4) Vision is everything. Pixar has always hacked the edges of new frontier. Each of their shorts built upon the previous until they had finally developed a skill set sharp enough to carve a film. Each film in turn has prodded possibility far past the predicted perimeter. You can look at the Pixar filmography and see a clear line, each film falling right into the next, not in tone or plot or character, but in the playful expectations of what is possible in ninety minutes or so of art in motion.

5) Story and character matter most. In a Pixar flick, story and character are the engines that drive all decisions. Unlike much of the worst Hollywood dreck, Pixar is in the business of building classics. They do not make movies to sell toys, they sell toys because they make brilliant movies. More than one of their films has been taken back to the drawing board and reanimated in service of a superior story, even at the cost of falling far behind schedule and the potential loss of millions of dollars. Perfection is part of Pixar’s key principles. One could perhaps cast an argument against Cars considering Walmart has an entire aisle devoted to their merchandise, well at least you could if the characters weren’t so impossibly charming.

6) Fun, fun, fun. Fun might be an endangered species in business, but not so at Pixar. Pixar loves what they do and it’s obvious in each and every frame they toss upon the screen. There is a reason children and adults can share similar smiles while swimming inside different perspectives. The Pixar team steadily taps into the magic of childhood from inside the mind of adult without ever being condescending. This is a tactic that is often tried in children’s film, but rarely done right. Pixar has rendered it to a science.

7) Overnight success exists only in legend. We all love a good overnight success story, but the truth is – they almost never truly exist. Research most any successful artist or business person and you will find a history flocked with trying times and long, difficult days. It took Pixar a decade to move from Wally B to Toy Story. Without the fervent belief and undying support of Steve Jobs, the fledgling company would have crumbled back when they were bleeding a million dollars a year for five years straight. The Pixar team never gave up, never lost heart, and never surrendered even a single sliver of their dream. They are now running up on three billion dollars in worldwide box office receipts, and that doesn’t even include their unrivaled success on DVD.

I could go on and on about Pixar. At home I often do. This post has me all hopped up and ready to write more. Perhaps I’ll rank my favorites from ten to one next time. Of course, that order seems to change all the time. For now I’m glad Pixar takes me to infinity and beyond.

Collective Inkwell Community Question: Do you have a favorite Pixar movie? Which one is it and why?

23 responses to The Perfection of Pixar

  1. janice

    Loving your passion, and completely with you on the perfection of Pixar! Our kids may be older now, but they still adore the films and so do we. I watched a documentary about the Pixar studios, and they had so much fun you felt like they’d pay to go to work every day. They were goofing around like big kids having obscene amounts of fun, creating for kids, but seeing how many adult only references they could sneak in too. My daughter, who writes and illustrates, went through a phase of wanting to work there.

    janice’s last blog post..Holidaying at Home: The East Neuk of Fife

    • Sean

      I’m dying to see that documentary, “The Story of Pixar.” I just haven’t made the time. I’ve seen some pretty lame movies in the last month though, so really I have no excuse.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  2. Marc

    “Marin county compound”

    To call it a compound does it injustice. It’s not a compound. It’s not an office. It’s not even a place of work. It’s a holiday camp, where people go to relax. Not to work, to relax.

    Want to bring your kids to “work”? Sure! We’ll put them in our movie (Monsters Inc.).

    Where else are you going to see creative directors and other managerial types dressed casually and riding around on bikes?

    It’s the kind of place you imagine yourself to be working in when you were 5 years old.

    It’s a fantasy come true.

    A top ten follow-up post is mandatory Sean. Get writing. I also want to see Dave’s opinion. I think my top three would be:

    1. Finding Nemo
    2. Monsters Inc.
    3. The Incredibles

    Hmm, this is difficult.

  3. David Wright

    The biggest compliment I can give Pixar is that I don’t normally enjoy children’s movie cartoons. Strange for an artsy, comic-loving, immature guy like me to say, but most of them are either vapid, too cute or just plain boring. Pixar, in every movie I’ve seen anyway, ALWAYS gets the story perfect. The art has pushed the boundaries of technology and it is very evident from movie to movie of just how powerful their computers are becoming at rendering complex scenes. I haven’t seen UP yet, but I am prepared to be amazed.

    My favorites:
    1) Cars – because my son LOVES it.
    2) Monsters Inc. because I love it.
    3) Incredibles – because it’s right up my alley

    David Wright’s last blog post..The Perfection of Pixar

    • Sean

      Which ones haven’t you seen? I seem to recall you weren’t too into WALL-E, but a tiny screen can shatter a lot of the marvel in that film. I think you’d like Finding Nemo as well. Ellen is freaking hilarious as the Memento Fish. Have you seen Ratatouille? I don’t know if you’d like it, but it is GORGEOUS and I’m sure you would appreciate the art at the very least.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  4. Tara@Sticky Fingers

    And it’s not just the movies which are perfection. Even the shorts they play before the movies are perfect little stories in themselves.
    I would find it very very difficult to choose a top 10 – in fact impossible as we have favourite movies for different times.
    The Incrredibles is the one my son and I always turn to (as superhero geeks), Monsters Inc is our Sunday afternoon choice and Toy Story (1&2) are our all rounders! Oh and Finding Nemo is the one I watch with my daughter because she adores the sharks!
    And we haven’t even had Up! here in the UK yet!

    Tara@Sticky Fingers’s last blog post..Following the Blame Tara Meme around the blogosphere

    • Sean

      Yep, I could write an entire post on just the shorts. That DVD gets an awful lot of spins at our house. It’s remarkable to watch them in order and see their artistic growth in action. My favorite changes with the shorts all the time as well, but right now my current #1 is “One Man Band” which I just adore. You’ll love the short before UP. It’s awesome.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  5. MuddyNoSugar

    1, Finding Nemo; because it makes me laugh and cry in equal measure
    2, Toystory 2, because my girls love this one as there is a cow girl in it
    3, The Incredibles, because I love a superhero story and want to know what happens next with Jack Jack, and there are guns and stuff so my husband likes it, and I learnt a superhero should never wear a cape.
    4, Monsters Inc, because my eldest looked just like Boo when we first watched it with her.

    MuddyNoSugar’s last blog post..My Best Friends Wedding

    • Sean

      How awesome will the eventual sequel to The Incredibles be? Jack Jack will no doubt steal the show. Yeah, it’s hard to argue with any of the films on your top four. They are perfect, each and every one.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  6. Rob O.

    It’s funny that, even as much as I liked ’em, I’ve felt that “A Big’s Life” and “Ratatouille” have been their weakest films. (Note that I have not seen “Up!” yet…) I thoroughly enjoyed “Cars.”

    I admire the passion and heart that the Pixar artists put into their characters, the skill which which the directors perfectly match the voice actors’ personas to the on-screen image – something I think may be grossly under-appreciated by many – and just the incredible attention to detail. I think there are few other companies whom you’d consider artists & creators first, and movie-makers second.

    I’ve long since said that I’d take a job as a floor sweeper if it meant I could work at Pixar.

    And even as much as I loathe Hollywood sequels, I have complete faith that Pixar can handle “Toy Story 3” right so I’m chomping at the bit to see my ol’ pals Buzz & Woody again!

    Rob O.’s last blog post..From Bytes to Bits – Not Sci Fi Anymore

    • Sean

      9 out of 10 sequels are complete crap, but I am positive Toy Story 3 will be a masterpiece.

      I would take out a five figure loan for a single day as a fly on the wall at Pixar. I’m sure whatever creative juice I’d drink would stay in my system forever.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

    • Sean

      No doubt! Watching the Pixar filmography one gets the sense that every day of work is like recess. It’s no wonder their art is so successful.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  7. Kool Aid

    I have a friend who worked for Pixar for several years (he has credit on The Incredibles) but moved to a job working with Peter Jackson’s studio (I think) in New Zealand. It was one of those jobs that tons of people send in portfolios to every day, even when they aren’t hiring. He made the cut so he and his family made the move. His wife and I went to high school together. Now they’re back in Calif, and I think may be back with Pixar. I’m not sure about that because I haven’t talked to them since they’ve moved back.

    The stories I would hear about how magical everything is behind the Pixar gate makes it sound like the most perfect place to work. Sean, I think you got it all spot-on.

    My faves – haven’t seen Up yet, so can’t include that. Honestly, I can’t choose a favorite; they rotate through my viewing itinerary but the list includes Toy Story 1&2 (can’t wait for 3), Finding Nemo, Cars, Incredibles and Monsters Inc – you know, the classics.

    Kool Aid’s last blog post..Potty Training Power

    • Sean

      Ooh, that would be a tough call – having to choose between Pixar and Peter Jackson. I suppose you couldn’t go wrong with either one. I’m curious to see what you’re going to say about my list. It’s live on the flip side right now.

      Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  8. Marelisa

    Hi Sean, my fellow Pixar-enthusiast! I love Pixar’s story, and how the original founders stuck to their guns even though most people argued that animations should be hand-drawn, and that it was crazy to even consider computer animations.

    My favorite Pixar movie is “The Incredibles”. I love the story line–retired superheroes trying to lead “normal, average” lives–and they have great one-liners throughout the movie.

    Marelisa’s last blog post..The Art of Conflict Resolution

  9. Sean

    The Incredibles, as listed on my top ten falls right at #2. My favorite line of the movie – “If everyone is special, then that means that no one is.” Love. That. Line.

    Sean’s last blog post..Pixar in Order

  10. Link Roundup July 24, 2009

    […] I didn’t know it on Monday when I wrote about the perfection of Pixar, this was apparently to become my week to talk about the Marin County wizards until I was red in […]

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