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(Credit: Pixar)

Film | Opinion

How Pixar betrayed their own ethos


Pixar was the brainchild of some of the most creative minds of the 1990s, with the late technological visionary Steve Jobs becoming the company’s majority shareholder when he invested in the company in 1986. Since then, with the help of studio executives John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and co-founder Edwin Catmull, Pixar has gone on to become one of the most celebrated animation houses of all time. 

Built on an ethos that celebrated originality and creativity within a company that treated its employees like family, through the careful fostering of sacred innovation Pixar became one of the best and most trusted production companies of the 21st century.

Formed from the flourish of digital technology at the turn of the new millennium, Pixar thrived in an era that was so focused on money and mega spending that it often forgot to stay novel. For its sheer technological innovation, it was Pixar’s delightful animated debut, Toy Story, that would prove to have the biggest effect on the future of the industry heading into the new century, becoming the very first feature film ever made entirely on computers. Demonstrating the sheer possibility of digital technology at the border of the 21st century, Pixar shifted cinema from celluloid to the domain of digital, forever changing its makeup.

The significance of this achievement shouldn’t be downplayed either, with the company thriving for 15 years in a golden era of unmatched creative success that saw the release of such films as A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Such films weren’t just successful kid’s cartoons either, they had a contemporary energy that spoke to adults who wanted cinematic innovation, even sprinkling a sense of cynicism into vibrant fantasy stories that would usually bloat with saccharine bliss. 

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Making just two sequels in this 15-year run, handing the privilege to Toy Story 2 in 1999 and Toy Story 3 in 2015, the company favoured originality over financial gain, innovating the animation art form with every new release. From the meticulous technological attention in 2001s Monsters, Inc that perfectly captured millions of strands of fur to the underwater lighting techniques utilised in 2003s Finding Nemo, artistry came well before commercial interests. 

The ethos was clear, with co-founder Ed Catmull even stating in his 2014 book Creativity, Inc that he viewed sequels as “a sort of creative bankruptcy,” even adding that if they became a sequel house the company would “wither and die,” so how exactly did the company go from two sequels in 15 years, to eight in the 12 years after 2010?

Just one year after Catmull’s comments in the book, and nine years after Pixar’s merger with Disney, he would publicly state, “There are major issues we’re addressing at Pixar now,” after confirming in the same article that the previously struggling Disney was “now successful”. Truly, by 2015 Pixar had begun to feel the weight of Disney’s chokehold, as their ethos of creativity over commercial gain was firmly ripped up by their financial overlords. 

As such, Pixar has suffered substantially, becoming one of the many conventional arms of an entertainment goliath with a monopoly over modern cinema. Showing moments of genuine experimentation, such as in the storytelling techniques of 2020s Soul or in the revolutionary take on contemporary childhood in Turning Red, Pixar undoubtedly remains a shadow of its former self, with the forthcoming release of Lightyear confirming that the remnants of the original company have indeed withered and died.

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