Let’s be honest, you clicked on this article in a fit of rage, right? How could anyone suggest that Pixar is not the top dog when it comes to animation in Hollywood? Well, don’t get us wrong, we’re big fans of Pixar. They’ve produced some of the finest animated films in history. But right now, Disney has taken its spot back on top of the hill, while Pixar looks wistfully up wondering how its former production partner usurped the throne. Curious to know our reasons for viewing the current state of animated movies this way? Well, we’re glad you asked, because we’ve got some pretty compelling reasons about why Disney is better than Pixar.
10. Even Pixar’s Best Movies Were Disney
Look, we’re not going to sit here and suggest that movies like WALL-E and Up aren’t superior to 99% of the animated films produced by any studio, let alone Disney or Pixar. But the fact of the matter is that, with a couple noteworthy exceptions, most of the best Pixar films were produced when the studio was still enjoying a fruitful partnership with Mickey Mouse’s Mafia. Disney and Pixar announced their split in 2004, with Cars standing as the last real joint effort, so we’ll put that as the marker for BS and AS (before split, after split).
Included in the BS period are Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars. The films that were produced AS include Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University, and the recently released Inside Out. Things are certainly okay with Pixar, but notice the decline in quality since the split, with Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University standing as three of the four worst reviewed movies Pixar has done. Inside Out bucked the trend, but look at Pixar’s upcoming slate: it’s almost entirely sequels to movies produced while they were under the Disney umbrella.
9. Pixar Has Run Out of Ideas
And that’s what leads us to this point. Pixar has put together some fantastic films over the years, including one of the best and most original superhero films ever made. But look at the slate mentioned in the last entry, and feel the depression grow as you realize that, Inside Out aside, Pixar seems to be rapidly running out of ideas, or at least jettisoning originality in order to try to make more money.
Of the next six titles announced for Pixar, four are sequels to previously existing Disney properties, which also means that Disney gets to slap its logo on there and rake in at least part of the profit. Because Disney owns the rights to Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Incredibles, Pixar’s original agreement during the split was that they could make sequels but could only bring in 35% of the profit, meaning that Disney is still making the lion’s share of money. Unless Pixar is able to come up with original concepts like Inside Out on a more regular basis, they’ll never really come out ahead in the split.
8. The Marvel/Star Wars Behemoths
Disney has never really been much for originality, and we know that you staunch Pixar supporters have been gritting your teeth and angrily seething about that fact since you saw the header for the last entry. But one thing that Disney has that Pixar doesn’t is an endless supply of ideas, because Disney has become the most powerful entity in Hollywood, bolstered by the acquisitions of the Marvel and Star Wars brands.
That means that along with their own original concepts, like Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney can also mine the Star Wars and Marvel brands for an endless number of animated possibilities. They’ve already programmed basically the entire Disney XD television schedule around shows based on those two properties, and Big Hero 6 was the first joint Disney/Marvel animated feature, and was a smash success as the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature last year and with the continued popularity of Disney’s Star Wars animated shows, a movie or two may not be far behind.
7. Disney Owns the Animated Musical
Ask yourself this: could you ever envision Pixar making an animated musical film? We can’t, either. Sure, there are a few musical elements here and there, but no full fledged song and dance numbers like the Disney classics. That’s an entirely untapped market for Pixar that it likely won’t bother ever even trying to expand into because Disney simply owns the market. Disney hasn’t been quite as focused on animated musicals the way they once were, with movies like The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast, but they’ve still been putting out popular entries into the genre.
Look at the enormous success of Frozen, which became the most successful animated movie of all-time. Not only that, it’s also the fifth highest grossing movie of any kind, ever. Not bad for an animation studio that was thought to be dead in the water once the split with Pixar took place. It’s also not the only animated musical they’ve put out, either, with Tangled standing as another popular animated film on Disney’s resume.
6. The John Lasseter Influence
You probably don’t know who John Lasseter is, but if you go back and look at the best animated films of the past 30 years, chances are he influenced the vast majority of them in one way or another. The head of Disney animation, who has also served as the chief creative officer for Pixar, is an enormous part of the reason for Disney’s recent upswing, and can probably be pointed to as the man most responsible for helping Mickey’s gang in reclaiming the animation crown.
Lasseter began his career as an animator before directing some of Disney-Pixar’s biggest films, including Toy Story 2 and Cars. If the split between Disney and Pixar could be viewed as a divorce, then the battle over custody of the favorite child was eventually won by Disney. Lasseter began running Disney’s animation in 2006, which you may remember as the exact time the shift in power began to sway back toward Disney.
5. History Favors Disney
Obviously, this one is going to skew toward Disney since the history of the studio is so much longer, but there’s no denying that Disney has always been the go-to place for animated film. Looking back on the incredible body of work of Disney’s animation studio is breathtaking, producing the bulk the greatest cartoon films ever made. Films like The Lion King and Cinderella are all-time classics, and with the exceptions of Up and perhaps WALL-E, there really haven’t been any that fit that bill that weren’t also made under the Disney umbrella.
Obviously Inside Out could wind up becoming a classic, particularly with its incredible 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but again we go back to the point that the movies Pixar is best known for are all owned by Disney. Toy Story 3 is considered a modern animated classic, but since its rights are owned by Disney they get to take credit even though it came out after the split.
4. Disney Creates An Entire Culture
One of the things that has the very real capability of putting Disney ahead of Pixar is the fact that, with Disney’s endless reach in pop culture, it can force any product it wants into any medium it wants and we’ll all wind up thanking them for it. Frozen is an enormous success? Here, let’s put Elsa on the ABC series Once Upon a Time. Disney owns Star Wars now? Here, let’s build the biggest, most immersive experience fans could hope for and tell them exactly which characters, including the animated ones, they should love.
Disney’s ability to penetrate the mainstream is unparalleled. Honestly, we’d call it a monopoly but we don’t want them to get any ideas and start buying up every classic board game ever made, too. At the end of the day, Disney will always win out of Pixar if for no other reason then because Disney makes twice as much money every year than Jamaica and Haiti combined.
3. Pixar May Be Too Smart for Its Own Good
This seems like a strange criticism, since intelligence is part of what makes Pixar films great, but it’s a genuine concern for animated movies. One of the things that has always set Pixar apart in the past is its complex, emotional storylines and characters. Pixar films have always dealt with themes that are far more mature than you’d expect in an animated film, and that may actually be a bit of a detriment when comparing the two animation studios. After all, what’s the target demographic for an animated film? Kids, of course.
Take the movie Up, for example. The opening sequence is one of the most moving and powerful love stories ever put on screen, but it’s the kind of heavy content that may leave some kids feeling cold toward a movie, and make parents hesitant about introducing such ideas to their children at so early an age. Toy Story 3 featured a very distressing sequence near the end of the film that forced the audience to question life, death, and existence. It’s brilliant storytelling – but it’s a fair point to wonder if it may be a bit too much for the younger demographic. To put it a different way: in most instances, Disney animated movies are just more fun, and that’s all they strive for.
2. Disney Still Holds All the Cards
We already mentioned the sequelitis that seems to have struck Pixar, and also the fact that Disney still rakes in money from Pixar by the handful. So if you started wondering if maybe those two things are connected, congratulations, you win a cookie. Okay, that was a lie, you don’t actually win a cookie, because what are we, made of cookies? Don’t be ridiculous. Anyway, because Disney owns sequel rights to all of the movies they’ve previously put out under the Pixar name, they can basically tell Pixar what they want, when they want it.
That’s the deal according to The Hollywood Reporter, at least. With Lasseter basically in charge of both studios, Disney has the ability to control Pixar’s output, to a degree. The fact that one of Pixar’s latest endeavors, The Good Dinosaur, has hit so many snags in production only solidifies Disney’s plan to pump out sequels to proven franchises even at the expense of originality and creativity. And as long as Disney has that much control over the things taking place at Pixar, it’s hard to imagine the former champ regaining its title belt anytime soon.
1. Pixar May Not Even Be Disney’s Biggest Challenger
Believe it or not, one of the biggest reasons that Disney has emerged ahead of Pixar is the fact that a third challenger has risen up and may be more of a threat to Disney in the long run: DreamWorks Animation. Now, don’t get us wrong, the quality of the movies that DreamWorks produces is almost uniformly worse than Pixar, but the box office has been pretty terrific, and they don’t have any pesky contracts dictating they split the money with Disney.
DreamWorks has been responsible for some of the biggest animated films of the past 15 years, including the Shrek franchise as well Kung Fu Panda and the rapidly blossoming How to Train Your Dragon franchise, which might wind up being the biggest single threat to either Disney or Pixar there is. Add in titles like Madagascar, The Croods (which, remarkably, grossed $587 million worldwide), and Home, and DreamWorks has a solid stable of proven animated features that could help it surpass Pixar as Disney’s biggest challenger in animation sooner than later.
Jeff still really cares about Pixar, but thinks maybe they just need some time apart. It’s not them, it’s him. He hopes they can still be friends, and Pixar can follow him on Twitter.