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Which Pixar Plot Twist is the Best? (And Worst)

pixar plot twist

Pixar movies aren’t really known for having great plot twists. But there are still a few good ones here and there that we can appreciate.

So which Pixar “plot twist” is the best? This isn’t an easy question to answer, and obviously Pixar fans will spar and disagree over the top 5, let alone the very best. That said, I’ve devised my own rating system for each of Pixar’s most relevant plot twists, and to answer this question for myself, I’m breaking down the Pixar filmography movie by movie to assign these ratings and form my own conclusion accordingly.

But first, let’s define what a plot twist really is as best we can. To keep things simple, I consider a plot twist to be a radical shift in the expected outcome of the plot. Normally, we would only consider these to be plot twists if they happen closer to the end of the story, but I think a great plot twist can be revealed as early as the second act.

(Warning, this post contains spoilers for every single Pixar movie!)

Let’s begin with Pixar’s first feature-length film: Toy Story.

Go on…Which Pixar Plot Twist is the Best? (And Worst)

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Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

We all know that CarsCars 2, and Cars 3 are confusing enough when thinking about how their world works or makes sense compared to ours. But for Pixar Theory fans, we have a lot of great arguments to hang our tin-foil hats on. The following is a transcription of the video you can watch above explaining all of this.

Despite what you may think of them, people love the Cars movies. No, they’re not in love with the stories, characters, or visuals, though some are. They’re just in love with talking about the conceptual implications of an animated movie that raises a ton of questions about its in-universe logic.

The random truth is that dissecting these colorful, magical kids’ movies is actually pretty fun, even for me, someone who was never in love with the Cars movies themselves or all that interested in the question: “did the Cars take over mankind and if they did, how?” I think it’s fairly obvious that the filmmakers at Pixar didn’t have a meta-commentary in mind about A.I. taking over the world through the cars we love or any other idea in that vein…well, maybe they did.

Go on…Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

Snarcasm: Disney Ruined Pixar Because Why Not?

disney pixar

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read

Did Pixar lose its way, or did we lose our way with Pixar? There’s no real answer to the latter part of that question because it makes no sense. But the article we’re snarcasming this week actually does make a lot of sense and deserves to be approached thoughtfully. Even though it’s basically wrong for the most part.

Writing for The Atlantic, Christopher Orr titles his piece “How Pixar Lost Its Way,” because at this point, Orr is confident there’s no other conclusion to reach.

For 15 years, the animation studio was the best on the planet.

Studio Ghibli would like a word.

Then Disney bought it. 

And the Fire Nation attacked.

Orr begins his piece with a line from Ed Catmull, Pixar’s own president who at one point claimed that sequels can represent “creative bankruptcy.”

He was discussing Pixar, the legendary animation studio, and its avowed distaste for cheap spin-offs.

Good thing Pixar doesn’t make cheap spin-offs!

Hold on, we’ll get to Cars 2.

More pointedly, he argued that if Pixar were only to make sequels, it would “wither and die.”

Good thing Pixar doesn’t only make sequels!

Yet here comes Cars 3, rolling into a theater near you this month.

Ah yes, it wouldn’t be a hot take on Pixar without car-related puns.

You may recall that the original Cars, released back in 2006, was widely judged to be the studio’s worst film to date.

“Worst,” however, is a misleading phrase. It wasn’t the strongest of the Pixar films, but most critics believed the film was good mainly on the strengths of its production value and a decent story. The problem was that Cars was the first Pixar movie made mostly for children. Cars 2 was made for merchandising to said children and was the studio’s first flop, coincidentally.

if Cars 3 isn’t disheartening enough, two of the three Pixar films in line after it are also sequels: The Incredibles 2 and (say it isn’t so!) Toy Story 4.

Of course, Pixar has made great sequels as well, including two for that last movie you mention. And they just made Finding Dory, which audiences loved—

The golden era of Pixar is over.

Yeah, ok, here we go.

It was a 15-year run of unmatched commercial and creative excellence,

Filled with sequels and large gaps in between movies.

Since then, other animation studios have made consistently better films.

This is somewhat true, but not necessarily fair. The only studio that’s been making those better films is Disney, which has been creatively led by Pixar’s John Lasseter since the studio’s purchase. Orr also mentions two Laika films, but one came out the same year as Up and the other came out the same year as Finding Dory.

To Orr’s point, Disney has made Wreck-It RalphFrozenBig Hero 6Moana, and Zootopia, all of which are widely regarded as better than BraveCars 2Monsters University (arguably), The Good Dinosaur (arguably), and Finding Dory. But Pixar has also made Inside Out, which most critics consider the superior film out of every single one of those Disney and Laika films.

Now, I get Orr’s point. That’s just one Pixar movie while Disney has had an aggressive output of great films that have managed to catch up to Pixar’s level of quality. If that were Orr’s only argument here, it would be a noteworthy one, but the jump to concluding that this means Pixar has lost its way ignores plenty of other important information, including Pixar’s excellent short animated films, which are consistently better than Disney’s, and the fact that they’ve still made good movies in the last seven years.

One need only look at this year’s Oscars: Two Disney movies, Zootopia and Moana, were nominated for Best Animated Feature, and Zootopia won. Pixar’s Finding Dory was shut out altogether.

First of all, Pixar won an Oscar just a year ago. Second, Finding Dory isn’t any less of a good film simply because it didn’t win a certain award. It just wasn’t as original and compelling as Zootopia and Moana, which is fine, and the Academy has a persistent stigma against sequels, anyway. Orr’s standard of Pixar being on the right path is too restricting, apparently arguing that movies are best when they manage to best other movies, ignoring, for example, Kubo and the Two Strings, which numerous critics argue was better than both Zootopia and Moana. Even if they’re right, all three movies are pretty good.

Simply put, a film being great doesn’t make another film any less great. This is only relevant if the value you hold in a movie is tied into how it compares with the reception of its competition.

Orr goes on, however, to expand on his own standard for what makes Pixar great, citing its technical achievements (which none of the sequels have erred on) and how it has provided great cinema for kids and adults (which hasn’t changed at all since Toy Story 3).

Even as others gradually caught up with Pixar’s visual artistry, the studio continued to tell stories of unparalleled depth and sophistication.

Some Pixar movies, however, weren’t so brilliantly received by critics at the time they came out. Films like Ratatouille and Wall-E, for example, were criticized plenty for trifles that no one even considers now. Monsters Inc. wasn’t exactly critic-proof either (it didn’t even win an Oscar?!), and that goes even more for A Bug’s Life.

Two films that unquestionably cemented Pixar’s eventual reputation beyond Toy Story were The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. Several other Pixar movies have managed to match them, in my opinion, but only Inside Out has truly reached the standard Orr sets here, which isn’t one that has been consistently met by Pixar with every film they’ve put out. Good Dinosaur is a good example, in that it’s a film directly trying to be far more bizarre and experimental than what’s worked for Pixar in the past.

Orr goes on to talk about Pixar’s achievement with crossover storytelling, raising some great points about how and why their movies are so consistently well-received.

And then, after Toy Story 3, the Pixar magic began to fade.

Here we go.

The sequels that followed—Cars 2 (a spy spoof) in 2011 and Monsters University (a college farce) in 2013—lacked any thematic or emotional connection to the movies that spawned them.

I truly take issue with Orr essentially lumping these two movies together, because Monsters University in no way lacks thematic connection to Monsters Inc. If anything, it adds flourish to the Mike Wazowski character and tells a poignant story about how we deal with our limitations. It’s far from merely being a “college farce.”

Though better than either of those two, Brave, Pixar’s 2012 foray into princessdom, was a disappointment as well.

I’m not sure which movie is better—Monsters University or Brave. Orr isn’t wrong in saying that Brave was a bit of a disappointment, but it’s about as serviceable as Cars and hey! It won an Oscar.

The studio rallied with Inside Out in 2015.

If by rallied, you mean they put out one of their best films in 20 years, sure. They “rallied.”

But the inferior The Good Dinosaur (also in 2015) and last year’s mediocre Finding Dory only confirmed the overall decline,

Here’s where Orr and I differ the most. To him, Pixar has lost its way because it’s made a few movies that aren’t as good as its very best ones. For me, Pixar has been unable to top themselves year after year, same as Disney wasn’t able to do in the 90s, well before that, and in the near future. But in reality, they never really did that in the first place.

Is Pixar experiencing an overall decline? Sure, no one really disputes that. But does an overall decline mean that the studio has lost its way? Not necessarily. It might just mean we’re witnessing a studio in transition, swinging for the fences with some movies and biding time with sequels as they prepare for a new era that may be entirely different.

Even Orr points out that at the time of the merger, Pixar was already facing huge problems as a studio. And these are the shifts that have led to the Pixar we know today, which has produced occasional masterpieces like Inside Out and artful experiments like The Good Dinosaur. Orr doesn’t even mention Coco, which comes out later this year, but laments Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2, the latter of which is a sequel to one of Pixar’s best films ever and could very well be the first Pixar sequel since Toy Story 3 to actually be better than the original.

The Disney merger seems to have brought with it new imperatives. Pixar has always been very good at making money, but historically it did so largely on its own terms.

I agree. Merging with Disney is a big reason for the sequels, but that’s likely because Pixar knew they couldn’t survive much longer without them. Pixar movies take years to make, and their standards are too high to make new worlds from scratch at a quick enough speed to pay the bills. Sequels take much less time and can make even more money when done correctly. That’s not an excuse, of course, but it is indicative of what could happen next.

Merger or no, there’s plenty reason to believe Pixar would have kept making sequels anyway in order to support their simultaneous need for great original films to also fill the pipeline. That’s not Pixar losing its way. It’s Pixar changing course in a more sustainable direction, consolidating their talent and taking steps toward a future where they may not have to rely on sequels so badly. And this has led to some good results over the years, along with some unfortunate branding ones, admittedly.

Then Orr makes his worst argument.

There are a dozen Disney theme parks scattered across the globe in need of, well, themes for their rides.

Don’t do it, Orr. Please. Think of the children.

the overlap between the Pixar movies that beget sequels and the movies that inspire rides at Disney amusement parks is all but total.

Seriously? You’re trying to argue that Pixar is basing its creative decisions around theme-parks?

Theme-park rides are premised on an awareness of the theme in question, and young parkgoers are less likely to be familiar with movies that are more than a decade old.

That explains why Disneyland is filled with movie themes from over 50 years ago.

This idea that kids are going to forget what Toy Story is without a Toy Story 4 is almost enough for me to dismiss all of Orr’s previous arguments out of spite. I won’t because clearly he’s not entirely wrong about a lot of this, but…really? Theme-park rides?

Look, there’s a point to be made about how sequels can be properly timed with theme-park attractions in order to maximize exposure. But to suggest that a legendary storyteller like Lasseter is guiding one of the best animated studios of all time (with Catmull’s approval) around what will look good on a brochure is nothing more than a brainless conspiracy theory. They’re not making Toy Story 4 because of a theme-park ride. At best, and if we take Pixar at their word, they’re making it because they truly believe in the story and it would be easier and more profitable than a new IP.

Pixar has promised that after the upcoming glut of sequels, the studio will focus on original features.

And honestly, I believe them. Pixar has built up decades of credibility with its fans, but Orr would dismiss all of it because the studio has only put out one masterpiece in seven years, assuming Coco isn’t as good as it looks, while other studios like Disney haven’t really made any masterpieces of their own in the same amount of time.

I’m not sure I dare to expect much more of what used to make Pixar Pixar: the idiosyncratic stories, the deep emotional resonance, the subtle themes that don’t easily translate into amusement-park rides.

Seriously, it’s been two years since Inside Out. Two. And the people who made it still work at Pixar, and for the last time, they’re still making good films. What makes Pixar Pixar hasn’t changed, just the frequency of its best material, and impatience (while understandable) is a poor excuse for trying to accuse an animation studio of being enslaved to theme-park rides.

Orr finishes by rounding off examples of what he loves in RatatouilleWall-E, and Up, finally stating:

Would Pixar even bother making those pictures anymore?

So the implication is that because these movies supposedly wouldn’t translate well to a theme-park ride (though they actually would, considering the Axiom is begging to be in Tomorrowland and Ratatouille has its own part in Disneyland Paris, which Orr even admits), he questions Pixar’s willingness to make great movies. You know, despite the fact that Coco comes out in November and virtually nothing about Pixar tells us that they’re disinterested in making great movies.

As I’ve pointed out numerous times here, Orr makes a lot of accurate observations, and I don’t blame anyone for believing Pixar really has lost their way. But it really depends on what you look to Pixar for. Even their worst films still contain a level of quality that far surpass the worst of the Disney movies and DreamWorks movies for that matter. It’s definitely true that they’re not putting out a slew of original breakthroughs almost every year like they once did, and yes, that is a shame.

But we also can’t discount that their competitors really have caught up to them in a lot of ways. And there are a ton of learning curves to managing a bigger studio that is no longer as unique and creatively compact as it once was. From what I can tell, Pixar has embraced this decade with a new caution, desperate to preserve its best material by investing in more conventional ways of making money. I’m not saying this is necessarily the best choice they could’ve made, and I don’t agree with all of their decisions since Toy Story 3. But all of this does mean that Pixar can still make the masterpieces we want to see from them.

In other words, I very much doubt a movie like Inside Out, heralded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time, would have been able to come out if it weren’t for Cars 2 and Monsters University. These are movies that came out instead of failed concepts like Newt, and Pixar would have been in a tailspin if not for the box office they made off of Toy Story 3. You don’t have to like it, and hopefully this isn’t a new norm for Pixar, but it is the reality of a studio that has reached maturing age. It’s a different time for Pixar, but not necessarily a bad one.


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Ranking the Pixar Movies By Box Office Success

Trying to compare the Pixar films according to quality and personal affection is a pointless task, in my opinion. Of course, I could easily tell you what my favorite films are and rank them, but how does that really help anyone?

Everyone has their favorites, but everyone also loves lists and comparisons. So for the sake of this post, I’m pointing out how successful each one was compared to the other. Prepare to be surprised.

To crunch the numbers, I added the domestic and foreign totals to provide the worldwide figures. I also adjusted everything according to inflation in 2014, so you’re really seeing which films made the most value in their day.

I did not rank these in order of profitability, as in I don’t point out how much it cost to make the film versus how much it made. Instead, I kept it simple and only pointed out how much money the film made overall.

Let’s begin!

 

#1. Finding Nemo

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Many assume that Toy Story 3 was the first Pixar film to make over $1 billion worldwide, and they’re technically right. In 2003, Finding Nemo just barely came short of the billion mark with $936 million made worldwide. But when you adjust for inflation, the underwater animated film actually made $1.2 billion worldwide, easily surpassing the threequel.

Why? This is pretty impressive considering the fact that Finding Nemo had fewer advantages than more recent Pixar films. This was before foreign markets were becoming the brunt of Disney Pixar’s audience. In fact, I’d argue that it opened the floodgates to how well U.S. films can perform overseas.

Put simply, Finding Nemo benefitted from having extremely wide appeal. While movies about toys, superheroes, and balloon houses are fun concepts, many people of different ages found a reason to check out this film about a father finding his lost son in an endless ocean.

 

#2. Toy Story 3

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: The possibly final entry in the Toy Story franchise is also its most successful. It was the first Pixar film to make $1 billion worldwide ($1.1 billion adjusted for inflation), and unlike Finding Nemo, its gap between money made domestically and foreign is much narrower.

Why? Waiting a decade to finish the franchise was a smart decision on Pixar’s part. Strong word-of-mouth, the return of the original cast, and an emotionally wrenching premise made this a can’t-miss film for the countless people who fell in love with Toy Story over the course of 15 years.

 

#3. Up

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: It didn’t just collect Oscars. Up pulled in an impressive $731 million worldwide. Adjusted from 2009, that’s over $812 million.

Why? The film had broad international appeal thanks to its setting, and it came at a time when Pixar was hitting its stride with back-to-back hits. It also benefitted from a strong opening that had critics raving over the score and memorable characters. That, and this was also the first Pixar film to reap the benefits of 3D ticket prices.

 

#4. The Incredibles

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Following the success of Finding Nemo was an impossible task, so leave it to the superhero film to accomplish just that. The Incredibles made a whopping $631.million worldwide in 2004, which is actually $795.8 million by today’s standards.

Why? One of the main advantages of mashing up several genres like superheroes, family drama, comedy, animation, and spies is that you can generate a ton of interest in your movie. Families and young adults came out to this film in droves, and it didn’t hurt that audiences were still enamored with the success of Finding Nemo.

 

#5. Monsters University

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: This 2013 prequel to Monsters Inc. narrowly surpassed its predecessor by raking in $743.5 million worldwide ($760 million adjusted for inflation). It’s important to note that it made the bulk of its money overseas, like many of the recent Pixar films.

Why? As a rule, sequels and even prequels tend to build upon existing audiences, no matter the downgrade in quality. Plus, the film was quite enjoyable and a step up from Pixar’s previous outings (Cars 2 and Brave).

 

#6. Monsters Inc.

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: This is the Pixar film that showed critics just what the studio was capable of, as it was the first of the films to spike in profit. The 2001 film made an impressive $562.8 million worldwide ($756.4 adjusted), with an almost even split between domestic and foreign markets.

Why? This film came out after a 1-year hiatus for Pixar, and it had been three years since the studio had released a non-sequel. Thanks to Monsters Inc., the momentum for Pixar as it entered the 21st century was set early, and high.

 

#7. Ratatouille

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Only Pixar can make a film about a rat learning to cook in Paris a huge success with over $623 million made globally ($716.7 million adjusted).

Why? Foreign markets definitely carried this film, representing about 2/3 of the profits. Also, audiences who were displeased with Cars were happy to see a Pixar film with more traditional storytelling (even though it was anything but).

 

#8. Toy Story 2

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: That’s right, one of Disney’s first forays into a sequel (they’re notorious for not doing big screen sequels at all) was a Pixar film. And it totally paid off. Toy Story 2 ran away with $485 million worldwide. These days, that’s nearly $700 million. Keep in mind that this was in 1999; a time when the box office competition was fierce.

Why? As we now know, the film was just as good if not better than the original, and that prompted millions of people who loved the first film to go see this one. And it helped that VHS sales build a lot of hype for this film four years after the original. The lesson, of course, is that there should be a lot of time in between sequels for the sake of direction and precision. Not many people have learned this lesson, sadly.

#9. Cars 2

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Pixar’s follow-up to the record-breaking Toy Story 3 was yet another sequel. And they suffered for it. Cars 2  brought in about $559 million worldwide, or $593 million adjusted for inflation. A little more than half of what Pixar made the previous year.

Why? Some are wondering why it made so much when it shouldn’t. Others may be wondering why it didn’t make as much. Both questions are answered by the fact that the film was both helped and hurt by its predecessor, Cars. Yes, it had plenty of interest from fans of the original, but the problem was that there weren’t that many fans anyway. But it still made good money, especially overseas. This was partly due to the various locales seen in the film and Disney’s expertise at managing foreign markets by 2011.

 

#10. WALL-E

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: This may surprise a lot of you, but WALL-E only brought in $521 million worldwide. Adjusted for this year, that’s only about $576.8 million.

Why? Oddly, this is celebrated as one of Pixar’s best films, both by audiences and critics. And yet it is one of the least successful. Sadly, this is mostly because the film came out during the onset of Great Recession, which badly hurt money made domestically. On top of that, many moviegoers were put off by the film’s lack of dialogue, especially in the early parts of the film.

 

#11. Toy Story

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: The first of the Pixar films performed pretty well for a forerunner. It made $362 million worldwide, with most of that money being domestic. Nowadays, that translates to about $566 million, which is nothing to scoff at.

Why? Unlike its successors, Toy Story didn’t have the luxury of Pixar being a household name. It earned its success solely from being a good film and shattering expectations as the first computer-animated film ever. In fact, I’m more surprised that this isn’t lower on the list considering the risk that was put into making it. Toy Story truly is a miracle of film.

 

#12. Brave

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Still hurting from the disappointment that was Cars 2, this 2012 film also disappointed with a meager $539 million worldwide total ($559 million adjusted). That’s still pretty good, though it is certainly low compared to the rest of the Pixar family.

Why? Entire research papers could be written about the mystery surrounding Brave‘s underwhelming premise. I’m not sure I fully understand why it fell short for me, personally. Whatever the reason, Brave just didn’t click or resonate with people as deeply as previous Pixar films, which made this an animated outing for only a certain group of moviegoers (kids and their parents looking for a getaway).

 

#13. Cars

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Released in 2006, Cars didn’t really deliver for Pixar as much as they hoped with a decent $462 million worldwide ($546 million adjusted). Of course, it was still incredibly profitable for Pixar, seeing as it only cost $120 million to make.

Why? You know a film has problems when it falls so short after two massive hits like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. It even had the benefit of coming along after a 1-year hiatus. Still, audiences weren’t impressed with the premise, and Cars ultimately suffered. Strangely, the sequel was still green-lit and made a bit more money years later.

 

#14. A Bug’s Life

ranking  the pixar movies

How much it made: Pixar’s second film was great in its own right, even though that didn’t necessarily translate to box office sales. It made just $363 million worldwide, which is about $530.5 million adjusted for inflation. Interestingly, it made more money overseas than Toy Story did, and it was the first of the Pixar films to make most of its money in foreign markets.

Why? Put simply, the novelty of computer animation had worn off a bit. So A Bug’s Life had to rely on just being a good movie. That’s why it made as much as it did, but the basic fact is that a film about toys coming to life was more appealing than a film about bugs fighting grasshoppers.

 

Conclusions:

One of the most interesting things about this list is that even the lowest entry of Pixar’s films is a box office success that stands up to most of the films that are coming out today. That means in 14 films over the course of 19 years, Pixar hasn’t had a single flop. No other studio in history can compare to that kind of consistent success.

In the years to come, we’ll see if Pixar can maintain the status quo or make another huge leap forward. Inside Out premieres next summer, and it could prove to be the next Monsters Inc. in terms of reviving the studio’s creative fortunes. And with new sequels like Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 on the horizon, along with some other originals like The Good Dinosaur, Pixar may be poised for its first renaissance.

ranking  the pixar movies

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Does ‘Planes’ Fit Into the Pixar Theory?

planes pixar theory

It’s time to talk about what none of us wants to talk about.

Go on…Does ‘Planes’ Fit Into the Pixar Theory?

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