It’s been nearly 16 weeks since Toy Story 4 opened in theaters, and though the Pixar fourquel is still playing in a handful of second run theaters nationwide, its box office destiny is more or less set in stone, especially with the film now available to rent on demand.
How did Woody and the gang do? As I noted in the weeks following the film’s release, Toy Story 4 fell a bit under expectations for a Pixar sequel when compared to the opening weekends for Finding Dory and Incredibles 2. Nevertheless, it had a strong summer in light of few other animated family films coming out to play.
The results speak for themselves. Toy Story 4 made $1.068 billion worldwide, which is just $2 million higher than Toy Story 3 earned in 2010 (unadjusted for inflation). It’s now the second highest grossing Pixar film of all time behind Incredibles 2.
When you do adjust for inflation, however, the results are murkier. It’s not an exact science but films like Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 easily breeze past Toy Story 4 despite having smaller releases worldwide.
Domestically, these numbers are similarly salt-graining. Adjusted for inflation, Toy Story 4 (which has made $433.3 million) is only the fifth highest grossing Pixar film in North America behind Toy Story 3, Finding Dory, Finding Nemo, and Incredibles 2 at #1. It’s also worth pointing out that Toy Story 4 wasn’t even the highest grossing animated film of the summer, because The Lion King ended up grossing $1.6 billion (which makes it the highest grossing animated film of all time).
Now this may all seem like silly numbers to parse out. Who cares if Toy Story 4 wasn’t the best box office success of all time? Beyond general curiosity, I find these numbers incredibly important, because they signal a limitation for these Pixar sequels. They’re still successful, don’t get me wrong, but Disney and Pixar have to see what is clear and obvious.
They can’t keep banking on films like Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory to be massive, billion dollar films with more sequels churning out, and the studio has to reaffirm their commitment to original films in the coming years. We already know the studio has seen this coming as an inevitability, because their next four films are, in fact, originals. That fresh intellectual property will prevent Pixar’s roster from growing stale with what feel like cash grabs, even though Toy Story 4 was a well-received film by and large.
But Toy Story 4 feels like the minor dip pointing to a larger trend. Because it didn’t outgross the last major Pixar franchise sequel (with a decade or longer wait in between), Disney and Pixar have no choice but to double down on bolder, richer films based on new stories. The kind that made this studio a trusted, household name in the first place.
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.
From Toy Story to Finding Dory, which Pixar movies found the most financial success with audiences?
A few years ago, I did a ranking just like this in the year leading up to Inside Out. It was simple: I took the worldwide box office returns for each Pixar movie and adjusted for inflation, though I measured the numbers according current rates of inflation (2014 at the time). A faulty metric, now that I take a second look.
Honestly, it’s hard to rank these movies on the same playing field, because so many circumstances determined their profits. 3D ticket sales and a widening international market make it harder to define which Pixar movies were more “successful” than others based on their own terms and fair context.
So this time, I’m only looking at two factors: domestic box office and a rate of inflation with 1995, the year that Toy Story came out. So all of the numbers you’re about to see bolded are NOT the actual numbers you’ll find online, but rather they’ve been modified to match what they were worth 22 years ago. UPDATE: I’ve since added Cars 3 and Coco to this list.
Let’s start at the bottom of the list this time with…
This week on Pixar Detectives, Kayla Savage and I put out some huge Pixar announcements and debated the BEST Pixar romance. We talked about Pixar in a Box, played a quiz game with the live audience (Which Pixar couple are you?) and gave away an awesome Pixar mashup shirt.
So…which Pixar romance really is the best? Among our suggestions, we talked about Marlin and Coral from Finding Nemo, Carl and Ellie from Up, WALL-E and Eve from WALL-E, Buzz and Jessie from Toy Story, and a bunch more. Let us know in the comments which romance you think is the overall best!
If you want to enter our weekly giveaways, be sure to tune in live every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific). Follow the link below or just click the video above. We give away Pixar-related goodies like shirts, books, blu-rays, and tons more. And we’re always open to new suggestions for prizes you all might be interested in!
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I don’t consider “sequel” a slur. But it’s notable how much the impetus behind them has changed, and with it, their very nature.
This summer’s sequels are not, for the most part, story continuations but brand extensions. Some are good and some not; some have succeeded and some have flopped, but almost all of them are different beasts than the first generation of blockbuster genre sequels.
To my taste, the best reason to make a sequel is because the story demands it.
Overall, this is a great write-up by Harris that articulates a lot of the frustration I and many critics and fans have been having with sequels this year. He even champions Marvel’s Civil War as a good example of how sequels with grander narrative purpose make better impressions on audiences who’ve grown savvy to Hollywood’s sequel formula.
But I would disagree on one example he brings up briefly.
As for Finding Dory, it’s a solid brand refresher that will make a mint — an effective way for Disney to remonetize a dormant franchise. But nothing will convince me that Pixar’s move from being arguably the finest producer of original content in Hollywood to a sequel manufactory (next up: The Incredibles 2, Cars 3, Toy Story 4) is anything but dispiriting news.
I don’t disagree with Harris on this point at all, but I think Finding Dory is a wildly inappropriate example of his main point. Finding Dory is no Civil War in the sense that it exists in a larger universe of movies with a single narrative (or is it?), but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad sequel off of the definition Harris attributes above to movies like TMNT: Out of the Shadows and The Huntsman: Winter’s War.
Here’s the deal. A few years ago, I proposed a theory that makes the case for how and why every Pixar movie from Toy Story to WALL-E exists in a shared universe with a single, overarching narrative. The case I make is fueled by easter eggs, cameos, story themes, and other clues that make up what I call The Pixar Theory (link above).
I’ll give you the normal rundown below, but first a tease. Would you believe me if I told you that the Toy Story movies have an incredibly strong connection with this movie? Well, we’ll get to that.
THE SET UP
It took Pixar 13 years, but they finally made a sequel to one of their most beloved films, Finding Nemo. In that movie, a clown fish named Marlin crosses the ocean in search of his son, and he’s aided by the quirky and forgetful blue tang, Dory.
The sequel kicks off a year later, when Dory suddenly remembers a clue related to her family, whom she lost as a very young child—er—fish. So Marlin and Nemo help Dory cross the ocean once again to find them, only this time, they have to brave the horrors outside of the ocean, in a marine institute that rehabilitates fish and has its own aquarium exhibits.
First, let’s talk briefly about how Finding Nemo fits into the theory, because for obvious reasons, that will inform a lot of what we can uncover with the sequel.
FINDING FINDING NEMO
This was actually one of the shortest chapters of the book, mostly because the connections in Finding Nemo are very speculative and work to enhance other animal-centric films like Ratatouille. Interestingly, I do speak in length about Dory in that chapter, because she is a character who represents the mysterious intelligence animals in Pixar movies seem to possess, leading all the way to movies like Monsters Inc., which imagines a world where animals run the world as monsters.
Dory has very unique abilities that other fish like her simply don’t possess. She can read, for one thing, and “speak whale.” We’ll get to why that really is, later, because Finding Dory sheds plenty of light on where this all comes from.
I also speak on how Finding Nemo goes out of its way to create animosity between the fish of the ocean and the humans, paving the way for an increasingly connected community of animals who will do whatever it takes to get away from wherever the humans are. Humans steal Nemo and threaten his life, keep the Tank Gang imprisoned in the dentist’s office, and then capture Dory in a fishing net. It’s proven in the movie that humans are actually the biggest threat to creatures of the ocean.
But in the end, the fish rally against humans once and for all, thanks in no small part to Nemo’s leadership when he convinces a horde of them to break the human’s fishing net so they can escape.
WHAT ABOUT FINDING DORY?
Warning: spoilers for Finding Dory from here on out. Be sure to watch the movie before going any further unless you want to be spoiled.
Humans are still terrible in the story of Finding Dory, but not always directly. True, they capture Dory almost as soon as she reaches the kelp forest next to the marine institute. But Dory herself doesn’t seem to fear or hate them. She, just like most other characters, is pretty indifferent to the humans.
Hank the octopus, on the other hand, is very antagonistic toward the marine institute workers, always escaping and finding ways to avoid them at all costs. This is made even clearer when his worst nightmare is realized at the “touch pool,” where children descend their fingers upon the fish to the tune of a horror movie.
Imagine the scene from Toy Story 3 when the toys first encounter the caterpillar room. All of the savvy toys are hiding because they know children are coming to make their lives a living riptide. Well, that’s basically what happens here, and this fear of humans isn’t just comic relief. It’s kind of terrifying, and it’s even a little entertaining considering a Toy Story connection coming later…
It’s no wonder that by the end of the movie, all of the fish from the institute hark to the words of Sigourney Weaver and “release” themselves into the ocean. To them, freeing themselves of humans is their version of a happy ending.
THE DEAL WITH DORY…AGAIN
So what makes Dory so “special,” and just what in the ocean does that have to do with the Pixar Theory? Well, don’t forget that the growing intelligence of animals in movies like Ratatouille, Up, A Bug’s Life, and even The Good Dinosaur all lead up to the inevitable reality where oversized animals who look like monsters solely inhabit the future world devoid of humans (only for them to go back in time to harvest the energy-filled screams of children in order to sustain their world further because, and you guessed it, humans are batteries).
Like in Inside Out, Pixar hits us over the head with the idea that humans give off an energy that sparks life into everyday objects like toys, cars, and even our own emotions. So how did Dory become the way she is?
It’s revealed in Finding Dory that she was born in captivity. So she grew up constantly surrounded by humans and signs from the exhibits that she’s able to remember throughout the film, explaining how she was able to learn to read. Peach the starfish from Finding Nemo is another fish who has the rare ability to read, and even she explains that she was brought to the tank from eBay.
The idea is that when animals become entrenched in human fixtures and attention, they are able to expand their personalities and capabilities. Though Dory suffers from a very serious disability with short-term memory loss, she’s able to cope by forming connections in a very human way. This explains why fish are so quick to help her with whatever problem she’s facing, no questions asked.
We see the same sort of thing with Remy from Ratatouille, who becomes the greatest chef in France only after his experiences in the human world. Simply put, humans and animals have a lot to gain and learn from each other.
IS THAT IT?
Nope. There’s also a subtle but unforgettable moment in the movie that hints a connection with Toy Story. Here it goes.
About halfway through the movie, Marlin and Nemo find themselves in a fish tank outside of a gift shop, and there’s a single, plastic fish toy moving around them. It prods Marlin over and over again, and then eventually when they’re trying to figure a way out, they notice that the fish is tapping the glass all of a sudden pointing directly at the exact path they need to take in order to escape (a stream of geysers that will carry them over to the tide pool).
The idea is that the toy fish is, you guessed it, alive, and it’s trying to help Nemo and Marlin without revealing itself because it has to play dead with so many people around watching them. This is a great connection to the relationship we see in Toy Story 2 between Woody and Buster, who form a bond and friendship together. Here, the toy just seems anxious to show Marlin and Nemo exactly what they need to do so they can find their friend.
In other words, Pixar is amazing.
As always, there are ample easter eggs and references to other movies to find throughout, including the A113 callout that shows up toward the end of the movie on a license plate (again, just like Toy Story).
Also, Sigourney Weaver’s voice is heard throughout the marine park announcing the exhibits. This will be familiar to fans of Andrew Stanton’s other Pixar movie, WALL-E, which also features Weaver’s voice as the sound of a computer on the Axiom. Makes sense that in the Pixar universe, Sigourney Weaver’s voice is the most trusted when it comes to soothing, computer-controlled announcements.
Remember Darla from Finding Nemo? You can see the same photo of her holding the dead fish in the marine institute that her uncle has all the way in Australia. This means the marine institute has a clear connection to the P. Sherman, who also loves to work by the sea. It could even mean that in the one year since losing all of his fish in the tank, he decided to devote his life to studying aquatic life in California, a dream somewhat preluded in the fact that he scuba dived far into the ocean just to take photos, eventually leading to him taking Nemo.
And here’s a spookier reference that hints the rise of BnL, the corporation that will eventually burn all the trash into toxic air. In the picture below (bottom right), you can spot a WALL-E calendar, referencing the robots that will one day (try) to clean the Earth.
It’s telling that in a movie where there is a ton of garbage piling up in the water just outside the marine institute, robots as advanced as WALL-E are already being prototyped.
The Luxo Ball and Pizza Planet truck make their scheduled appearances, as well. You can see the Luxo Ball in the clutter of toys in the Kid Zone, and the Pizza Planet truck is one of the underwater vehicles found during the squid scene.
Be sure to add what you find in your own viewings via the comments.
Another quick thing, though, is that for whatever reason, Pixar seems to really hate birds unless they’re in a short like with Piper, or they’re named Nigel. Like the seagulls from Finding Nemo and the instinctual predator bird from A Bug’s Life, there are half-brained birds all over the place in Finding Dory, including one named Becky who will still find a way to capture your heart, I guess.
Sadly, it will be a year before we get any new Pixar movies, with Cars 3 set to release June 16, 2017. Though a lot of people may not be very excited about yet another Cars sequel, they can still take solace in knowing that the studio is releasing Coco, an original non-sequel coming out that same year in November, based on the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos.
The film has already begun animation as of April, and the premise follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who tries to uncover a “generations-old” mystery. The current synopsis is:
“Coco is the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion.”
Also, we have Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 to look forward to in the next few years, including a rumored slate of about four non-sequels Pixar is working on that are due to come out over the next decade.
All of these movies are months and years away, so until they release, I’ll be here conspiring.
Want even more?
First, be sure to check out the book, The Pixar Theory, available on paperback and ebook via Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or just a PDF. This will cover the entire theory and every movie in the Pixar universe, updated from the 2013 blog post.
Parts 2 and 3 of the The Pixar Theory cover the latest movies that have come out since the book was published. So you can check out Part 2, Inside Out, as well as Part 3, The Good Dinosaur via the links.
Want to talk about all of this stuff with tons of other Pixar Detectives? You can start all of the conversations you want in the comments for this post, or join the ongoing discussions in the original blog post, here.
Last but hopefully not least, you can read my free Pixar Theory serial novel, The Pixar Detective, which was completed last spring. It tells a new story that shows off the grand narrative of all the Pixar movies with original characters, familiar faces, and a mystery that ties them all together.
Snarcasm is a weekly series about the worst articles on the Internet, and how we can snarcastically deal with them.
Now that Pixar has gracefully released the first trailer for Finding Dory, I thought it would be refreshing to dive back into the fun we had with Finding Nemo 12 years ago.
In fact, I tried to find negativearticles and opinion pieces about the new trailer, but I surprisingly found no one willing to be that person (outside of your friendly neighborhood comment section).
So I suppose that means Finding Nemo was universally beloved?
Ha, of course not. And that’s not a bad thing! You’ll always find someone who dislikes a movie you enjoy. But that doesn’t mean their reasons always make sense.
Back in 2003, Stephanie Zacharek (writing for Salon at the time) wrote one of the most confusing movie reviews I think I’ve ever read. And preparing for this weekly series means I have to read a lot of junk to decide what gets featured, so I hope that sinks in. OK, I’m done with the sea puns.
Anyway, Stephanie recommended her readers skip Finding Nemo altogether with the tagline,
Pixar’s latest animation wonder — a shimmery, velvety undersea coming-of-age story — sure is beautiful. But why should we spend two hours looking at it?
…because it’s beautiful?
Also, that’s not the last time she finds a way to weave in the word, velvet.
There’s no question that Pixar’s “Finding Nemo,” aglow with translucent sea flora and shimmering, iridescent creatures, is beautiful to look at.
Right, even by today’s standards.
Who wouldn’t be entranced by that corps of pink art nouveau jellyfish, twirling about in their deadly underwater ballet, or by the sight of painstakingly adorable Nemo himself, the movie’s hero, a brave little Halloween-colored clown fish with googly eyes and one shrimpy fin?
Every moment in “Finding Nemo” is magnificently orchestrated to tease a response from us
Oh, not this again. From Up to Inside Out, you’ll always find a film critic getting hot and bothered by the fact that Pixar uses emotion to its advantage. Then, a week later, criticize an action movie for being heartless.
and those who don’t fall for it are sure to be denounced as insensitive, blind to the magic of animation and, last but not least, pitiably unable to view the world through the eyes of a child.
So brave, Stephanie. Nothing gets a review started on the right note like defending your criticism with self-victimization.
But after years of cultivating the eyes of a grown-up, I like to think there’s something to be said for using them.
In other words, “All other critics are childish, but I’m not.”
“Finding Nemo” is lovely to look at — and time and again I found myself asking, “Who cares?”
I’d hate to go with you to the Grand Canyon.
It’s possible that “Finding Nemo” — and most computer animation in general, including other Pixar micro-masterpieces like “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters Inc.” — offer too much of a good thing.
Too much beauty? Is that really the criticism we’re resorting to? That’s why people should skip this?
How much microscopic detail can the human eye absorb before it stops registering that detail altogether?
“Ah! Shield my eyes! If I can’t grasp it all in one moment, there’s no way I can appreciate this!
Wait, you mean I can come back to the Grand Canyon?”
I certainly noticed that the navy-spotted back of the stingray schoolteacher in “Finding Nemo” looks so velvety it seemed you could reach out and touch it.
When the movie’s action took us above the surface of the ocean, I noted the multihued glimmer of that surface and dutifully scribbled in my notebook, “Lovely sun-gold on blue sea.”
You just complained that there’s too much beauty to love, so now you’re bragging about everything you caught that you think everyone else will overlook?
So, not only are critics childish, but audiences are moronic.
It’s all beautiful, all right. But before long I began to feel beaten against the rocks of that beauty
This has to be a prank.
“Finding Nemo” smacks of looky-what-I-can-do virtuosity, and after the first 10 minutes or so, it’s exhausting. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton, the movie is filled with bits of cleverness to keep the adults, as well as the kids, entertained.
Let me guess: the next line is about how you like the thing you just complained about.
And yes, I did laugh at the way the seagulls squawk “Mine! Mine!” as well as at the lobsters’ distinct Boston accents.
There we go. Nothing makes your criticism look as valid as a good old fashioned contradiction. Because if you reread those last few lines, you’ll see that she first complains the movie is exhausting, then she admits that it’s clever enough to keep you entertained.
But “Finding Nemo” works terribly hard for every scrap of charm or humor it imparts.
Now we’re mad that the movie is a hard worker. Next, we’re going to tear it to pieces for giving characters dimension and rightfully avoiding a romantic subplot.
“Finding Nemo” is teeming with lessons for parents and kids alike: Kids, you can do great things even if you have the human equivalent of a shrunken fin! Parents, don’t shelter your kids from the world to the extent that they never get a chance to live in it! In between lessons, there’s lots of peril to keep things exciting.
“But none of this good stuff matters because I hate you.”
Seriously, does she like this movie or not? Because I’ve only read about two sentences with an inkling of criticism, but they’ve been offset immediately by the rest of her comments.
Peril always equals drama in the Disney version (Disney co-produces with Pixar), and if your kids can take it, or actually like it, more power to them.
Can you imagine if kids liked dangerous situations? I sure can’t. That’s why I’m the biggest fan of Powerless Rangers.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly traumatizing in “Finding Nemo,” and admittedly, if Marlin and Dory didn’t face danger at every turn, there would be no story at all.
“It’s traumatizing, but not traumatizing at all.”
But what we get is still a snoozer.
Clearly. Since you just talked about the useful life lessons, entertaining story, dramatic situations, and beautiful imagery.
But hey, maybe she’s about to explain why it’s a snoozer! (Spoiler alert: she doesn’t).
There are lots of grown-up jokes in “Finding Nemo,” including a 12-step gag and a caravan of aged surfer-dude stoner sea turtles, both of which are sure to make adults laugh knowingly, which is surely the least fun kind of laughing there is, although it counts for something.
In one sentence, Stephanie compliments the movie, gives that compliment a caveat, criticizes the compliment itself, and then says it counts for something. I’m almost impressed.
Also, she’s actually saying that the “least fun kind of laughing” is reference humor. You read it here first. Never mind that in order for her to get it across that she doesn’t like the movie, she has to belittle the things about it the you like.
And I do confess to being at least somewhat captivated by Gill (Willem Dafoe), the tough-guy king of the fish tank who takes Nemo under his fin.
I’m just going to say this one more time, for emphasis. There are more compliments in this review than criticisms. This is actually happening.
“Finding Nemo” sure looks technically flawless,
for those who are impressed by such things.
Am I reading a drama essay by Doug Funnie’s sister, Judith?
I don’t really know what’s involved in making a feature that’s as clearly ambitious as “Finding Nemo” is. I can’t tell you how many hours were spent getting the picture to look just so (I’m sure it was a lot), and I would never question how much raw talent the individuals who worked on it possess (I doubt it can even be measured).
Your ignorance is noted.
Will lots of little kids (and big ones) enjoy “Finding Nemo”? Absolutely.
Is it an achievement? Without a doubt.
I have no words.
It’s all of those things, and less — the littlest fish in the sea masquerading as a whale, failing to take into account its conspicuous lack of warm blood.
How is this a comparison? OK, so she finishes the review here with the biting metaphor that Finding Nemo is basically a collection of small elements working together to “masquerade” as something bigger…but it’s hollow…or something.
Despite the fact that moviemaking itself is all about small elements working together to pull off an illusion. Maybe if this was Blackfish, Stephanie would find a reason to be glad this movie exists, but even then, she doesn’t even count the “lessons” she touted earlier as being very useful, anyway.
Can you see why this is one of the most confusing film reviews I’ve ever read? In it, Stephanie hardly criticizes the film at all and instead gives it vain praise like she’s one of Regina George’s underlings. Sure, her adjectives are pretty, and she found fancy ways to illustrate what works visually throughout the movie. But none of the ideas in this review give you any sense of whether or not Finding Nemo is worth seeing.
Since she gave the film less than 2 stars, however, that essentially means that she recommends you skip it. Despite all of the praise you read above, including the admission that the movie is an achievement that will be loved by children.
Nope! You need to skip this because…well, I’m not sure why.
I did a little digging into other movies reviewed by Stephanie Zacharek, and unsurprisingly, she’s pretty good at what she does. She was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in criticism at one point (although I think it’s fair to mention that she gave Hot Pursuit a passing grade, calling Sophia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon a terrific team).
I also dug through her reviews of animated movies, and it was pretty telling. For one thing, her criticism of Minions is identical to the line she uses in Finding Nemo, essentially stating that it’s “too much of a good thing.”
She did say that How to Train Your Dragon 2 (mostly) works, and she apparently loves the first one more than any other DreamWorks movie. But looking through her pedigree, it’s painfully clear that she just doesn’t have a thing for computer animated films, or at least the technical aspects behind them that make the movies even more impressive.
Obviously, this isn’t a big deal because this is just the opinion of one critic. My only complaint is that if you’re going to recommend that someone pass on a movie (especially one that’s universally praised), you better provide a better explanation for why.
And yes, that’s exactly what I said last week about Room. I think I’m starting to see a trend with these film reviews.
Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni