‘The Incredibles 2’Walt Disney

As reported yesterday, Pixar’s Incredibles 2 is now the sixth movie in history, and just the third Walt Disney movie this year, to cross $600 million at the domestic box office. Inflation notwithstanding, it is the biggest “not PG-13” grosser of all time, the biggest animated movie in unadjusted domestic grossers and, with $1.164 billion global, the second-biggest toon ever worldwide behind Walt Disney’s Frozen ($1.276b in 2013). With rave reviews and an inside track to win next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar, it’s an across-the-board win. So maybe we can take a break from writing “Pixar is doomed!” articles? Or can we wait until they are doomed before calling time of death?

From at least since 2011, when Cars 2 stumbled into theaters with poor reviews and the stench of a merchandise-driven cash-in (never mind that John Lasseter considered the Car franchise to be his passion project), there has been a media narrative that Pixar was on the decline or that it was on the verge of cultural irrelevancy. Too many sequels, too much micromanaging from Disney, and constant talks of slumps, slumps and more slumps. But if you look at the actual Pixar movies between 2011 and 2018, the company has been relatively healthy. That’s not to say (to quote the competition) that everything is awesome, but even their recent output would be the envy of any animation studio.

Yes, Cars 2 was a mediocre riff on If Looks Could Kill, and it sold fewer tickets in North America than any prior Pixar movie up to that point. But the film earned $562 million worldwide, or about on par with Ratatouille ($620m in 2007), Wall-E ($533m in 2008). It might fit the narrative to note that the five lowest-grossing (in terms of tickets sold) Pixar flicks are ones (Good Dinosaur, Cars 3, Coco, Cars 2 and Brave) that debuted between 2011 and 2017. But the next two lowest are Wall-E and Ratatouille, two films that everyone points to when discussing Pixar’s former glories.

But with the important “less folks go to the movies than they did in the olden days” thing officially noted, let’s look at the Pixar output of late. Cars 2 was a whiff and the troubled and compromised Brave was arguably a disappointment (Best Animated Feature Oscar win and folks who liked it more than me notwithstanding), but Monsters University was a mostly enjoyable sequel that features one of the most subversive endings I’ve ever seen in a kid’s toon. It flies in the face of the standard “if you work hard enough and believe in yourself, you can accomplish your dream and be the best of the best” narrative in almost every other kid-targeted toon.

It earned $268 million domestic and $744m worldwide in the summer of 2013, which was Pixar’s third-biggest global grosser behind Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3. The Good Dinosaur was delayed from May of 2014 to November of 2015. The much-retooled movie, a kind of “The Revenant… for kids,” was Pixar’s first flop. It earned decent reviews but flatlined here and abroad, earning $123m domestic and $332m worldwide. On the plus side, it happened to debut a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Its existence as Pixar’s first flop was mitigated by Pixar’s other 2015 release. Inside Out earned rave reviews, won the Best Animated Feature Oscar and earned $357m domestic and $857m worldwide.

Now as 2015 rolled into 2016 and then in into 2017, you could potentially argue that Pixar’s post-Up output was essentially one great sequel (Toy Story 3), one great original (Inside Out) and a handful of okay-to-good features including a lousy sequel (Cars 2), an okay sequel (Monsters University) and troubled original (Good Dinosaur and Brave). I’m not going to sit here and argue that Finding Dory was a masterpiece ($1 billion+ worldwide gross and $486m domestic gross notwithstanding) or that Cars 3 was anything better than “pretty good” (and another flop with $384m worldwide). But the last two Pixar flicks, an original and a sequel, have been both critically acclaimed and hugely successful.

Coco was another “Best Animated Feature” Oscar winner and earned mostly rave reviews along with $807 million worldwide. The Mexico-set musical folktale earned “only” $210m domestic, which may have been a case of certain demographics avoiding the Hispanic toon for less-than-ideal reasons (see also: Princess and the Frog), or it may have been just a case of folks seeing it once and then moving on to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But it earned $170m in China alone (bigger than all previous Pixar flicks combined) and was the highest-grossing movie ever in Mexico with $59m. Its $807m cume is Pixar’s third-biggest original, behind Inside Out and Finding Nemo.

The blow-out success of Incredibles 2 speaks for itself. With $602 million as of today, the Pixar flick has sold more tickets than any prior Pixar movie even counting Finding Nemo’s reissue. Among all animated movies, with or without reissues, it is behind only Pinocchio ($625m with reissues, $512m adjusted without), Shrek 2 ($441m in 2004/$658m adjusted), Sleeping Beauty ($635m adjusted without reissues, $674m counting reissues), The Jungle Book ($520m adjusted upon original release, $683m with reissues), Fantasia ($693m/$769m), The Lion King ($692m/$826m), 101 Dalmatians ($521m/$926m) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves ($718m/$1.010 billion).

Among all G, PG, R or NC-17 movies released since 1975, it is behind only Beverly Hills Cop, Home Alone, Ghostbusters, Grease, Shrek 2, The Godfather, The Lion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Exorcist, Jaws and Star Wars. To be fair, there has been a huge decrease in PG and R-rated movies of a certain scale since 2000, but to also be fair many of the huge G/PG-rated movies of decades-ago (The Towering Inferno, Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, Planet of the Apes, etc.) would surely be PG-13 today.

Between 2015 and 2018, Pixar has scored two of its three-biggest “ticket sold” successes ever in North America which were both their two biggest raw domestic grossers. They also released, to rave reviews and Oscar glory, two of their three-biggest non-sequel global smashes as well. Whether or not you feel that Pixar has an unfair advantage in the Best Animated Feature category, they have won the award in 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018 and probably 2019. I am no more excited about Toy Story 4 than you, but I’d argue that Pixar is currently on something resembling a hot streak. The issue may just be the sheer number of movies they have released.

Now, for the record, you can’t always tell what movies will click and what won’t. As viewers of Waking Sleeping Beauty (or general students of Disney history) will tell you, The Lion King was considered a B-level project at the time while everyone wanted to work on Pocahontas. Once upon a time, CBS thought their remake of The Fugitive would be TV gold, while Fox had high hopes for Brisco County, Jr. Does the relative failure of those shows make the incredible successes of C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigation and The X-Files any less impressive? If not, then how much credit does Pixar lose from Inside Out, Coco and Incredibles 2 due to Cars 3 and The Good Dinosaur?

Without getting into the allegedly toxic working environment for “not a white guy” employees (that’s a different can of worms), the recent Pixar output is as good as anything they have made. They are making as much money, especially worldwide, as anything released in the so-called golden age. That’s not to say there won’t be troubles down the line, or that there won’t be a time when a new Pixar movie is only considered an event on par with new DreamWorks Animation film. But for the moment, with the future under Pete Docter not yet written, the studio that released Inside Out, Finding Dory, Coco and Incredibles 2 is in the very opposite of an artistic or commercial slump.



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