You can’t spell “Pixar” without “artist.”
Okay, so that’s not technically true, but Pixar is the rare movie studio where the artists are in charge. “These movies come from the heart of every director,” explains Pixar veteran John Lasseter, who’s directed several Pixar joints, including Toy Story and Cars. “There are life experiences we all had that find their way into these movies” (source). The result? A playful, yet refined sense of fun (coupled with mad technical genius) that’s become synonymous with Pixar.
Pixar’s Powerful Pals
Pixar’s road from struggling computer company to blockbuster movie studio wasn’t all balloons and waterfalls. They started out making computers for hospitals in the 1970s (source).
…not exactly whimsical stuff.
Enter George Lucas —you know, the bearded mastermind behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Pixar partnered with Lucasfilm in the late ‘70s and shifted its focus from computers to graphics. In 1986, Steve Jobs, who officially gave the company its name, bought Pixar and they started cranking out short films. Those innovative animated shorts caught the eye of a little production company called Walt Disney Pictures—maybe you’ve heard of them?—who made a deal with Pixar to produce one computer-animated flick per year. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar outright. (Source)
Basically, Pixar has always gotten by with a little help from its friends.
Up fits the mold of Pixar’s fun-filled, visually stunning repertoire. It’s hilarious, yet heartwarming. Still, the studio executives were anxious about its debut. For starters, there’s the fact that film stars a senior citizen. Second, at the time, Up’s $175-million-dollar production budget made it one of Pixar’s most expensive movies ever.
Finally, when Up was released in 2009, the live-action side of Disney Pictures was having a less-than stellar year. Remember the Jonas Brothers? Nick, Joe, and the other one? We want to say…Larry? Their 3-D concert movie didn’t exactly draw pop music fans out in droves, and the studio’s other high-profile release, Confessions of a Shopaholic, underperformed, as well (source). Simply put, Pixar felt the pressure to maintain their awesome track record, and their parent company, Disney, needed a big, fat hit.
Ooh La La
So Pixar did what every nervous film studio dreams of doing: they went to the French Riviera.
Up opened the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 3D…and was a smash. Why do we care? Well, first, opening the festival is a huge honor that the thoroughly French film festival only bestows upon thoroughly French films.
Second, animated films—and ones in 3D, no less—never, ever open Cannes.
“As I have so often said, if Cannes ever opens its festival with a 3D animated feature, I'll believe houses can fly,” quipped Roger Ebert in his Up review. “I am a doubter no longer” (source). Those higher-ups at Pixar and Disney quickly became believers, too. Up’s success at Cannes calmed their fears and proved that Up was ready to charm the pants off audiences worldwide.
A Winning Formula
While Up may feature an unconventional elderly star, the movie sticks to Pixar’s winning formula as a production company. It’s “challenging, emotionally and narratively, but it trusts viewers to keep up,” explains the A.V. Club. “Pixar has never been interested in talking down to children or their parents” (source).
Up is Pixar at its finest: it brings the funny, it brings the emotion, and it wraps it all up in a sophisticated, technologically dazzling package.