Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



Ratatouille (2007) Here is a movie that is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Pixar … and that’s a good thing. I wonder if ever, in the history of motion pictures, a studio has had a string of hits like this:

Worldwide Gross (rounded off)
Toy Story
A Bug’s Life
Toy Story 2
Monsters, Inc.
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles
Ratatouille $577,000,000 and counting
That is 4.270 billion dollars, friends and neighbors. Pixar can do no wrong. They plan to release something called WALL-E, about a lonely robot—basically a silent film, if you can believe that—in the summer of 2008. In 2009 there will be something called Up, concerning an old man, which flies in the face of all conventional wisdom about animated films. After that, Toy Story 3, and … wait for it … John Carter of Mars, an animated/live action film that has a built-in audience of billions, and has been under development of one sort of another since 1931(!!!) with such names as Robert Clampett, Ray Harryhausen, John McTiernan, Tom Cruise, Robert Rodriguez, Frank Frazetta, and Kerry Conran attached at one time or another. I’m not an ERB fan, but if Disney/Pixar, John Lasseter, Brad Bird and/or Andrew Stanton make it, I will go, enthusiastically.
So what is the secret of Pixar’s success? Several things, I believe, but here are the three most important ones: Story, story, and story! At any other studio in the business, if a film grosses $100,000,000 the following phone call is made from the studio chief to the grunts who get the work done: “Hacks in Hollywood just earned a hundred big ones. Work starts on Hacks in Hollywood 2 this afternoon. Oh, and round up a couple of writers. We’ll need a story, or something, I guess. And get me Bruce Willis’s agent.” John Lasseter, the creative head of Pixar (and now Disney, too) has this to say about sequels: “If we have a great story, we’ll do a sequel.” Story first, always.

And he admits it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that isn’t likely to ever feel stale, as it’s the basic coming-of-age story: “With the help of friends or family, a character ventures out into the real world and learns to appreciate his friends and family. At the core, it’s gotta be about the growth of the main character, and how he changes.” Works for me. Worked for Nemo, and Woody, and Lightning McQueen, and now it’s worked for Remy the Rat. I’d bet good money it will work for WALL-E, too.