In early February, Pixar celebrated its 30th anniversary. You could host a Toy Story marathon in celebration, but if you don’t have enough Kleenex on hand to deal with the unattractive blubbering situation that would likely result, why not read these 15 facts about the legendary animation studio instead?
1. BEFORE MOVIES, PIXAR MADE COMMERCIALS.
In the early- to mid-1990s, before fully leaping into the feature film landscape, Pixar hired itself out to create commercials for companies like Tropicana, Life Savers, Listerine, Pillsbury, Trident, Volkswagen, and the California Lottery.
2. IT CHANGED OWNERS PARTLY BECAUSE OF A DIVORCE.
Pixar began life as a computer graphics division of George Lucas' Lucasfilm. One of the factors leading to Lucasfilm’s sale of Pixar in the mid-1980s is that Lucas was going through a costly divorce, which required that he shell out a lot of money to his (ex-)wife (and Star Wars co-editor) Marcia Lucas. In 1986, Pixar became its own company, with Steve Jobs as one of its major investors.
3. THE STUDIO HAS HAD GREAT AWARDS SEASON SUCCESS WITH ITS SHORT FILMS.
Pixar’s tradition of releasing a short film with every feature began with Geri’s Game, which was released with 1998's A Bug’s Life. So far, two of those theatrically-released shorts have won Oscars (Geri’s Game and For the Birds). In addition, the company's 1988's short Tin Toy won the Oscar for Best Animated Short.
4. PIXAR’S FEATURES CLEAN UP AT THE OSCARS.
Since the introduction of the Best Animated Feature Oscar category in 2001, only three Pixar films haven’t been nominated: Cars 2, Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur. Of its 10 nominated features, only two—Monsters, Inc. and Cars—failed to win; they were defeated by Shrek and Happy Feet, respectively. With Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar is also responsible for two of the three animated films ever to be nominated for Best Picture; the other is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991).
5. JOHN LASSETER TOOK THE WIENERMOBILE TO THE OSCARS.
In 1996, after the release of Toy Story, John Lasseter (the company's chief creative officer) became the first person to win a Special Achievement Oscar, a specific award given out between 1972 and 1995, for an animated film (although Richard Williams won one for the animation direction in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), specifically “for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.” His transportation to the ceremony was an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile—"an Oscar winner in an Oscar wiener," quipped Lasseter.
6. DREAMWORKS (ALLEGEDLY) RIPPED THEM OFF.
If you’re wondering whether it’s a coincidence that Pixar’s A Bug’s Life came out the same year as DreamWorks’ similarly bug-themed Antz, the answer is “probably not.” In 1994, Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had been one of Pixar’s major supporters, left the company to found DreamWorks after being passed over for a promotion. Pixar’s John Lasseter kept in touch with Katzenberg and spoke to him about their upcoming film, A Bug’s Life; according to Lasseter, Katzenberg specifically asked when the film would come out. Months later, DreamWorks announced that not only were they making Antz, but that it would come out two months before A Bug’s Life. “It’s sad, because they clearly stole the idea from us,” Lasseter later said, “but we haven’t worried about that too much. We’ve put it behind us.” A Bug’s Life went on to earn more than twice as much as Antz.
7. THE STUDIO'S FIRST PROJECT HAD SOME NODS TO MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.
Pixar’s first short film was 1984’s The Adventures of André and Wally B., about a young boy being chased by a bee. It was originally titled My Breakfast with André, a reference to Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981); Wally B. the bee was named after that film’s star, Wallace Shawn. Wally B. later appears as a patch on a little girl’s backpack in Toy Story 3.
8. PIXAR’S DIRECTORS ARE ALSO ACTORS.
Pixar routinely taps its behind-the-scenes talent to do voice work. The most widely-known case of this practice is director Brad Bird voicing superhero costume designer Edna "E" Mode in The Incredibles. Andrew Stanton, co-director of Finding Nemo, voiced its surfer dude turtle Crush in addition to Toy Story 2’s Emperor Zurg. Screenwriter and Cars co-director Joe Ranft was Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug’s Life and Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2, among other characters.
9. DISNEY ALMOST MADE ITS OWN PIXAR SEQUELS.
Following a falling-out between Pixar and then-distribution partner Disney, Disney announced plans to do their own version of Toy Story 3, plus sequels to Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., without Pixar’s involvement. Much to the chagrin of Pixar, this would have been perfectly legal, as Disney owned the rights to all characters from Pixar films distributed during their partnership. Disney even went so far as to set up a facility to make their own Toy Story 3, which would have seen Buzz recalled to a Taiwanese toy factory. Those plans were scrapped after Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006.
10. THE STUDIO TAKES ITS FEMALE ANATOMY VERY SERIOUSLY.
Knick Knack is a 1989 short film about a snowman trying to break out of his snow globe so that he can party with his summer-themed counterparts, which all sounds innocent enough. But there was a problem: The movie's mermaid and bikini babe characters were originally modeled after pinups, but before the film got packaged with Finding Nemo, their breast size was reduced. It wasn’t, as many suspected, Disney’s doing. According to Lasseter, “really it was our own choice ... It was just crossing the line for me personally as a father, so I made the decision to reduce breast size.”
The short Tin Toy, which garnered Pixar its first Oscar in 1989, also got in on the breast physics game. According to David A. Price, author of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, one of the female toys “was modeled with controls for her brassiere called ‘lift’ and ‘separate,’ so that one could animate her breasts if one were so inclined.”
11. A LAWSUIT ALMOST DELAYED MONSTERS, INC.’S RELEASE.
In 2001, a copyright lawsuit almost resulted in Monsters, Inc.’s release being delayed a mere one day before it was supposed to hit theaters. The plaintiff in the case was author/songwriter Lori Madrid, who claimed that Pixar ripped off her poem, “There’s a Boy In My Closet," and asked that the judge grant an injunction against Pixar releasing the film. On November 1, a day before Monsters, Inc. was set to come out, the judge denied the injunction; months later, he ruled against Madrid.
12. MONSTERS, INC. WAS ACCUSED OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT—AGAIN.
Madrid’s wasn’t the only Monsters, Inc. lawsuit Pixar faced. They were also sued by artist Stanley Miller, a.k.a. “Stanley Mouse,” who alleged that Pixar ripped off his character design; a one-eyed monster named “Wise G’Eye” became a particular point of contention. Pixar settled in 2006, before the case went to trial.
13. BOO FROM MONSTERS, INC. WAS ORIGINALLY THE COMPANY'S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN CHARACTER.
In Monsters, Inc., the character of Boo started out as a grown man and was changed into a strong-willed six-year-old girl, an Irish girl who calls Mike a “wee leppy karn,” and an African-American character; if that change had stuck, Boo would have been Pixar’s first African American character.
14. THE COMPANY WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR A KEY STAR TREK MOMENT.
The team that would later become Pixar—at the time, they were a division of Lucasfilm—was responsible for the "Genesis effect" scene in 1982's Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Later, the Pixar crew created a scene in 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes where a stained glass knight comes to life.
15. TOY STORY 3 IS ITS BIGGEST FINANCIAL SUCCESS.
The highest-grossing Pixar film to date is Toy Story 3, which took in more than $1 billion worldwide. The lowest Pixar gross belongs to their most recent film, The Good Dinosaur, with just over $329 million.
The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, David A. Price
The Films of Pixar Animation Studio, James Clarke.