Has Disney Animation Been Stealing Pixar’s Animated Magic?
With just over two weeks until the Oscars many of the categories still seem to be an open playing field. However, one that seems like a lock is Best Animated Feature, with Disney’s Frozen the runaway favorite. In addition, Frozen‘s “Let It Go” also has strong chances of winning the Oscar for Best Song.
Even if you’re like me and don’t consider the Oscars the end-all-be-all measurement of a movie’s quality, consider this: Frozen is an absolute box office juggernaut. It is the highest-grossing Disney Animation feature since 1994’s The Lion King and has had remarkable staying power, spending every weekend since the last weekend in November in the top ten at the U.S. box office. The soundtrack has also been incredibly successful, and Disney has even recently released a “sing-along” version of the movie to theaters which further demonstrates the popularity of Frozen‘s songs. In an interview with Fortune Magazine, Bob Iger has even called Frozen “my proudest moment as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company.”
Lost in all this Frozen-mania is the fact that Disney also released another well-received animated film in 2013, Pixar’s Monsters University. Though Disney has owned Pixar since 2006 and has distributed Pixar’s features since Pixar’s first feature Toy Story in 1995, you can’t blame Disney for taking pride in Frozen and somewhat ignoring Monsters University.
That’s because since Toy Story Pixar’s releases have always beaten Disney’s at the box office in their yearly match-ups. In some years the competition wasn’t even close — in 2003 Finding Nemo made $895.6 million worldwide versus Brother Bear‘s $250.4 million, in 2004 The Incredibles made $631.4 million worldwide versus Home on the Range‘s $104 million worldwide and in 2006 Cars made $462 million versus The Wild‘s $102.3 million (though like Toy Story, The Wild was only distributed by Disney). More importantly, those Pixar movies have continued to make money with home media and merchandise sales, while those Disney releases are largely forgotten and probably haven’t made a dime since their disappointing box office results.
But in recent years there has been a definite shift in Disney’s favor. 2011’s Cars 2 is generally considered Pixar’s first major blunder, and while Disney’s Winnie the Pooh fared very poorly at the box office that same year it was far better received by critics than Cars 2. Similarly, 2012’s Brave might have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and made more money, but Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph was also very successful financially, better received by critics, and a sequel is already in the works. However, 2013’s Frozen was not only better received critically than Monsters University, but it is the first time a Disney animated film beat its same-year Pixar counterpart at the box office after Pixar getting the upper hand thirteen straight times.
Furthermore, Pixar has had great success at the Oscars, winning every Oscar for Best Animated Feature it has ever been nominated for except for Cars. But 2011’s Cars 2 was the first Pixar feature to not be nominated since the inception of the award, and though Brave won the 2012 Oscar Monsters University was not nominated for this year’s award. While Monsters University was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Annie Award, Frozen won and remains the Oscar favorite.
In fact, it seems surprising at first that a non-Pixar Disney animated feature has never won the Best Animated Feature Oscar considering the studio built its reputation on its high-quality animated films. Many point to the fact that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was nominated for the 1991 Best Picture Oscar as the reason why the Academy eventually added a Best Animated Feature category. However, when one considers the quality of Disney’s animated output from the category’s creation in 2001 through the early 2000s it really isn’t surprising.
Undoubtedly, one of the major figures that can be credited with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ recent successes is Pixar’s own John Lasseter, who became the Chief Creative Officer at both Disney and Pixar when Disney purchased Pixar. He has served as the executive producer of all of Disney’s animated features since 2007, and though Lasseter alone can’t receive all the credit, his expanded role with Disney clearly ushered in a new era of storytelling that Disney Animation desperately needed.
For example, Lasseter revived he practice of creating animated shorts to play before Disney features in theaters, much like Pixar has done with its own releases. Because of that, Disney Animation won the 2012 Oscar for Best Animated Short for Paperman, the company’s first win in this category since winning the 1969 Oscar for It’s Tough to Be a Bird. The popularity of the retro Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse! (which plays before Frozen in theaters) makes it entirely possible that Disney might score back-to-back Oscars in this category for the first time since Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and It’s Tough to Be a Bird won in 1968 and 1969, respectively. The shorts program has received acclaim for pioneering techniques in animation, much like Pixar’s shorts program has developed the next generation of animation visionaries.
But it’s also possible that all this attention on Disney Animation has had a detrimental effect on Pixar for the past few years. Because of production issues with The Good Dinosaur, 2014 will be the first year since 2005 that there will be no new Pixar feature released. As a result, in 2015 Pixar will release two movies in a year for the first time with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, and the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory will follow in 2016. Truthfully, Pixar will likely regain some ground that it has lost to Disney with these releases. This is especially true since besides next year’s Marvel Comics animated feature Big Hero 6, all of Disney’s upcoming animated features are scheduled for 2016 or later.
But if Disney can maintain the quality of two animation powerhouses under its corporate umbrella, it’s a boon to both the company as a whole and fans of animation. We all ought to hope that Pixar’s recent stumbles are only temporary, while at the same time hope that Disney’s recent triumphs are permanent.