Top Film Industry Stories of 2015 #7:
Inside Out Brings Joy

By David Mumpower

January 19, 2016

Let him drive the bus or else.

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The problem with running a company as popular and successful as Pixar is simple. Past a certain point, you stop competing, not just with other filmmakers but also your own reputation. We’re discussing a company that can boast 21st century releases as diverse in tone but extraordinary in quality as The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille and Cars. Pixar has unintentionally created its own monster; consumers judge every new release against their entire back catalogue rather than based on its own merits.

As the release date approached for Pixar’s latest release, Inside Out, the Disney-owned studio experienced a rare amount of pressure. After the unprecedented popularity of Toy Story 3, the most triumphant Pixar blockbuster to date, the next two films in the “franchise” barely earned as much in combination. Audiences never warmed to Cars 2 or Brave, with the former title’s performance not that surprising. Pixar never expected that film to match the performance of its predecessor. Instead, its intent was to sustain and grow the Cars merchandising library that is among the most lucrative of all Disney properties.

Pixar’s frustration with Brave was a bit more noteworthy. Upper management had noted that most of the Pixar library appealed to women, but few films directly targeted them. Under the Disney umbrella, they attempted to craft a new concept that catered to pre-adult females in the same way that Cars shamelessly enticed boys into buying any shirt, vehicle, or blanket with Lightning McQueen on it. The tepid response to Brave in terms of domestic box office and critical reviews left Pixar wondering if they’d overreached.


Even in 2012, Pixar already knew that Inside Out would theoretically appeal to the same people who had just collectively shrugged at Brave. The pressure was on. That was true in the early days of Inside Out production, and then the situation escalated in 2013. While Disney was still basking in the glow of Monsters University’s unexpected popularity in becoming their third most popular global release, Pixar knew they had a problem. Their anchor 2014 title, The Good Dinosaur, simply wasn’t ready for primetime.

In September of 2013, they delayed The Good Dinosaur until the holiday 2015 season, thereby taking Pixar off the 2014 box office calendar. For the first time since 2005, they wouldn’t release a movie during a calendar year. The studio felt the ramifications of this almost immediately. By November of 2013, company execs accepted that they were carrying too much staff while having no upcoming revenue. 67 Pixar employees lost their jobs only weeks before Christmas. It was one of the lowest moments in the history of their business.

With a black mark on their resume, no 2014 release impending, and The Good Dinosaur now slotted after Inside Out, the female-friendly project became one of the most important since the early days of Pixar. People involved with The Good Dinosaur understood that no matter how much they changed it, they had a bomb on their hands. That perspective proved perceptive.

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