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Laremy Legel

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Member of the BFCA and OFCS, writer of criticism, noted interviewer, box office oracle, walker of dog named Bugsy, Qui audet adipiscitur.

Did Pixar and Disney Switch Brains?

In 2006, Disney and Pixar merged. This was a big deal for many reasons, but the main thrust of the controversy was that two iconic animation houses had joined forces to form one Voltron-like entity. How would they co-exist? What effect would they have on each other’s work? In the end, would Disney’s princesses or Pixar’s whimsy win out? Folks were worried about The Mouse House infringing on the golden age of Pixar, and the Internet was aflutter with conjecture and theories, most of them firmly favoring a silo’d “leave Pixar alone!” method.

And then, here in 2012, something strange happened, an outcome no one could have predicted. Disney and Pixar switched brains.

Record scratch noise, what am I talking about? Well, just this, “Brave” — the story of an ancient princess, directed by a crew that had previously worked on “The Prince of Egypt” — was released by Pixar. Meanwhile, Andrew Stanton of Pixar fame was directing a Disney summer tentpole, “John Carter.” This weekend featured “Wreck-It Ralph,” with executive producer John Lasseter right there in the credits, the very fella who built Pixar Animation. Yes indeed, Disney made a film about a video game world where the characters were real (Hi, “Toy Story!”) while Pixar released a movie about a princess fighting against her constraints (Hello there, “Cinderella”!). And it wasn’t just the themes and talent involved! Consider the story arcs …

BraveIn “Brave,” Princess Merida doesn’t want to follow the path that’s been laid out for her by traditional social norms. To be fair, Pixar had come under criticism for rarely featuring female protagonists, so it made perfect sense that they’d go the “strong female lead” route, but nothing is less “Pixar” than a princess tale, and they’d heretofore eschewed all tropes. Previous Pixar films featured a robot, an old guy, toys come to life, monsters and a lost fish child. Pixar was the natural hyper-realized animated yin to Disney’s uber-fairy tale yang.

Disney, for it’s part, had been one of the last holdouts of hand-drawn animation, and they tended to dabble in stories with clear “good” and “bad” guys (Think Simba vs. Jafar). And then came “Wreck-It Ralph,” itself a hyper-realized tale that deals with the grey areas of labels.

The transformation is now complete, the brain transfusion fully realized, Pixar’s computerized whimsy being subsumed by Disney’s enormous pool of resources. It all happened right before our eyes, but it’s probably more of an outlier than a trend, because objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

So what will the future hold for these newly cross-pollinated titans? Will Pixar re-write the princess genre to gibe with its previously counter-culture punk rock storytelling methods? Will Disney decide to take Nemo out for another spin, but this time with Ursula as the foil?

Sort term, no, none of this will happen, as Pixar has “Monsters University” on the horizon, and you can count on Disney to continue re-releasing its historical catalog in 3-D, further submersing them into Disney Princess land. But long term? It seems clear that both icons will continue to dip into each other’s strengths, muddling each brand until there’s nothing left but (hopefully) great films that have elements of both animation houses.

As for the golden ages of Disney and Pixar? They’re certainly over individually, but that’s no reason not to hope for a strong resurgence, dynamically fused from both cultures. Yep, you guessed it, bring on the robot princesses.


Categories: Features

Tags: Brave, Disney, Pixar, Wreck-It Ralph