Adjusted for inflation, Pixar’s films have generated a combined $2.65 billion at North American theaters, a spectacular showing. “Finding Nemo” in 2003 was the high point, selling $405.6 million in tickets.
Pixar’s last two films, “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille,” have been the studio’s two worst performers, delivering sales of $224 million and $216 million respectively, according to Box Office Mojo, a tracking service. Attendance for Pixar films has also dropped sharply over the years, suggesting that ticket price inflation helped prop up overall sales for “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille.”
Retailers, meanwhile, see slim merchandising possibilities for “Up.” Indeed, the film seems likely to generate less licensing revenue than “Ratatouille,” until now the weakest Pixar entry in this area. (“Cars” wears the merchandising crown, with sales of more than $5 billion.) . . .
Perhaps Wall Street would not care so much if Pixar seemed to care a little more. The co-director of “Up,” Pete Docter — who also directed “Monsters Inc.” — said in a recent question and answer session with reporters that the film’s commercial prospects never crossed his mind. “We make these films for ourselves,” he said. “We’re kind of selfish that way.”
John Lasseter, a co-founder of Pixar and now Disney’s chief creative officer, routinely says in interviews that marketability is not a factor in decisions about what projects to pursue. Instead of ideas that feel contemporary, he aims for stories that are rooted in the ages.
“Quality is the best business plan” is one of Mr. Lasseter’s favorite lines.
Pixar is also unique because of its origins. Today’s studios are four generations removed from their original immigrant entrepreneurs. They’re more like banks than movie companies, made up of employees all surrounded by constant reminders that they work for a mega-conglomerate always worried about making back its investment. Though owned by Disney, Pixar is still, creatively, the construct of Steve Jobs, a first-generation technological entrepreneur and visionary.
“We’re a studio of pioneers who, if you look at it technically, were the ones who invented much of computer animation” says Lasseter. “Everything we’ve done no one had done before—it was all new. So that creates a group of people who strive to break new ground. It’s addicting. When someone comes in and says, ‘This is something no one has ever done before,’ we all get excited. We have a company culture that celebrates being pioneers.”
He adds: “Because we’re a culture of inventors, nothing is standard operating procedure for us. We constantly reevaluate and reexamine everything we do. We go back and study what works and what didn’t work and we get excited about what didn’t work because, for us, that’s a challenging new problem to solve.”