What Pixar Does To Keep Their Movies From Sucking

What Pixar Does To Keep Their Movies From Sucking

While many Pixar films are beloved box office hits, they often don’t start out that way. In fact, if you ask Ed Catmull — the president of Disney and Pixar’s animation studios — he’d be the first to tell you that Pixar movies “suck” — at least early on.

Eventually, of course, they turn it around and make the movies that we know and love. Their secret? “The Braintrust,” according to a post over at Fast Company. Every few months, a group of expert storytellers and Pixar employees get together to discuss Pixar films. They give each other candid feedback and don’t hold back, ultimately reshaping the films as they go along.

The meetings sound fascinating. Here’s how a Braintrust meeting affected Wall-E:

Take WALL-E, which was known, early on, as Trash Planet. For a long time, that movie ended with our googly-eyed trash-compactor robot saving his beloved droid, EVE, from destruction in a Dumpster. But something about that ending never quite felt right. We had countless discussions about it. The confusing thing was that the romantic plotline seemed right. Of course WALL-E would save EVE — he’d fallen in love with her the moment he saw her. In a sense, that was precisely the flaw. And it was Brad who pointed that out to Andrew in a Braintrust meeting. “You’ve denied your audience the moment they have been waiting for,” he said, “the moment where EVE throws away all her programming and goes all out to save WALL-E. Give it to them. The audience wants it.” As soon as Brad said that, it was like: Bing! Andrew went off and wrote an entirely new ending.

And here’s how a Braintrust meeting affected Toy Story 3:

Michael Arndt remembers it was Andrew, meanwhile, who gave a Braintrust note onToy Story 3 that fundamentally altered the end of that movie’s second act. At that point in the film, Lotso, the pink teddy bear and mean-spirited leader of the day-care-center toys, is overthrown after the toys’ mutiny. But the mutiny wasn’t believable, because the impetus behind it didn’t ring true. “In that draft,” Michael told me, “I had Woody giving this big, heroic speech about what a mean guy Lotso was, and it changed everyone’s mind about Lotso. But in the Braintrust, Andrew said, ‘I don’t buy it. These toys aren’t stupid. They know Lotso isn’t a good guy. They have only aligned themselves with him because he’s the most powerful.’ ” This sparked a pitched discussion, until Michael hit on an analogy: If you think of Lotso as Stalin and the other toys as his cowering subjects, then Big Baby, the bald-headed doll with one droopy eye who acts as Lotso’s enforcer, was Stalin’s army. A fix began to emerge. “If you flip the army, you get rid of Stalin,” Michael said. “So the question was, What can Woody do that will turn Big Baby’s sympathies against Lotso? That was the problem I faced.”

The solution — revealing that Lotso’s duplicity had led Big Baby to be abandoned by his little girl owner — was all Michael’s, but he never would have found it without the Braintrust.

You can read more about how the Braintrust, how it works, and how it’s affecting upcoming Pixar films here. Otherwise…I can’t help but wonder if the Braintrust ever sits down and discusses some of the bonkers theories people have come up with about Pixar films — they have got to, right?


    • I always wanted to write a prequel, where the cars took over the earth, slaughtering all the people. Inside the cars behind their eyeball-windscreens are the decaying bodies of their previous owners.
      Not sure Pixar is going to go with my pitch.

    • @thats_mr_n00b

      Planes wasn’t done by Pixar. It was made by DisneyToon Studios and had no involvement from Pixar.

      You should note that it was still successful, and there is already a sequel in the works.

    • Planes is not a Pixar film. Uses the ‘Cars’ ‘universe’ because Disney own Pixar.

      • Was ‘Brave’ Pixar? Because that was such a generic movie which seemed completely out of place for them

        • I think the director was kicked out half way through and taken over by Disney. Not 100% accurate though, need to research it some more.

          • It’s Pixar, though it does weirdly have 3 directors.

            Excitingly, for me at least, one of them was Steve Purcell. He of “Sam and Max” fame.

          • The point is “taken over by Disney” is a misnomer. Disney owns Pixar, they already had control from the start. Pixar makes the movies Disney want them to make.

          • And who manages Disney Animation Studios? John Lassetter, chief creative officer at Pixar.

        • ‘Brave’ was, yes. Such a great opening half hour that really fell in a heap after that. Shame.

      • From Wikipedia:

        Despite not being produced by Pixar, the film was co-written and executive produced by Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter, who directed the Cars films.

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