Is Toy Story the best, most consistent trilogy of all time? There’s a strong case: not only did it take almost $2bn at the box office, but each film is a five-star whopper in its own right – a boast no other trilogy beside The Lord Of The Rings has any business attempting to make. This achievement would probably be the towering, shining beacon in the oeuvre of any other studio, but what’s remarkable in Pixar’s case is that, individually, each Toy Story merely displays the standard of excellence with which Pixar has gradually become synonymous; not just in producing quality popular children’s entertainment but in crafting films a whole family can genuinely enjoy.
The original Toy Story, released way back when we were shitting in ditches in the Neolithic wasteland of 1995, was their feature film debut, and what a debut it was. Three years later came A Bug’s Life, an underrated, more conventional project which suffered from comparisons to Antz, and then Pixar hit an unparalleled 10-year run of form: Toy Story 2 (which carries a ‘fresh’ rating of 100% from meta-critic amalgamator Rotten Tomatoes), Monsters, Inc. (95%), Finding Nemo (98%), The Incredibles (97%), Cars (74%, but no disaster), Ratatouille (96%), Wall-E (96%), Up (98%), and then Toy Story 3 (99%). Usually, the only way to get a run of results this good is to be a dictator who competes in national sporting competitions.
Each of these films turned a healthy profit (no Pixar release since Toy Story has taken less than $460m) but, what’s more, they did so while taking some fairly alarming risks. Ratatouille was a kid’s film about a cooking rat – not a space cowboy, a wonderhorse or an acerbic anthropomorphic aardvark’s asexual adventures, but a rat who likes making fucking pasta and salad and stuff. Wall-E dealt with fairly serious environmental issues while having no dialogue at all for the first 20 minutes, while Up, beginning with perhaps the most depressing montage ever devised that didn’t have ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay farted across it, had a main character who was a crotchety old tosser. Pixar made successes and, arguably, classics out of premises that wouldn’t make it past security at most studios’ head offices. That their latest release is called Brave is more than a little apposite.
Alas, a reputation for quality – as with the chaffage of leather trousers, the obesity of eating naught but cheese and the pariah status that follows a penchant for excessive beard growth – comes with a downside: there isn’t so much a weight of expectation for Pixar films as an assumption that each will be revolutionarily superb, followed by a lazy fug of rage and entitlement if it isn’t.
The criticism that Braveis receiving, because it lacks the groundbreaking brilliance of its forebears, is incredibly harsh. Cars 2 – the coiled, ginger pube on Pixar’s otherwise delicious pizza – was annihilated by critics, who judged it not against the other films released that week but against the standards of Pixar’s own back catalogue, and Brave is receiving similar treatment. Cars 2 was crap, fine, but Brave is, objectively, excellent.
Even if Brave was shit it should still be judged on its own merits, not against the high water mark of a studio that deserves its reputation. That’s a reputation earned not by appealing to lowest common denominators or playing it safe, but by risk-taking, having a belief that kids aren’t quite as thumpingly stupid as most films aimed at them appear to believe, and by focusing on story, script, production and polish – facets collectively known as ‘quality’.
Pixar IS responsible for any negative press Brave receives – not because they’ve made a bad film, or even an average one, but because they bear the cross of being, arguably, the finest, most innovative and reliable film studio on the planet.