This weekend, Monsters University becomes Pixar’s 14th feature film, the latest addition to an exceptional body of work that started nearly 20 years ago with Toy Story. Pixar is coming off 2 movies that did not quite live up to the impeccable reputation built by the first 11, so it is up for discussion whether the animation studio can ever recapture that magic or must settle into a new phase. At this fork in the road I present Pixar by the Numbers, a feature that provides a numbers-based snapshot of each Pixar movie and its place in the filmography by looking at the box office, critical reception, and miscellaneous facts.
Hit the jump for a comprehensive review of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monster’s, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University.
Worldwide Gross: $362 million
- 1991 – Year that Disney and Pixar signed a three-picture deal, the first of which was Toy Story. The deal awarded 10% of Toy Story’s profits to Pixar.
- 77 – Runtime in minutes, making this the shortest Pixar movie by more than 10 minutes.
- 11/19/1993 – The day the movie nearly fell apart. The Pixar team presented an early draft that Disney hated, partly because Woody came across as a “sarcastic jerk.” Production was nearly shut down, but Pixar instead promised an entirely revamped story in two weeks that looked a lot closer to the final version.
- $30 million – Listed production budget. Toy Story is by far the cheapest movie Pixar ever made, paling in comparison to the $200+ million budgets of the recent movies.
- 110 – Staff members who worked on the film, including 27 animators. That number also grew considerably over the years.
- 114,240 – Frames of animation in the final film, requiring 800,000 machine hours to render at 2‑15 hours per frame.
- $75 million – Break-even point specified by Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs: “If it gets $100 million, [Pixar and Disney will] both make money. But if it’s a real blockbuster and earns $200 million or so at the box office, we’ll make good money, and Disney will make a lot of money.”
- ∞ – Where Buzz Lightyear will go to. (And beyond.)
Ah, the one that started it all. I wish I could give you the exact number of times I watched this on videocassette as a kid. I would need three digits. Given that this was the first feature film to be entirely produced with computer animation, it looks a little rough around the edges compared to the new stuff. But boy, is the story timeless.
A Bug’s Life
Worldwide Gross: $363 million
- 1988 – Year that Disney conceived of Army Ants, a movie about “a pacifist worker ant that teaches important lessons to his militaristic colony through his independent thinking.” The idea never made it out of development.
- 7 – Samurai in Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which serves as the basis for the story of A Bug’s Life.
- 8 – Number of general designs of individual ants used for crowd scenes. The animators only needed to draw 4-5 groups of these 8 universal ants and replicate to represent 800 ants of an ant colony in the frame.
- 2.40:1 – Aspect ratio of A Bug’s Life, the first computer animated movie to use this anamorphic ratio.
- 54 – Days between the release of Antz (October 2) and A Bug’s Life (November 25). Dreamworks moved its bug movie Antz from March 1999 to October 1998 to beat A Bug’s Life to theaters.
- $185 million – Difference in worldwide gross between Antz ($172 million) and A Bug’s Life ($363 million) despite the date shift.
A Bug’s Life often gets lost in the shuffle when rattling off a list of the great Pixar films. But it proved that Toy Story was not a fluke, that this Pixar company was on to something with their computer animation. Plus, it introduced the idea of a fake animated blooper reel, which at the time, was the most ingeniously funny idea 10-year-old me had ever encountered.
Toy Story 2
Worldwide Gross: $485 million
- 1997 – Year when Disney and Pixar officially announced they would make a sequel to Toy Story with Ash Brannon in charge as director.
- 9 – Months taken to complete the entire movie. Toy Story 2 was originally supposed to be a direct-to-video sequel, but Disney liked the early footage and renegotiated for a theatrical release that ended up creating a time crunch. Pixar was internally unhappy with the product, so Lasseter took over the production as director and rushed it through production. Brannon and Lee Unkrich were credited as co-directors on the final product.
- 2 – Days taken for the “story summit” at John Lasseter’s house. Lasseter invited Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Joe Ranft and others over one weekend to hammer out the finished story that they pitched to the studio on Monday.
- 2 million – Dust particles animated for the scene where Woody meets Wheezy on the dusty top shelf.
- 3:02 – Length of “When She Loved Me,” the song that plays uninterrupted over Jessie’s flashback. Composer Randy Newman was concerned that young children would grow restless during a 3-minute ballad.
- 12 – Years Pixar took to sequelize any of their other properties until Cars 2 in 2011.
There is an argument to be made that Toy Story 2 is the best sequel of all time. I can only find one other case where both the first movie and its sequel earned a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein). But back in the days before the Best Animated Feature category was created, Toy Story 2 landed just one Oscar nomination, for Best Original Song. The “When She Loved Me” scene is a contender for the most beautiful sequence Pixar ever created, but the song lost to fellow Disney nominee “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan.
Worldwide Gross: $525 million
- 30 – Age of the man who had to deal with monsters in writer/director Pete Docter’s original idea for the movie. The idea was the monsters this man drew as a boy came back to haunt him as an adult.
- 3 – Age of Boo in the movie. They considered having an older child at the center of the plot, between the ages of 6-12. In the end, Docter decided Boo should be 3 because, “The younger she was, she became the more dependent on Sulley.”
- 1998 – Year when the character Mike Wazowski was added to the movie. Docter and his team started working on the script in 1996. It wasn’t until development artist Ricky Nierva sketched the character in April 1998 that Mike was created, and soon became the co-lead in the story.
- 0 – Arms Mike had in the original character design. The plan was for Mike to use his legs as appendages, but that caused difficulties in animation, so they gave him arms.
- 6 – Legs on the octopus behind the bar in the scene at the restaurant. The restaurant was named Harryhausen in tribute to Ray Harryhausen, a legend for his stop-motion monster creations in such movies as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. The octopus he designed for It Came from Beneath the Sea also only had 6 legs due to budget restrictions.
- 2.3 million – Individually animated hairs on Sulley. It took 11-12 hours to render a single frame with Sulley in it.
- 2319 – The code number called out in the scene where a monster leaves the human world with a white sock stuck to his back. The 23rd and 19th letters of the alphabet are W and S, respectively, perhaps standing for “white sock.”
- 4 – Movies that feature both John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. Monsters, Inc. was the fourth teaming of Goodman/Buscemi and the first that wasn’t a Coen brothers movie.
If you discount my nostalgia for Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. is my favorite Pixar movie. It has so much heart, and the chase through the doors is such a thrilling climactic sequence. And the look on Sulley’s in the very last shot of the movie… gets me every time. I stated in last summer’s iteration of Pixar by the Numbers: “I am nervous about Monsters University, the upcoming prequel set ten years before the events of Monsters, Inc., because Docter isn’t returning to direct and there’s no Boo.” We’ll get to that on page 2.
Worldwide Gross: $868 million
- 1992 – Year when director writer/director Andrew Stanton took his son to Marine World. Stanton imagined that the underwater world would look beautiful in computer animation.
- 1997 – Year when pre-production began. Stanton took his son for a walk in the park earlier that year, but found he ruined the opportunity to bond with his son by worrying too much about protecting the boy. He incorporated that theme into the story.
- 150 – Age of Crush, the sea turtle that helps Marlin and Dory in their search for Nemo. Stanton did the voice of Crush for the story reel with plans to cast a voice actor later. The character was popular in test screenings, so Stanton kept his voice for Crush in the final film.
- 3 – Types of shapes used for the coral reef: “Tall vertical things, big flat horizontal things, and round masses.” The artists went scuba diving to study the look of the ocean and derived that simple formula for designing the coral reef.
- 40 million – Copies of the DVD sold as of 2006. As far as I can tell, Finding Nemo is still the bestselling DVD of all time. It broke the first-day record for home-release sales with 8 million copies.
I would say this is when Pixar became PIXAR, the company we speak of in hushed, reverent tones. The prior movies did very well with critics and audiences, but $868 million is rarified air. It shot up into the top 10 of both the domestic and worldwide box office charts. And it’s amazing.
Worldwide Gross: $631 million
- 1993 – Year when writer/director Brad Bird first drew the superhero family that became The Incredibles. Bird initially set up The Incredibles as a traditionally animated movie at Warner Bros. A tribute to the original hand-drawn design of the characters is in the end credits.
- 2003 – Year when Warner Bros. shut down the animated feature division due to the financial disaster of Looney Tunes Back in Action. Lasseter, who was friends with Bird at CalArts, used this opportunity to finally convince Bird to come to Pixar and make The Incredibles computer animated.
- 89 – Sets built for the production. A physical set would be built so that, with a camera, the team could see what each location should look like from different angles. For comparison, Monsters, Inc. had 31 sets.
- 4 – Days it took for Jason Lee to record his vocals as Syndrome. Craig T. Nelson recorded his vocals as Mr. Incredible over the span of two years.
- 1/10 – Fraction of a second to display images with LPICS. Pixar designed LPICS so lighting designers could make lighting changes and see the new image instantly. Previously, the process required 2000 seconds.
- 17.38 million – Copies of the DVD sold. The Incredibles was the highest-selling DVD of 2005.
- 866-787-7476 – The toll-free number on Mirage’s calling card. On a phone pad, one can spell out “suprhro” with the digits. The official web site initially required the user to input the phone number to access a deleted scene not included on the DVD. This requirement has since been removed and the phone line no longer works.
The Incredibles was the first PG movie in the filmography, and Pixar took the opportunity to target an older audience. The central theme, as voiced by the villain of the movie, is essentially “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” Take A.O. Scott’s response to that declaration:
“The intensity with which The Incredibles advances its central idea—it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand—is startling. At last, a computer-animated family picture worth arguing with, and about!”
The Incredibles cemented Pixar’s reputation as masters in the greater world of cinema rather than just kids’ movies.
Worldwide Gross: $462 million
- 66 – Famous route that inspired the movie. The original working title was Route 66, but was changed to Cars to avoid any confusion with the 1960s television show.
- 95 – Lightning McQueen’s racing number, a reference to Toy Story’s release in 1995. At one point in development, McQueen’s number was 57, a tribute to John Lasseter’s birth year.
- 117 – Runtime in minutes. Cars is the longest Pixar movie.
- $8 billion – Estimated merchandise sales as of February 2011. The Cars movies are on the lower end of Pixar’s filmography in terms of box office, but the franchise now brings in about $2 billion in global retail sales per year.
- 7 – Number of Pixar movies Joe Ranft worked on. He came to Pixar in 1991 as the head of the story department, and voiced a character in each feature, including Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2. Cars was his last film before he died in a car crash in 2005.
The first misstep, and even that is debatable. Cars is a solid movie—good, maybe even great. But Cars is more flawed than its immediate predecessors. I think of Cars as this massive commercial property, so I was surprised to see it “only” grossed $462 million worldwide, the lowest since A Bug’s Life. But I guess $8 billion more than makes up for it.
Head to page 2 for the numbers on Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University.