Investors And Merchandisers Worried About Pixar's Up?

One of the items making the rounds today is an article in the New York Times titled "Pixar's Art Leaves Profit Watchers Edgy". The article claims that Wall Street and toy retailers are not excited about Pixar's new film Up, and some analysts have even downgraded Disney's shares to sell last month citing a poor outlook for Up's Box Office and merchandising prospects.

Disney's chief executive Robert A. Iger is quoted with the following response:

"We seek to make great films first. If a great film gives birth to a franchise, we are the first company to leverage such success. A check-the-boxes approach to creativity is more likely to result in blandness and failure."

I wish this could be said of all Disney films, but it seems more appropriate in relation to Pixar. Toy story 3 director Lee Unkrich responded on Twitter with "Make a great movie, and they will come."

As for the film's merchandising, the article mentions that Thinkway Toys, which has been releasing toys for every Pixar-released film since 1995's Toy Story, will not produce a single product for Up. Disney Stores will offer some Up-related products, but only on a limited basis.

No one believes that kids will want to play with a figure of a cranky old man, a house that flies with balloons, a small chubby wilderness explorer or a talking dog. It seems to me that at very least, Doug, the talking Dog has a ton of merchandise potential. Director Pete Docter is quoted as saying that he "wanted more 'Dumbo' and less 'Star Wars'" and that "In certain parts, it's more of a feeling we're going after than linear storytelling." Those two statements could be very scary for merchandisers or Wall Street.

But why not give Pixar the benefit of the doubt? They have a proven track record of nine feature films, right? Pixar has yet to have a commercial failure despite the fact that their later movies have been viewed as less and less commercial (Ratatouille, WALL-E and now Up). But one could argue that the last two releases have also been the two worst performers in the Emmeryville-based animation studio's history.

The quote about wanting "more of a feeling" than "linear storytelling" sounds like something a filmmaker at Sundance would say, not a director of a $150-$200 million computer animated Disney movie. But I think that the unusual stories are the main reason that makes Pixar works so incredibly well.

If and when Disney begins to second guess the animation studio and the stories they develop, it will be then, and only then, that everything will begin to fall apart. If you start with marketable talking animals with smiley faces, you're bound to end up with a DreamWorks Animated film.