Pixar is in the midst of the greatest streak of hits in Hollywood history. Every film in the company's history - from 1995's Toy Story to 2007's delightful Ratatouille ($29.99; Disney)- has been a critical and commercial success. Every single one. Not even Uncle Walt could make that claim - though Disney's catalog was so carefully mined that even "flops" like Fantasia eventually turned a profit. It's the cinematic equivalent of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak for the Yankees. We may never see its like again.
Pixar has released eight feature films in 12 years. Since Toy Story 2, every single one has grossed at least $200 million in the US and at least $460 million worldwide. (That doesn't include DVD sales and a host of other revenue streams - just total box office.) And they've done it in a world of massively increased competition for animated films with everything from the Shrek franchise to Japan's Spirited Away to Ice Age achieving huge success as well. And except for Toy Story 2 (not even another Incredibles, which begs for a new adventure), they've done it without a sequel.
And they haven't played it safe. Pixar knew 2006's Cars wasn't going to be a slam dunk overseas - it's a film that plays off NASCAR, after all. And when the film debuted and its first weekend was "only" $60 million, analysts screamed that the film was a flop, a disaster, that Disney had overpaid for Pixar and the honeymoon was over. Then it quietly went on to gross $244 million in the US (right in line with most of their movies), an unexpectedly healthy $217 million overseas and enjoyed a bonanza of mechandising.
When Ratatouille opened to an even lower $47 million, the analysts apparently had learned their lesson and didn't say a peep. They got smart. (Maybe it was the fact that Ratatouille has been one of the best reviewed movies of the year and could be a long shot to become the second animated film in history to be nominated for Best Picture.)
Ratatouille - about a rat who yearns to be a master chef in Paris - seemed even less likely to have universal appeal. Clearly, Pixar wasn't trying to top itself with even bigger grosses every time out. But it grossed $200 million in the US and $400 million overseas for a whopping $600 million worldwide, ranking it third on Pixar's all-time list, just behind The Incredibles and Finding Nemo on worldwide grosses.
Do these box office figures matter? Yes, because they reflect success for artists that don't try and repeat themselves, for a studio that greenlights picture they assume won't have as wide an appeal as previous hits but knows they're worth making, for a company that funds envelope-pushing, delightful shorts (buy Pixar Short Films Collection for $29.99 from Disney to get 13 great examples) that work as a farm system for the directors of the future even though those shorts have almost no commercial upside. The rest of Hollywood could learn a lot from Pixar.
Also out this week: Sicko ($29.95; Weinstein) - Michael Moore's most entertaining film since Roger & Me - has one simple message: the US healthcare system is broken, we can do better and a lot of other countries do in fact do better and let's see what they're doing and steal their best ideas; Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who ($29.98; Universal) reminds us what a great band they were thanks to terrific archival footage and present-day interviews; Professor Richard Brown is just as painfully effusive in his praise as James Lipton (Brown calls Cuba Gooding Jr. a personal hero), but he generally stays out of the way in these 16 interviews on Movies 101 ($39.98; City Lights), so the smarter the subject (Martin Scorsese, for example) the more rewarding it is; bewilderingly out of touch and clueless, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry ($29.98; Universal) is at least balanced our karmically this week by the release of the indie gay flick Long-Term Relationship ($24.95; Here); I suppose there's no real damage done by constantly re-releasing new editions of classic films, but why bother putting out Chinatown ($14.99; Paramount) with only a collection of documentary shorts less than an hour long (and mis-identified on the box) or the sequel The Two Jakes ($14.99; Paramount) with only one short less than 20 minutes long; Stephen Colbert may have fallen short in his bid for the Presidency but at least he's overstuffed the ballot box when it comes to The Best Of The Colbert Report ($19.99; Paramount) with nearly three hours of footage from his show; Barry Manilow: The First Television Specials ($39.99; Rhino) collects five TV specials of the unlikely pop star and is the perfect holiday gift if you're friends with super-fan Craig Ferguson; Tom Hanks narrates Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon ($19.98; HBO), a very kid-oriented look at space travel; Election ($19.95; Tartan) is the best movie by the over-praised director Johnnie To; you can't overpraise Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five ($64.98; Warner Bros.) even though it follows four previous sets bursting with gems as well; documentary filmmaker Michael Apted hopes to replicate his Up series by following married couples over the years in Married in America 2 ($26.95; Docurama); and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fanatics can rejoice over a new collection Volume 12 ($59.95; Rhino) that somehow avoided getting released on DVD before now.
Pixar has released eight movies: Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars and Ratatouille. Which is your favorite? Your least favorite? And why are they so tremendously successful? Me, I love Toy Story 2 for being such a great sequel, followed closely by The Incredibles.