What Pixar Does To Keep Their Movies From Sucking

Illustration for article titled 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've 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've 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've got to, right?



I'm an absolute Pixar nut but they've been disappointing over the last few years. Obviously the holy-shit streak of Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 was not going to last forever, but I didn't expect such an abrupt and steep fall.

Cars 2 was... Cars 2 (and don't get me wrong, I enjoy the first), Brave felt like an excellent idea that went off the rails after the first act and never quite got back on track, Monsters U was fun but kind of soulless, and more sequels are coming... who knows, they could be great, but it's disheartening nonetheless. MU was actually the first Pixar film since the 90s (!) I didn't see at midnight or opening night.

Even so, I'm sure it'll only take one great movie to bring the magic back. Because Pixar.