In 2009, shortly after the release of Up and just prior to the completion of Toy Story 3, Pixar were the recipients of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Venice Film Festival. It was a surprising choice. The award came only 14 years after the studio released its first film Toy Story in 1995. But it was also shocking because the Venice Film Festival is considered a festival of high art, a place where previous lifetime achievements had been given to surrealist Blue Velvet director David Lynch and legendary film editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
The award, controversial in many ways, signified that Pixar wasn't just making popular and lucrative blockbusters but confirmed them as the most groundbreaking, artistic and forward-thinking team in the animation genre since Disney first emerged back in the 1930s. The award was the least of Pixar's accomplishments too. All of their movies had been met with rapturous critical acclaim and won more Best Animated Movie Oscars than any other studio.
Shortly after, however, the days of Pixar's reign in the animation genre began to dwindle. The original ideas and innovative approaches to storytelling for which they were celebrated (like paying tribute to silent films by having no dialogue for the first half of Wall-E) appeared to be coming to an end. Pixar began to surrender to what many of its competitors were doing instead; taking all of their old ideas and rehashing them as sequels. Despite the fact that Cars is regarded as their weakest film, a second lap went into production (many believe this was a cynical attempt to once again cash in on the film's popular merchandise). Furthermore, Monsters Inc. was given a prequel that had no interest in expanding on the original story but lazily explored the origins of its characters Mike and Sully. The latter was met with only a lukewarm response. The former suffered from vitriolic critical scorn and derision.
When Pixar's response to the disappointment was to announce even more sequels - Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 are all currently in production - it seemed like their originality had well and truly disappeared. Meanwhile, other studios began to pick up where Pixar left off. Dreamworks began producing its best work to date with the somewhat Pixar inspired How To Train Your Dragon series and Disney returned to form with Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and The Princess And The Frog. This is not to mention the emergence of eccentric outsiders like ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls makers Laika too.
It is for this reason that Inside Out, Pixar's latest film which is out in the United Kingdom as of today, is absolutely essential for Pixar fans. For starters, it is an original film. From the mind of Up creator Pete Doctor and their regular story artist Ronaldo Del Carmen, Inside Out is set inside the mind of a young girl who moves from Midwest America to the coastal city of San Francisco, making protagonists out of her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust) as she adjusts to her new home and life. The originality of the movie proves that Pixar is still capable of what made them such a popular and well-loved studio; their ability to push the boundaries of what kids films can be while being compelling and moving at the same time.
Inside Out is already regarded as something of a modern classic having received five star reviews from Empire, The Times, The Independent, Sky Movies, Total Film and The Telegraph to name but a few. It has also proven to be an unstoppable force in the box office. In just one month since its US release, Inside Out has become Pixar's third highest grossing film of all time. It could, in fact, grow into their biggest following the UK release and its impending release in countries like Italy, China, Germany and more. The critical and financial success of Inside Out - not to mention having one hand on another Best Animated Film award come next year's Oscars - could be as important for the studio as it is for those who enjoy watching their films.
If Pixar were fearful of taking risks on original movies that don't have the built-in audience sequels do, Inside Out's incredible figures prove otherwise. People, it seems, are not just happy to see Pixar make fresh and innovative movies. They actively want Pixar to make them. And doing so is where Pixar are at their most artistically and financially successful. The amazing performance and reception to Inside Out sends a clear message about this to Pixar: less lazy sequels, more creativity. After all, it is what has made them a force to be reckoned with in the genre for the last twenty years, and could continue to do so for many more to come.