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PIXAR’S PIXIE DUST

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 17, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Deseret News column is only seven years old, which makes it all the more interesting to see how far we’ve come, for good or ill, in terms of cartoon features dominating local cineplexes. It’s down right quaint that I was so surprised to see five animated films in the first six months of 2009. As my column in today’s Deseret News notes, in the first six months of 2016 we’ve had 12! Anyway, this June 12, 2009, Deseret News column extols Disney animated features of the past and suggests that Pixar usurped Disney’s stranglehold on that market until they joined  forces. Today, of course, Disney’s own animation department is every bit as successful as its Pixar arm, as demonstrated by “Frozen” and this year’s “Zootopia.”

Back in the olden days … when we used to watch movies on rocks … it was unusual to have a lot of advance information about upcoming movies.

Hard to believe, I know. Today we know everything about upcoming films. In fact, in my opinion, we know too much. It’s muted the magic. …

But I digress.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s we saw trailers a few weeks ahead for some films, and certain major blockbusters benefited from advance publicity to heighten awareness and build anticipation, and some theaters even passed out occasional flyers about films that were scheduled to come out over the summer or during the Christmas season.

But most of the time we didn’t really know what was opening until a film actually began its run.

The one big exception was Disney — and especially Disney animated features.

Thanks to “Disneyland,” the weekly TV program hosted by Walt Disney himself — which later went by “Walt Disney Presents” and “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and a number of other incarnations — there was never any doubt as to what the next Disney animated feature would be. Or which of the animated classics of the past would be reissued in theaters as part of the studio’s famous seven-year release cycle.

      

Back in those days, everyone — but especially kids — always looked forward to the next Disney cartoon feature. There was never any doubt that those produced by Walt Disney himself would be worth seeing.

There were, of course, non-Disney animated features every so often, and some weren’t bad, but there was really no competition.

Consider this 30-year roster, from 1937 through 1967: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “One Hundred and one Dalmatians,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Jungle Book.”

You can argue that some of these titles are more “classic” than others — but any way you slice it, that’s an impressive run. No wonder “Disney” became a brand that people trusted.

Even the admittedly impressive post-Walt animation resurgence enjoyed by the Disney studio in the early 1990s — from 1989’s “The Little Mermaid” through “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” — lasted only five years.

Animated features these days are no longer infrequent. Just this year we’ve already had five — with six months to go.

Today’s animated films are of widely varying quality, of course, including the Disney releases. Some are pretty good but most are mediocre.

Except for one studio that has managed to rise to the top — and stay there.

       

That’s right, Pixar. No surprise, I know. And hey, it’s also part of the 21st century Disney family. So in a way, Disney has begun yet another amazing run.

Not only has every Pixar feature been a huge financial success, each has received great reviews and been embraced as perennials by the general public — meaning both kids and adults.

“Toy Story” was the first in 1991, followed by “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Ratatouille,” “Wall-E” and now, “Up.”

When the Academy Awards came up with the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, it should have read, “Best Non-Pixar Animated Feature.”

Now if only someone could have that kind of success with live-action films.