CNBCfix review: ‘Pixar Story’ may
help connect prime-time dots

          Posted: Saturday, June 26, 2010

CNBC since its inception has struggled to find ways to keep its healthy daytime audience plugged in during the evening hours. What used to be a somewhat eclectic mix of nighttime Wall Street programming, Jim Cramer reruns, original documentaries and self help has gradually given way in 2010 to a fair amount of non-CNBC material — namely, feature films and biographies.

"The Pixar Story," a documentary, is one of those films you'd probably never heard of. It had a limited theatrical run in 2007 and was picked up by the Starz channel, per Wikipedia, then included in a Pixar DVD boxed set. Someone at CNBC is on the ball, recognizing this gem as an impressive telling of an even more impressive business success.

Most laymen, asked to name a Silicon Valley success, will point to Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and others, but few would immediately name Pixar. This is a story where everything is done the right way: Very talented people, passionate about the work they do, attracting the right kind of investor who believes in the product and is willing to nurture it.

The hero is John Lasseter, who grew up fascinated by animation and, in a perfect example of a human being in the right place at the right time, became just the 2nd student in 1975 to enroll in a new animation course at the California Institute of the Arts taught by some of Disney's legendary Nine Old Men, a course that also included well-known Hollywood director Tim Burton. A pair of these Disney greats, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, Hall of Famers really in the category of entertaining people, appear in this documentary.

Lasseter got a job as an animator at Disney but, incredibly, was fired. He holds no grudge. The reasons apparently were half-valid: His "Tron"-fueled interest in developing computer-generated imagery didn't seem like a winner to the studio, and he had ruffled feathers in pursuing it. This is probably the critical moment of "The Pixar Story." Being fired is terrible. Sometimes, it gets you to where you really should be much quicker than you would've otherwise gotten there. Lasseter almost immediately ended up with George Lucas' company, which was sold in 1986 to Steve Jobs, not exactly 2 bad guys to be in business with.

Jobs is the other hero of "The Pixar Story." Like The Beatles, he crafts the perfect balance between art and business, to the point one forgets it even is a business. Gradually the animation gets better, the productions get longer, and "Toy Story" is the result, a blockbuster franchise that continues to put butts in the seats today.

From the business side, we see the risk and reward. Jobs notes that during and even after "Toy Story," it was clear the company couldn't afford a single flop. So he took Pixar public to raise capital to ensure the company wouldn't be dependent on a single project.

The results are some of the most well-known films of the last 2 decades, including "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." Those successes, however, didn't settle significant business disagreements between Pixar and Disney, who clashed over the merits of sequels and the equanimity over their distribution arrangement. Eventually, this was settled when Jobs sold the company to Disney in 2006, with a series of safeguards meant to preserve Pixar's independence, but one gets the feeling there is still a division here, or will be.

CNBC's nighttime programming goals — other than the generic "get more people to watch" — are occasionally taken up by media pundits. The network seems to aim for the higher-educated, higher-income viewer who watches during the daytime, rather than take a chance on the typical TNT/Spike/Bravo cable audience with popular movies. A couple years ago the "American Greed" crime series was launched, coincidentally narrated by Stacy Keach, who also narrates "The Pixar Story." One wonders if the channel shouldn't have been much more active in the reality TV scene years ago, conceiving ideas such as "The Apprentice" or "Pawn Stars" before others came up with them. CNBC nighttime remains a grab bag of material, something interesting every night, but something short of a destination.

"The Pixar Story," a project of Leslie Iwerks, looks great in HD. It is never particularly critical, but allows the characters to tell the stories they want to tell. It works because the characters are honest. Could the film be more honest, even stark? Certainly the Pixar minds must spend gobs of time sitting in lonely dark rooms, missing meals with their spouses and time with their kids, creating and re-creating the tiniest little animation sequences that may or may not make it into the next movie, sparring over the occasional turf battles with their colleagues and Disney. Lasseter and his wife admit the hours have been grueling. Like the material he produces, there's a happy ending.

Pixar feature films:
"Toy Story" 1995
"A Bug's Life" 1998
"Toy Story 2" 1999
"Monsters, Inc." 2001
"Finding Nemo" 2003
"The Incredibles" 2004
"Cars" 2006
"Ratatouille" 2007
"WALL-E" 2008
"Up" 2009
"Toy Story 3" 2010
"Cars 2" scheduled for June 2011

"The Pixar Story" (2007)
Featuring: John Lasseter, Brad Bird, John Musker, Ron Clements, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Randy Cartwright, Ron Miller, Glen Keane, Don Hahn, Alvy Ray Smith, Ed Catmull, Alex Schure, George Lucas, Rob Cook, Eben Ostby, William Reeves, Loren Carpenter, Tom Porter, Dennis Muren, Steve Jobs, Alan Kay, Deirdre Warin, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Peter Schneider, Joe Ranft, Michael Eisner, Tom Hanks, Tom Schumacher, Roy Disney, Lee Unkrich, Tim Allen, Leonard Maltin, Mike McCaffrey, Darla K. Anderson, Randy Nelson, Nancy Lasseter, Glenn McQueen, Doug Sweetland, Randy Newman, Billy Crystal, Jim Murphy, Ward Kimball, Bob Iger, Diane Disney Miller, Joe Grant

Written, Directed and Produced by: Leslie Iwerks
Narrated by: Stacy Keach
Edited by: Leslie Iwerks, Stephen Myers A.C.E.
Cinematography by: Suki Medencevic
Original Score by: Jeff Beal
Post Production & Visual Effects Supervisor: John Locke
Pixar Liaison to the Production: Steven Argula
Line Producers: Leanne Moore, Sonya Burres, Tina Fortenberry
Music Supervisor: Michael Fey
Additional Cinematography: Darko Suvac, Penn Jones, John Simmons, Leslie Iwerks, Joe Hudson
Makeup: Gretchen Davis, Nikki Carbonetta Aguirre, Lisa Zomer, Lana Grossman, Camille Henderson
Assistant Camera: Frits DeJong, Tom Spagnola, Joe Setele, Nicole Williams, Ryan Jackson, Andrew Stadler, Theresa Greene
Gaffers: Jacob Sarfaty, David Myers, Khamisi Norwood, Chris Graver, Damian Lucas, Joe Hudson, Cyrus Amini, Charles Griswold, Frits DeJong
Grips: Ryan Manning, Pat Petchakul, Martin Barraza, James D. Bishop, Jason Gibertson, Todd Stoneman, Mike Best, Frank Jarnot
Production Sound: Penn Jones, Manny Barsegyan
Clearance Supervisor: Tim Ballou
Clearances by: Cleared by Ashley, Midori Hepburn, Dave Levin
Assistant Editor: Aaron Garcia
Post Production Art Direction and Titles Designed by: Susan Bradley
Computer Graphics by: Edgeworx, Craig Kuehne
CG Zoetrope Created by: Perpetual Motion Pictures
Opening Artscape Montage Created by: Andrew Jimenez
End Credit Montage Created by: Andy Jimenez, Osnat Shurer, Elyse Klaidman, Gary Rydstrom, E.J. Holowicki, Alex Stahl, Becky Neiman, Deann Cobb, Josh Qualtieri, M.T. Silvia, Steve James, Susan Bradley, Leeann Alameda
Additional Animation Created by: Sound Images/Harry Moreau
Online/Videotape Duplication Services: Video Arts
HD Camera Equipment Supported by: Birns & Sawyer, Hollywood
Script Consultation: Stephen Myers, Mark Vaz, Fernanda Rossi
Transcription Services Provided by: Flying Fingers
Post Production: Bill Kinder, Robert Tachoires, Freesia Pearson
Production Accountant: Chris Holmes
Payroll Services Provided by: Power Payroll
Production Insurance Provided by: Gulf Insurance Group, USI Entertainment Insurance Services
Legal Services Provided by: Jody Silverman, Paula Potter, The Law Offices of Michael Morales
Research and Archival Materials Supplied by: Pixar Archives, Christine Freeman, Juliet Greenberg, Petty Tran-Le, Debby Coleman, Deann Cobb
Walt Disney Photo Library: Ed Squaire, Shelly Graham
Walt Disney Archives: Dave Smith, Rebecca Cline, Robert Tieman
Walt Disney Animation Research Library: Vivian Procopio
Additional Archive Materials Provided by: Randy Cartwright, Harry Sabin, Elliot Fishman, Louis Schure
Animation Consultant: Jerry Beck
Temporary Voice Over Provided by: Rino Romano, Adam Lamas
Rights Administration: Stephanie Martinelli
Music Business Affairs: Donna Cole-Brule
Music Licensing: Amy Ross
Music Recorded and Mixed by: Jeff Beal
Music Recorded and Mixed at: Many Rooms Music
Music Contractor: David Low
Re-Recording Mix and Post Production Sound: Warrenwood Sound Studios
Assistants to Leslie Iwerks: Aaron Garcia, Adam Berkowitz
Special Thanks to: John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs       Neftali Alvarez, Bonnie Arnold, Angie Bliss, Peter Bohlin, Tom Carlisle, Mary Conlin, David DiFrancesco, Roy Disney, John Hazelton, Chris Holm, Warren & Jean Kleinman, Lawrence Levy, Ann Mather, Sarah MacArthur, Jim Morris, Glenn McQueen, Ron Miller, Hayao Miyazaki, Bill Muerer, Jan Pinkava, John Ratzenberger, Jonas Rivera, Gary Rydstrom, Ali Rowghani, Lois Scali, Louis Schure, Amanda Sorena, Marilyn Waters

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