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Whistle While You Work: Branding, Critical Reception and Pixar’s Production Culture

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Abstract

The sheer quantity of media articles that have been written about Pixar demonstrate a commonly recurring desire on the part of journalists and film critics to explain the studio’s track record of critical and commercial successes. Writers have variously justified their coverage in terms of going in search of the company’s ‘secret’, ‘how they do it’, or ‘what makes [them] so special’.1 Particularly interesting is the frequency with which the writers look beyond the studio’s films, and even the key creative staff that make them, and instead focus on Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, Northern California.2 As William Taylor and Polly LaBarre of The New York Times succinctly put it in 2006, ‘The secret to the success of Pixar Animation Studios is its utterly distinctive approach to the workplace.’3 Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson also hint at this idea in their introduction to Innovate the Pixar Way, describing the organisation as ‘a childlike storytelling ‘playground’ … a place that enables storytellers to create tales of friends and foes who share great adventures in enchanting lands’.4 Note the choice of language here: Pixar is not merely a studio, company, or group of people, but a place.

Keywords

York Time Critical Reception Childish Adult Production Culture Place Brand 
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Notes

  1. 4.
    Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010), ix.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    For an overview of approaches to branding, see Leslie de Chernatony and Francesca Dall’Olmo Riley, ‘Defining a “Brand”: Beyond the Literature With Experts’ Interpretations’, Journal of Marketing Management 14 (1998), 417–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Celia Lury, Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy (London: Routledge, 2004), 22.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Eileen Meehan, ‘“Holy Commodity Fetish, Batman!”: The Political Economy of a Commercial Intertext’, in The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media, eds. Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (London: Routledge, 1991), 47–65.Google Scholar
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    Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (London: New York University Press, 2010), 3.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Adam Arvidsson, Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture (London: Routledge, 2006), 8.Google Scholar
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    Pixar and Disney were, at that time, engaged in a series of increasingly heated negotiations over the terms of the production contract between them. For more on this, see David Price, The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008);Google Scholar
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    Christopher Anderson, Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 144. As well as the Disneyland series, also see Disney’s live-action and animated behind-the-scenes movie, The Reluctant Dragon (1941).Google Scholar
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  16. 24.
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  17. 26.
    Karen Paik, To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (London: Virgin Books, 2007), 167–168.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 168. Also see Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 243–244.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, iCon: Steve Jobs — The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2005), 308.Google Scholar
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    Beth Dunlop, Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 13.Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 2.Google Scholar
  22. 46.
    Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (London: Routledge: 2004), 56–93.Google Scholar
  23. 50.
    Colleen Montgomery, ‘Woody’s Roundup and Wall-E’s Wunderkammer: Technophilia and Nostalgia in Pixar Animation’, Animation Studies 6 (2011), 7–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Richard McCulloch 2015

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