Recently, my Twitter feed has been flooded with posts eagerly counting down to the opening day of Pixar's Monster’s University. And no, I am not following a bunch of elementary school students. I am talking about college students and recent grads who are waiting to spend a Friday night at the opening premiere of an animated "kids" movie. And I am right there with them.
Between elementary school students, college students, middle-aged and elderly people, it is hard to say which generation is most excited for the return of Mike and Sully. Analysts have predicted that this weekend, Monsters University should bring in anywhere between $70-80 million, "which would be the biggest opening for an animated flick since Toy Story 3." Finding Dory, the sequel to the original hit, Finding Nemo, which will not be released until 2015, has already elicited a similar reaction. But how have movie franchises like Pixar succeeded in capturing the hearts of stratified generations with single blockbuster hits?
Disney Pixar first released Toy Story in 1995 to a target audience of children. Those children are now adults who have been among the herds of people flocking to theaters to watch the second and third additions to the animated series. In fact, according to Boxofficemojo.com, Toy Story 3 is the eleventh highest grossing movie of all time, bringing in over $1 billion in worldwide box office sales, only the seventh movie to reach such a landmark. The Toy Story trilogy has amassed a loyal fan base that continues to cherish the animated pictures regardless of age. Pixar has truly redefined the family film genre. These are not pictures that parents can merely tolerate — they are films that older viewers might very well enjoy more than their children.
Perhaps the timelessness of these films lies in the themes, which universally speak to all generations. Pixar’s lovable characters speak to the importance of close relationships found in family and friends as they encourage bravery, open-mindedness, kindness and loyalty. Then, there is the appeal of happy endings. While most of the characters experience some types of challenges and make mistakes along the way, they always end up where they belong and alongside the people they belong with. They are movies about overcoming obstacles, forming friendships and growing up, and they offer valuable life lessons to all audiences regardless of age or experience.
We have fallen in love with Pixar's characters. We cry when Woody packs up for college and forgets about his favorite toys Mr. Potato Head and Little Boy Peep in a storage box at home; we rejoice when Nemo makes it out of the fish tank at 42 Walloby Way, Sydney and back into his father’s fins. As we get older, we begin to understand the metaphors, we see parts of ourselves in the characters — whether in the form of a blue hairy monster, a clown fish or even a buzz-light year doll — and we identify with their stories.
Finally, Pixar’s honed ability to insert humor for all ages is genius. I remember seeing Toy Story 2 in theaters with my parents. At 7-years-old, I could not quite understand why my parents were laughing so hard, seeming to enjoy the movie more than me and my younger brother. When I re watch my favorite childhood films today, however, it becomes crystal clear. While the jokes never fail to enrapture children in laughter, there is also a layer of more discreet, mature humor that you only understand once you watch the film as an older viewer. In fact, mature audiences take away a whole different message from many of the films than do young viewers. For instance, while children left Pixar’s Up! And Wall.E smiling, adults took away nuanced and thought-provoking messages from the family films.
However, Pixar has been able to capture the hearts of multiple generations, and they are continuing to do so and with extraordinary results. Take a look around you when you go to see Monsters University, or better yet, bring the whole family. I can guarantee you will hardly be the oldest person at the theater.