Pixar and the Goldman Aphorism

Peter Suderman, riffing on the issue of whether critics matter:

If movie reviewers are such good predictors of financial success, why hasn’t some studio caught on and put a bunch of them on the payroll? It’s not as if the studios aren’t actively pursuing every conceivable formula and strategy to predict what will and won’t work at the box office. As Malcolm Gladwell reported in The New Yorker a few years back, they’re all spending an awful lot of time and money searching for something like a guaranteed success, an answer to the movie industry’s longest standing problem, put famously by William Goldman: Nobody knows anything. (emphasis mine - RD)

Here's a Wall:E-related thought: How gaga you go over the Pixar oeuvre, I think, depends on how much stock you put in the Goldman take on hit-making. If you think making a really good, really popular film is a mysterious, alchemical process that nobody can consistently wrap their minds around, then each Pixar movie looks like nothing short of a miracle. But another way to look at it - the correct way, in my view - is that Pixar's track record of putting out one excellent, crowdpleasing movie after another (they're up to nine and counting, assuming you include the just-okay Cars and accept the critical consensus on Ratatouille) ought to at least partially disprove Goldman's aphorism. Like Jeffrey Katzenberg's run at Disney or the entire careers of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the lesson of Pixar is that the formula for making hit movies is relatively simple: Find talented people with an instinct for high-quality middlebrow entertainment (i.e. John Lasseter, not David Lynch); let them do their thing without too much interference from people whose primary talent is rising to the top of a cutthroat corporate culture; sit back and enjoy the box-office bonanza.

Don't get me wrong: I love Pixar, and I mean this observation as no slight on what they've accomplished. I just think that their success shouldn't be treated as some sort of cosmic miracle that can't possibly be repeated elsewhere, but rather as a blueprint for how the movie industry as a whole could stop force-feeding bad movies to the public, and start making better ones.