For Sean McEvilly, the arrival of a new Pixar film isn't just a promise of a good time. The computer-animation studio's digital marvels, whether populated by creatures furry, finny or metallic, serve as his personal scrapbook of Hallmark moments.
Ever since he took his future wife, Anna, to see 2001's "Monsters, Inc.," for their second date, the Elgin, Ill., resident, 32, has used the latest release from the top-of-the-line 'toon factory to celebrate a milestone.
When he and the missus-to-be were considering a dive into matrimonial waters, they saw "Finding Nemo" in 2003. "The Incredibles" served as an action-packed treat for McEvilly's birthday in 2004. His college graduation was noted with a trip to "Carsin" 2006. "Ratatouille" was on the menu when he and his wife decided to go out for the first time after becoming parents. "WALL·E" in 2008? McEvilly and son Ryan did some male bonding with the love-struck robot for their first guys-only multiplex experience.
As for "Up," Pixar's 10th outing, which opens May 29, about a cranky codger and an overeager Asian kid who fly off to South America in a house hoisted by helium balloons, it will likely be the first film that all three — father, mother and child, who turns 2 today — enjoy together.
Disney might own Pixar after buying the company for $7.4 billion in 2006. But when it comes to brand loyalty among family moviegoers, Pixar is the new Disney, especially since its primary visionary, John Lasseter, is now the chief creative officer in charge of both animation houses.
Why such dedication? Fans boil it down to one word: story. "What separates Pixar films from the rest is that they focus on story first," says Dana O'Dell, 28, of Hudsonville, Mich., mom to Aidan, 6. "Their attention to detail might draw people in, but it's the well-crafted story lines that make a great movie."
Since 1995, when "Toy Story" introduced the world to the novelty of a film-length cartoon done entirely by computers, the studio has been blessed with box office (more than $2 billion total) and acclaim (30 Oscar nominations, including four wins for best animated feature) for each release.
Yet some in the entertainment media are wondering whether the pixel-producing pioneers based in Emeryville, Calif., can keep it, well, up. Ecstatic reviews out of Cannes, where "Up" became the first animated film to open the venerable festival, suggest the answer is a passionate "oui."
Among the swayed is Ed Asner, who is no less easy to impress than Carl, the squat and stolid 78-year-old coot he speaks for in "Up." "I got the job and thought, 'OK, I'm going to do a voice-over in a big-time feature.' I let my ego grow when it came to my importance to this film. But when I saw it, I was knocked silly. My ego shrank in those 90 minutes to a minimum when I realized the enormity of what all these people put up on screen."
His entrée into the pantheon of Pixar characters has gotten a mixed reception from his six grandchildren, ages 3 to 9 (a seventh is on the way). There is a good reason. "The younger ones are just too young to enjoy the film," he says. "But the older one — he's gaga."
As a recent New York Times article reported, some toy dealers and Wall Street types are less buoyant about the film. There's concern that Up, Pixar's most unconventional fantasy and one of its priciest ($175 million), lackscommercial liftoff — especially with a senior citizen as its hero.