“The Pixar Touch” could have more honestly been called “Pixar Through Alvy Ray Smith’s Eyes.” Though others occasionally pipe in, the co-founder who left in the early ’90s is quite obviously the primary source; the absence of the company’s four other major players — Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, George Lucas and Steve Jobs — is glaringly felt. Tome does a decent job shedding light on the pioneering animation studio’s early history, but becomes little more than a re-hash of press reports as it moves along, and ultimately fails to explain the magic behind “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”
It’s tough to blame author David A. Price, since the MIA execs rarely speak about Pixar’s history except for celebratory official histories such as Karen Paik’s recent “To Infinity and Beyond.” But a nonfiction author has to work with what he’s got, and in Price’s case it simply isn’t enough.
The tome provides the most comprehensive description of the company’s early days thus far. Weaving together interviews with Smith and a few other players along with previously published accounts, Price chronicles the quirky beginnings of computer graphics.
What’s most striking is how dedicated everyone involved was to the promise of digital animation, how close things came to falling apart time and time again, and how lucky Pixar’s founders were that the right situations and people kept things going for nearly 20 years until “Toy Story” finally got made.
However, just as things really get interesting — around the time George Lucas starts to lose patience with Pixar’s money-losing ways and Steve Jobs steps in — the book loses steam. All of the most fascinating events and thoughts of the people involved are described second-hand or via interviews taken from elsewhere.
The problem only gets worse as Pixar becomes an animation powerhouse. Major events of the ’90s, like the box office success of “Toy Story,” fly by without any comment on what it was like for Lasseter and Catmull to finally achieve their dream. The section on Jobs’ feud with Michael Eisner that nearly tore Disney and Pixar apart is particularly disappointing, since the only juicy details are taken from James Stewart’s “DisneyWar.”
Even when the facts are comprehensive, there’s no insight into how most of the people involved felt about what was happening. Those hoping to understand how a crazy series of events resulted in some of the most acclaimed animated films ever made will have to wait.