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Title: Towards infinity and beyond : branding, reputation, and the critical reception of Pixar Animation Studios
Author: McCulloch, Richard
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2013
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American author and journalist Jonah Lehrer declared in 2012 that Pixar Animation Studios was ‘the one exception’ to the oft-cited maxim that, in Hollywood, ‘nobody knows anything.’ Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times spoke in similar terms in 2008, writing that, ‘critics and audiences are in agreement on one key thing: Nobody makes better movies than Pixar.’ Thirteen consecutive global box office successes and scores of industry awards would seem to suggest that Lehrer and Goldstein are correct. Yet it is important to recognise that such statements invariably refer to something intangible, something beyond a particular Pixar film or selection of films. There exists, in other words, a widely held set of meanings and associations about what the studio represents, and to whom. This thesis argues that this set of meanings and associations – Pixar’s brand identity – is far from the fixed and unambiguous entity it is often seen to be. If the studio has come to be seen as guarantee of quality family entertainment, when did this notion become widespread? Have the parameters for ‘quality’ and ‘success’ remained constant throughout its history? I demonstrate for instance that Pixar benefited considerably from Disney’s wavering reputation from the late-1990s onwards. I approach branding as a discursive process, and one that brand producers sometimes have little control over, contrary to the implicit claims of most marketing literature. Broadly chronological in structure, the thesis traces the development of the studio’s reputation by drawing on Barbara Klinger’s approach to historical reception studies. Individual chapters focus on how Pixar was discussed by critics and journalists at specific moments or in specific contexts, as it evolved from a computer graphics company to become the most celebrated film studio of all time. Ultimately, this is a case study of the cultural work involved in the making of a brand or an auteur, and how these meanings can shift over time.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available