Disney vs Pixar Explained

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When it comes to the realm of animation, two giant names dominate the industry: Pixar and Disney.

Both are powerhouses under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Company, known for churning out some of the most memorable and impactful animated movies of our time.

Yet, despite their shared parentage, Pixar and Disney have unique identities, styles, and approaches that set them apart.

Let’s delve into the intriguing world of Pixar and Disney to analyze and understand their differences.

The Origin Stories: Disney and Pixar

The journey of Walt Disney Animation dates back to 1923 when brothers Roy and Walt Disney founded the company.

Disney’s trademark has always been heartwarming fairy-tale narratives, replete with musical numbers and the quintessential “happily ever after”. Disney’s works are often adaptations of plays, legends, or fairy tales, giving them a timeless appeal.

On the other hand, Pixar Animation Studios, incorporated with Steve Jobs in 1986, stands out for its originality. Pixar’s storylines cater not just to children but also to their parents, with a focus on cutting-edge Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) animation and unique storylines.

Pixar’s relationship with Disney began in 1995 when the Walt Disney Animation Company exclusively distributed the groundbreaking Pixar Film – Toy Story. This partnership culminated in Disney acquiring Pixar in 2006.

Despite their shared management, Pixar and Disney function as independent studios, each with its distinctive style and approach.

The Art of Animation: Hand-drawn vs. CGI

Traditionally, Disney is renowned for its hand-drawn animation, while Pixar has been a pioneer in CGI animation.

However, since their merger, Disney has also embraced computer-generated animation. CGI or Computer Generated Imagery entails crafting animated or static visual content for films and printed media.

Disney classics like The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Wreck-It Ralph offer a blend of traditional hand-drawn animations and computer-generated animations.

In contrast, Pixar’s animations are known for their realistic textures, color palettes, and detailed, expressive characters, evident in films like Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Monsters University.

Location and Leadership: Two Different Worlds Under the Same Roof

Interestingly, despite being part of the same parent company, Pixar and Disney operate from entirely separate campuses.

While the Walt Disney Animation studio is based in Burbank, CA, Pixar is located in Emeryville, CA, on the east of San Francisco near San Francisco Bay. The distinct locations contribute to the unique work cultures at both studios.

Upon Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, Ed Catmull (President) and John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer) took the helm of both studios.

Their leadership led to the rejuvenation of Disney Animation and the continued success of Pixar. However, they maintained the independence and unique identities of both studios.

Telling a Story: “Once Upon a Time” vs. “What If?”


A defining difference between Disney and Pixar lies in their storytelling approaches. Disney is synonymous with the phrase “Once upon a time…”

Its movies often recount fairy tales and stories that have been passed down through generations. Movies like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are classic examples of Disney’s magic.

On the contrary, Pixar’s narratives revolve around the intriguing concept of “What if…”. Pixar’s movies stem from original ideas, exploring unique and often uncharted territories. For instance, Toy Story explores the idea, “What if toys could talk?”

The Sound of Music: Disney’s Melodious Charm vs. Pixar’s Subdued Score

Music is an integral part of Disney’s storytelling. Disney movies are renowned for their catchy musical numbers sung by the main characters, which have become iconic pieces of pop culture. Some of these musical scores have even won prestigious Academy awards.

On the other hand, Pixar’s approach to music is more subdued. While they have produced memorable songs like “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” for Toy Story, musicals are not their forte. Their focus remains on the story and the characters, with music playing a supportive role.

Characters: Relatable Imperfections vs. Idealistic Heroes

One of the reasons for Pixar’s immense popularity is the relatability of its characters. Pixar’s characters often exhibit human-like flaws, making them more realistic and relatable. From Wreck-it Ralph’s short temper to Marlin’s overprotectiveness in Finding Nemo, these characters portray a wide range of emotions and behaviors.

In contrast, Disney’s characters often embody idealistic virtues. They are usually engaged in a battle against external forces, with their flaws being circumstantial rather than inherent.

Most Disney characters are also often involved in romantic storylines, as seen in movies like Frozen and Tangled.

Box Office and Audience Ratings: A Tale of Two Approaches

While both Pixar and Disney have enjoyed box-office success, their performances differ. Disney movies, with their universal appeal and timeless stories, often dominate the box-office.

However, when it comes to audience and critic ratings, Pixar often takes the lead in terms of critical acclaim. Pixar’s movies, with their mature storytelling approach and innovative concepts, resonate with a diverse audience, earning them higher ratings.

Critic Ratings: Battle of the Titans

Based on ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, Pixar’s films generally garner higher critic ratings compared to Disney. Pixar’s Toy Story and Toy Story 2, along with Disney’s Pinocchio, have achieved a perfect score of 100% on the review-aggregation website.

This demonstrates that while Disney might reign supreme in terms of box-office collections, Pixar’s innovative and original narratives often win the hearts of critics.

The Final Verdict: A Tale of Two Studios

Both Disney and Pixar bring unique strengths to the table. While Disney captivates audiences with its enchanting fairy-tale narratives and memorable musical scores, Pixar enthralls with its original storylines, realistic animation, and relatable characters.

The key lies in understanding that both studios cater to different tastes and preferences, and both have significantly contributed to the evolution of animation.

Disney and Pixar, despite their differences, continue to weave magic on the big screen, enchanting audiences of all ages.

Whether it’s the timeless charm of Disney princesses or the innovative storytelling of Pixar, both studios have etched their mark in the realm of animation, making them truly inseparable parts of our childhood and beyond.

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Neal Tucker is one of the world’s most engaging Disney influencers, with thousands of views and responses across his blog, podcast, and social media profiles every month.

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