Is Pixar the New Disney?

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, but I don't want to get into how Looper, Skyfall, or even Ted were snubbed.

There's an interesting battle brewing in the animation category. A full slate of five nominees are up for next month's coveted award. Before I make my point, I want to single out each full-length feature's Rotten Tomatoes score -- the percentage of movie critics that recommended the film -- and its box office tally.

Prepare to be blown away.



Domestic Gross

Wreck-It Ralph


$178.6 million



$34.8 million



$237.3 million



$56.0 million

The Pirates! Band of Misfits


$31.1 million

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Now, you will notice that the first three movies are all Disney releases. This is somewhat unusual, because Disney rarely puts up more than one or two features for consideration. The last thing it wants is to divide potential votes among Disney-loving critics. However, a year ago, Disney didn't have any nominees. Then again, between 2011's critically panned Cars 2 and the box office flop that Mars Needs Moms became, it was easy to see why the family entertainment giant failed to make the cut that year.

However, instead of eyeing the column of domestic receipts -- finding the Pixar-led Brave outgrossing three of the four nominees combined outside of Disney's own Wreck-It Ralph -- check out the Tomatometer. A whopping 86% to 88% of the critics cranked out positive reviews for four of the films. Brave is dead last.

Now, winning over 78% of film critics -- and a reasonable 79% of Rotten Tomatoes registered users -- isn't horrible. It's a welcome bounce after Pixar's Cars 2 scored a dreadful 39% Tomatometer rating a year earlier. However, what does it tell you if Disney's own Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph fared sharply better with the movie critics that will be voting for the winner?

Has Pixar lost its touch? Has Disney found it? It may not matter to Disney, since it snapped up Pixar six years ago. A major benefit of the acquisition is that Pixar's John Lasseter and several of Pixar's top stars are now guiding Disney's iconic animation division. However, it does lead one to wonder if Pixar may be losing its focus.

Some will argue that critics don't matter. Look at the box office! Well, the same argument was made about Disney when it began to slide into complacency after its animation revival in the 1990s. Last year's second-highest-grossing animated release was DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. It took in a healthy $216.4 million. Do you really want to see Pixar at Madagascar 3 levels? Oh, and before you answer, keep in mind that the third installment in DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar franchise also had a 78% Tomatometer score.

Brave isn't going to win the Oscar for theatrical animation next month. Voters don't go by ticket sales, and that's why the similarly critiqued Madagascar 3 didn't make the cut despite its popularity with young families last year. However, don't ignore the fact that of three Disney nominations today, the Pixar entry is the one that critics liked the least.

Pixar needs a wake-up call, even if Disney's shareholders will still benefit when Wreck-It-Ralph takes top honors next month.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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