In 1994, Pixar was owned by Steve Jobs, who had been ejected from his first stint at Apple and hadn’t yet made his return. He had bought it from George Lucas when it was spun out of Lucasfilm.
At the time Levy joined, Jobs had already pumped $50 million into the business to keep it afloat and was writing cheques each month to prevent it going under. It had several loss-making divisions and was a year away from releasing Toy Story.
This book charts the decisions that Levy, along with Jobs and the rest of the management team, had to make in order to turn Pixar into a going concern, then take it through an IPO (one of the few for a movie studio) and into a business that went on to be acquired by Disney for $7.4 billion.
While it was interesting to understand those steps, there wasn’t a huge amount of depth, mainly because Levy doesn’t seem to have been responsible for most of the grunt work — he simply helped with the strategy. Or maybe he simply glosses over them, it’s hard to tell.
The early chapters offer more detail for the time covered, later ones jump through huge periods of the company’s history with a handful of sentences.
It does show how close Pixar came to going out of existence, how we may never have heard of it and that it could have been relegated to a historical footnote. Having great technology, talented animators and great stories is all well and good, but without the money to keep the lights on, the world would never know.
The final chapter is a little odd, as it strays from Pixar and cover Levy’s steps into Eastern philosophy, which seems a little at odds with the rest of the book.
Bronson Pinchot does a good job reading the book, so well in fact that I almost thought he was Levy.
It’s written engagingly, with some unique insights that Levy, as an outsider to the company, can provide — but this would have been better if it formed part of a larger narrative with accounts from other people who were at Pixar at the time, or were involved in these decisions.