How Napkin Sketches During A Pixar Lunch Meeting Led To Four Of The Studio's Greatest Movies


For the first time in 9 years a Pixar film will not be on the summer movie schedule.


Fans will have to wait until next year's "The Good Dinosaur" to enjoy the vibrant colors and heartfelt story that has help make Pixar an animation giant for over a decade.

But how did Pixar come to dominate the industry in the first place?

Most will recall the studio taking off after 1995's "Toy Story," but that was only one film. Without a lineup of great films to follow, Pixar could have easily been one and done.

That is why one lunch meeting at the Hidden City Café in Point Richmond, California may be one of the most important moments in Pixar's history.


The Lunch

Pixar crew, John Lasseter

YouTube screencap

From left: Pete Docter, Andrew Station, John Lasseter, and Joe Ranft.

In the summer of 1994, director John Lasseter, writers Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, and Pete Docter were putting the finishing touches on Pixar's first feature, "Toy Story" when, during a lunch meeting, a big question was raised: "What is Pixar going to do next?"

"'Toy Story' was almost complete and we thought, well geez, if we're going to make another movie we have to get started now," Staton later recalled of the lunch conversation.

According to the New York Times, Lasseter, Staton, Ranft, and Docter then started a brainstorming session sketching the outlines and characters that would make up four of the studio's greatest films (1998's "A Bug's Life," 2001's "Monsters, Inc.," 2003's "Finding Nemo," and 2008's "WALL-E") on nothing more than the napkins on their table.

"There was something special that happened when John, Joe, Pete and I would get in a room," Stanton told the Post and Courier. "Whether it was furthering an idea or coming up with something, we just brought out the best in each other."

The story of the famed lunch became something of legend (the story even made it into the teaser trailer for "WALL-E"), but for Staton there was much more to the creation of those films than just a mythical lunch.


"Well, I'm trying to dispel a little bit of it, before it turns too mythical," Staton later told the Times-Picayune of the lunch. "The truth is, there are people who worked really hard at making things like 'Monsters' and 'Nemo' really turn into the great stories they were way after those lunches."

One Lunch, $1 Billion Box Office

Hidden City Cafe

Pixar Times

Pixar paid homage to the Hidden City Café in "Monsters, Inc."

Since that lunch, Pixar has gone on to be one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed studios in the history of animation.

Pixar's 14 films have brought in $3.5 billion at the domestic box office. Of that, the four films created at the table that day have brought in nearly $1 billion combined. Those four films have also spawned two sequels (2013's "Monsters University" and the upcoming "Finding Dory") and have been nominated for a combined 15 Academy Awards, winning 3.

Those at the lunch would go on to other great things themselves. Lassester went on to direct "A Bug's Life" before becoming the Chief Creative Officer at Disney. Docter would go on to direct "Monsters, Inc.," Staton would direct "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," and Joe Ranft would also go on to create other features at Pixar before dying in 2005.


As for the place where the fabled lunch took place, the Hidden City Café (which was actually included in "Monsters, Inc." as seen above) closed its doors in 2012.