7 Movies That Show Real-Life Versions of Pixar Animated Features

By  · Published on August 27th, 2015

New Line Cinema

It’s hard to tell if anyone would care about the story of Edith Macefield without its loose connection to a beloved Pixar movie. Macefield was the owner of a 100-year-old house in Seattle, which she refused to sell to developers. She never attached a bunch of balloons to the exterior to lift her home into the air – instead the developers built their shopping mall around the place – but at some point people started associating her situation with the animated feature Up. And Macefield, who died in 2008, has retroactively been called the real-life Carl Fredricksen.

It’s a stretch, but it’s a fine point of reference. Especially for Fox Searchlight and Easy A director Will Gluck, who are reportedly producing a movie about the old woman. But will they even use the reference point in the marketing of their project? Can they, given that it’s linking to a Disney-owned property? Perhaps Macefield’s story really will be of interest to audiences on its own. In that case, we can merely add it to a list of other movies based on true stories that also sort of sound like real-life versions of Pixar releases.

Before getting to that list, though, here’s a video of a guy who has made his own real-life version of Luxo Jr., the sentient lamp who starred in the very first Pixar short film and features significantly in the Pixar logo:

Pixar Movie: Toy Story (1995)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Annabelle (2014)

Pixar’s first feature and its two (soon to be three) sequels are rare examples of a movies where sentient toys are not out to kill people. There is a scene in the original installment that plays with the horror genre’s treatment of dolls in particular, but otherwise it’s all fun and games. Many of the horror films involving toy stories, such as Child’s Play, are actually based on true stories of alleged haunted dolls. One is called Robert and the other is Annabelle, who after getting a cameo in The Conjuring received her own spinoff last year.

Pixar Movie: A Bug’s Life (1998)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Microcosmos (1996)

While everyone else was paying attention to the animated insect movie duel of ’98 between Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and DreamWorks’ Antz, nonfiction fans and true entomophiles were enjoying their DVDs of a literally ground-breaking French documentary that showed actual bugs’ lives. None of the tiny creatures are involved with a plot reminiscent of Seven Samurai, but the interactions between them all are still fascinating. Interestingly enough, Microcosmos was technically also a Disney release in the US, via Miramax.

Pixar Movie: Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Communion (1989)

As far as anyone knows, monsters don’t really exist, whether in some other dimension or in our distant future (the latter being the theory of Pixar fans connecting all the studio’s movies into one universe), at least not like those seen in Monsters, Inc. But nightmares are real, as is a story that inspired Wes Craven to make A Nightmare on Elm Street. But those true events, involving Cambodian refugees who died in their sleep following complaints of really bad dreams, didn’t include a boogeyman like Freddy Kruger.

So, the better example of a real-life Monsters, Inc., which deals with a human accidentally taken into the Monsters’ world, is the adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s best-selling book detailing his own alleged experiences as an alien abductee. Another option is the latest film by Rodney Ascher, The Nightmare, which is about people suffering from sleep paralysis, one symptom of which has patients seeing creatures enter their bedrooms. And it references Communion, too.

Pixar Movie: Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Oceans (2009)

It’s not difficult to find documentaries or just plain real-life footage of sea life, even specifically spotlighting the world of the clownfish. But if you want the real deal and you want it as high-quality and professional as such things get, then go with a feature film by Jacques Perrin. He also produced Microcosmos, and again this is another Disney product, from their Disneynature label. Given the broadness of its title, don’t expect to only see underwater action set in the Great Barrier Reef, but you ought to be able to find some other animals also found in Finding Nemo.

Pixar Movie: Ratatouille (2007)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Step Up to the Plate (2012)

There is no rat in the kitchen of Michel Bras’s renowned three-star restaurant in the French countryside, but there is a young man set to inherit the place from his father. In Paul Lacoste’s documentary Step Up to the Plate (Entre les Bras), the elder chef is not deceased and the younger is not an illegitimate offspring yet there is still a lot of drama focused on the latter’s taking over the famous establishment and carrying on its reputation.

Pixar Movie: Monsters University (2013)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: At Berkeley (2013)

The people at Pixar, which is based in Emoryville, CA, love to feature nearby locations from around the Bay Area in their movies. Sometimes they’re not disguised at all, as in the case of Fentons Creamery appearing in Up, and sometimes they just very blatantly inspire fictional places, like Monsters University. While not totally made to look like University of California, Berkeley (some buildings are apparently inspired by those of Harvard, MIT, Stanford and other campuses) but at least the entrance and the amphitheater definitely are. Therefore, when watching Frederick Wiseman’s documentary of UC Berkeley, your children might wonder where Mike and Sully and the other monster students are at. Meanwhile, the students seen in the film working with robotics could very well create a real-life Wall-E one day.

Pixar Movie: Inside Out (2015)
Pixar in Real Life Movie: Sybil (1976)

If you describe this summer’s Pixar release as a movie about a girl and the people who live in her head, don’t be surprised if people think it’s about someone with multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder). It’s not an animated retelling of the story of Shirley Ardell Mason, which was fictionalized for the book “Sybil” and then two movie adaptations (the second in 2007), but it does treat emotions as if they’re distinct, independent parts, each one taking over our personality at different times.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.