I think Jason Kottke nails it here in this post: Pixar doesn’t care about Disney’s investors. Dreamworks makes good animated films, but they do have that check-the-box approach. Pixar makes great films, period.
As for toys, McDonald’s is pushing Monsters vs. Aliens toys this week. But as a frequent visitor to Toys R Us, I am surprised to not see M vs A toys there. Then again, I saw lots of Wall-E toys languishing on the shelves months ago. I don’t think there is an easy formula that says these characters from such-and-such a film will be attractive to kids. There is one exception: Star Wars toys command significant space and sell pretty well.