Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More PIXAR Sequels on the Way

I was debating about what to write about to today, and considered a "Rank 'Em" post for the PIXAR movies. 2014 is going to be the first year in a while that won't have a PIXAR release, and honestly it's something of a relief after their last few films. Since "Toy Story 3" in 2010, the quality has noticeably slipped, most obviously with "Cars 2." I liked "Brave" and "Monsters University" more than most, but I understand why others have been underwhelmed. By embracing franchises, it feels like PIXAR has fallen a step or two behind and lost some creative momentum.

So Bob Iger's announcement today that two more PIXAR sequels are in development has raised some mixed emotions. These are "Cars 3" and "The Incredibles 2," which we know almost nothing about except that Brad Bird is apparently writing the new "Incredibles" movie, and the earliest we'll see either of them will probably be 2017. After "Cars 2" and the spinoff "Planes" series, there wasn't much enthusiasm for a "Cars 3," but the response to an "Incredibles" sequel have been fairly positive, since original creator and director Brad Bird is going to be involved. "The Incredibles," celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, is one of the few PIXAR movies where there has actually been vocal demand for a franchise.

I'm not so convinced that it's a good idea. "The Incredibles" ranks very high on my list of favorite PIXAR films, and is the last one I was entirely happy with. Moreover, Brad Bird maintained for years that he would only return to the "Incredibles" universe if he came up with a good enough story to warrant a sequel. He very well may have been struck by inspiration, but I have to wonder about the timing. If you look at the list of PIXAR movies, the sequels are coming in roughly the same order as the first movies. 2001's "Monsters Inc." was followed by 2002's "Finding Nemo" and then 2004's "The Incredibles." Looking at the sequels on PIXAR's current slate, 2013's "Monster's University" will be followed by 2016's "Finding Dory" and then either "Cars 3" or "The Incredibles 2." Bird may not have been pushed to come up with new "Incredibles" story, but he was almost certainly nudged.

Also, it was particularly shrewd to announce the two sequels together, because it takes the attention off of "Cars 3." The "Cars" franchise is regarded as a necessary evil by PIXAR fans these days. Nobody really minded the first movie, though it wasn't recieved with much enthusiasm, but "Cars 2" received the worst reviews of PIXAR's entire history by a large margin, and less than impressive domestic returns. However, PIXAR and Disney have made a killing on "Cars" merchandise, and the sereis remains very popular worldwide. Globally, "Cars 2" outgrossed "Brave" and "WALL-E." "Planes," made on the cheap by former direct-to-video outfit DisneyToon Studios, also made a healthy profit on ticket sales alone, in spite of very mixed reactions. A "Planes" sequel is due out in theaters this summer, less than a year after the first. To put it bluntly, the decision to make a "Cars 3" is as financially driven as the decision to make those "Planes" movies, but if PIXAR uses those profits in part to make more original films, you won't hear many complaints.

The pressure has been turned up for PIXAR to release more films, increasing from one film a year to one-and-a-half. Consider that Dreamworks Animation has been releasing two a year since 2010, and is increasing to three starting this year. What effect this has had on the quality of their films is debatable. However, PIXAR is moving to close the gap a bit. The current plan, announced by Ed Catmull last year, is to release an original film every year and a sequel or prequel every other year. However, that's not going to be an easy schedule to keep to. The next two features coming up, "Inside Out" and "The Good Dinosaur," are are both originals and both due in 2015. "The Good Dinosaur" was supposed to be the big 2014 summer film, but it was beset by delays over reported story problems, so it was pushed back a year, "Inside Out" was moved up, and "Finding Dory" got bumped to 2016.

Ultimately I'm happy an "Incredibles 2" is going to happen, but I'd be much happier if I didn't know about all the financial considerations behind the scenes that were driving it. I would have been much happier to hear about a "Ratatouille 2" or an "Up 2" honestly, because those were weirder, more idiosyncratic films that didn't do quite as well, and a sequel probably only would have happened because somebody at PIXAR really, really pushed for one to happen. No sequels at all is probably too much to ask for these days - but maybe not. Look at how the tables have turned when you compare PIXAR to their once greatest competitor. After the mess with all the DTV sequels, have you noticed that the newly resurrected Walt Disney Feature Animation hasn't made or announced a single sequel since the "Winnie the Pooh" movie?


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