Dear Pixar: Just Admit You Make Sequels For The Money, Like Everyone Else

By  · Published on August 19th, 2015


At Pixar we only make sequels when we know we’ve found a story that is as good or better than the original.”

Now rewind back to March, when Lasseter gave the same talking point to Variety.

We do not do any sequel because we want to print money. We do it because each of these films was created by a group of filmmakers, and to my mind, they are the owners of that intellectual property.”

“A lot of people in the industry view us doing sequels as being for the business of it, but for us it’s pure passion. We only make sequels when we have a story that’s as good as or better than the original.”

Here, have some examples. Two years ago, Andrew Stanton told the LA Times that Disney was the one pushing for Finding Dory, not Pixar. And though the future Finding Dory director wasn’t too keen on the idea, he came around once he thought about it “from a VP standpoint.”

Then you’ve got Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Catmull explained to Fast Company that managing Pixar is all about maintaining a careful equilibrium. First you make a sequel for the massive cash payout: “with aToy Story 3 or Cars 2, you know the idea is more likely to have financial success.” And then you challenge yourself with something outside the box: “A rat that wants to cook does not sound like a commercial idea; you’re not going to generate toys out of that.”

Then there are the little things. Like talk of how animators on Cars 2 weren’t exactly thrilled to work on the film, which they saw as “a pure commercial play.” Or how, after the sequel-backlash began, Catmull owned up to it and made a public mea culpa to Buzzfeed. Catmull explained how Pixar would be managing sequels in the future: they’d do “one and a half” movies per year, with a new original every calendar year and a sequel every other year.

Let’s be realistic here. Asking a movie studio to be one hundred percent forthright in the press is hopelessly naive, and switching off between films you make to pay the bills and films you make out of genuine love is a actually a pretty standard strategy. Faulting Pixar just for making sequels isn’t right. Especially considering the studio’s current track record on sequels, is downright impressive. Two totally-without-exaggeration classics (Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3), one “kinda fun, I guess” (Monsters University) and only one real cause for concern (Cars 2).

Also because to prophesying the sequel-choked death of Pixar, you’ve got to do so entirely on speculation. That sequel slate that’s got everyone so stressed? Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2, Cars 3– none of them are even close to gracing a theater screen (the closest, Finding Dory, is still a year off). Pixar’s anxieties will probably never come from a lack of movie quality.

But they might come from a lack of creativity.

Pixar built its foundation on new ideas. Toy Story was a new idea once. Finding Nemo was too. So was Cars (OK, that’s not true- Cars is just Doc Hollywood). They can’t just keep pumping out variations on their first films forever, and right now the sequels are badly outnumbering the original ideas.

Like I stated a couple paragraphs previously, Pixar promised an original film a year and they’ve ended up with something closer to a sequel a year. That’s not great. And what’s worse is that they haven’t announced a new original film since 2012 (when they first marked Coco on the slate). And since then, every film they’ve added- Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2, Cars 3– is a sequel.

Back in 2013, The Hollywood Reporter published a wonderful piece (read it here, why don’tcha) about John Lasseter’s struggle to devote his creativity to Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. I sat through Disney Animation’s and Pixar’s presentations at the D23 Expo this year, and from what I saw, the creativity’s all on the Disney side.

Disney had buzz. You could feel it in the audience (so much clapping). You could feel it onstage. Everyone was excited to be there, excited to share what they were working on, excited to cram as much cool crap into one presentation as time would allow. Disney announced an entirely new movie (Gigantic) with story details and storyboards and the first song off the soundtrack. For Moana, Dwayne Johnson taught the audience how to do a traditional Pacific Islands three-part war cry. Then the Pacific fusion band Te Vaka (whose songwriter, Opetaia Foa’i, is composing for Moana) performed a song from the film alongside traditional Pacific dancers.

Pixar’s half of the show, by comparison, was quiet and small. They showed footage. That’s pretty much it. And the only really terrific stuff on display had nothing to do with their upcoming films. They screened Riley’s First Date?, the Inside Out short that’ll be included on the DVD, which is just as funny and emotionally on-point as Inside Out, but on a much smaller scale. It’s a constant stream of my god, I do that exact same thing in my own relationship moments. Eerie.

The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn also screened a quick animatic he’d drawn of his life story. The son of Korean immigrants, his mom would take him to the movies as a kid, but she couldn’t speak English and he’d end up whispering translations in her ear (and even then, so much just doesn’t translate). But then they saw Dumbo, and because animation is so universal, his mom could follow along perfectly. And love it. And sob during “Baby Mine.”

Other than that? There was The Good Dinosaur footage, which looks very solid (although not extraordinary), Finding Dory footage, which looks like a solid C+ (the setup for Dory’s grand new adventure: she remembers that her parents live in California. So she decides to visit them. That’s it). And barely-there snippets of Coco and Toy Story 4.

The only actual “announcement” of the whole presentation was that The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dia de los Muertos was titled Coco. And what I’m pretty sure was supposed to be the Pixar main event- appearances from a haul of Finding Dory stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell and Kaitlyn Olson- was really poorly rehearsed. Apparently the teleprompter had prompts for “witty banter” for each newly-introduced star, but every actor just repeated the same I can’t think of anything witty… ha ha! gag. It really wasn’t funny the fourth time around. And a few of the Finding Dory clips the stars introduced didn’t play all the way through (or at all).

It seemed like actual, palpable proof of the Pixar slump. Not a good sign.

But do you know what the worst part was? The next day, during Disney’s live-action presentation, host (and president of production) Sean Bailey whipped out the same “we’re making sequels only when they demand it” reference in front of Alice Through the Looking Glass. In that moment, I think that line of thinking lost most of its credibility.

Maybe Pixar should just come clean. Studios need money. Cars 3 will earn billions in merchandising alone. No biggie. I’d happily accept Cars 4, 5 and 6 if it meant a few more original ideas on the slate.

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