With Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 set as the next offerings, Pixar’s golden age is eons ago.
Finding Dory. Cars 3. Incredibles 2. Toy Story 4. Outside of the release of Coco, Pixar has nothing but sequels on their slate until 2020. That is four years that will see only one new property come through the doors of one of most beloved animation houses in the world. This isn’t a problem for the higher-ups as long as these films keep performing, but for a studio that once wowed us with sensational characters and jaw-dropping visuals, Pixar has lost a step for innovating.
This argument would be meaningless if the quality of the films has held up, but there has been something missing from these sequels. Finding Dory was supposed to be a return to one of the most successful movies of all-time for Pixar, with one of their most recognizable characters leading the charge. Andrew Stanton’s sequel is cute and safe, adding a few new characters, but failing to meet high expectations a sequel of that magnitude calls for. Cars 3 was better than Cars 2, but I wouldn’t know given that the first feature is one of the worst movies Pixar has ever made. The Cars films inspire no one who watches them, except for the parents who buy their children Cars merchandise.
Pixar is returning to making a sequel well once again with The Incredibles 2. It has been fourteen years since Brad Bird directed the original picture to acclaim. That was before Iron Man and Marvel changed the superhero genre forever. Not only did The Incredibles get a leg up on the competition, but it was also a great superhero feature in its own right. It had a family of super-powered individuals teaming up to defeat a villain who was a super fan turned evil. The Incredibles had foresight into the future.
Why did Brad Bird decide now was the best time to return to The Incredibles franchise? While the original teased a sequel, the story was self-contained. Brad Bird might’ve returned to The Incredibles because of Tomorrowland. Similar to Andrew Stanton and John Carter, Bird had a big flop with Tomorrowland. Returning to a franchise he was familiar with would allow him to put the disappointment in the past and work on a guaranteed success. It doesn’t hurt to have a fan base that still craves a sequel after a decade of superhero movie onslaught.
It’s easy to point the finger at Disney for the sequels that have invaded Pixar. Since Disney gained Pixar, after the release of Toy Story 3, Pixar’s dominance has waned. There has been competition from other studios such as Aardman, Laika, and even Disney itself. These studios have produced films that have surpassed the efforts of Pixar. No animated film has been as big as Frozen and Disney even had its own superhero hit with Big Hero 6. Pixar has been churning away, but of the films released after the acquisition only Inside Out is a true masterpiece (Coco comes close).
If we can pivot back to Cars for a second. Disney loves merchandising. More than getting butts into the multiplexes or patrons to buy their movies, Disney makes a ton selling toys and clothing. Movies like Cars and The Incredibles sell an awful lot of merchandise. Movies like Ratatouille, not so much. This, perhaps more than any other reason, is why Toy Story 4 exists. Disney can’t wait to sell a whole new generation of children their first Buzz or Woody figures. Sequels also bring attention to Disney’s theme parks which have rides based on popular Pixar characters. Want that six-year-old excited to get on the Finding Nemo ride? Well, Finding Dory brought that ride an entirely new wave of attention.
Pixar has promised that there will be no more sequels after Toy Story 4 is released. In an EW discussion with Pixar president Jim Morris, he promised: “Everything after Toy Story and The Incredibles is an original right now.” That means come 2020, there will be a brand new original Pixar story. By then it will be over four years with only one original property to come from the studio (Coco) and a sea of sequels. Morris believes that “A sequel in some regards is even harder [than the original] because you’ve got this defined world which, on the one hand, is a leg up, and on the other hand has expectations that you can’t disappoint on.” He makes a good argument, but there is already a built-in audience for a sequel that will bring audiences regardless of initial quality. That is a big boon for a company releasing a multi-million dollar picture.
Once Pixar moves back into original works, the studio will be flush with originality. That is a few years out at this point and they continue to be overshadowed by superior works. The only thing that keeps them above the competition is their massive budget and commercial appeal. That goes a long way, regardless of quality, but Pixar is stagnant right now. Morris said the slate just worked out this way and they didn’t plan to have this many sequels so close together. It has watered down the output of a once great studio.