Over the last decade or so (possibly even less than that), one trend in Hollywood has been planning ahead (often too far ahead). Marvel and their Cinematic Universe is a good example of this, as they set dates for future projects, from the upcoming Ant-Man in July of 2015 to an untitled project in May of 2016, well before such minor issues as a script or cast members are set in stone. The most obvious current example of this is the impending Star Wars sequel directed by J.J. Abrams. Its existence was announced before a director, a screenwriter, or a cast were. (As of this writing, though plenty of rumors abound, there are still no officially announced cast members, in spite of the film being set for release in December of 2015.)
A more recent trend, one that makes perfect sense when you think about it and its connection to the pre-planning phase, is for studios to delay some of these projects. Last week, Warner Bros. announced that the Man of Steel sequel–set to feature Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and, maybe before long, the whole damn Justice League–would be postponed from the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016. This is happening, for one reason or another, a lot lately; for example, the film Tomorrowland, the newest live-action effort from Pixar auteur Brad Bird, has moved from December of 2014 to May of 2015, mostly to accommodate Disney’s other holiday releases. Of course, relative to Pixar, the example is the oft-mentioned and speculated-on The Good Dinosaur, which moved a full 18 months from its originally set release date. (It is also worth noting that Pixar and Disney are chief among those studios that announce release dates before any other information; see Disney’s upcoming animation slate, all the way to 2018.) When this news broke, only a little while after the film’s original director, Bob Peterson, was shuttled off the project, the response was unsurprising: disappointment from the majority of fans who clamor for any new Pixar film, especially one that’s completely original. Afterward, there was some call for a bit of patience (such as in this column), so that the studio brain trust could potentially make the best film possible. Now, though, this much is clear: it’s a good thing that Pixar is taking a break in 2014.
Of course, Pixar isn’t totally leaving us in 2014. As was discussed on The Pixar Times last week, ABC unveiled a new Toy Story TV special, set to air in the Christmas season. And only a few weeks ago, it was confirmed that a Monsters University-related short will play in front of Muppets Most Wanted this March. But it’ll be two years between features for Pixar; in between, audiences have fallen head over heels with Disney’s latest animated project, Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent “I’m really going to retire this time, I mean it!” movie went over exceedingly well, and expectations are high for a How to Train Your Dragon sequel. The conventional wisdom is that Pixar Animation Studios is no longer atop the mainstream animation industry, and it’s hard to argue with the evidence. Consider the somewhat surprising absence (though, arguably, not snub) of Monsters University in last week’s Oscar nominations. As was pointed out elsewhere on Twitter, this is the first year since the inaugural Best Animated Feature category when Pixar wasn’t nominated at all at the Oscars. Though Monsters University continues to be better than most people remembered, it’s quickly becoming forgotten amidst more popular competition. We have reached a point where, frankly, it’s better for Pixar to take a break this year.
There will be plenty of animation to choose from this year, both for families (as evidenced by the solid box-office performance of The Nut Job, which wasn’t made by a major animation studio) and for grown-up buffs of the medium. We are not wanting for new feature animation, although we may be wanting for new feature animation from Pixar. And that, in essence, should be the point. Though it is one of the oldest, hoariest adages in existence, there is more than a germ of truth in the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Whether it’s justified or not, over the last few years, public opinion has slowly, gradually soured ever so slightly against Pixar. Yes, Toy Story 3 was, to most people, a fine capper to the feature trilogy, but Cars 2 was, qualitatively, diametrically opposed. Brave has its admirers, but was widely seen as being a bit muddled in the storytelling. And, again, though this writer (among others) may love Monsters University, not everyone is so sad or shocked to see it not get a Best Animated Feature nomination. Though the choice to delay The Good Dinosaur was creatively premeditated, and not an active choice to make people wait, it’s turned into a wise decision in shaping public opinion and desires.
In short, it’s time for us to want a new Pixar film again. Our culture has turned into one that ruins anticipation, spoiling as much information as possible before an actual movie is released. Curious to know who makes a surprise cameo appearance in a big new comedy? Check out this exclusive photo from the set. Want to know what the post-credits scene is like in the newest superhero movie? Read this article. Hell, do you want to know how many post-credits scenes there are, and if one occurs during the middle of the end credits? Click here. Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, should they both end up opening in 2015, will not be immune to the “Tell the audience everything right now, damn the consequences” mentality online, unless Pixar keeps a tight lid on the films, outside of the scant casting information we already know. The less we know about Pixar’s immediate future, though, the better. Let us anticipate. Let us desire a comeback. This is what Pixar should do in 2014: make us wait.
In the past, this column has acknowledged that a lot of the criticism and commentary surrounding Pixar is based on very little else aside from rampant speculation, because that’s what so much of film commentary these days is: fruitless wondering based on only a few morsels of possible information, if not total rumors. No doubt, that will only increase throughout 2014, because we won’t have a concrete film to discuss, just the vague future of the Emeryville studio. But the lack of a new feature from Pixar this year might end up balancing out the negativity some people feel toward Pixar for indulging in all sequels, all the time. (Please note: as always, this is an incorrect assumption. That doesn’t mean it’s uncommon.) This notion will not die down in the next year and a half; as much as some of us might try, the Cars series isn’t going anywhere, what with the second Planes film coming out this summer. But it will likely not gain in strength, unless, say, Pixar announces a sequel to something like The Incredibles or WALL-E. Technically, of course, both of those are not impossible, but seeing as the aforementioned Brad Bird is working in live-action and is fiercely protective of the worlds he’s created in, and that Andrew Stanton is hard at work on–yes, we know–a sequel to Finding Nemo, it seems unlikely for Pixar to dive even deeper into the ocean of sequels.
Just as it’s best that we know less about Pixar’s next two films, not more, simply to reach a fever pitch of anticipation, it’s best that we know as little as possible as what comes after that. This is, perhaps, an unrealistic desire–the clamor surrounding various film websites will make it difficult, at best, to keep things close to the chest. But the anticipation we once had for films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo was partly because we knew so little about these films, as much as it was that we were champing at the bit for a new Pixar movie. What 2014 can represent for Pixar is a year in which they can recuperate, while 2015 can represent the beginning of their second wind. It may be difficult, should Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur hit big creatively and commercially, to call Pixar a comeback kid–though Monsters University is not widely beloved, it still made nearly $750 million worldwide–but they could help turn the tide of public opinion. If there is any truly successful studio or filmmaker or actor that thrives as much on how its audience perceives them, as it does on making financially profitable films, it is Pixar. We do not hold DreamWorks Animation to the same standards as Pixar, and it’s for a reason: one of these studios is known for making truly good, if not great, films; one of these studios is primarily known for making movies that exist to bring in cash.
So, if you read stories like those linked above, which serve as beacons of hope in 2014 for the Pixar faithful, and you’re still disappointed, don’t get sad. Get excited. The waiting for something can be awful, but it can also be the best part. If you’re sad that you have to wait, consider that you’re also probably excited to have something to wait for. Pixar may not be able to live down the delay of The Good Dinosaur, but giving themselves, and the Internet, a break in 2014 is the best thing for everyone. We need to be reminded once more of why we love Pixar, that we love Pixar; we need this time away from the studio’s current output. This year, at least, the only way to appreciate how impactful the studio is and has been to the animation industry is to consider the competition when they aren’t competing to top the big dog in town, but to become the big dog. Delaying an exciting new movie is unfortunate news. For Pixar, though, it might be the best news possible.