The concept of an infinite number of universes parallel to our own has some vague scientific backing behind it, but is mostly just fun to consider without presuming there’s any real logic involved. If you buy into the theory, then there’s a parallel universe where Dewey did defeat Truman in 1948, where the Buffalo Bills didn’t lose the Super Bowl in 1990 against the New York Giants due to a wide-right field goal, and so on. Thus, there might even be a parallel universe where every aspect of our current one is the same except for one thing: here, John Carter was a success at the box office, not an eternal punchline. It’s been over 2 years since John Carter was released in theaters after decades of development, and it left theaters almost as quickly. Although it was not the most painful flop in recent memory (any movie that grosses nearly $300 million worldwide deserves a tiny bit of credit), and although it has a dedicated subset of fans, John Carter is almost akin to a modern-day Ishtar: a movie known for its financial failure to a wide audience, even if that’s not equal to its creative quality.
A few weeks ago, this column discussed the concept of risk-taking at Pixar Animation Studios. Recently, one of the studio’s head honchos, Ed Catmull, admitted that the growing reliance on creating sequels as well as original films is in part because sequels were financially less risky. Perhaps, when considering the cost of marketing as well as how much certain movies or characters make in merchandising, that may be true. But simply looking at the box-office takes of Pixar films proves that Catmull’s statement is faulty: as daring as their stories may be, no Pixar film can be categorized as a flop. As much as we may presume that original storytelling is riskier than relying on sequels in financial terms, at Pixar, it’s almost as if they can tell whatever stories they want and people will pay no matter what.
Of the various behind-the-scenes stories that have now become apocryphal to the Pixar legend, it’s hard to beat the one associated with Finding Nemo. In the final few years of his time at the top of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner was convinced that Pixar’s winning streak both at the box office and with critics was about to end with this animated feature, the first led by director Andrew Stanton. Eisner couldn’t possibly fathom, he told shareholders, how this movie about a clownfish desperately scouring the ocean for his missing (and only) son with a forgetful blue Tang at his side could ever hit it big with audiences worldwide. When he made these comments in 2001, he did so based on a work-in-progress screening that was, in three respects, vastly different from the final product: Marlin was voiced by William H. Macy, instead of Albert Brooks; the angelfish Gill was, in spite of being the leader of the fish in P. Sherman’s aquarium, lying about his sordid past; and Stanton chose to dole out a series of flashbacks explaining what happened to Nemo’s mother, Coral, instead of beginning the film this way.
When Pixar Animation Studios unveiled its first feature film in 1995, it represented a rebellious pushback against a formula that some people might not have been conscious of until watching Toy Story. Only then were audiences reminded that not all mainstream animation needed to have Broadway-style songs, straightforward leading characters paired with talking-animal sidekicks, or the like. When The Little Mermaid was released in November of 1989, it felt like the culmination of what Disney animation and its rivals were trying to accomplish in reviving the form for a younger generation; movies like The Great Mouse Detective and An American Tail had paved the way, but didn’t approach the same qualitative cohesion as the story of Ariel and her dreams of being human. But within 6 years, its story structure, characterization, and aural composition were no longer even mildly groundbreaking. The same happened with Pixar and its films; even though Toy Story owes a great debt to the buddy comedies of the 1980s, its combination of unique visuals, childhood nostalgia, and action once felt fresh and new.
The Pixar Braintrust is a respected group of directors, writers, and executives at the company who provide notes and advice to a film’s creative team during the development process. Consisting of John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, and others, the group has been credited as one of the reasons for the studio’s success. In Catmull’s upcoming book, the president of the studio discusses the importance of the Braintrust by highlighting a meeting held to discuss Docter’s upcoming film, Inside Out!
At the Oscars this year, no Pixar films were nominated for awards but the studio and its filmmakers were present in the spotlight, through montages featured in the show and TV ads playing during the telecast. Most notably, a new Google ad made its debut, which focused on its search engine, and had Pixar filmmaker Andrew Stanton providing narration on how to tell a story. Watch the ad after the break!
The gravitational pull of the endless Star Wars franchise is inescapable in modern cinema. Though there have only been six live-action films in the series, the vast ocean of toys, theme-park attractions, animated TV series, books, and more make it impossible to avoid, even before there were rumors of a new trilogy. After the Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm in the fall of 2012, the rumors became truth: within just a few years (now under 2 years), a new trilogy of Star Wars films would be unveiled, following up on the events of Return of the Jedi. Since that time, it’s been assumed that Disney wouldn’t just make new live-action films in that galaxy far, far away. Why not make more animated films, or spin-off series, and so on? For now, at least, these are rumors.