Watching business decisions get handed down from on high is always maddening, with the context for such choices being obscured from public view; all that can result is rampant speculation. So it is with the surprising announcement a few weeks ago from the Walt Disney Company that it was shutting down Pixar’s Canadian studio, located in Vancouver, British Columbia. The studio, which employed over 100 animators, had worked primarily in shorts related to preexisting properties, such as the Toy Story shorts Small Fry and Partysaurus Rex, as well as some of the Cars shorts released straight to DVD and Blu-ray. As of now, one of the reasons being bandied about for why the shutdown occurred is that a number of the tax loopholes that existed in the past in Canada have been tightened, giving Disney less profit on this extension of one of their most financially fruitful branches.
This column doesn’t often traffic in the oft-familiar conversational tack you’ll see online, amounting to someone saying, “Boy, this carton of milk really spoiled badly! Here, smell it, and take a swig, too!” Essentially, the Pixar Perspective doesn’t often wade into the world of hate-reading, which isn’t too far removed from hate-watching certain TV shows or movies, or even hate-following people on Twitter or Facebook. It can be easy, fun, and cynically enjoyable to read something so purely terrible or backwards-thinking, specifically knowing that said article or blog post or book is designed to push your buttons. Typically, it’s better to be above such a visceral pastime, even when the topic centers on a certain animation studio in Emeryville, California. Today is not a typical one, unfortunately.
Inevitability is, sometimes, the worst of all feelings. It’s easy to deny something is going to happen, even if all logic and evidence points to it being the case. But allowing yourself to accept the inevitable can be more satisfying than if you remain stubborn and obstinate. If you consider a piece of pop culture like Breaking Bad (allow the indulgence, please), you’re looking at a story that had a very clear and inevitable ending for many of its characters. We can wish that some of them might have escaped whatever fates they arrived at, but when logic points to the grave as being where they’ll wind up, there’s not much of a point in hoping otherwise. Denying the inevitable is easier than acceptance, but as much as we may imagine other possibilities, the latter option is healthier.
Planes is not a Pixar movie, but it badly wants to be. More to the point, the Walt Disney Company wants you to think that Planes is from Pixar. Though the Pixar Animation Studios logo does not appear in the film—and it shouldn’t, because the movie was animated by the people at DisneyToon Studios, even if the short film that inspired Planes was created by those at Pixar’s Canadian studio—there are more than enough hallmarks of Pixar’s work present within that could fool you. The first thing on screen after the Walt Disney Pictures logo is the moniker “World of Cars,” with the last word designed a la the title cards for Cars and Cars 2. John Lasseter, the head of Pixar Animation Studios, Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, and the man who’s almost singlehandedly spearheaded the Cars movement to the point where it has its own land in a theme park, co-wrote the story for Planes and is its executive producer. To cap it all off, John Ratzenberger, long known as Pixar’s good-luck charm, makes a cameo appearance. (No, he doesn’t voice the Mack truck from Cars, but a different character, even though cars exist in the world of Planes. Try not to think about it too much.)
The Internet is rife with theories that have to deliberately skew or ignore certain facts, or else these arguments would knowingly fall apart. No topic is free from such needless conjecture, including the films from Pixar Animation Studios. The backlash borne from the last few films Pixar has made—up to and including their newest, Monsters University—has spawned a number of editorials and a few dreaded not-a-word “thinkpieces” trying to get to the bottom of the problem. The question at the root of the “problem,” of course, is one that can’t be answered on a grand scale, but must be given some texture: “Why are Pixar’s films not as amazing as they used to be?” Of course, this argument could be more accurately phrased as, “Why doesn’t Pixar make movies I, the writer of this editorial, like anymore?” And it’s important to be vigilant, watching for the flaws inherent in these articles.
Late last week, the Walt Disney Company decided to expand our knowledge of their inner workings just a little bit, specific to the future of their animation studios. Anyone who may have been concerned, for example, that Walt Disney Feature Animation would be going the way of the dodo (this writer is among them) could breathe a bit easier because of this news story. In some ways, the entire story is fairly random—why Disney chose to announce its animation slate through 2018 at the end of May 2013, we may never know—but it’s got plenty of information we can parse through. Specific to Pixar and this week’s column, the topic of concern is multiple films in one year.
Pixar Animation Studios is the exemplar of originality in Hollywood. This is what we remind ourselves when we get frustrated that they’ve announced a sequel to Finding Nemo or a prequel to Monsters, Inc. If those sequels turn out to be more like Toy Story 2 instead of Cars 2, then good for all of us. But when we think of Pixar, we think original. They may pay homage to animated and live-action films from across the globe, of course; however, what the animators and filmmakers in Emeryville, California do has always been based on original ideas. Today, after considering a recently unearthed report, it’s time to ponder the opposite: what if Pixar did traffic in adaptations of preexisting material?
As unlikely as it may have seemed a few years ago, or even a few months ago if you were stubbornly holding out against the truth, there will be a sequel to the 2003 Pixar classic Finding Nemo, opening in 2015. Of course, more than 30 months from its release, we know very little about Finding Dory, aside from that title, its release date, the involvement of Albert Brooks and—in a more pronounced fashion—Ellen DeGeneres, and little else. But that title can, if nothing else, allow us to assume we have a general notion of what the film will entail: instead of the harried, neurotic Marlin searching the ocean for his son Nemo, he’ll have to do so for the unlikely friend he picked up on that first journey, Dory. These are the facts—at least based on Disney’s recent press release—but those meager crumbs have inspired a great deal of worrisome Internet fervor in the last couple weeks.