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.
As was discussed in this column throughout 2013, the year 2014 is going to be an interesting one for Pixar Animation Studios. We have to look well into 2015 for the company’s next feature, and between now and that time, there will only be more rampant speculation about the studio’s upcoming slate. (Here’s hoping, of course, that the neverending glut of Star Wars casting rumors as well as this or that Marvel movie’s unveiling overshadows everything out of Pixar, in case people spin it to the negative.) Last week, it was confirmed via Entertainment Weekly that this won’t be an entirely Pixar-free year: the short Party Central, from the Monsters University universe, will be attached to Muppets Most Wanted this March. The short has been ready for a long enough time that it was nearly included on the Monsters University Blu-ray, but its director, Kelsey Mann, mentioned in the article that the party’s bigness lends itself to a silver-screen presentation. Party Central continues a now-long line of Pixar films being extended into the world of shorts, and hopefully it fits well alongside Partysaurus Rex and Small Fry, among others.
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.
Since 2006, it has been a given that we would see a Pixar film released during the summer season every year. The first indication that this streak was at risk of ending arrived with the news that The Good Dinosaur director Bob Peterson had been taken off the project. The film, which was scheduled to arrive in May 2014, was taken over by a collection of Pixar veterans such as John Lasseter and Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich, but no replacement director was named. For an animated film that was less than one year away, it signaled significant trouble. Today, we have received confirmation that The Good Dinosaur is indeed being delayed into 2015, leaving next year as the first without a Pixar feature film in eight years.
Last week, this column pondered why, exactly, Disney and/or Pixar Animation Studios were holding back on a teaser trailer for their next film, The Good Dinosaur, which is slated to open in May of 2014. By the time the article was published early Tuesday afternoon, the rumor mill was in high churn about the film’s status. Was its director, Bob Peterson, being taken off the project? Would this explain why he wasn’t present at the Pixar presentation at last month’s D23 Expo? Did this explain his ever-changing Twitter biography? (If only that last question was a joke, but no, that’s something fans were left to ponder as Disney stayed silent.) On Friday, the rumor became news: Peterson had indeed been booted off The Good Dinosaur sometime “over the summer,” and presumably before the D23 Expo. The project is now reportedly in the hands of a mix of people, including the film’s co-director Peter Sohn (known equally well for his behind-the-scenes animation work as for voicing characters like Emile in Ratatouille), Lee Unkrich, and John Lasseter himself.
After the D23 Expo, speculation ran wild on what had happened to Bob Peterson, the director of The Good Dinosaur, who was nowhere to be found during Disney’s biannual show. A report emerged earlier this week which claimed he had been removed from the project, but Disney/Pixar remained mum on the subject – until now, that is. Today, it has been confirmed that Peterson was taken off the film and a group of directors have stepped in to complete the film. Find more details after the break.
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.)
A few days ago, James Cameron announced, for what feels like the umpteenth time, that Avatar will be getting multiple sequels in the years to come. (Originally, it was two, to be released in 2014 and 2015. Now, it’s three, to be released in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Next year, there will be seven planned Avatar sequels, all opening on the same day in 2025. Get excited!) On those rare days when Avatar again dominates the daily entertainment news, it’s sometimes surprising to remember that this movie, the highest-grossing ever, domestically and worldwide, opened less than 4 years ago. Strangely, for a movie that made so much money and, at one point, had a fanbase so overwrought with emotion that Pandora wasn’t real that they exhibited signs of legitimate depression, Avatar hasn’t left an impactful legacy to many people. Not many films do leave a legacy, certainly not compared to the sheer number of films that open each year, but if you make a movie that grosses more than $2 billion, it’s not wrong to presume that it must have left some kind of mark on the world populace.
It’s high time that Pixar Animation Studios made a musical. In some ways, it’s been high time for them to make a musical ever since they started making features. From the beginning, the people at the top of Pixar’s food chain tacitly, vocally avoided making animated musicals in the same way as many of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s most beloved classics, either from the 1930s and 1940s or from the Disney Renaissance period. Pixar has defined itself, and the genre of computer animation as a whole, by refusing to have its characters break into song and dance on the regular. But why hold back on embracing one of the ironclad tenets of mainstream feature animation? All this refusal represents is a strange, stubborn unwillingness to be risky.
It’s high time that Pixar was funny again. Before you begin writing fierce and angry comments, keep reading, even if you’re tempted not to. When people think of Pixar’s highest creative peak, they likely consider the four films released between 2007 and 2010: Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3, movies typified more by their emotional highs than comic highs. This is not to say that this quartet of films aren’t funny; they are, and frequently so. But think of Up, and you hear the tinkling sounds of Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score and the “Married Life” montage in its opening act. Consider WALL-E, and you may think of WALL-E and Eve swirling around in space, triumphant in their mutual admiration and determined to help the human race evolve once more. And Toy Story 3’s final act is an emotional flood for most audiences. Pixar hasn’t stopped being funny, but they’ve allowed themselves to be swept away by that flood.
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.
The cornerstone of the Walt Disney Company is nostalgia. Every film they make, every character they create, every world they concoct furthers the notion that looking back at your past, dreaming of a time when everyone said it was truly wondrous to be alive, well before the minor frustrations of the future took over, is the best possible way to approach life. What are Disney’s theme parks if not various ways in which to embrace youth, either your own or the country’s? So many of their movies call to mind a vision of the “good old days,” a manufactured simulacrum that makes us wistful, wishing we’d been around at the turn of the century, say, or that we’d known as we lived our childhoods that we should cherish them appropriately. The irony is that the more technologically groundbreaking Disney films—and especially Pixar films— are, the more nostalgic they become.
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?
Quoting the late Walt Disney is fairly commonplace in the world of the Disney theme parks. Anywhere you walk in Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you’ll see a quote attributed to Disney, whether or not the quote is totally accurate. (He may not have said, in so many words, “If you dream it, you can do it,” for example.) One quote that is prevalent and does belong to him can be spotted in a plaque at the gateway between the entrance plaza to the Magic Kingdom (or Disneyland Park) and Main Street, U.S.A.: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” In short, if you allow yourself to submit to the cloistered theme-park worlds within, you are essentially engaging in a potent, immediate form of escapism.
Chronicle Books and Pixar have worked together for over a decade to deliver art books filled with gorgeous pre-production artwork created during the development of films from the animation powerhouse. Years are devoted to exploring ideas in art form at the studio, so getting a chance to take a peek at the behind-the-scenes process is often awe-inspiring. With Monsters University on deck for release this summer, that means another art book will be making its way to stores. Actually, The Art of Monsters University was recently listed for pre-order, giving us a look at the possible cover for the book. Take a look at it after the break!
Have you ever wanted the chance to attend behind-the-scenes talks on how Pixar films come to life? Do you want to re-watch classic Pixar films on the big screen? Then, get this – Disney Cruise has themed four of its cruises so that they are taken over by Pixar’s films, characters, artwork, and employees. Pixar co-founder John Lasseter and other employees from the animation studio will give presentations taking guests closer than ever to their creative process. After the break, you can find the complete schedule.
Before Pixar’s focus turned to feature films, the studio mastered the art of the short. Back in the 1980s, animation technology was far more limited than it is now, but John Lasseter and company were still able to blow audiences away with revolutionary computer animation but more important than that, stories with heart. After the release of Pixar Shorts Volume 1 , which collected such memorable shorts as Luxo, Jr., Tin Toy, and For The Birds on DVD and Blu-ray, many have been anticipating a Volume 2. The time is now, as the Blu-ray and DVD for the second volume has just gone up for pre-order!
Finding Nemo remains one of the most visually stunning Pixar films. While it has been about 10 years since the film arrived in theaters, the underwater world still wows with its incredibly realistic water effects. The 3D re-release of the animated film is just a few weeks away, which means the marketing campaign is well underway. Disney/Pixar has released a new featurette that looks specifically at the 3D conversion. Watch it in HD after the break!
Wreck-It Ralph may not be a Pixar film, but the latest animated film from Disney has me extremely excited for its creative and original storyline – an arcade game character named Wreck-It Ralph is a villain who is tired of being the “bad guy” and tours various gaming worlds to determine where he would best fit. Disney is looking to give the film an authentic video game feel with cameos from such well-known characters such as Sonic, Bowser, Q*Bert, and Chun-Li (among many others). It was already one of my most anticipated films of the year and then I saw some new concept art which has me even more thrilled. One piece even features a cameo from a certain famous Pixar and Disney personality! [Read more...]