There has been much criticism directed at Pixar for the number of sequels and prequels it has released in the past four years. After there being only one sequel, Toy Story 2, out of its first 10 feature films, the last three out of four have been follow-ups. Many had praised the animation studio for producing original films in an age where film studios rely far too much on creating franchises. The accolades turned into negativity after the release of Cars 2, a film that met some commercial success but failed to impress most critics. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation, recently expressed his support of original stories and characters, stating that Pixar is aiming to release an original film every year.
What many forget is that Pixar’s development schedule looked very different a few years ago. Brave was set to arrive in theaters in 2011, while newt and Cars 2 were scheduled for a 2012 release. Additionally, The Good Dinosaur was originally supposed to hit theaters later this year. Cars 2 was pushed up to 2011, Brave was pushed back to 2012, newt was ultimately canceled due to its reported similarity to Blue Sky’s Rio, and The Good Dinosaur was delayed to 2014. A combination of scheduling changes and development challenges led to a shuffle that increased the number of follow-ups and decreased the amount of original films in the last three years.
Adam B. Vary of BuzzFeed (via Collider) had the opportunity to sit down with Catmull amidst the Monsters University marketing push. During the interview, the discussion touched upon the notion of original and sequel films:
“For artistic reasons … it’s really important that we do an original film a year,” says Catmull, who also serves as president of Walt Disney Animation. “Every once in a while, we get a film where we want or people want to see something continuing in that world — which is the rationale behind the sequel. They want those characters, which means we were successful with them. But if you keep doing that, then you aren’t doing original films.”
Catmull clearly acknowledges the importance of original stories. Looking at Pixar’s next three years, The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, and a film centered around Dia de los Muertos have already been scheduled. Even before this interview, Pixar seemed to be saying that the studio had not forgotten about original stories. At the same time, Catmull points to the drive to sometimes develop a sequel or prequel:
It’s part of what Catmull says is a strategy to release “one and a half” films a year. “We’re going to have an original film every year, then every other year have a sequel to something,” he says. “That’s the rough idea.”
How this shapes up to look like is that Pixar is aiming to release an original film once a year. Then, every two years, it would release a bonus film in addition to the original film. That additional film would be a sequel or prequel. The first time this would be in effect is 2015, when Finding Dory is scheduled to be the bonus film, set to arrive five months after Inside Out, Pete Docter’s film that takes us inside the mind of a young girl. In the world of film, many things can influence the production schedule, which Catmull understands with his statement that this is “the rough idea.” Pixar is striving towards this path, but as exemplified by what we saw with the cancelation of newt and shuffle between Cars 2 and Brave, the plan can change. As for now, revel in Pixar’s continued focus on original films.
Pixar is a company whose films need to earn money in order to function with some breathing room. Toy Story 3 is the studio’s biggest performer, by far, another example of a sequel producing more at the box office than an original film. Time and again, the Fast and Furiouses of the world are more financially successful than films based on brand new stories and characters. Although, that does not mean original films cannot be successful too, as demonstrated often by Pixar.
The bottom line, though, is that sequels tend to bring in more cash from merchandising opportunities and the audiences’ familiarity with the films’ world. It is practically unfair of us to say that Pixar cannot reap the benefits of a world it took so long to create. The teams in Emeryville surely have great ideas to bring these characters back to the screen again, and for us to frown on the studio every time a sequel is discussed is not even giving it a chance. The animation studio has shown that fantastic sequels can be made. The success of those sequels can help pave the road for the more bold ideas and the riskier stories such as seen in Ratatouille, Up and WALL-E. Sure, those films did not require a sequel of another film to be released in order to go into production, but if Pixar can come up with a great story for a follow-up, then we may see the next Toy Story 2 or 3. It would be disappointing if those two films never got made because they are marvelous, two of the greatest animated films to be produced. Monsters University may not have been original, but it was a humorous film with a thematic message that was incredibly resonating.
Pixar seems to have found a happy medium, stating to us that it knows we want more original films and it will continue to focus on them, throwing in sequels, not as replacements for the original stories, but as a bonus. We have been spoiled by Pixar, because the brand new worlds it has created have demonstrated that there is no other studio that rivals it in its consistent creativity and inventiveness. It is challenging for us because we like to be spoiled, especially since we are not spoiled often by studios. We ask a lot of Pixar because we have seen what the studio can do. I am excited to see that it is stepping up to the challenge.