Over the course of its 27 years as a full-blown animation studio, Pixar has released a mind-boggling number of classics. Even more impressive is that the films have also been a huge hit with audiences around the world, with nary a flop. In an age where many high-profile (and expensive) films fail to rake in enough cash at the box office, the studio has set an unbelievably high bar for both itself and rivals. Given the number of great films under its belt, sequels are understandable, as both audiences and the filmmakers get the opportunity to see memorable characters again, while also likely creating a project that will be more successful at the box office than original films. The risk associated is finding the right balance between original film and sequel, which Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton believes the studio will have in the coming years.
Speaking with Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times last month, Stanton, who has previously expressed his “mixed feelings” about making sequels, admits that they are a necessity from a business standpoint. Below are the clips from the article which provide us with a window into the relationship between Disney and Pixar:
“It’s more often that somebody fails at a sequel than they succeed,” said Andrew Stanton, who is directing his first sequel, “Finding Dory,” a follow-up to his 2003 film, “Finding Nemo,” for Pixar. “You don’t want it to be derivative or redundant.”
“There was polite inquiry from Disney [about a ‘Finding Nemo’ sequel],” said Stanton, also a vice president at Pixar. “I was always ‘No sequels, no sequels.’ But I had to get on board from a VP standpoint. [Sequels] are part of the necessity of our staying afloat, but we don’t want to have to go there for those reasons. We want to go there creatively, so we said [to Disney], ‘Can you give us the timeline about when we release them? Because we’d like to release something we actually want to make, and we might not come up with it the year you want it.'”
I realize that many will take Stanton’s statements as proof of Disney’s negative influence on its subsidiary after it purchased Pixar in 2006. From a purely financial perspective, one only needs to take a look at every other studio to see the focus on franchises in the film industry. The negative association we often have with sequels is fully understandable, as many are clearly mindless cash-ins rushed into development to take advantage of the hype that can whittle away if a studio waits too long. There is a reason why each successive entry in The Fast And The Furious series has hit theaters no more than three years after the previous film. Actually, it has gained momentum, with the next film scheduled to arrive in 2014 when the latest entry only came out this year. While I admired How To Train Your Dragon, business is the reason why a third film is already scheduled even though the second is still one year away from release.
Many have come to associate Pixar’s success with original films because the studio appeared to be different in its emphasis on creating brand new worlds. Stanton, stating that Disney did want a Finding Nemo sequel, has come around to the notion that the success of sequels help pave the way for more bold concepts. However, Pixar seems to have laid down some rules to prevent sequels from being made solely for the purpose of making money. Pixar is a company, so of course executives always wanted as many people to view its films and to buy related merchandise. Pixar’s initial focus on original films is not what made the studio different. The strong drive by the studio to create riveting storylines with memorable characters is what made it different. Pixar CCO John Lasseter reiterated in a recent interview with Forbes that “quality is the best business plan.”
There is a misconception that Pixar has abandoned original films, instead focusing on follow-ups, and is therefore getting lazy. The common argument is that out of its first 10 films, only one was a sequel, while three out of its next four films were either a sequel or a prequel. This argument would be more valid if all or nearly all of those follow-up films were critical failures. However, two of those films are Toy Story 2 and 3, which both often rank high on many Pixar film lists. Also, while Monsters University was not as beloved as the Toy Story sequels, I still believe it was a damn fine piece of filmmaking (as did many others). Cars 2, which still has some fans, is the lone film that was hated by most critics.
Stanton believes that the studio’s creative drive wins out over the push to bring in more money. After all, Disney could have made Pixar develop follow-ups to all of its films instead of releasing The Good Dinosaur next year or Inside Out in 2015. It is a testament to the respect that Disney has for Pixar (or at least the power that Pixar commands) that we have not seen The Incredibles 2 yet. If that project was in the hands of any other studio in Hollywood, we would have seen at least two sequels by now, especially with the success of superhero films. While Disney no-doubt wants Pixar to think about sequels for its upcoming slate, Stanton (and likely the rest of the leadership at Pixar) wants the ideas and stories to come first. His statement that they would “like to release something [they] actually want to make” lays it all out – while Pixar will develop sequels in the future, the drive to create strong stories is what will dictate if it makes it into development, as great films come in all forms.