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.
To wit: the delay of The Good Dinosaur from May 30, 2014 to November 25, 2015. As noted in a recent Pixar Perspective column, this delay is the first of its kind for Pixar. Though the company has had notable production snags and stumbles with Toy Story 2, Brave, and more, none of their films have budged from their originally announced release dates before. What’s more, because of this shift, 2014 will be the first year since 2005 when Pixar didn’t have a film in wide release. And the gap between Monsters University and Pixar’s next film, Inside Out, is the longest since 2003. So, it is time to panic. “[T]wo years without a Pixar film sounds like a genuine crisis for the studio,” wrote Drew McWeeny at HitFix when the news was announced. That same article ends with McWeeny calling Pixar “sitting out” 2014 as a “genuine shock.” A piece about the release-date shift in Time Magazine called this change, in its headline, a “stumble” and tut-tutted the gap in Pixar’s “once-dependable pipeline.”
The sky, yea and verily, is falling, not because Pixar has pushed back two of its upcoming films. (Finding Dory moving from the fall of 2015 to the summer of 2016 is a shift that’s mostly been ignored, but is no less interesting.) As mentioned here in the past, the director shuffle regarding The Good Dinosaur isn’t, on its face, good news. Bob Peterson’s been firmly entrenched at Pixar for a couple decades; to see him get nudged out is at least concerning, and potentially distressing. But that’s not why we should feel like Chicken Little; no, the trouble is that we are now raising up warning flags when a company chooses to take its time, as opposed to rushing. When did members of the public start acting like shareholders and studio executives? Again, let’s leave aside the question of whether or not The Good Dinosaur will be, in just about 26 months’ time, a good movie. That’ll be up for debate well after the film’s released. People are now concerned, it seems, that Pixar wants to get things right, no matter how long it takes.
At what point does this column become a broken record, one with arguably minimal volume control, in emphasizing that a movie being delayed, or being a sequel, or getting a new director, and so on, is not automatically a sign of poor quality? (Perhaps today is that point. Perhaps it was a month ago. YOU DECIDE.) Delays disappoint the moviegoing public, at least those who are aware of films’ release dates, because we’ve mentally put those films on our calendars. Pixar movies are treated as events, a richly earned status. So hearing that one of those events has been pushed back by over a year is absolutely disappointing. This kind of delay can mean that Pixar’s brain trust isn’t confident that The Good Dinosaur will be ready in 9 months. The film, presumably, will be ready. Just not when we wanted it. Treating this as a stumble or a crisis for Pixar is inexplicable, because of the lack of knowledge we have. Maybe The Good Dinosaur will be Pixar’s least successful film. Maybe it will be their greatest. Maybe it will display clear signs of a muddled production. Maybe it will be treated as an achievement to rival their past original films. And so on. To dub this a crisis is to presume certainty when none exists.
Delays are not inherently bad things. A movie’s release being delayed can speak to poor quality. It can speak to the exact opposite, however. Delays are becoming something of an unexpected trend in Hollywood this fall. First, there’s the new film Gravity, opening this weekend (it’s good, and should be seen on the biggest screen possible, by the way). But this Sandra Bullock-led sci-fi story was meant to open last November until its co-writer/director, Alfonso Cuaron, said he needed more time to perfect the revolutionary special effects. Yes, this is a different reason than why Pixar had to push back The Good Dinosaur, but an 11-month delay is fairly shocking. Or consider Foxcatcher, the new film from Moneyball director Bennett Miller, starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Only days after a teaser trailer, creepy not just for its dark content but for the prosthetics on Carell’s face, was released on YouTube, Sony Pictures Classics announced they were delaying the film from this December to a date unknown to let Miller keep working on its post-production. And there’s also The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. As of this writing, it’s got a release date of November 15, but there are constant rumblings that Paramount will push it back potentially to the summer of 2014, if only to give other awards-season releases breathing room. Should that film get moved, it won’t be Scorsese’s first film getting pushed back; hell, it happened just a few years ago, with the excellent Shutter Island.
You would not be wrong for wondering, “Yes, but isn’t that an apples-and-oranges scenario?” This is perhaps closer to comparing a Granny Smith apple to a Red Delicious. Delays are delays. The rumors surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street are most perplexing, if only because there’s 6 ½ weeks until its scheduled release. Some say it’s an issue of Scorsese’s final cut being too long for mass consumption; he may need time to pare it down to a more manageable length. Whatever the case, people are not giving Scorsese or Miller or Cuaron a hard time as they are with Pixar. As mentioned here in the past, most people do not treat each of Pixar’s directors as separate auteurs; the entire studio is treated as one big auteur. It’s rare for a person to say they can’t wait for “the new Stanton” or “the new Docter,” as they would say “the new Scorsese” or “the new Spielberg.” But to hear about “the new Pixar” is, these days, extremely common. We define the company not by its specific employees, but by whatever brand we associate with Pixar.
That brand may have shown signs in the last few years of being slightly tarnished, but its path forward is not as dire as some writers may believe. One of the reactions that sprang up after it was announced that The Good Dinosaur would be delayed was, roughly, “I can’t believe Disney’s executives are OK with this.” Leaving aside, for a second, why anyone who’s not financially invested in the company’s future would seriously wonder what its executives think about various shifts in release strategy, there’s something truthful about that reaction. If Disney’s in the market to make as much money as humanly possible, losing out on what must seem like a sure thing for a year would be a big blow. Pixar may not have the same level of autonomy some of us may wish—and it’s easy to presume, as some do, that John Lasseter micromanages Pixar’s decisions—but being given the opportunity to make a potentially messy film into something cleaner and more polished is impressive. That Disney has approved Pixar’s choice to take 18 extra months to work on The Good Dinosaur is good news. If we accept that switching from one director to a brain trust to a new director isn’t inherently a positive sign, we should also accept that a typically collaborative film studio being allowed more time to work on a troubled production is positive.
As we did before, we know so little about The Good Dinosaur. We know its cast—though someone could get recast in the next 2 years, you never know—and its concept, as well as some idea of what it may look like. (Though, again, with this much time from its now-current release date, anything could be changed.) The reason why people look at this shift in release date as a crisis or a stumble seems less a comment on Pixar’s recent troubles, and more on an all-consuming impatience that dominates pop culture in the 21st century. It’s not enough that The Good Dinosaur was slated to open in May of 2014. We needed to see evidence of its existence at a studio-designed fan convention. We complain about movie trailers giving too much away, but we also thrill at the existence of teasers, clips, and the like. (An important note here: the “we” here refers, also, to the writer of this column. Very few people are immune to this desire.)
It may be that The Good Dinosaur is a creative failure. Perhaps it’s beyond saving, or it can’t be wholly fixed no matter how much time is spent on it. It may be that Pixar’s salad days are behind it, never to return or reoccur. The only way to find out is not to make proclamations based on scant evidence, but to be patient and find out what they have in store for audiences. This column has, in the past, referred to the general frustration and exhaustion of having to constantly defend Pixar from those who wish to declare the studio creatively dead, bankrupt, struggling, and so on. No doubt, directorial changes and delays do not make it any easier. They do not portend the best possible outcome. That combination being specific to one movie allows the naysayers a logical argumentative avenue: a fired director and a lack in confidence at a set release date equals, possibly, a very bad film indeed. But these are predictions. Predictions are often wrong, no matter how much past evidence you may utilize. We’re two years out (and hopefully, not much longer) from The Good Dinosaur. This column has no predictions on its quality or lack thereof, only a suggestion: to pronounce Pixar as being in dire straits because of this news is an easy way to set yourself up to get egg on your face somewhere down the road.