Although the series lives on in shorter form, the final 20 minutes of Toy Story 3 is something of an emotional trip through the wringer (that is, if the film works as intended to the audience). Much in the same way that the opening sequence of Up is called out as an example of Pixar working at its tear-jerking peak, almost nullifying the impact of the rest of the film, Toy Story 3 has a lengthy climax culminating in a curtain call, all of which is meant as a massive payoff to a 15-year trilogy, a firm period on a franchise that could easily be extended on the silver screen for years to come. (Rumors will, of course, abound about a potential fourth Toy Story film; let’s only hope that this never comes to fruition.)
As expected, 2014 has been fairly quiet so far for Pixar Animation Studios fans. Seeing as both Monsters University and The Blue Umbrella didn’t receive any Oscar nominations, there’s no studio-specific rooting interest in the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony. The next Toy Story TV special won’t be on ABC until, presumably, this December. And, as we all know, there’s still nearly a year and a half until Pixar’s next new feature film, Inside Out. In the meantime, thus, this column could either choose to focus on a recent bit of fan art gone wrong, or accentuate the positive and discuss the ways in which Pixar has embraced the quirks and stylistic flourishes of live-action filmmaking over the years. The latter option is far more palatable and less likely to induce a massive headache on this writer’s part, quite frankly. (Quickly, regarding the former option: inserting Pixar characters into live-action movie posters is a fine idea. Inserting Frozone into the 12 Years a Slave poster, in place of Chiwetel Ejiofor, is at best wildly misguided, and at worst something far more despicable.)
Note: This column will discuss some third-act plot twists and general spoilers for The LEGO Movie. If you haven’t seen the film yet, consider yourself warned. (And also, see The LEGO Movie.)
In the nearly 20 years since Toy Story opened and kickstarted a revolutionary new period in mainstream feature animation, most of Pixar Animation Studio’s competition–even at the Walt Disney Company–has taken away the wrong lesson from that 1995 film’s success. A solid majority, though not all, of the computer-animated films that would follow in the 2000s and beyond focus on a few elements present in Pixar’s early work: famous actors, stylized and cutting-edge animation, adult-centric pop-culture references, and fast pacing. By themselves, and together, these elements shouldn’t instantly inspire dread. (Arguably, Toy Story 2 has all of these elements, and is one of Pixar’s early highlights.) However, a great deal of films from DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Studios, and other rivals lean so heavily on the aforementioned aspects that they leave out what matters most, and what’s present in almost every Pixar film: a lively, all-around spirit. A few non-Pixar animated films have felt like more than just a handful of elements concocted by a group of soulless executives–How to Train Your Dragon, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the recent Frozen come to mind. These films all feel as if they were made by people who took the right lessons from Pixar’s early success; now, we can add a new entry to this too-small pile: The LEGO Movie.
The moment when Pixar caused a cultural shift in mainstream animated cinema wasn’t, as you would expect, with the release of their first film, Toy Story. That film inspired a shift in the animation industry, but the way in which general audiences’ response to animated films changed occurs roughly halfway through Toy Story 2. This film and Monsters, Inc. both represent the old and new in Pixar, a slight blend of honest and often-unexpected emotion along with clever and witty gags aimed at the pop-culture-literate members of the audience. Both, like A Bug’s Life, featured outtakes during the credits, a commentary on the prevalence of painfully similar blooper reels in live-action films; and both have a powerful moment that inspires the adults in the audience to tear up and reach for a tissue.
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.
Over the last decade or so (possibly even less than that), one trend in Hollywood has been planning ahead (often too far ahead). Marvel and their Cinematic Universe is a good example of this, as they set dates for future projects, from the upcoming Ant-Man in July of 2015 to an untitled project in May of 2016, well before such minor issues as a script or cast members are set in stone. The most obvious current example of this is the impending Star Wars sequel directed by J.J. Abrams. Its existence was announced before a director, a screenwriter, or a cast were. (As of this writing, though plenty of rumors abound, there are still no officially announced cast members, in spite of the film being set for release in December of 2015.)
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.
When this column began its theme of highlighting the so-called “Pixar moment” in various Pixar films (we’re still waiting on that patent to go through), it was predominantly about focusing on moments of powerful emotion in films that are targeted primarily at the family audience. That animation can inspire adults and kids alike to grab for a tissue isn’t terribly unique—though few modern animated films would attempt to echo its impact, let’s not forget the iconic moment in Bambi when the title character’s mother is killed by a hunter—but Pixar’s later films, such as Ratatouille and Up, reach for emotion in surprisingly mature and complex fashion. So in starting off 2014 with a look at the Pixar moment in Pixar’s first film, Toy Story, you might think this column would look for the origins of those unforgettable, tearjerking moments.
What is the price of a decreasing amount of prestige? This is the question that may be worth asking most of all right now if you’re a fan of Pixar Animation Studios. As Samad pointed out on the Pixar Times home page, when the Golden Globe nominations were announced this past Thursday morning, Monsters University was not included among the nominees for Best Animated Feature. There is, to be sure, a necessary discussion to be had, not only about how seriously people do or should take the Golden Globes, as well as why, this year, they only nominated three films for Best Animated Feature. (On the latter point, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, the exquisite and mature The Wind Rises, was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film, but not Best Animated Feature, inexplicably. Also, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, has a rule stating that if fewer than 12, but more than 7, animated features qualify in a given year, there can only be three Best Animated Feature nominees. As there were only 10 wide-release animated features this year, that must explain the small number of nominees, but just barely.)
Nine months after this article kickstarted the Pixar Perspective column, it’s worth taking stock of the calendar year 2013. (With just three weeks left before we start 2014, it is, of course, possible that there may be more news on the horizon, but doubtful.) In that first editorial, the topic was the now-common choice among writers to pit Pixar Animation Studios against Walt Disney Animation Studios, only a few weeks after Brave won the Best Animated Feature Oscar over the apparent underdog, Wreck-It Ralph. A similar inter-company battle may occur once again, as Frozen and Monsters University are assumed to be among this year’s top challengers for the prize, along with another film being distributed under the Disney banner, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. And unlike even Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen has performed extremely well to this point; it’s too early to know for sure, but it could easily wind up as the highest-grossing feature in the Disney animated canon since The Lion King. Never mind, of course, that Monsters University, despite not being as widely embraced by critics, made nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide. For yet another year, Disney has “beaten” Pixar, in some people’s minds.