When Pixar Animation Studios unveiled its first feature film in 1995, it represented a rebellious pushback against a formula that some people might not have been conscious of until watching Toy Story. Only then were audiences reminded that not all mainstream animation needed to have Broadway-style songs, straightforward leading characters paired with talking-animal sidekicks, or the like. When The Little Mermaid was released in November of 1989, it felt like the culmination of what Disney animation and its rivals were trying to accomplish in reviving the form for a younger generation; movies like The Great Mouse Detective and An American Tail had paved the way, but didn’t approach the same qualitative cohesion as the story of Ariel and her dreams of being human. But within 6 years, its story structure, characterization, and aural composition were no longer even mildly groundbreaking. The same happened with Pixar and its films; even though Toy Story owes a great debt to the buddy comedies of the 1980s, its combination of unique visuals, childhood nostalgia, and action once felt fresh and new.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
Everything in pop culture that we embrace goes through cycles. Something is introduced to the masses, who fall in love with it, and then, after a requisite amount of time, a backlash arises. This is different from a piece of art, whether it’s a film, TV show, or book, being analyzed and criticized from a subjective point of view. Instead, that which is initially beloved begins to wear thin on some members of its audiences even if they are the ones who changed, not the art itself. (Take, for instance, the current season of AMC’s Mad Men, which has received countless plaudits in the past but is now receiving more unfriendly reactions because it’s inherently the same show, unchanging in its sixth year.) Backlash can be vexing, but it is not uncommon. And so it makes sense that the last couple of years, for Pixar, have been full of such a negative turn.
It has been over one year since Disney/Pixar announced the next film from the filmmaking team of director Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson, both of who last worked on Toy Story 3. While we were provided a basic premise, that the film would center around the holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where people of some Latin American countries celebrate those who have died, the film remained untitled. Given that the Toy Story film was critically lauded and was the first Pixar film to pass the billion-dollar mark at the box office, we have been anxiously awaiting further details on their follow-up film. After a recent trademark filing by Disney, it seems reasonable that the title could simply be Dia de los Muertos.
This past year has been the busiest that we have seen from Pixar, with the release of Brave, La Luna, PartySaurus Rex, Finding Nemo 3D, Monsters, Inc. 3D and the opening of Cars Land in Disney California Adventure. On New Year’s Eve, the animation studio is looking directly ahead, as a number of original films are in the works. Pixar has shared brand new concept artwork for several of its upcoming films over the next few years, which you can take a peek at after the break!