Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Is Pixar getting lazy?
Used to be that Pixar was pathologically committed to forging new, original material that never failed to be just the thing the zeitgeist needed. Like clockwork, Pixar would release one film per year that seemed to stretch our collective imaginations in one direction or another, toward things we had never seen before, and get five-star ratings from critics in the process.
Now? I'm concerned about the upcoming period of laurel-resting.
Granted, Pixar's latest, Toy Story 3, is the first sequel the company has made in 11 years (since the brilliant Toy Story 2), and by all standards continues Pixar's unblemished record of excellence. But we're about to enter into a period that might be telling in terms of how Pixar plans to settle down in the coming decade.
Namely, you're about to get a lot more sequels.
With the Toy Story movies, there was never a doubt about the company's direction. I know we're only talking about a small sample size with just one previous sequel, but I don't think anyone thought Toy Story 3 was a sign of encroaching laziness on Pixar's part. Toy Story 2 had set a precedent that sequels were acceptable for Buzz, Woody and pals -- and that these sequels had the chance to be nearly as good as, if not better than, the original.
Now, however, the rest of the Pixar catalogue is being opened up to potential franchising. No longer are the Toy Story movies the exception that proves the rule (I'm never sure if I'm using that notion correctly) -- the rule of forever breaking new ground.
Most of you have probably heard that Pixar's next movie is Cars 2, which is set to open on June 24, 2011. But did you know that the following year, Monsters Inc. 2 is being released as well? Wikipedia has it scheduled for released on November 16, 2012. (We'll already know if Barack Obama won reelection by then.) I'm sharing this now because I just found out myself -- yesterday, while checking Billy Crystal's filmography. (If you remember, I wondered in yesterday's post why he no longer acts.)
It'd actually be three sequels in a row for Pixar if not for the fairytale Brave, once titled The Bear and the Bow, which is scheduled to be released on June 15, 2012 -- marking the first time two Pixar films will be released in the same calendar year.
I don't have a problem with the movies they chose to franchise -- I'm a bigger Cars fan than almost anyone I know, and I also really dig Monsters Inc. It's just the quick run of sequels, three out of four films, that seems like a worrisome trend. (And for the record, Brave doesn't sound as promising as other original Pixar material -- it features knights and princesses and other areas that have been done to death by dozens of Pixar knockoffs.)
If these three sequels, why shouldn't we be expecting Finding Nemo Again? Further Up? The Even-More Incredibles? Why not Ratatouille 2, or perhaps, more appropriately, Rata-2-ee?
And then, when they're done with all that, maybe Cars 3 and Monsters Inc. 3? And don't forget Toy Story 4.
I'm not sure if "laziness" is really the correct term, but it seems logical that it's easier -- or at least a safer bet -- to write new adventures for tried-and-true characters, than to produce new characters who may not catch on in the same way (or may not have the same possibilities for merchandising). It's a lot easier if you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you go to the drawing board. Reinventing the wheel has worked so far, but Pixar must wonder: For how long?
The years 2007 to 2009 may not have been my favorite years for Pixar movies, but there's no doubt that the triumvirate of Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up raised the profile of Pixar from mere purveyors of children's entertainment to the prestigious makers of dramatic art they are today. In some reviews of Toy Story 3, I even sensed the critic struggling with the dilemma of how to address the basic frivolity of a third Toy Story movie, relative to the weighty issues considered in the last three films. But Pixar has gained such a teflon image, there's no way a critic could question the studio, which benefits from an automatic presumption of greatness, a golden touch that never fails. Fortunately, most critics didn't really feel the need to question, because Toy Story 3 ended up being great. The sighs of relief were audible that this revered company had continued its winning streak.
That's why I'll be especially curious to see the reaction to Cars 2. The first Cars, although inordinately popular with small children (my friend watched it literally 30 times with his young son), didn't leave most adults searching for newer and greater accolades. In fact, it's fair to say that some even turned their noses up at it. I'm the exception -- I really loved the film. But there's no doubt that many people consider it Pixar's weakest or second weakest film (A Bug's Life being the other contender).
If people rhapsodize over the sequel to a movie that features cars with googly eyes, it'll serve as proof to me that either a) Pixar really can do no wrong, or b) the brainwash is complete. Part of the reason we love Pixar as much as we do is because we want to love Pixar that much -- we need to love Pixar that much. If critics wax philosophical about Cars 2, we'll know that Pixar's new phase of going back to the well has been accepted, even endorsed.
If not, it could tell us that our love affair with Pixar is contingent on them continuing to expand our minds -- continuing to present us with rats who want to be gourmet chefs, with trash compactors who want to love, and with old men who tether their homes to hot-air balloons.
I guess we have almost a year before we'll find out.