Pixar's winning streak had to end eventually, but we all hoped it wouldn't end like this. Pixar, one of the most popular and successful movie studios in history, has finally succumbed to the disease known as sequelitis.
Sequelitis: A medical condition propogated by a combination of commercial success and creative ineptitude. Symptoms include bad movies and music, arrogance, denial and desperation. In that order.
Most movie sequels tend to be more financially successful than the originals, but often pale in comparison when it comes to originality, flavor and critical acclaim. In fact, only a handful of movie sequels were liked more than the originals: Star Wars, Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan's Batman series come to mind.
Pixar, taking after its co-founder Steve Jobs, looked to diverge from the path taken by most major movie studios. The company was pioneering new technologies for the sake of better storytelling, but when it was partly owned by Disney, Pixar was forced to overcome the sequel curse when then-CEO Michael Eisner ordered a sequel to 1995's Toy Story. Pixar eventually delivered Toy Story 2 in 1999, but most surprisingly, it overcame the sequel curse. The final installment of the trilogy released in 2010 was even more successful.
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Pixar only had one other sequel: Executive producer John Lasseter hoped to one-up his cherished movie Cars, which didn't do well commercially compared to the films that preceded and followed it, but Cars 2 was a failure on many levels. It was the first film in Pixar's history not nominated for an Academy Award, and it was the first film declared rotten by film critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Pixar fans hoped that one truly awful sequel would scare Pixar away from sequels forever, but that seems to be far from the truth.
Of the next five movies scheduled, Pixar plans to release at least two sequels to movies it's already made, including a sequel to Monsters Inc. called Monsters University, and a sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo. There were even murmurs of the company adding another chapter to the Toy Story series, even though Toy Story 3 felt very final.
We don't need a Toy Story 4, should Pixar decide to actually pull the trigger on that project. We also don't need Finding Nemo 2, and Monsters, Inc. is a classic that should be left alone.
Pixar: Teetering On Unoriginality
I want to bring up Pixar's winning streak again, just to show how impressive it was. Pixar released one movie each year from 1995 to 2010, and each of those films banked at least $360 million worldwide and earned at least one Academy Award nomination. During that span, Pixar won 11 Oscars, including six Best Animated Features, and each of the films (save for Cars) earned at least a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a spun-off animation company, eh?
Many would regard this decade-long success as Pixar's golden years. The last two years have produced Pixar movies that succeeded at the box office, but the films have been panned by critics. Even the company's latest film, Brave, earned a 76 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics split over the film's alleged preachiness.
Pixar has three original movies on its slate, including a movie that takes you inside the mind, a movie about the Mexican Day of the Dead, and a movie called The Good Dinosaur, which is about a world where dinosaurs never became extinct.
These three movies all sound like they have tremendous potential, and hopefully Pixar uses these opportunities to get some of its mojo back. But Pixar needs more of this. A lot more of this.
Pixar doesn't need to be the beacon for originality -- John Lasseter owes nothing to nobody -- but there is clearly a correlation between the originality in a Pixar movie and its success (save for the Toy Story series, which has simply transcended originality to become a true classic).
Pixar's most original movies -- Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E and The Incredibles -- are all hailed as the best work Pixar has ever done. Many also put Toy Story 3 on that list, but the Toy Story series can leverage nostalgia since the first film came out more than 15 years ago. Many kids grew up on the Toy Story characters like Woody and Buzz, so for the sake of argument, let's leave Toy Story out of this, okay?
Focusing on the truly original films has paid dividends for Pixar, and if financial reasons aren't enough, Pixar only needs to look at Disney.
If Pixar's run was impressive, Disney's was straight up legendary. Walt Disney Studios churned out hits from 1939 (Snow White) all the way until the early 1990s, with a slew of hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. Satisfied with its success, Disney began moving towards family-friendly films, and the quality of its animated films began to dip. Mulan and Tarzan performed decently at the box office, but after 2000, the company's animated films were simply unmemorable. Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet and Brother Bear all sank while Pixar's star only rose.
Pixar had a great deal of success because of its leadership. Jobs and Lasseter became good friends and they brought out the best in each other. They led a fearless staff looking to change the way we tell stories and watch movies. They did exactly that.
Now that the name Pixar is fully ingrained into pop culture, the company needs to find what made it unique again. Continually innovating is not an easy task, but if there's one company set up to be successful in this industry, it's Pixar. They have all the right tools, and they still have all the right people (even though Jobs is unfortunately no longer with us to helm Pixar's ship). Pixar has its pick of talented animators and storytellers, it just needs to use them.
We don't need a sequel to Finding Nemo, and we certainly don't need an extra chapter added to Toy Story. We don't just watch Pixar movies because they're entertaining; we watch them because they're inspiring. Pixar won't win the day by bringing back everyone's favorite characters; Pixar will win by continually introducing new characters and stories with heart and emotion. Pixar has proven time and time again that it can make us laugh wildly and cry hysterically in the same film; the company needs to strike at the heart in its future films, and never settle for less.