Pixar was once known for its unique technology and original stories. But recently, the company has produced more cutting-room leftovers than they have cutting edge material.
We’re the Toy Story generation.
Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang go hand-in-hand with our defining years of VHS and fruit roll-ups.
So when the trilogy’s (then) final installment came out, it was a movie that still made now-grown men cry. And when Andy was all grown up and moving out, so were we. It could not have ended better.
But in a prime example of “too much of a good thing,” last week the company announced a fourth installment of the Toy Story series.
For a company with so much heart, adding a fourth film to a perfectly rounded trilogy seems like a heartless money-maker. Pixar has always been a company known for one-shots that had us checking for sequels even though we knew that Pixar would never give us one…and that was ok.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time they’ve squeezed the heart out of a franchise for a few million bucks. In fact, that’s becoming the norm.
Pixar has become disturbingly reliant on sequels.
In the past five years, they’ve released three sequels (Toy Story 3, Monsters University, Cars 2) – which is a lot for a company that releases one film a year. And with three of their five upcoming films being sequels, the trend is not dying.
So why is the company of originals suddenly piecing together leftovers like the naughty Sid pieced together broken toys?
The answer may lie in the shadow standing in Pixar’s limelight – a shadow with two mouse ears.
When Disney officially bought Pixar in 2006, the company went from original and creative to pushing out blockbusters. And before a mob of Mickey-ear-wearing Disney lovers show up at our doorstep, let’s be clear.
I love Disney. Like so many people, it has inspired me to illustrate and write and do whatever I am truly passionate about.
But, Disney is also a business. And those white-gloved hands have a habit of pinching every last penny out of their franchises.
Basically, if Pixar is the giving tree, Disney is the greedy boy.
Maybe it’s simply coincidence, and maybe Pixar got greedy on its own. But Disney has made some shady moves, supporting the notion that they’re over-tapping Pixar for easy money.
Take their 2013 film, Planes, for example.
With the tagline of “From Above the World of Cars” and similar branding (plus identical animation) as Cars, Planes was dressed up like a Pixar film…but it wasn’t a Pixar film. It was a spinoff made by DisneyToon studios and was initially supposed to be a straight-to-DVD release.
Financially, this was a genius move on Disney’s part. Cars made serious bank on merchandise – something that would be easy to capitalize on with a movie in the same world. Make it look like it’s by the company who owns half of the top-ten highest grossing films of all time, and you’ve got a money-making trap.
Sucky or not, sequels and spinoffs roll dough, and Disney knows it. Of course, Disney’s not the only problem.
Pixar’s old edge has also become dull. And now that everyone is dancing on the grave of 2D animation with the new 3D animation style, the conversation has gone from “it looks like it’s trying to be Pixar” to “wow, that looks way better than Pixar.”
Other companies know that Pixar is still incredible with the standard they set, and they are pulling ahead with flying colors (literally). Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 created a new animation tool called “Premo” – based on a program used to make Shrek and Finding Nemo – that allows for much more precise emotion and realism in character movement and expression.
And most recently, Disney & Marvel’s Big Hero 6 utilized the shiny new program called Hyperion – which allows lighting that not only makes the film crazy realistic, but also visually stunning.
These technologies couldn’t have come to life without Pixar. Hell, the article about Big Hero 6’s Hyperion technology is literally called “How John Lasseter’s Pixar Culture Led to Big Hero 6 Breakthrough for Disney.”
Without being the top innovator in the animation world in both original stories and technology, Pixar’s claw machine aliens are quickly being replaced with more original designs like minions from Despicable Me. And while Pixar has said they’re going to balance out the sequels with originals more in the future, their reputation has been bruised.
The mighty studio hasn’t fallen quite yet, but Pixar is no doubt teetering on the edge of obsolete.