Last month the news broke that Pixar was working on Finding Nemo 2. Original Nemo director Andrew Stanton, reported to also helm the sequel, played the usual Hollywood game of denying without denying anything, and though Pixar’s made no official announcement Ellen Degeneres has entered talks to reprise her role as Dory. It’s not surprising: Toy Story 3 only had to begin production and we knew Pixar was in the sequel business. Cars 2 followed a year later, Monster University is on its way, and Finding Nemo has a 3D re-release coming up as well. A sequel also serves a useful PR role: Andrew Stanton’s live-action debut John Carter lost Disney $200 million (whether that’s his fault or Disney’s, who had no clue how to advertise the film, remains debatable). Revisiting well-trodden territory guaranteed to do gangbuster at the box office reconciles Stanton with Disney and increases likelihood he’ll get a second chance at live-action.
It makes perfect sense from a business standpoint; Pixar might even know how to work it creatively. Neither of this matters because it’s already upset purists who want only new ideas, and more will voice their anger once the first ads appear. Many others won’t let this news taint their image of Pixar. Trust Pixar, they’ll say, just as Hollywood.com has. Don’t worry about the Cars series: Pixar makes that just for the merchandise, of course (Pixar has said no such thing); Brave wasn’t great but it had good intentions, and Merina’s a great role model for women (The film’s female director was replaced by a hyperactive man-child who describes Merina like an Irish Angelina Jolie). All Pixar’s sins are venial, and their fans absolve them immediately.
I don’t subscribe to either position. Maybe I once belonged to the “trust Pixar” camp, back when WALL-E and Up blew the roof off how we thought about feature animation, when Pixar’s biggest misstep was a harmless morality tale with talking cars. Now I see them outside black-and-white in all their shades of gray. Everything I said at the beginning of my Brave review still stands: they’re a team of motivated artists devoted to their craft and that’s awesome; they set a great example for the rest of the industry; few studios will ever have a run as successful as theirs…
But let’s face it: the “Age of Pixar,” the time when Pixar made a great movie every year – Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Ratatouille – when they were the only studio we could always count on, has passed. They did not “sell out” or “lose their touch.” They might make more great movies, maybe excellent ones. What they won’t do is make their films unchallenged. Their monopoly on the industry has broken, and we now live in an era of egalitarianism, of many great studios and many more great movies, which Pixar’s are only a small portion of.
Dreamworks, Laika, Sony and Aardman Animation have all picked up Pixar’s slack and started playing their A-game. My latest “Trailer Thrash” features three such films coming out this year from animators as talented as Pixar’s. It’s a real possibility, considering these and the already-released ParaNorman and The Pirates!, that this year’s top five animated films might not even include Brave. For an original film from Pixar that’s a big deal. It reminds us John Lasseter and gang aren’t Gods but fallible humans. They fail as much as they succeed, make decisions based solely on money, and face the reality others may do what they do but better.
Now that Pixar has indulged itself in producing more sequels they’ve become “part of the pack,” so to speak. That’s not to say these sequels can’t be good or Pixar will never make an original film again. It does acknowledge the company has exhausted their impetus towards original, innovative properties. What some thought was just a rest period from consistent innovation, the Toy Story and Cars sequels after Up, has turned out to be a definitive path confirmed by Monsters University and now Finding Nemo 2. Pixar has two original features vaguely announced, a dinosaur movie (that’s never been done before) and a film “about the inside of a girl’s mind,” which… I have no idea what that means. They could be good. No doubt about it, Pixar might blow us away again. Right now though I’m more excited for the unironic, action-bombast of Rise of the Guardians, Tartakovsky’s slapstick retroactive Hotel Transylvania, Laika’s next film in their series of macabre suburban fairy tales, and films even deeper in the pipelines, ideas like a new Sylvain Chomet project, Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio, and a world folklore anthology helmed by, amongst others, Alfonso Cuaron, Michel Gondry, and Marjane Satrapi.
Hearing about the Finding Nemo sequel hasn’t hardened my heart against Pixar, but it’s reminded me there’s a whole other world of animated fare beyond them, taking advantage of the medium’s potential and achieving exciting things. A lot of this wouldn’t be possible without the groundwork Pixar laid, so I’ll always be grateful to them as innovators and the first to explore CGI as an artform; they’ve paved a legacy as great as Disney and Miyazaki’s. Now let’s look for new legacies, new animation heroes waiting to take form. It’s a great disservice to all filmmakers, Pixar included, if we cling to one even as others offer so much more.