Since Pixar first began their bid to take over the world of mainstream animated film in 1995, the Disney subsidiary has been consistently lauded and adored for originality in a body of work that boasted only a single sequel leading up to 2009. A year after that, though, the conversation began to change. Toy Story 3 represented the studio's 2010 outing, with Cars 2 landing in theaters in 2011. Even when Brave enjoyed its 2012 run, anxieties over Pixar's new fixation with revisiting past characters and worlds continued to grow; Monsters University was only eleven months away, standalone project Newt had been cancelled, and talk of a Finding Nemo sequel had begun in earnest. The unending stream of praise gave way to a question: where did Pixar's sense of originality go?
Yesterday, Ed Catmull, president to both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, succinctly managed to answer that query and assuage fears of an animation giant gone stale.
Speaking to Buzz Feed, Catmull echoed mounting audience concerns over the studio's sequel/prequel-oriented direction, touching on the motivations behind Pixar's decision to offer new installments in the lives of Sully and Mike, Mater and Lightning, and Buzz and Woody; he also emphasized the company's dedication to making brand new films and telling new stories, as opposed to retreading old territory:
For artistic reasons … it’s really important that we do an original film a year. Every once in a while, we get a film where we want or people want to see something continuing in that world — which is the rationale behind the sequel. They want those characters, which means we were successful with them. But if you keep doing that, then you aren’t doing original films.
Catmull goes on to describe Pixar's strategy going forward to release "one and a half" movies every year; more specifically, they'll output an original picture annually, and a sequel or a prequel to an existing work every other year. This should be music to Pixar fan's ears, whether they're casual viewers or dedicated loyalists. For nearly two decades, Pixar has made a name for itself through ingenuity in storytelling, fresh ideas, and rich imagination, and seeing someone within the company with Catmull's standing acknowledge the importance of that originality is extremely encouraging.
He's not just talking artistic sense, though: he's also talking good business sense. Even a cursory glance at Pixar's box office history spins a narrative in which their sequels don't make the same bank as their original films. Of their five highest-grossing efforts, only one- Toy Story 3- happens to be a sequel (and for some reason, nobody finds Toy Story sequels all that offensive in the first place). Outside of that short list, Toy Story 2 sits in the #6 spot while the much-maligned Cars 2 sits in second to last place ahead of A Bug's Life. (Yes, Monsters University is technically in last place right now, but that film can't be judged against its brethren as a disappointment or a success until it finishes its theatrical run.) The message here is simple- new movies, on average, sell better than repeats.
Catmull clearly doesn't mean to put a moratorium on sequels - Finding Dory, that aforementioned follow-up to Finding Nemo, is still scheduled to come out in November, 2015, while Mark Andrews played coy with the idea of making Brave 2, neither confirming nor denying that another Merida tale is off the table. But the Pixar prez clearly isn't blowing smoke, either. The studio's release slate is set in stone leading up to 2015, and while Finding Dory is on the docket, so are Bob Peterson's The Good Dinosaur and Pete Docter's Inside Out, which have tentative opening dates of May 30th, 2014 and June 9th, 2015, respectively. (That's to say nothing of Lee Unkrich's untitled film about Dia De Los Muertos, a potential 2016 release candidate for which they've already shown off some concept art.)
As a result, the years ahead look very bright for the beloved animation studio. What are your thoughts, Screen Ranters? Does Pixar's dedication to making new, original movies put your worries about their recent obsession with sequels to rest? Or would you rather see them continue to mine their existing titles instead?
The Good Dinosaur arrives in theaters on May 30th, 2014. Inside Out arrives in theaters on June 9th, 2015. Finding Dory arrives in theaters on November 25th, 2015.
We'll keep you updated on Dia De Los Muertos as more details become available.