Pixar Sequels: Failing to Recognize the Exception

 Another post I wrote for Moviepilot, which should be online over there shortly.  In the mean time, I figured I’d give you all a look at what I put together.  I’ve talked a lot about this topic, but I thought I’d take a different angle this time and look at the Pixar/Disney situation from a more practical angle.  I should also be able to re-post my review of Monsters University here soon, so keep an eye out for that!

images (17)A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of Pixar’s Monsters University, the upcoming prequel to the studio’s beloved Monsters, Inc.  While Disney’s current review embargo prevents me from telling you anything specific about the film itself, the experience prompted me to return to an issue that has been on my mind since I learned of Pixar’s acquisition by the media giant which has now come to ownership of both Marvel and Lucasfilm as well.  That issue is the new direction Disney has been leading the company down in terms of the studio’s reliance on sequels.

Over the past 18 years, Pixar has released 13 feature length films, of which only three have been sequels.  In comparison, two out of the four upcoming films the studio has announced are sequels to existing material, a ratio which looks to be Disney’s planned new norm for Pixar’s future.  What this means for the future remains to be seen, but judging by the incredibly wide gap between the quality of the studio’s existing sequels (Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 vs. Cars 2) the results could either be a modest step forward or a monumental step back.

Let’s take a look at two things; why Disney is pushing for more sequels from Pixar and why that push is wrong for both the studio itself and the people who love its products.

At this point, the general view of sequels seems to be that they are an expression of Hollywood Greed and little more.  Franchises like Shrek stand for many as an example of how studio executives will do whatever it takes to milk the a film’s cash cow until it is financially and qualitatively dry.  What people seem to often forget or ignore is that the movie industry is a business, and like any business it would not exist without consistent images (6)profitability.  Movies aren’t cheap to make, distribute or market, and as a result studios require a certain amount of assurances of the returns on a project before they pump millions of dollars into its creation.  Unfortunately, in this sense the movie business and the entertainment industry as a whole is comparable to meteorology; even the best Weather Man is going to be wrong half the time, and even the most conscientious studio executives are going to finance a bomb or two.  When these decisions carry burdens of upwards of $100 million dollars, the difference between a 50%  and 60% probability of a film’s success can be huge.  It remains a statistical fact that sequels produce more consistent returns on investment than original projects do, and therefore carry a lower amount of risk.  Bottom line, referring to a sound business decision as “greed”  makes no sense for anyone who recognizes what kind of world we live in.

Having said all of that, sequels aren’t always the slam-dunk that studios hope for them to be.  After all, people go to see movies because they intend on enjoying the experience.  When a movie is well made, people enjoy the experience more, leading to more positive images (4)word of mouth, overall higher grosses for that movie and therefore increased likelihood for future sequels.  This is a harsh reality that Pixar encountered when it released Cars 2 back in 2011, also known as the film that broke Pixar’s infamous winning streak.  The thing is, for a film that was intended to ride its sequel status to higher Box Office numbers, its earnings were less than spectacular.  When adjusted for inflation, Cars 2 finished off its run with the lowest domestic gross of Pixar’s history, its final tallies failing to even match the $200 million production budget.  Admittedly this was offset by the increased merchandising revenue the film brought in, but nowhere near enough to make up for the damage done to the supposedly infallible Pixar brand.

Finally, this brings us to the subject of this article; why Pixar is the exemption to the Sequel Rule.  The reason is that rather than Cars, or Finding Nemo, or even Toy Story, it was Pixar that people kept coming back for.  Other movies might reel people back in with their favorite actors, their favorite characters, or any number of other franchise specific offerings, but the star of every one of Pixar’s first eleven films was the studio itself.  After all, even your favorite actors or directors have had their weak outings, yet Pixar had not a single significant blemish on its record.  The amount images (7)of trust this gave audiences for the studio is the reason why it was consistently able to take some of the weirdest and least relatable material imaginable (i.e. Ratatoullie, Wall-E, Up) and turn them into box office smashes beloved by critics and audiences alike.  We felt like Pixar could take any premise and turn it into a great experience, and as a result we were willing to follow the studio wherever it planned on taking us.  It’s that sort of creative freedom that felt completely absent in Cars 2 and, without serious work, will continue to feel absent if upcoming sequels like Monsters University and Finding Dory follow the same path.  No matter how well made those films may be, the simple fact that we’ve already been to each of those worlds will never recreate the magic of experiencing them for the first time.

With all of that in mind, I’d like to leave off on a happier note.  That happier note is that I can say from first hand experience that Monsters University is about as close of a return to form for Pixar as I could have hoped.  It may not be enough to change my mind about the subjects above, but it’s at least enough to keep me coming back for more.  I highly recommend that you give it a try when it comes out this June.

Now I’d like to hear from all of you; what do you think of Pixar’s sequel-filled future?  Are you looking forward to seeing the characters you love or are you afraid that their legacy might be soiled by unneeded sequels?

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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24 Responses to Pixar Sequels: Failing to Recognize the Exception

  1. bebe82496 says:

    *Movie-oholic-Someone who is a real big movie buff, someone who is really addicted to movies*
    Hi Mr. Rorschach!
    my name is Brian and I am a movie-oholic(I’m sorry if I mispelled this word, when it comes to hard words, like these, it’s really hard to spell, you know?)
    I know this might sound dumb or crazy, but what do you mean when you say that (and I quote, if you don’t mind) Monsters University is about as close of a return to form for Pixar as I could hoped?
    I guess what I’m asking you is I want know what rating/grade would guve Monsters University? Will you give me sneak peek at your OWN opinon or will I have to wait and see what your full review, rating, and grade is to the film?
    Please email me back at my preferred email address: bebe82496@gmail.com

    • r361n4 says:

      Unfortunately the screening company was pretty firm on their demand to keep the review under lock and key for a while, but I will probably be able to post it in a few weeks or so check back soon for my full opinion 🙂 I’d really like to post it/send it along, but Disney is pretty frustratingly tight-lipped about it at the moment. I don’t really understand why seeing as the review I had posted was exceedingly positive, but oh well…

      • bebe82496 says:

        Maybe the Disney*Pixar company is afraid your going to spoil too much of the film than review the film before it is even released for everyone to see on June 21st! Even though you’re not, the Pixar company might not know that, so I wouldn’t even try arguing with them since they are the biggest, most successful, and obviously, one of the very best(animation) money-making film-making film studios/companies EVER CREATED! I’m glad you really enjoyed the movie, and at first, I wasn’t all that interested seeing the movie because.. 1). I thought Monsters Inc. was just okay, it was funny, sure, don’t get me wrong, but I also found. It a little silly and surprisingly a little bit slow for a nearly 90-minute movie! 2). The previews to the new made it more silly and even childish 3). It isn’t a prequel, or another film, that Pixar shouldn’t make as a possible franchise/series! although a REALLY Nice Choice To Toy Story! Bravura! Brava!)

        The new trailer titled Trailer #3 on YouTube! Or whatever number this trailer is since there have been so MANY previews and sneak peeks for this film, I’ve lost count and track of how many previews there HAVE been, probably more than we would think!

        Anyways, the new trailer to Monsters University looks to be a surprisingly and increasingly anticipating and terrifically entertaining film that may prove that Pixar is back to its original roots!

        We’ll I am really happy you enjoyed the film and I can’t wait to see it myself when it hits theaters and theaters near college dorms (HaHa!) on June 21st of 2013! Good Luck with Fast &Furious 6, Man Of Steel, White House Down, Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim(AWESOME!!!), and Grown Ups 2(Oscar Time!!! Haha!!!! I actually didn’t HATE the film for one, I laughed at all the incredibly stupidly funny moments! What I liked about the film the most is that the stars of the cast looked like they were having REAL good fun filming the film, probably enjoyed their time more than we enjoyed the time seeing the film and enjoying the film! OSCAR-TIME for Worst Everything…Oh..Wait…That’s The Razzies..isn’t it.!!)

        Good Luck with the summer films coming out this year! Got to go see IronMan3 for the first time! Bye Now!

        Sent from my iPad Mini(A Mini Version of an iPad)

      • r361n4 says:

        First off, thanks for taking the time for that reply, I always love hearing from other people in depth 🙂

        Anyways, it sounds like I was a bit more of a fan of Monsters Inc. than you but I understand your reasonings. Honestly, University isn’t quite at Toy Story levels but the humor alone is enough to make the experience worthwhile. The heart is maybe a little less present than some of Pixar’s other films, but it was still more than I was expecting.

        I’m also just as excited for 2013 as you are, I didn’t actually see the first Grown-Ups so you won’t get any judgment from me there, lol. Check your email, I’m sending you a copy of my Monsters University review now 🙂

  2. Very informative article. I hadn’t looked that deeply into Pixar’s current state before; I’m glad you did.

    • r361n4 says:

      Thank you sir, it’s a topic that interests me far more than it interests many people but oh well, there’s always the chance I might be able to find other people who care 🙂

  3. pgcooper1939 says:

    Good article, though I’m surprised to hear about how good Monster’s University is given how I think the trailers have been awful.

    • r361n4 says:

      Yeah, the trailers have been pretty tame so far. I’ll be able to get into it more when I post the review, but this one does put much more of an emphasis on laughs than it does on originality. Some people will definitely be turned off by that, but I still had a great time with it

  4. I wish they’d retunr to original filmmaking too, but you cant blame them that much. Sequels are guaranteed $. Originals arent. They know they can bank on the characters and franchises they have, so…

    In terms of review embargoes, aren’t you told in advance when you’re not supposed to print/publish until? I know I have a screening of Fast and Furious 6 Weds night but I cant publish for another week and a half afterwards… They’re pretty clear about the embargo in communications. 😦

    • r361n4 says:

      They actually did not mention the review embargo or anything related to it AT ALL when I went to the screening, which is why I was so taken off guard when the asked me to take it down.

      My only argument was that for Pixar, originals were still guarandeed to be profitable essentially, they didn’t have a single original movie that didn’t A) exceed its budget in domestic grosses alone and B) gross under $200 million adjusted for inflation. Disney just lost faith in Pixar’s ability to keep that going I guess, which is what disappoints me

  5. Animated films don’t do sequels well, stick to originals. I do get most films doing it though. The Dark Knight is the perfect example of investing in a sequel to a pretty successful start, hoping into darkness pulls the same trick 😀

    • r361n4 says:

      Agreed, it seems like most animated sequels have very little effort put into them, only most of those used to take the form of Direct-to-video releases like The Lion King 2, Jungle Book 2, etc. Then Dreamworks had to go and make the animated sequel a full on feature length ordeal… I mean, it works sometimes but it’s still way too much

  6. I think sequels are inevitable, so I don’t think we’re getting rid of those. But Disney/Pixar really needs to get care of its sequels, like it happened (twice) with Toy Story, instead of doing what they did with Cars 2 8having one of the ost unlikeable characters in animated history and making him the freakin lead!) I wish they’d focus on original content. I’m really looking forward to their Day of the Dead film. Great piece, Andy!

  7. DStarB says:

    It’s good to know that MU is could be the first step towards Pixar’s triumphant return because, as you said, until Cars 2 they really were pulling off hit after hit. I agree, the trend of pumping out sequels could be a death blow for the studio but, of course, there is the exception of the Toy Story flicks. However, as it has been pointed out, animated sequels tend to be less about narrative integrity and more about guaranteed profit. In fact, I can’t think of a single 2D Disney animated sequel that is worth watching. But like many, because I’m such of fan of Pixar’s legacy, I’ll be there for Monsters U, good, bad, or indifferent (just like I was for Cars 2 and Brave) but I’m more interested in their return to original stories……and, I kind of liked Mater. But only in Cars!

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, I was actually okay with him in Cars as well but Cars 2 is what changed my mind. In any case I totally agree that it’ll be their ability to go back to original storymaking that will make or break them, after all so far they’ve never had a bad original movie so that trend’s still intact. Fingers crossed for The Good Dinsoaur…

  8. Good points but I think Toy Story 3 is far and away the best of that series, and just an amazing movie in general.

  9. Sequels are inevitable nowadays. If a film does well and there’s scope for a sequel, then there’s a good chance it’ll happen. I am slightly concerned about Pixar though. Toy Story was something completely unique, I can’t imagine other sequels being anywhere near as good or popular. I’m definitely not looking forward to Planes (not sure if that’s technically a sequel) or Finding Dory and I’m not best pleased a Toy Story 4 is planned. I suppose it takes less effort to write a story for existing characters than come up with a completely new IP. It’s sad but I hope it’s just a fad and they get back to original content soon.

  10. Mark Hobin says:

    Sequels aren’t necessarily bad when it comes to Pixar. Toy Story 3 is one of their biggest hits and it was flawless. Brave was an original and it was almost their worst performing film (when you adjust for inflation). I’m looking forward to Monster’s University. Keeping an open mind so far.

    P.S. Check out my latest reviews. 🙂

    • r361n4 says:

      I have been checking out your reviews, sorry I don’t comment that much but I do try to “like” them whenever I read them (which btw, I was very tempted to give Gatsby a similar score to what you gave it but I didn’t want to ignore the creativity of the movie even if I didn’t personally enjoy it nearly as much as my score would suggest)

  11. Ben says:

    They actually have 6 films coming up. And only one is a sequel. The Good Dinisaur, Inside Out, Dia Des Los Muertos, Finding Dory (the only sequel in their pipeline) and 2 untitled films, one directed by Brave director, Mark Andrews and one directed by Teddy Newton, the director of the short Day and Night. So I don’t think Disney has any plan to mess around with Pixar. Pixar also made Toy Story 3, Monsters University and Finding Dory for a reason. It’s too long to describe so for the story, please check out my blog if you’re interested 🙂

    http://animatedgalaxy.blogspot.ca/2013/04/finding-nemo-sequel-entitled-finding.html?m=0

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