Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Piece to the Puzzle?

The Pixar Times put up a great article on Andrew Stanton's recent words on the follow-up to his 2003 masterpiece. Finding Dory is still on track for its fall 2015 release, but of course everything has been kept under wraps.

Stanton was against sequels for a long time, but lately he's been quietly talking about them. Last summer, he talked about how the Pixar sequels were "comfort food" for them and probably the audience. He also said that we may see more sequels in the future since the people at the studio aren't "blinded" anymore, since they are a business after all. In speaking with The Los Angeles Times, who ran a rather positive piece on sequels, Stanton stated...

"It’s more often that somebody fails at a sequel than they succeed. You don’t want it to be derivative or redundant."

All of Pixar's sequels aren't derivative or redundant. Even the dreaded Cars 2, which is certainly not anything like its predecessor. People may be disheartened by the amount of sequels Pixar has made lately, but there's one thing that the sequels don't do: Rehash what made their predecessor work. Give them props for trying a different story with each sequel.

"There was polite inquiry from Disney [about a Finding Nemo sequel]. I was always ‘No sequels, no sequels.’ But I had to get on board from a VP standpoint. [Sequels] are part of the necessity of our staying afloat, but we don’t want to have to go there for those reasons. We want to go there creatively, so we said [to Disney], ‘Can you give us the timeline about when we release them? Because we’d like to release something we actually want to make, and we might not come up with it the year you want it."

Again, I always found his comments on some of this to be a bit contradictory. Going back to the comment he made about sequels and originals last summer, the originals do bring in a boatload of cash. In fact, Up outgrossed the likes of Cars 2 and Monsters University. WALL-E, Ratatouille and several other originals grossed more than $500 million worldwide so they don't need to depend on sequels. Finding Nemo is their second highest grossing film of all time, it's an original!

That being said, at least Stanton says that they'll do a sequel when they are ready, not when Disney wants one. Of course, that's all contrary to popular belief that Pixar just wants to "churn out sequels to make money/they don't care about art anymore." Toy Story 3 turned out to be excellent, and Monsters University was damn good. We have not seen Finding Dory yet, and people are already assuming right off the bat that it's going to be a blemish. A bad film! An embarrassment to the original! Another sign of the studio's "decline"! Yep, tell me more about that crystal ball of yours...

Anyways, a good chunk of people who believe that Pixar is declining tend to point the finger at Disney, saying that they were the cause behind Cars 2, Monsters University and Finding Dory (they conveniently leave Toy Story 3 out) and the overall quality of Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University. I'm sure Disney wants sequels, being a corporation and all, but going by what I've gathered over the years - they don't seem to force Pixar to make sequels. If they did, why haven't they forced Walt Disney Animation Studios to make a sequel to something like Tangled or Wreck-It Ralph? They seem more sequel-happy with their live action stuff than with what's going on in the animated front.

For the sake of those who don't know (gotta go in broken record mode here!), Toy Story 3, Monsters University and Finding Dory exist because of the copyrighted scripts for the aborted Disney/Circle 7 sequels to Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. You know, the ones that were supposed to be made if Pixar were to break away from Disney after Cars. Pixar had to "overwrite" all three, but they did so when they wanted to. If that wasn't the case, Toy Story 3 would've been out in theaters quicker. No, they made sure that they delivered a fantastic finale to that trilogy. They pounced that right after the merger because they finally had the chance to make the finale they wanted to make, since one was brewing for a while. Finally getting the rights to their work back, it makes sense that Pixar's Toy Story 3 began pre-production in 2006. At one time, Toy Story 3 was actually scheduled for 2009... But guess what? It got moved to summer 2010! Monsters University was put into development some time in 2007 or early 2008 (some concept artwork is dated 2008, and it was hinted at back then), so they spent 5-6 years working on it. Maybe even more! Finding Dory? Well we have no idea, but I assume they waited a while to "overwrite" the Circle 7 'Finding Nemo 2', they didn't just dive right into it right after the merger. I'd say 2009 was when they started working on it, which will mean that they spent 6 years working on it. Typical timeframe for a Pixar film.

All of this, I firmly believe, explains why these sequels exist, why they all came/are coming out between 2010 and 2015, and why they came out so close to each other. Cars 2, again, is the anomaly of the bunch since there's no evidence that Circle 7 greenlit a sequel to Cars back in 2004/2005. Again, my conspiracy theory is that Bob Iger coaxed John Lasseter into making it after merchandise sales went through the roof and Lasseter agreed to make it because he's in love in with his universe. Can't blame him!

So basically, Pixar had to make Toy Story 3, a Monsters, Inc. sequel/prequel, and a Finding Nemo sequel. They went about the latter two in the best way possible, by not making them right off the bat. If Pixar only cared about churning out sequels, you'd see Monsters University and Finding Dory a lot sooner. As rushed, poorly-made films on top of that. No, originals exist and they continue to exist. Finding Dory is not coming out until late 2015. Why? Because two originals are coming first. But those two films don't exist, right? Right? Again, why would Pixar do two originals and then a sequel if all they cared about was mindlessly churning out sequels?

Unfortunately, Stanton or anyone at Pixar probably won't tell us about the Circle 7 deal. I think Stanton is giving us some sugarcoated PR talk, because Finding Dory exists for a reason. Disney "politely inquiring" about a Nemo sequel is not it. Pixar being money-hungry and just reared on numbers is definitely not it. John Carter bombing was not it, either. Finding Dory was most likely in the works before John Carter was officially put into production in 2010. The Circle 7 thing went down in 2004, so a Nemo sequel has been around before Stanton even got the opportunity to direct an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' influential stories. Pixar could've put some rookie in the director's chair to handle a Nemo sequel in 2006 after the merger and have the thing out in 2009/2010, just rush it out quickly. Nope, they waited a while. The official announcement came early this year, and the film is not out till 2015. That's nearly decade since the merger! Now compare that to another big studio (animation or not) greenlighting a sequel right after the first one does incredibly well on opening weekend, and the thing arrives 2-3 years later. Every Pixar sequel has arrived over 5 years after their respective predecessors; even the rushed cash-grab Cars 2 didn't arrive immediately.

In the end, I don't think Stanton's comments fully explain the existence of Finding Dory but they do help subdue the ever-expanding and annoying super-skepticism towards Pixar. The quality of Toy Story 3 and Monsters University more than help as well... It just goes to show, Pixar does take sequels seriously and will try to make them great or at least very good companion pieces to the originals. Also, remember what Ed Catmull had to say? Yes indeed, any sequel made after Finding Dory is one that they want to make. Not one they have to overwrite or make because Disney wants them to (well, maybe except for a third Cars, but I think the Planes franchise will make Disney happy in the meantime), so whatever sequel comes after 2015 will be one that isn't forced or one that had to be made. Plus, if Disney was really forcing sequels, we'd already see a rushed Brad Bird-less Incredibles 2 around this time. In fact, a sequel to that film is not in the cards at all. Not until Brad Bird says one will be made. Yeah, Disney is "forcing" sequels alright...

Going back to the whole "staying afloat" thing, Pixar is also a business in addition to being a studio. The originals are the foundation of the company, but a few sequels here and there (that are good, mind you) aren't necessarily a terrible thing. After this wave of four sequels/prequels, it'll be "original central" for a good while with very few sequels in between. Not bad, I'd say...

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