Thursday, August 21, 2014

No More Newt?

Recently, Pixar president Ed Catmull was interviewed and had brought up the story of how Pete Docter's Inside Out evolved out of the shelved Newt

As we all know, Pixar had announced Newt in April 2008. It was part of a four-year plan that would start off with the mostly (at that time) complete WALL-E in June 2008 and cap off in the summer of 2012 with Cars 2. Also, as we all know, that slate changed quite a bit. Cars 2 moved up a year, Brave moved from winter 2011 to summer 2012, and Newt unfortunately was halted. Up until now, I had assumed that Newt was simply shelved because it just wasn't working out and that one day, the Pixar wizards would reevaluate it and finally deliver the tale in fine shape… I mean, look at all the concept artwork that was prepared for it!

Earlier in the year, Catmull gave us the real reason why Newt was shown the door in early 2010…

At that time, Pete Docter was fresh off of Up, which was then in the running for Best Picture… The first animated feature film since Beauty and the Beast to even get that nomination. With the new 10-slot deal, the Academy Awards were finally willing to nominate an "inferior" cartoon, but of course wisdom showed that it would not win. Still, Docter came off of a critical darling and what was then the studio's second highest grossing film behind Finding Nemo. Newt was facing trouble, and director Gary Rydstrom had been pulled from the project… The Pixar higher-ups then offered it to Docter to fix up, but Docter preferred to get started on a grand new idea of that he had for an animated feature…

In short, Inside Out singlehandedly replaced Newt. I had taken Catmull's earlier interview out of context…

"Newt was another unlikely idea that wasn't working. When we gave it to somebody new [Pete Docter, director of Up], he said, "I'll do it, but I have another idea altogether, which I think is better." And we thought it was better too [Docter's concept was the basis of Inside Out, which he is directing for a 2015 release]. That was the reason we didn't continue with Newt."

I thought Docter's words meant that he'd do Inside Out first, and then reshape Newt after completing the upcoming 2015 film. Nope, Pixar basically "replaced" Newt… Catmull also said in the new interview that Newt is the only "abandoned" Pixar film…

So does this mean that Pixar will simply never revisit the ill-fated amphibian tale?

That sounds a bit far-fetched to me, honestly. Was is it really that lacking? Is it beyond saving? I don't know, I have not seen a work-in-progress version or have seen any sequences in storyboard form. (Imagine the Inside Out Blu-ray coming with a whole feature on Newt?) No ideas ever seem to die at Pixar, for Cars and WALL-E went through restarts and each took over a decade each to reach cinemas.

I know animation history is littered with projects that never came to fruition. Walt Disney Animation has an arm's length list for starters, from My Peoples to The Hounds of Baskerville to The Four Musicians of Bremen. There are also projects that ran into walls or were shut down, only to be restarted and retooled completely using only some elements from the original versions such as Kingdom of the Sun and Sweating Bullets, which became The Emperor's New Groove and Home on the Range respectively. Pixar's own The Good Dinosaur, arriving next year, is also a fine example of this kind of animated film. It reportedly won't be anything like the film original director Bob Peterson had envisioned.

But Newt seems to be joining the leagues of films like My Peoples and other animated films that may just not happen… But there can be a solution or two to the Newt problem.

This brings me back to an idea I had last autumn: What if Pixar were to take something like Newt and make it a short subject? Or maybe even a roughly half-hour television special? If they really can't make it work as an animated feature, then why not make it into something else? Toy Story of Terror! more than proved that Pixar can tell an awesome story in 30 minutes, in fact I think all future Toy Story installments should just be TV specials and shorts, no fourth film or even a prequel. The only new theatrical Toy Story sequel I'll accept is one that's about a completely different set of playthings that have nothing to do with Woody, Buzz and co. Or scratch that, make a show/series of specials that are about new sets of toys! You can create more characters without having to rely on Woody and Buzz!

Back to Newt though. I don't want Pixar to reserve the 30-minute TV special pool for just events based on pre-existing films and franchises. I'd like to see Pixar actually develop an original story for television, and one that could start a line of annual 30-minute original TV specials. I could easily see Newt being one of them for various reasons…

Perhaps not every concept is meant to be turned into a roughly 90-minute feature with a classic three act structure, Walt proved that back in the 1940s with the segments that had made up his anthology "package" features. 1947's Fun & Fancy Free is a prime example of this, the two segments in the film - Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk - are about close to a half hour long each and had began life as features. I can only imagine what feature-length Bongo and Beanstalk would've been like, but their shorter counterparts do work well. The Wind in the Willows was planned as a feature, instead we got a sharp half-hour long segment that was the first half of 1949's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment began life as a planned feature-length film as well, but the segment itself is also fantastic!

Oh, and to say nothing of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Walt made the wise decision not to adapt A. A. Milne's bedtime stories into a feature-length film, he knew they worked in the smaller "featurette" format. Honey Tree was wonderful, as was the posthumous Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, while not as great, was still charming and enjoyable. In 1977, Disney strung all three together, animated a nice bittersweet ending to tack onto it and released it into theaters as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. You could say that was a package feature as well, except the different segments were already released separately.

I had suggested that Pixar could take the package feature route as well and be unexpected, since they are expected to break new ground and experiment. Maybe Newt could be a segment in a "package" anthology feature, a first for Pixar. Multiple stories in one film from the Emeryville house? I'd personally love to see something like that one day!

However, I think Pixar could strike gold by exploring the 30-minute TV special format for original stories to go alongside the Toy Story specials and whatever else they plan for their existing franchises, be it a Monsters, Inc./Monsters U special or a Cars special. It could really save projects that they can't crack as 90-minute films…

What do you think? Should Pixar use one of these strategies for some ideas that just aren't working out as features? Do you think Newt is really dead? Or do you think it'll come back one day? Sound off below!


  1. Some day it will be back. At worst in decades Pixar will be hard pressed for new ideas and bring it back.

  2. I disagree. No one wants to watch an hour long package of shorts. Now, people want a full length feature. If Newt can be made into a special, then make it a special. Don't cram it in with another short to make a package film. I personally don't like the idea of packaged films, which is why I never watch the package films more than once (except for Sleepy Hollow, which was fantastic). Making a package film is a huge mistake.

  3. I really hope they work on newt again. The concept art is too good to just disregard. It's like A Bug's Life meets Ratatouille.