Friday, November 27, 2015
Editorial: Pixar's Worlds
The following article has spoilers for The Good Dinosaur...
Sometimes, Pixar makes films that are set in our world. The Toy Story trilogy for starters are some of these films, alongside beloved hits like Finding Nemo, Up, and Inside Out.
In one case, we got a real world setting that was very, very stylized. The Incredibles has a lot of imagery that makes one assume that the film might be set some time in the early 1960s... But then there's a VCR in one scene, and other advanced tech in another. The filmmakers themselves said that the film isn't set in any specific era, just one that resembles the space age side of the 60s. We'll be revisiting that world in summer 2019, one could ask... Will it still be 60s space age-y? Or Brad Bird and his magnificent crew go for a different decade for an overall aesthetic?
One time, Pixar showed us a future setting. WALL-E is set in a rather die 2805 where the Earth has been covered in waste, and all the humans are "living" up in outer space on what is essentially a glorified cruise (space)ship.
Then there are Pixar films that build worlds, fantasy worlds.
Monsters, Inc. would be their first feature to do this, as it wonderfully set up a world where different kinds of creatures lived. There were rules and such, things that powered their world, stuff that's all set up without fuss in the film's first act. When spinning my Monsters, Inc. DVD over and over at the age of 10, I always wanted to know what was out there in the monster world... What was beyond Monstropolis and the factory? What were other cities like? Towns? Wildernesses? Oceans, even? What was their history like?
Pixar revisited the monster world nearly 12 years later, but for a prequel set on a college campus. Monsters University is a movie I love and often defend, but I think the only downside about it is that it didn't take much of an opportunity to explore more of the monster world. All of the except the final third is set on the campus, the final third takes place in the human world. A year later Pixar did a short set in the titular university called Party Central, fun as it was, I still want to see more of the monster world!
So will we ever get to see more of it? Pixar has entered the realm of television with two Toy Story specials that were actually really good, and now I'd like to see them use that to explore the monster world.
Think of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The original book was a guide to the creatures of the Harry Potter universe, the movie adaptation - which will, no shock, span a trilogy - will expand upon the "author" Newt Scamander character and make a whole story around him.
So... I think Pixar should do the same with Monsters, Inc. It can be a film, a half hour TV special, a series even... I would like to see them revisit that world, but with a brand new set of characters that don't have much to do with Mike, Sulley, et al. Monsters, Inc. had a perfect ending, and taking the prequel route was the best option when it came to overwriting that Circle 7 Monsters, Inc. sequel that Disney almost made without Pixar's involvement back in 2005.
And you know Disney will be clamoring for more from such a successful franchise, so this is the best way to go if you ask me. Expansion is cool, and exploring more of a big world you've created can make for something special.
Cars is also another fantasy world, or alternate Earth in this case, that they can explore. They actually, I think, should've done this for Cars 2. Leave the Radiator Springs crew behind, as their story ended nicely, and have it be all about the spies Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell. The original cast could cameo or something. The DisneyToon-produced Planes spin-offs did just that, so maybe Pixar can do the same with a TV special or show? Cars 3 is coming and it's mostly likely about Lightning and his desert town friends, so yes, I think they should explore other characters and their stories.
Again, Pixar is part of the mouse machine now, and the mouse's head honchos are going to want more franchise entries. That's business, so instead of potentially tainting well-told stories with follow-ups that may not work, they can go new routes...
With their newest film, Pixar yet again created a compelling new world. An alternate Earth where the meteor missed, and dinosaurs lived and evolved over time...
Disney held their second ever D23 Expo in the late summer of 2011, and during that weekend Pixar wowed and shocked crowds with announcements of two original movies, but all they told us was... Well... One of the movies would be set inside your mind, the other would be about dinosaurs never going extinct...
Our imaginations ran wild, these two descriptions rocked our world. There were endless possibilities with these premises. As these films got closer and closer to completion, we learned more and more. While Inside Out's news seemed to get the approval from everyone, The Good Dinosaur little by little lost some of its initial luster. At the third D23 Expo in summer 2013, some were a bit let down that The Good Dinosaur would be about a dinosaur meeting a caveman child...
I guess a lot of people assumed that Pixar would take us to present day, where dinosaurs and humans co-exist. I would've thought that was the case as well, because concept art did appear in a B-roll video for Up back in early 2009. Concept art that showed a modern day-looking boy...
It didn't phase me too much, because you can't really be disappointed in something that was probably never being made to begin with. Pixar told the world four years ago that they would be making a movie about dinosaurs never going extinct, people did their own work from there. They imagined ideas like dinos and humans co-existing in the modern day, because Pixar didn't tell us anything other than the basic idea of the movie: Dinosaurs never going extinct.
Now when I hear about animated films that are in development, I imagine all different kinds of things... But I realize, that's probably not what the filmmakers have in mind. My ideas are my ideas, I have no idea what the people at the studio are thinking, which is why I couldn't get disappointed when Pixar revealed that the film wouldn't be about dinos and humans co-existing in the present. As for the concept art, stories change over time.
Then of course the film had to be halted in late summer 2013, with a director switch following. The setting was the same in the revised and completed film, Spot was still a caveboy, and we only see a few humans at the end... And they're cavemen too! No signs of human civilization, either. My main concern was the story, that was all, not the setting.
I was actually quite fine with the setting in the finished film. Would I have loved to have seen a film with evolved dinosaurs living with humans in cities and towns and such? Absolutely! However, I have to take the film on its own terms, and on its own terms, its world is still very cool. The dinosaurs essentially are the humans, and take on human jobs and such. In the opening act, we get a good look at how the apatosaur family works, and how their farm was put together. It's cool, subtle world-building like that, that I enjoy.
So after seeing the film, and thinking about it for a little while, I actually want to see more of this world!
Not a proper sequel, mind you. Arlo's story wrapped up nicely and probably doesn't need any continuation, so... Like I said, Pixar should explore another part of this dinosaur world and tell a new story with new characters. In the film we saw apatosaurs, t-rexes, raptors, a styracosaurus, pterodactyls, various wild animals, and prehistoric longhorns. We should see more, no? Where are the triceratops? The pachycephalosaurs? Take one look at the pet collector, and you'll see alternate versions of foxes, beavers, and all kinds of critters. What would lions or bears or elephants or rhinos look like in this world? Or hey, maybe they should go centuries into the future and go back to the idea of dinos and humans co-existing!
Of course, this is all just personal opinion. Some may rather see these worlds left as is, others may like to see their favorite characters return alongside new faces, but me? I want to see new characters and new stories, ones that have nothing to do with the characters from the first movie. Again, they could do this with TV specials as well. There's so much potential there, and to me, this would be a good way to keep the bean counters at Disney happy, so that way they don't have to make proper sequels to please them every 5-10 years.
I know that Pixar's Brain Trust says that there's little-to-no pressure from Disney when it comes to sequels, and that they aren't demanding them. There is some truth to that, because if Pixar really were a sequel factory cranking out sequels non-stop, we would've seen the likes of Finding Dory and Cars 3 sitting on the store shelves right now... On Blu-ray. I get the sense that Disney requests them, but Pixar tells them "We'll make them when we want to." Just look at Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles II's release dates. In fact, Toy Story 4 was pushed back a full year. Finding Dory was pushed back to accommodate The Good Dinosaur!
Pixar is still committed to original stories. This year marks the first time they've released two films in the same calendar year, and they'll do that again in 2017, and again in 2020. They continue to take their time on films, and Cars 2 was really the only movie that they rushed... Because that was actually pushed ahead on their slate, not back!
Anyways, I think this is what Pixar should do with their existing franchises and worlds. Explore new characters and new stories, ones that start their own little franchises in ways, that way they can keep the freshness of stories that probably didn't need sequels. Toy Story 4 could turn out to be amazing, but if that got cancelled and a film about a new set of toys was greenlit instead, I wouldn't flinch. I'll feel this way until I actually see Toy Story 4, that is, if Toy Story 4 justifies its existence and is a great movie. Those two TV specials were very good, so I'm not too too skeptical at the moment.
What say you?