Friday, July 1, 2016

New Stories: Pixar President Talks About The Slate, Originals, and Sequels

Entertainment Weekly interviewed Pixar president himself, Jim Morris, hot on the heels of Finding Dory's enormous performance...

Prior to the interview, EW actually were the ones to state that - as far as they knew - the four Pixar films set to be released after The Incredibles 2 are going to be original stories. Two of which have concrete release dates: March 13, 2020 and June 19, 2020. Morris described the 2020 originals as films that take place in "unusual but believable worlds that take us in even further directions than we’ve pursued in the past."

The other two are in very early development, he says they are "highly likely" candidates, and that no other sequels are planned at the moment. So only Cars 3, Toy Story 4, and The Incredibles 2 for a good while... Morris also specifically mentioned that there are no plans to revisit the future world of WALL-E, as he produced that one and it's near-and-dear to him.

Morris says the current sequel rush had more to do with scheduling. That could be true, given how some projects can fall behind or surge ahead. Back in 2013, Ed Catmull - previous President - kept saying the plan was to make "one original and a sequel every other year". Of course that didn't happen, and how. Pixar's sequels are complicated to talk about because three of them, all of which have been made and released, were legal clean-up pertaining to the unmade versions that Disney almost went ahead with in the mid-2000s (through the studio Circle 7) when it seemed like the two companies were definitely going to part ways.

Actually, what I like about Pixar is, they'll do the sequels, but they'll do them when they want to. They essentially tell Disney "we'll get there when we get there!" Monsters University was one of those Circle 7 clean-up movies, but also the prequel to one of Pixar's beloved classics, it was bound to happen some day. Pixar didn't get on it the minute Disney acquired them in early 2006, they began development on it in 2008 and the movie wasn't finished until 2013. Nearly 12 years after the original didn't make a difference, many audiences returned to see Mike and Sulley again on the big screen. Finding Dory was also a Circle 7-born obligation, but what happened? Director Andrew Stanton got the idea for it in 2011, the movie took five years to come together, the original turned 13 this year, audiences showed up in droves.

Morris himself rammed the point home in the interview: "Most studios jump on doing a sequel as soon as they have a successful film, but our business model is a filmmaker model, and we don’t make a sequel unless the director of the original film has an idea that they like and are willing to go forward on. A sequel in some regards is even harder [than the original] because you’ve got this defined world which, on the one hand, is a leg up, and on the other hand has expectations that you can’t disappoint on."

If Disney was truly forcing Pixar to crank out sequels like a machine, I think we would've seen Monsters University and Finding Dory a little earlier, alongside a proper Monsters, Inc. sequel. Big bad Mouse House indeed wants sequels - because no smart executive walks away from a near-billion dollar smash, but Pixar takes their time and also commits to originals. Finding Dory was originally penciled in for a Thanksgiving 2015 release, but when the original story The Good Dinosaur ran into massive, eleventh-hour troubles, they pushed Dory to this summer to accommodate the dino picture. Who else would go that far to re-evaluate an original film? Another company would probably want the hugely-anticipated sequel out as soon as possible, not delay it to make way for an original film.

I don't want to be naive about Pixar's sequels. I'm sure there's a lot of corporate-driven intentions here, and besides... People make movies to make money, whether they are sequels or originals. It's so common on the Internet, this mindset that people like Pixar's folk are artisans that scoff at the green paper. News flash, you make content to make money, to make a living. What matters is what you put into that content, if there's any passion in it or whatnot. Toy Story 3, everyone seems to agree, is a sequel with so much passion put into it... But it was also made to make money, that's a hard, cold fact right there. Quality should be the concern, not why they made it in the first place.

Toy Story 2, a sequel that next-to-no-one thinks is less than great, was forced onto Pixar by Disney in the mid-90s. The Michael Eisner forces wanted a sequel to the studio's smash hit debut film, but they wanted a cheapo direct-to-video sequel. Pixar upscaled it and wanted a higher-quality product, rest is history. Toy Story 2 may be an amazing sequel, but it was commissioned solely for monetary reasons. That fact, however, does not take away how marvelous the film is. No one really gives a damn, because... The movie is great! Who the hell cares?

"I make money to make more pictures."

Who said that? I'll give you a hint, his first name rhymes with malt.

I don't want to be too cynical, either. I can acknowledge why some, if not all of Pixar sequels are happening/happened, but... I really liked all but one of them, so again, I don't really care. Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 are magnificent, a majority of the Internet didn't like Monsters University but I felt it was a very good prequel and a more than worthy companion piece to the original. You can call me a studio shill all you want, on first viewing that film didn't quite click with me, on subsequent viewings I came to love it. Finding Dory is a wonderful sequel too, and the critics and most of the Internet agree as well. Cars 2 is a movie I don't dislike or even find mediocre, I'm surprised it's even watchable given the hell it went through during production.

The upcoming sequels sound like they have potential. While I'm personally iffy on Toy Story 4's premise (yep, you can still call me a shill!), I think Cars 3 sounds great and a return to what I love about the first one (I know, I know, it's not chic to love anything related to John Lasseter's awful anthropomorphic autos franchise) and The Incredibles 2 - especially with Mr. Brad Bird back at the helm - has so much going for it.

With that, I don't mind Pixar making sequels, so long as they are of good quality and that there isn't a shortage of originals. It's also all subjective really, some people are actually coming out of the woodwork and admitting to not liking Toy Story 3 all that much. Some may really dislike Monsters University, others defend it to the moon. Finding Dory has a few detractors here and there, while some will tell you "Ehhh Cars 2 wasn't all that bad." If you don't like some of the sequels or recent originals, that's fine, but that doesn't mean that Pixar "died" or "betrayed" you.

Pixar is bigger than the little house they once were. They have to have at least one movie out every calendar year, which is painstaking. I'm surprised they've been able to keep it up, the way they have.

Anyways, Pixar making sequels is a thing now. They have the freedom to do so, too. In the early 2000s, making another sequel was risky business because Toy Story 2 had made a rift between Pixar and The Walt Disney Company. Eisner was adamant that the sequel - as it was commissioned as a DTV product - didn't count as part of the original contract, Steve Jobs thought the opposite. Tensions rose when the Disney brass said that a third Toy Story wouldn't count as part of the new deal, and with everything else going wrong under Eisner, all of that eventually lead to the Circle 7 debacle. Pixar began work on their Toy Story 3 right after the Disney acquisition, not because they just then got an idea for it, but because they had ideas for one dating back to 2002 and were waiting to actually get the freedom to make it.

But that complicated business stuff is not what they want you to hear. PR-sugarcoating looks good. Which is why I have my views, I don't think Pixar's lost any creativity (no one scoffs at a second Incredibles, announcements concerning the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars, or yesterday's Wreck-It Ralph sequel announcement, or a sequel to Pacific Rim - funny how that works) but I do think that the powers-that-be do drive some decisions. Besides, all powerhouse forces have their lulls. It's not catastrophic. There were many times where Disney's animation wasn't really cutting it, there were times when musicians/bands had strings of albums that weren't up to par, many athletes have had their good days and their bad days, many great prolific film directors have at least one clunker...

However, it's good to know that they currently want four originals out after The Incredibles 2 hits in summer 2019. I love what I'm hearing about them, and I can only imagine what directors Mark Andrews, Dan Scanlon, and Pete Docter have in the works...

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