Why Can't Pixar Make Sequels?

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by Matt Singer
April 2, 2013 4:20 PM
10 Comments
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"Finding Nemo."
Searching for an animated tentpole for 2015, Disney/Pixar has found theirs: "Finding Dory," a sequel to 2003's beloved "Finding Nemo," co-written and directed by Andrew Stanton, about a neurotic clownfish (Albert Brooks) on the hunt for his missing son (Alexander Gould) with the help of a forgetful regal blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres). The new film, according to Disney's press release, "takes place about a year after the first film, and features returning favorites Marlin, Nemo and the Tank Gang, among others." It also features the return of Stanton himself to the Pixar fold after he branched out into live-action with last year's "John Carter." Here are DeGeneres' thoughts on the project from the release:

"I have waited for this day for a long, long, long, long, long, long time," said DeGeneres. "I’m not mad it took this long. I know the people at Pixar were busy creating ‘Toy Story 16.’ But the time they took was worth it. The script is fantastic. And it has everything I loved about the first one: It’s got a lot of heart, it’s really funny, and the best part is -- it’s got a lot more Dory."

The announcement of any sequel these days sets off a wave of articles and reactions, but I don't know if I've ever seen a wave quite so harshly negative as the one that greeted "Finding Dory" earlier today. From my perspective, it seemed like no one was happy about this movie. In my Twitter feed alone, people compared the announcement to Pixar scraping "the bottom of a very dry barrel" and said the news made them "want to cry." One critic quipped that Pixar's new mission statement was "Life ain't nothing but bitches and money;" another called it "a very bad sign" for an animation studio that was, for a long time, thought to be as close to infallible as any force in popular culture.

When "Finding Dory" opens in theaters on November 25th, 2015, it might be terrible. If the Pixar movies that follow it also flop creatively, we may look back at this announcement as a tipping point for the studio's decline into obsolescence. But isn't twenty minutes after the announcement of a movie that won't even open in theaters for two and a half years a bit early to write it off forever? And even more fundamentally: why isn't Pixar allowed to make a sequel?

They've done it before, which is probably part of the problem. Pixar's last sequel (excluding the upcoming "Monsters University") was "Cars 2," the studio's least popular and respected movie -- at least amongst older audiences -- by a wide margin. Rightly or wrongly, "Cars 2" is considered a project inspired solely by financial motivations; "Cars" wasn't particularly well-liked in the first place, but its merchandise sold like gangbusters, hence they made a "Cars 2," introducing lots more new characters to sell. 

This argument ignores the fact that the "Cars" franchise is Pixar founder John Lasseter's brain child, and that he clearly loves it even if nobody else (except very small kids) does. But in the minds of many Pixar fans, it doesn't seem to matter: "Cars 2" was a stinker (at least according to them; I actually think the movie is admirably bizarre for a children's movie -- when the kids who grew up watching it start smoking weed they're going to turn it into a cult film, just you wait) and as a stinker it ruined Pixar's previously unblemished streak that had started with its first film, 1995's "Toy Story" and continued with uninterrupted perfection through 2010's "Toy Story 3." 

You probably see where I'm going with this. "Toy Story 3" -- which naturally followed "Toy Story 2." Sequels! From Pixar! And unlike "Cars 2," the other "Toy Story"s both carry sterling critical reputations, both routinely figure in discussions of the best sequels ever made, and both earned huge box office grosses -- "Toy Story 3" is the most financially successful movie in Pixar history ("Finding Nemo," by the by, is second). By my count, that's two great sequels to one so-so-but-kinda-amazing-if-you're-drunk sequel. Not the worst track record in the world as these things go. 

I look around me and I see a movie culture driven by sequels. Read any movie blog on any given day and you will see at least one news story about a sequel (and probably a lot more). Today I've already read about "Iron Man 3" and "Percy Jackson 2" and "Transformers 4" (it's shooting in China!) and "The Avengers 2" (It's shooting in the UK!). Examine any list of the highest grossing movies in recent years and all you'll see there are sequels as well. We obsess over their production and we patronize their releases. I guess I'm just confused why people love when everyone else makes sequels and gets so angry when Pixar does it. If we don't want sequels, why do we talk about them, write about them, and buy tickets for them?

Would I rather Pixar make original movies instead of sequels? I guess so? Personally, I don't really care what Pixar makes as long as Pixar wants to make it; I trust their filmmakers to follow their creative impulses. Most if not all of the same people who made "Finding Nemo" think "Finding Dory" is an idea worth pursuing; it's not like Disney ditched Stanton for Uwe Boll and Brooks for Tommy Wiseau, and it's not like Ellen DeGeneres is so strapped for cash that she's desperate to make any thing for the paycheck (number of movies DeGeneres has made since the first "Finding Nemo:" zero). 

Sure, it's possible "Finding Dory" is just a money grab. But isn't it also possible that it's not? If we all assume any original Pixar property will be a masterpiece, why do we instantly assume that any sequel from the exact same folks will be a disaster? I remain hopeful that it won't. Pixar's not perfect. But it's still pretty great.

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10 Comments

  • Chris | April 3, 2013 10:07 AMReply

    If Pixar wants to continue (get back to?) making creative, boundary-stretching movies, they need sequels to help mitigate the risk. They have some projects coming up that sound really interesting: the journey inside a little girl's mind, the modern-day dinosaurs movie and a Dia de los Meurtos movie. If they want to revisit Nemo to guarantee they have some cash coming in, they've earned that right.

    But I also agree that Pixar's track record with sequels is better than we'd initially think. Toy Story 2 and 3 are fantastic and beloved. Yes, Cars 2 is a stinker. But while I think Brave is better than its reputation, it also has some very blatant storytelling issues--so I think Pixar's current "troubled streak" (oh how other studios wish for a 2-movie trouble streak) comes not from doing sequels, but from a stumble in their story-telling.

    I'm fine with Pixar's sequels if they have tell a good story. "Monster's Inc." was a very fun, very original movie...I'm excited for "Monster's University" because I think there's still a lot of fun to have with that world. Likewise, I think "Finding Nemo" is Pixar's funniest movie, and I love the characters...I'm not going to complain about revisiting them unless the movie itself gives me reason. And it seems like everyone is fine with Brad Bird doing an "Incredibles 2" if he ever decides to (please decide to)...so why do we pick and choose what Pixar can do sequels to?

    Although maybe stay away from "Up 2: Ellie's Revenge."

  • Gerardo Valero | April 2, 2013 7:07 PMReply

    Dory is a charming character but a little irritating as well, I'm just not sure I can take a whole movie about her.

  • M Pollux | April 2, 2013 7:02 PMReply

    I do think Pixar is entitled to make any movie they want, and I'll concede that Toy Story 2 is a great movie (I don't personally think Toy Story 3 is so great, but that's just me).

    My problem with Pixar sequels is that I think they are making the ones that are undeserved. Cars? Really? I did not like it. Monsters Inc? A prequel? I would have love to see what happens after Sully changes his expression in the final shot of the first movie, to see what's next with Boo and him, I'm really not that interested on seeing him and Mike fight again.

    The only movie I really want a sequel for is The Incredibles, and I don't see that happening soon, so I'd prefer Pixar made more original movies, and not sequels of movies that do not deserve it.

    That being said, Dory is by far, my favorite "Finding Nemo"'s character, so I will give it the benefit of the doubt.

  • Brian | April 2, 2013 6:02 PMReply

    I think you're confusing some things here. From MY end, I'm already seeing huge excitement for Finding Dory from the average person who grew up with Disney and Pixar, whereas critics have a very good right to be skeptical as to its quality or originality. Toy Story 3 was great (although in my book, it's only very good, not a masterpiece, and not even as good as the second one), but coming off the highs that were Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up, Toy Story 3 did initially seem like a step in the wrong direction. In that same vein, people wondered if Cars 2 would actually be good because Toy Story 3 was unexpectedly great.

    And while critics (or more accurately, film blogs and publications) are constantly reporting on sequels because there's obscene demand for those kind of stories, I don't think any actual critic will outright tell you that they would prefer to watch a sequel than an original story from a director they admire. The same applies for Finding Dory and Pixar, especially when a product like Finding Nemo is so beloved.

    Pixar will continue to exceed all expectations at the box office, and they will continue to get high scrutiny and press, be it favorable or not, but none of that interests me because of what I'm seeing in their movies as of late, and I'm sure what a lot of other critics are seeing, is that they are far from the infallible force they once were, and this does not necessarily help their cause. Cars 2 was a dud, Brave is not that good either, and I don't know anyone excited for Monsters University. I think I as a critic or anyone else have a perfectly good reason to be skeptical because I'm not judging the hype, I'm judging the actual content of the movie.

    "But isn't twenty minutes after the announcement of a movie that won't even open in theaters for two and a half years a bit early to write it off forever?" - This however is a terrific point.

  • John Bell | April 2, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    "I can't believe they made a Spy Kids 4. It totally compromised the integrity of the studio" - An adult human

  • luke | April 2, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    Sorry, Matt, but I am really struggling to find anything redeemable about this piece. Never mind Nemo or Dory, you need to stop fishing for facetious articles.

    "I guess I'm just confused why people love when everyone else makes sequels and gets so angry when Pixar does it."

    By my count, it seems that Pixar have had more success with sequels than failures, and I'm assuming that Monsters University will be a hit too. Whether it's rhetorical or not, to ask 'why can't Pixar make sequels?' is just plain wrong.

  • Erik Davis | April 2, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    You can't really complain when the other Pixar movie coming out that year is based on an original idea. I'm fine with them mining their movies for additional stories so long as they also continue to produce original stuff, which is what they're doing. So stop hatin' internet!

  • Patrick Fisackerly | April 2, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    My initial response was negative, but you know, I like CARS 2 more than BRAVE, so maybe it's not such a bad idea after all.

  • katy kern | April 2, 2013 4:39 PMReply

    Honestly, I don't mind sequels especially if there is time in between them. But remakes annoy me to no end. Original content, please.

    Personally, I am looking forward to 'Finding Dory'. :-)

  • Corey Atad | April 2, 2013 4:35 PMReply

    I really have no problem with Pixar making sequels. The only thing that makes it slightly odd is their movies are usually such singular stories that they don't feel like they would support sequels. In my case (and my tweet is linked to in this story) I'm more depressed by this specific sequel because it feels like a retreat by Andrew Stanton. I mean, had he come back from the failure of John Carter and made an original movie at Pixar it'd be fighting back in a way. This just feels like falling back on the tried and true. I'm hopeful that he'll prove me wrong. It probably doesn't help that I don't totally trust Stanton and Lasseter's instincts the way I do Pete Docter's or Brad Bird's.

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