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.