Welcome to the new Pixar. With "Cars 2" driving its way to nearly $70 million in ticket sales this weekend, with a strong foreign haul expected, the worst-reviewed film in Pixar's history is on track to become studio’s tenth $200 million domestic grosser and more importantly, will keep selling related merchandise, which has already soared into the billions of dollars. And while last year's "Toy Story 3" seemingly brought that franchise to a poignant close, it looks like Buzz and Woody are going to be gearing up for yet another adventure.
"Toy Story 4" talk isn't exactly new. Last year, it was revealed that Tim Allen had an option in his contract for another movie. And while director Lee Unkrich said in the run up to "Toy Story 3" that there were no immediate plans for a sequel, even he kept the door open just a little. "I really tried my best to end the story of Andy and his toys and bring that story to a close in a really nice way at the end of this film. That being said, we know that people love the characters, love Woody and Buzz, and would hate to say good-bye to them completely," Unkrich said. I don’t know that there would ever be a ‘[Toy Story] 4.’ We don’t have any plans for one — but we are trying to find ways to keep the characters alive. We have announced we’re going to do a short film in front of ‘Cars 2′ that uses the ‘Toy Story’ characters. We’re going to keep them alive; they’re not going away forever."
Well, that short film did arrive -- "Hawaiian Vacation" -- and it's arguably the only real reason to bother buying a ticket for "Cars 2" (or wait for the DVD). But it looks like a full-length feature could be on the horizon.
Talking to BBC during the press rounds for "Larry Crowne," when asked about a possible "Toy Story 4," Tom Hanks said, "I think there will be, yeah. I think they're working on it now." Not entirely shocking, but disappointing. We figured the trilogy had wrapped up perfectly, but like with "Cars," the franchise probably represents a lot of money that we're sure Disney would like to see continue getting generated.
While many dyed-in-the-wool Pixar fans have been disheartened that the respected animation studio is becoming more and more like every other Hollywood production machine, the bottom line is they are now answering to Disney shareholders and those guys want to see profits, not production value. As Variety notes in a well-reasoned profile of Pixar, they have grown from crafting one movie per year to churning out two or three. 2013 will be the year the studio first drops two efforts into cinemas, with "Monsters University" and a mystery original project both scheduled. Whereas in the past, everyone at Pixar would be focused on one title right through from development to release -- allowing for them to change mid-stream if needs be as they famously did on "Toy Story 2," starting over that entire project from scratch -- now with multiple movies on the go at once, that attention to detail and quality is getting fragmented.
We won't ring the death knell for Pixar just yet. The company has only put out a dozen films to date and is clearly entering a new phase in their life and still feeling around how they'll retain their high level of creative quality while answering to higher-ups at the mouse house. What it does mean is that we'll be seeing more sequels whether we like it or not -- and even direct-to-DVD spinoffs like "Planes" -- and while the cuddly company will continue to develop original movies, they have also become a big-business machine playing in a much bigger sandbox than they ever have before.