By Drew Taylor | The Playlist June 18, 2013 at 2:41PM
Like many of Pixar's bad habits, the every-Pixar-movie-has-to-end-with-a-chase thing was started with patient zero: "Toy Story." In that movie, Woody and Buzz are making a frantic attempt to reconnect with their toy friends before Andy and his family move houses. There's a rocket and a radio-controlled car and the whole thing was absolutely exhilarating. So exhilarating, in fact, that the studio decided to use it as their narrative template for many, many future adventures. "Toy Story 2" upped the ante of the chase by having it set on an airport's runway (the third film eschewed the chase altogether, which was a nice move); "Up" concludes with an aerial chase through (and over and around) a zeppelin; "Monsters Inc." features maybe the studio's most famous climactic chase – one involving a seemingly endless sea of doors. "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" both have elaborate chase sequences but are staged before the finale, while "WALL-E" has a race against time that spans the cosmos. "Brave," for its part, features a similar time crush, but is set in the mystical Scottish highlands instead of outer space. It got so bad that New York Magazine's Vulture blog asked Pete Docter, the director of "Up," why so many Pixar movies end with chases, and this was before "Cars 2," where the entire movie feels like a chase (and, of course, it ends with one – a race against time, no less). "Yeah, it's definitely something you think about," Docter admitted. "But just from a storytelling standpoint, you want to have a sense of acceleration, that things are getting faster and deeper and more intense, so that's why you inevitably get to some physical thing, which really viscerally gets the audience going. But it's always something we're aware of. But you just try to make it as good as you can." And "Monsters University?" Yep. This one involves a chase through the human world, in a sequence that more closely resembles an installment from the "Friday the 13th" franchise than anything from the Pixar world.
Usually multiple climaxes isn't viewed as a bad thing, especially in the bedroom (eyebrows raised), but when it comes to Pixar movies, it's a huge issue. This problem really started with the end of "Finding Nemo," in which Nemo is reunited with his son and are about to swim back to their little part of the ocean when – oh no! – Nemo gets caught in a net and has to convince a giant school of fish to swim to the bottom of the ocean. The moment is meant to double-underline the idea that Nemo has, thanks to his interaction with the Tank Gang, learned about selflessness and the importance of teamwork, and it shows that Marlin has let go of his obsessive worrying enough to at least let his son figure out this problem on his own. It's just one beat too many and it has come up again and again in the Pixar movies since "Finding Nemo." This is most noticeable in "WALL-E," which, like "Finding Nemo" and Pixar's lone, unofficial live action feature "John Carter," was directed by Andrew Stanton. At the end of "WALL-E," climaxes seem to come so fast and furiously that they start to bump into one another, noisily colliding. You'd think that the climax would be our heroic robots EVE and WALL-E stabilizing, to a degree, the flailing Axiom spacecraft, which has been overruled by a villainous robotic copilot (this is that sequence where the ship is tipping over and the humans, formerly immobile blobs, spring into action). But then there's the issue of WALL-E being mortally wounded (or whatever the equivalent of a robot being mortally wounded is) and the desperate race back to a post-apocalyptic earth. What's even more outrageous is that the movie doesn't end there – EVE still has to fix WALL-E, which creates another added dip in an already dizzying rollercoaster of emotion. "Monsters University" suffers similarly (spoiler warning for those of you who care), with the movie seemingly culminating in the final round of the Scare Games, where Mike and Sulley are finally sized up for the monsters that they are. But wait! There's more! The aforementioned chase through the human world happens after the end of the scare games, and that sequence has its own little climax, where Mike and Sulley have to scare a bunch of law enforcement officials who are after them. It goes on and on and on, with diminishing returns in terms of emotional payoff.
Again, this is a trait that started with the very first "Toy Story," which was fashioned after mismatched buddy movies in the tradition of "Midnight Run" and "48 Hours." At the time, this seemed downright revolutionary – the original "Toy Story" was released smack dab in the middle of what's commonly referred to as the Disney Renaissance, with big, brassy, Broadway musical-esque animated epics. By comparison, "Toy Story" was small and character-focused. The songs that Disney suggested be in the movie weren't the centerpieces of grand musical numbers, they were quietly played in the background of highly emotional scenes (by the third movie, this too had been abandoned). It's just that this formula often became too formulaic. After "A Bug's Life," which was an attempt at building a kind of "group" dynamic, and the second "Toy Story," there was "Monsters Inc.," a buddy movie between two monsters. Then there was "Finding Nemo," which didn't seem like it was going to be a buddy movie but then turned into one (this time with two fish). "The Incredibles" was a different beast altogether and almost shouldn't be talked about in the grander context of the Pixar oeuvre. "Cars" was a buddy movie about two mismatched cars, one that is interested in the excitement of the race and the other who takes in the quieter moments of life, while "Ratatouille" was a buddy movie about a rat and a chef (you can't get much more mismatched). "WALL-E?" Buddy movie with two robots. "Up," while it has more of a group dynamic if you count Kevin the mythological bird and Dug the talking dog, but it's really a buddy movie between a roly poly Wilderness Explorer and the old man who's been squared off by age. Even "Brave," which promised to break all the rules, ended up being a buddy movie between a princess and her mother, who has been mistakenly turned into a giant bear. At this point it has become very apparent that Pixar knows how to make buddy movies, but at a certain point it goes from being a trademark to being a creative crutch, one that should be taken away from them. From the sounds of it, the next movie, "The Good Dinosaur," will be a sort of buddy movie between a dinosaur and a young boy, but it should be impossible to shove the formula into the one after, "Inside Out," which takes place inside the mind of a young girl. Right?
You could argue that the abundance of sequels is one of the worst things about Pixar, but that is less a trait of the films and more a product of the corporate culture. From what we understand, for every bizarre, high concept oddity that the studio is hell bent on producing, like Lee Unkrich's movie that takes place on the Mexican Day of the Dead, Disney is demanding a sequel, prequel, or spin-off from a preexisting property. So yes, another "Toy Story" is likely, and "Finding Dory" has already been scheduled for 2015. It's a strategy that has served DreamWorks Animation quite well and is probably the pay off for some of the studio's more adventurous upcoming projects. There also seems to be a lack of diversity that is reflected in the ethnicity of most of the characters on screen (although, again, "The Incredibles" featured both African American and Latina characters and the kid in "Up" is vaguely Asian) and the kind of stories Pixar is willing to tell. But look for that to change too, in the coming years, with new animators and experienced vets both wanting to branch out to tell deeper, darker tales. As always, the sky's the limit for Pixar.