All Three of Pixar’s Billion-Dollar Movies Are Sequels. Now What?


From Animation World Network:

Incredibles 2 became just the seventh animated film to cross the $1 billion mark at the global box office. It is Disney’s fifth animated and 18th-ever billion-dollar release and joins Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War as Disney’s third release to reach the $1 billion milestone this year.

Egregious success for Disney in 2018 aside, Pixar is now the first animated studio to release three films with $1 billion worldwide box office. And all three of these films are sequels: Toy Story 3Finding Dory, and now Incredibles 2. And yet people wonder why Pixar continues to make sequels in the first place. Money speaks louder than critics, I suppose.

I wish I had kept track of all the “think pieces” claiming Incredibles 2 would be a flop, or even just a modest performer. Most of these takes assumed the usual: superhero fatigue, too many sequels, it’s been too long since the first Incredibles, and so on. As we just saw play out over the last two months, Incredibles 2 has broken multiple records, including totals for domestic box office that were once unheard of for animated films.

Of course, Walt Disney Animation will eventually catch up to this milestone, and it’s worth noting that their two billion-dollar movies so far (Frozen and Zootopia) aren’t sequels. They’re original stories, despite Frozen being technically based (albeit loosely) on The Snow Queen. For Pixar, Finding Nemo and Inside Out are the studio’s only original stories to come close to these numbers.

Box office doesn’t measure quality, obviously, but it is fascinating to see Disney’s own animation studio finding wider appeal with stories that aren’t all that different from something Pixar would produce, like Zootopia. Even Wreck-It Ralph, a solid hit for Disney with its own sequel slated for release this November, contains elements of the Pixar formula, beyond anything technical or related to computer-animation as an aesthetic.

A lot of what I just mentioned is believed by many to be connected to John Lasseter’s creative leadership over both studios, and now that he’s about to be out of a job, perhaps we’ll see a deeper split of independence between Pixar and Disney Animation moving forward, as Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee take the reigns.

It certainly makes sense. Pete Docter oversaw the success of Inside Out and Up, making him a natural fit for creative leadership with Pixar. And Jennifer Lee launched Disney’s Frozen, the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. Both directors were in charge of new IPs and original stories that resulted in big money for Disney. If you think the success of Incredibles 2 is unsustainable, then you can point to Docter and Lee as evidence that Disney is well-aware of the diminishing returns of hyped-up sequels, so of course they want to elevate leaders who’ve proven themselves to be masterful at bringing about new and exciting franchises.

Put more simply: the age of Lasseter is over. What happens next will likely illustrate the new normal for Disney’s premiere animation studios and what really sets them apart, once and for all.

Note: I don’t want any of this to be taken as a slight against Incredibles 2 for not being an original story or “good” because it was made under the umbrella of Lasseter. Real life isn’t that simple. The “new” Pixar is happening now, taking shape now, involving new voices now. We’re in a confusing and wild transition, which means the hard work put into making this new film is also indicative of the studio’s success to come (hopefully).

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7 thoughts on “All Three of Pixar’s Billion-Dollar Movies Are Sequels. Now What?

  1. Do you think Toy Story 4 will make a billion?

  2. I’m fine with Pixar sequels as long as we continue to get original movies, too. I get that people miss the days when Pixar had like 10 movies in a row that weren’t sequels, but like you mention above, those movies were mostly not big hits for the studio. not even Incredibles.

  3. I’m not picky about animation, especially from Disney. I watch most of the movies when they are released.

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