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.

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


The Real Reason Why Pixar Keeps Making Sequels


I’ve commented on this topic a lot, particularly this week with the release of Incredibles 2, but Victor Luckerson seriously nails the rise of Pixar sequels with this piece on The Ringer.

How Pixar Became a Sequel Factory:

This decade has been different. Pixar’s next 10 films included six sequels or prequels, among them the newly released Incredibles 2. Its next movie is Toy Story 4, an addendum to a conclusive trilogy that no one asked for. In addition to its two sequels, there has even been a Cars spinoff, Planes, which recalls the low-budget direct-to-video sequels Disney pumped out in the ’90s.

Go on…The Real Reason Why Pixar Keeps Making Sequels

Which is Better: Zootopia or Finding Dory?


Disney’s Zootopia is a better film than Pixar’s Finding Dory.

Both 2016 films are competently made. Both films are humorous, well-realized, and stunning to look at. Both films have engaging, wonderful main characters with goals and story arcs that are as insightful as they are entertaining. Both films share many of the same strengths, making it hard to objectively point to one being better than the other on any sort of technical level. But…

Go on…Which is Better: Zootopia or Finding Dory?

Snarcasm: Disney Ruined Pixar Because Why Not?

disney pixar

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read

Did Pixar lose its way, or did we lose our way with Pixar? There’s no real answer to the latter part of that question because it makes no sense. But the article we’re snarcasming this week actually does make a lot of sense and deserves to be approached thoughtfully. Even though it’s basically wrong for the most part.

Writing for The Atlantic, Christopher Orr titles his piece “How Pixar Lost Its Way,” because at this point, Orr is confident there’s no other conclusion to reach.

For 15 years, the animation studio was the best on the planet.

Studio Ghibli would like a word.

Then Disney bought it. 

And the Fire Nation attacked.

Orr begins his piece with a line from Ed Catmull, Pixar’s own president who at one point claimed that sequels can represent “creative bankruptcy.”

He was discussing Pixar, the legendary animation studio, and its avowed distaste for cheap spin-offs.

Good thing Pixar doesn’t make cheap spin-offs!

Hold on, we’ll get to Cars 2.

More pointedly, he argued that if Pixar were only to make sequels, it would “wither and die.”

Good thing Pixar doesn’t only make sequels!

Yet here comes Cars 3, rolling into a theater near you this month.

Ah yes, it wouldn’t be a hot take on Pixar without car-related puns.

You may recall that the original Cars, released back in 2006, was widely judged to be the studio’s worst film to date.

“Worst,” however, is a misleading phrase. It wasn’t the strongest of the Pixar films, but most critics believed the film was good mainly on the strengths of its production value and a decent story. The problem was that Cars was the first Pixar movie made mostly for children. Cars 2 was made for merchandising to said children and was the studio’s first flop, coincidentally.

if Cars 3 isn’t disheartening enough, two of the three Pixar films in line after it are also sequels: The Incredibles 2 and (say it isn’t so!) Toy Story 4.

Of course, Pixar has made great sequels as well, including two for that last movie you mention. And they just made Finding Dory, which audiences loved—

The golden era of Pixar is over.

Yeah, ok, here we go.

It was a 15-year run of unmatched commercial and creative excellence,

Filled with sequels and large gaps in between movies.

Since then, other animation studios have made consistently better films.

This is somewhat true, but not necessarily fair. The only studio that’s been making those better films is Disney, which has been creatively led by Pixar’s John Lasseter since the studio’s purchase. Orr also mentions two Laika films, but one came out the same year as Up and the other came out the same year as Finding Dory.

To Orr’s point, Disney has made Wreck-It RalphFrozenBig Hero 6Moana, and Zootopia, all of which are widely regarded as better than BraveCars 2Monsters University (arguably), The Good Dinosaur (arguably), and Finding Dory. But Pixar has also made Inside Out, which most critics consider the superior film out of every single one of those Disney and Laika films.

Now, I get Orr’s point. That’s just one Pixar movie while Disney has had an aggressive output of great films that have managed to catch up to Pixar’s level of quality. If that were Orr’s only argument here, it would be a noteworthy one, but the jump to concluding that this means Pixar has lost its way ignores plenty of other important information, including Pixar’s excellent short animated films, which are consistently better than Disney’s, and the fact that they’ve still made good movies in the last seven years.

One need only look at this year’s Oscars: Two Disney movies, Zootopia and Moana, were nominated for Best Animated Feature, and Zootopia won. Pixar’s Finding Dory was shut out altogether.

First of all, Pixar won an Oscar just a year ago. Second, Finding Dory isn’t any less of a good film simply because it didn’t win a certain award. It just wasn’t as original and compelling as Zootopia and Moana, which is fine, and the Academy has a persistent stigma against sequels, anyway. Orr’s standard of Pixar being on the right path is too restricting, apparently arguing that movies are best when they manage to best other movies, ignoring, for example, Kubo and the Two Strings, which numerous critics argue was better than both Zootopia and Moana. Even if they’re right, all three movies are pretty good.

Simply put, a film being great doesn’t make another film any less great. This is only relevant if the value you hold in a movie is tied into how it compares with the reception of its competition.

Orr goes on, however, to expand on his own standard for what makes Pixar great, citing its technical achievements (which none of the sequels have erred on) and how it has provided great cinema for kids and adults (which hasn’t changed at all since Toy Story 3).

Even as others gradually caught up with Pixar’s visual artistry, the studio continued to tell stories of unparalleled depth and sophistication.

Some Pixar movies, however, weren’t so brilliantly received by critics at the time they came out. Films like Ratatouille and Wall-E, for example, were criticized plenty for trifles that no one even considers now. Monsters Inc. wasn’t exactly critic-proof either (it didn’t even win an Oscar?!), and that goes even more for A Bug’s Life.

Two films that unquestionably cemented Pixar’s eventual reputation beyond Toy Story were The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. Several other Pixar movies have managed to match them, in my opinion, but only Inside Out has truly reached the standard Orr sets here, which isn’t one that has been consistently met by Pixar with every film they’ve put out. Good Dinosaur is a good example, in that it’s a film directly trying to be far more bizarre and experimental than what’s worked for Pixar in the past.

Orr goes on to talk about Pixar’s achievement with crossover storytelling, raising some great points about how and why their movies are so consistently well-received.

And then, after Toy Story 3, the Pixar magic began to fade.

Here we go.

The sequels that followed—Cars 2 (a spy spoof) in 2011 and Monsters University (a college farce) in 2013—lacked any thematic or emotional connection to the movies that spawned them.

I truly take issue with Orr essentially lumping these two movies together, because Monsters University in no way lacks thematic connection to Monsters Inc. If anything, it adds flourish to the Mike Wazowski character and tells a poignant story about how we deal with our limitations. It’s far from merely being a “college farce.”

Though better than either of those two, Brave, Pixar’s 2012 foray into princessdom, was a disappointment as well.

I’m not sure which movie is better—Monsters University or Brave. Orr isn’t wrong in saying that Brave was a bit of a disappointment, but it’s about as serviceable as Cars and hey! It won an Oscar.

The studio rallied with Inside Out in 2015.

If by rallied, you mean they put out one of their best films in 20 years, sure. They “rallied.”

But the inferior The Good Dinosaur (also in 2015) and last year’s mediocre Finding Dory only confirmed the overall decline,

Here’s where Orr and I differ the most. To him, Pixar has lost its way because it’s made a few movies that aren’t as good as its very best ones. For me, Pixar has been unable to top themselves year after year, same as Disney wasn’t able to do in the 90s, well before that, and in the near future. But in reality, they never really did that in the first place.

Is Pixar experiencing an overall decline? Sure, no one really disputes that. But does an overall decline mean that the studio has lost its way? Not necessarily. It might just mean we’re witnessing a studio in transition, swinging for the fences with some movies and biding time with sequels as they prepare for a new era that may be entirely different.

Even Orr points out that at the time of the merger, Pixar was already facing huge problems as a studio. And these are the shifts that have led to the Pixar we know today, which has produced occasional masterpieces like Inside Out and artful experiments like The Good Dinosaur. Orr doesn’t even mention Coco, which comes out later this year, but laments Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2, the latter of which is a sequel to one of Pixar’s best films ever and could very well be the first Pixar sequel since Toy Story 3 to actually be better than the original.

The Disney merger seems to have brought with it new imperatives. Pixar has always been very good at making money, but historically it did so largely on its own terms.

I agree. Merging with Disney is a big reason for the sequels, but that’s likely because Pixar knew they couldn’t survive much longer without them. Pixar movies take years to make, and their standards are too high to make new worlds from scratch at a quick enough speed to pay the bills. Sequels take much less time and can make even more money when done correctly. That’s not an excuse, of course, but it is indicative of what could happen next.

Merger or no, there’s plenty reason to believe Pixar would have kept making sequels anyway in order to support their simultaneous need for great original films to also fill the pipeline. That’s not Pixar losing its way. It’s Pixar changing course in a more sustainable direction, consolidating their talent and taking steps toward a future where they may not have to rely on sequels so badly. And this has led to some good results over the years, along with some unfortunate branding ones, admittedly.

Then Orr makes his worst argument.

There are a dozen Disney theme parks scattered across the globe in need of, well, themes for their rides.

Don’t do it, Orr. Please. Think of the children.

the overlap between the Pixar movies that beget sequels and the movies that inspire rides at Disney amusement parks is all but total.

Seriously? You’re trying to argue that Pixar is basing its creative decisions around theme-parks?

Theme-park rides are premised on an awareness of the theme in question, and young parkgoers are less likely to be familiar with movies that are more than a decade old.

That explains why Disneyland is filled with movie themes from over 50 years ago.

This idea that kids are going to forget what Toy Story is without a Toy Story 4 is almost enough for me to dismiss all of Orr’s previous arguments out of spite. I won’t because clearly he’s not entirely wrong about a lot of this, but…really? Theme-park rides?

Look, there’s a point to be made about how sequels can be properly timed with theme-park attractions in order to maximize exposure. But to suggest that a legendary storyteller like Lasseter is guiding one of the best animated studios of all time (with Catmull’s approval) around what will look good on a brochure is nothing more than a brainless conspiracy theory. They’re not making Toy Story 4 because of a theme-park ride. At best, and if we take Pixar at their word, they’re making it because they truly believe in the story and it would be easier and more profitable than a new IP.

Pixar has promised that after the upcoming glut of sequels, the studio will focus on original features.

And honestly, I believe them. Pixar has built up decades of credibility with its fans, but Orr would dismiss all of it because the studio has only put out one masterpiece in seven years, assuming Coco isn’t as good as it looks, while other studios like Disney haven’t really made any masterpieces of their own in the same amount of time.

I’m not sure I dare to expect much more of what used to make Pixar Pixar: the idiosyncratic stories, the deep emotional resonance, the subtle themes that don’t easily translate into amusement-park rides.

Seriously, it’s been two years since Inside Out. Two. And the people who made it still work at Pixar, and for the last time, they’re still making good films. What makes Pixar Pixar hasn’t changed, just the frequency of its best material, and impatience (while understandable) is a poor excuse for trying to accuse an animation studio of being enslaved to theme-park rides.

Orr finishes by rounding off examples of what he loves in RatatouilleWall-E, and Up, finally stating:

Would Pixar even bother making those pictures anymore?

So the implication is that because these movies supposedly wouldn’t translate well to a theme-park ride (though they actually would, considering the Axiom is begging to be in Tomorrowland and Ratatouille has its own part in Disneyland Paris, which Orr even admits), he questions Pixar’s willingness to make great movies. You know, despite the fact that Coco comes out in November and virtually nothing about Pixar tells us that they’re disinterested in making great movies.

As I’ve pointed out numerous times here, Orr makes a lot of accurate observations, and I don’t blame anyone for believing Pixar really has lost their way. But it really depends on what you look to Pixar for. Even their worst films still contain a level of quality that far surpass the worst of the Disney movies and DreamWorks movies for that matter. It’s definitely true that they’re not putting out a slew of original breakthroughs almost every year like they once did, and yes, that is a shame.

But we also can’t discount that their competitors really have caught up to them in a lot of ways. And there are a ton of learning curves to managing a bigger studio that is no longer as unique and creatively compact as it once was. From what I can tell, Pixar has embraced this decade with a new caution, desperate to preserve its best material by investing in more conventional ways of making money. I’m not saying this is necessarily the best choice they could’ve made, and I don’t agree with all of their decisions since Toy Story 3. But all of this does mean that Pixar can still make the masterpieces we want to see from them.

In other words, I very much doubt a movie like Inside Out, heralded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time, would have been able to come out if it weren’t for Cars 2 and Monsters University. These are movies that came out instead of failed concepts like Newt, and Pixar would have been in a tailspin if not for the box office they made off of Toy Story 3. You don’t have to like it, and hopefully this isn’t a new norm for Pixar, but it is the reality of a studio that has reached maturing age. It’s a different time for Pixar, but not necessarily a bad one.

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Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

Snarcasm: ‘Moana’ Is Formulaic Once You Ignore All Of Its Originality


Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read

I correctly predicted that Zootopia would beat out Moana for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. Not because Zootopia deserves it, but because I know an Academy Award winner when I see it, borrowing from the same universe where a socially relevant movie like Spotlight will outshine the crowd-pleasing favorite for Best Picture. Only in this case, Zootopia happens to be a favorite among many Disney fans, as well.

My issue with all this is less an attack against Zootopia and more a lament for how under-appreciated Moana is as both a movie and one that happens to be made by Disney. If you slapped the same movie with the logo of any other animation house, it would deservedly be hailed as a new classic and breath of fresh air. But as we’ll get to in a minute, Moana is dragged down by baggage it didn’t ask for, and in many ways, went out of its way to defy.

Why? Because film critics can be a bit lazy. They see something that sort of resembles something else and jump at the chance to make a comparison, usually knocking the film down because of their pseudo-intellectual word associations and cultural references, as if film borrowing inspiration is something to be ashamed of. This is a persistent annoyance with reviews for animated films because nearly 80 years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, some critics are still refusing to take the art form seriously. Seriously.

Thankfully, most critics do appreciate good animated movies and approach them fairly. Of course, there were a small amount of unfavorable reviews for Moana in November, but most of them were perfectly fine for what the reviewer was trying to accomplish, which was a basic interpretation of their own subjective take on the film. But one in particular caught my Snarcastic attention, not because it was badly written or as outrageous as what I usually bring up in this column, but because it’s so tragically misguided in its bias. It’s also a summation of the criticism received by many who did like Moana overall.

Writing for Sight and Sound, Vadim Rizov writes, “Disney’s Hawaiian folk fable paddles safe waters.

Hey, did I mention the other thing that really bugs me about a lot of critics? It’s the wordplay headlines. Just the wordplay headlines.

Disney’s big-ticket seafaring saga lets rip with its computer animation, but sails the same old storyline.

To Rizov’s credit, he really does go into detail over what makes Moana a technical achievement in animation, so let’s focus on his main argument, that Moana is same-old, same-old for Disney.

In a way, that’s true. A young “princess” is the heroine, and she has to go on an adventure to save her village. Of course, most movies can be boiled down to a well-established plot structure, but we forgive it because of everything else that happens on top of the familiar “good vs. evil” and “buddy cop” tropes that show up again and again. Let’s see why Rizov disagrees.

Moana is an animated film of the subgenre codified at the start of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ by 1989’s The Little Mermaid.

Oh no. He’s not about to compare Moana to Little Mermaid is—

Both films are co-directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and start from the same premise:

Sighing intensifies.

a young woman next in line to be queen/chief

OK, hold on. Ariel from Little Mermaid was not next in line to be queen, and in fact, Triton never even implies that her future has anything to do with running the kingdom. Rizov even has to point out here the difference between “queen” and “chief,” which is already a false comparison of the two movies in order to argue that Moana is somehow formulaic. But let’s keep going.

chafes at the for-safety’s-sake boundaries imposed on her.

Two huge differences you leave out, Rizov. First, Moana actually accepts these boundaries over the course of the first number, which chronicles how she chooses responsibility and duty over her own personal desires. It’s only later out of necessity that she challenges this authority, but it’s a far cry from the rebellious personality had by Ariel, who was going behind her father’s back in perpetuity before the movie started.

The second difference is that Triton’s hatred of humans is never really justified in a way that makes sense. Why are the aquatic folk so scared of humans? These rules come off as very authoritarian, which makes sense for a 1989 movie. But Moana actually presents a believable case for why the chief is so against their people (not just her) venturing beyond the reef. He’s given a backstory, and the script treats Moana’s father as a complex character, even though you somewhat root against him.

But Rizov would have you believe, “Nope! Same as Little Mermaid!”

her father…insists his people don’t venture past the coral reef. It’s as inevitable as her journey of self-discovery and vindication that, in between musical numbers, Moana will have reason to leave and prove herself.

Eh, more or less. And I see why Rizov is simplifying this in order to avoid an over-explanation. But it’s unfair to boil down Moana’s motivations to self-discovery, when it ignores how the first act effectively explains why she wants to “prove herself.” And it’s compelling, not just inevitable. For one thing, she’s energized by how her ancestors were voyagers, and part of her motivation to leave is to restore her people’s culture, in addition to answering the call to help her people that is set up earlier when she’s learning the ropes in becoming chief.

Rizov goes on to praise the movie a bit for not being as racist as Aladdin, bring up the weird controversy over Maui’s weight for some reason, and gush over how pretty the movie’s water and hair is. Eventually, he brings up the music and points out some of the clever lyrics.

But no matter who wrote the songs, there was always going to be a line about listening to your ‘inner voice’ – it’s pretty much Disney company policy.

I also shudder at the simplistic plot device that is “listening to your heart.” Disney popularized it, to be sure, but what’s so depressingly absurd about Rizov’s assessment here is how he missed the part where Moana blatantly defies this boring cliche.

First, I want to point out that one of my favorite things about Moana is the music, because Lin-Manuel Miranda and the other writers did a fantastic job using each song to lend the story a lot of complexity and depth (seriously). In “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana spends the entire song declaring her situation and moral conflict that will define the film. That what she wants consistently clashes with what is expected of her, while she pontificates the benefits of “playing along” and how that will work out better for everyone but her, only for the “voice inside” to make her question if this is truly what’s best for her people.

The inner voice is recalled throughout the film, but it’s foreshadowed in the first number, when Moana’s grandmother tells her exactly what that inner voice means and why it’s important. She tells Moana that if her inner voice essentially spurs her to action, that means the voice is “Who you are.” Later, in “I Am Moana,” her grandmother again starts to sing this part, but then asks Moana to answer if she knows who she is. This contrasts with the film’s other repeated theme of understanding “where you are” (the name of that first song). Moana answers her grandmother by saying that she’s defined by where she comes from, what she’s doing, and where she’ll go. Not her inner voice. Her inner voice is simply her.

These are complicated ideas that appear formulaic when you just tune out at the mere mention of “the voice inside,” but following the music leads you to a completely different understanding of what the writers were going for. Moana isn’t another a “follow your heart” diatribe, it’s an attempt to better explore what it means to make decisions about what you’ll do with your life based on your circumstances and instincts. It makes the case for balancing these two struggling concepts and carving out your own path by being fair and honest with yourself and the people around you.

If that’s Disney’s company policy, I’m game for seeing another animated movie tackle a trope so competently.

All of these affirmational bromides are a regrettable staple of the late Disney corpus, and while they coincide nicely with the recent boom in self-proclaimed ‘empowerment ballads’, they do little to actually raise the spirits.

Translation: I didn’t feel particularly empowered, so there’s no way you did.

for all the technical skill on display, this feels as inessential and disposable as any Shrek or Ice Age, only with ostensibly loftier pretensions. 

First of all, only the Shrek sequels (after the second) are disposable. To say that Shrek is inessential is obvious, forgetful nonsense. Second, to compare Moana to Ice Age is so off the mark, I have to believe Rizov did a spit take when he realized that nearly every single critic in the world completely disagrees with him.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that Moana is somehow a lot better than you realize. It’s a personal film for a lot of people, myself included, and I believe it has more than enough merit to be regarded with high praise outside of water and hair effects (which are gorgeous, don’t get me wrong). It’s still my favorite movie of 2016, Oscar or no, and that’s only being strengthened by repeated viewings.

Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni

Which is Better: ‘Zootopia’ or ‘Moana?’ – The Pixar Detectives

Both Disney films have been nominated for Best Animated Feature in the upcoming Oscars, but which one will and win? And probably more importantly, which should win?

Kayla Savage and myself took to Super News and discussed live. We answered all of your burning comments, as always, and as a special bonus this week, we’re offering a second giveaway prize for those of you who can’t make it live! To enter for consideration, go to Super News on Facebook and leave a comment now. The drawing ends soon.

We’ll be off next Wednesday, so I’m planning to do a different video coming out at around the same time. See you then, and don’t forget to check out The Pixar Detectives live every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific) to hang out with us and talk about Disney and Pixar!

Also as a bonus (and because of the strong reaction to last week’s live stream), be sure to check out the latest video from SuperCarlinBros below, where they also chat about Disney allegedly “confirming” the Pixar Theory. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni

Ep102: The Best and Worst Movies of 2016 (So Far)


You can also download this podcast episode on iTunes and Stitcher.

So we did talk about The Light Between Oceans and Morgan and even Southside with You this week on the Now Conspiring podcast, but not as featured reviews.  No, we spent a good amount of time looking back on the year as a part of a whole before we move into the fall season. And we want all of you to judge which one of us “wins” the debate.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who do you think had the best pick for Best and Worst movies? It’s between CJ, Will, Kayla, and Jon.

Go on…Ep102: The Best and Worst Movies of 2016 (So Far)

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