What Happened to Originality at Pixar?

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We’ve gotten used to getting a new Pixar movie every year. Since A Bug’s Life in 1998, 2005 is the only year not to bring us a new film from the animation house that started with Toy Story in 1995 and has since brought us countless memorable short films along with Oscar winning feature films WALL•E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. To add to that list, Up is likely to take Best Animated feature this year. However, there appears to be a change in the winds.

Looking over Pixar’s list of Oscar-winning feature films the one thing that stands out to me is how none of them are sequels and each of them is telling an original story. However, when I look at this year’s upcoming releases I have to keep reminding myself Pixar does have a new film coming out… it’s just that it’s hard for me to look at Toy Story 3 as a “new” film, especially when I look at those four (soon-to-be-five) Oscar-winning films and don’t see a number next to any of their names.

What’s worse? In 2011 the Pixar film, again, won’t be an original adventure. Instead we get Cars 2 on June 24. Perhaps you’re thinking after that we’ll get a new one in 2012. Wrong!

While Newt, a film centered on two endangered blue-footed newts was set to be directed by Gary Rydstrom for 2012, Disney animator Floyd Norman commented on a story at the Animation Guild Blog saying, “Oh, and Newt is dead.” In reply to other questioning commenters, he simply replied, “It’s not polite to provide details at this time.”

With Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 on the immediate horizon and with 2012 now open for the taking you would think a passion project would be sliding in the gates. I mean, after all, that’s what Pixar has done so well. Guess again.

A new report at Latino Review now brings back long-standing rumors of a Monsters, Inc. 2 and they speculate the open 2012 slot would appear to be the perfect place for it, although they do say “2012-2013 pipeline.” They report their source is credible and considering this is something that’s been talked about a lot, I think it’s safe to run with it. There’s no word on whether Pete Docter will be back to direct.

So, even if Monsters, Inc. 2 slides into 2013 that means three sequels in four years from a house that has done nothing but bring us originality year after year. Sure, Toy Story 2 was released — a film I don’t personally love — in 1999, but other than that it’s been nothing but new ideas executed with the utmost of precision and quality.

I expect Toy Story 3 to be a lot of fun and even enjoyed Cars more than most. However, even Cars 2 has hit newly reported bumps in the road that cite story problems and now say John Lasseter (director of the first Cars) is busy at work making sure the film is ready for next year’s release date and serving as co-director alongside Brad Lewis. No worries, this happens, I just wish it was happening with characters I’ve yet to see on the big screen as opposed to those I’ve already ridden along with.

There is still hope Brad Bird’s 1906, the first live-action film Pixar has placed under their banner along with funding from Disney and Warner Bros., may be ready for 2012 but last January, Jim Hill Media reported the picture still doesn’t have a start date. This is due to the potential $200 million budget and the number of suits Bird has to impress with his script.

1906, for those that don’t know, is set with the historical San Francisco earthquake as its backdrop. The story centers on a college student who begins to investigate the murder of his father, uncovering a web of deceit that has left the city vulnerable to the sort of fire that breaks out when the Great Earthquake of 1906 hits San Francisco.

The project was first reported all the way back in February of 2007 and later officially announced in March of 2008. The most recent report on it came in January when Blue Sky Disney offered up the following:

Time has kept ticking and [1906] seems no closer to being made than before. There is no official start date. There is no studio approval from Warner or its Disney-Pixar partnership. Yes, the Mouse is involved, but Warner is the active partner in this. The budget and length of the script are said to be problems for the Suits that weld power over Brad’s fate. And there is doubt that they will give it approval. Bird has turned in at least two drafts and is awaiting a decision.

Having directed The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird is obviously a proven animated director, but I would suspect his untested abilities as a live-action director are part of the problem considering the size of the budget and the current economic situation. I guess there is always the possibility of him returning for the much talked about Incredibles 2. After all, Docter said he “has some ideas” back in 2009 and sequels seem to be the in thing at Pixar… right?

ADDITION: As pointed out in the first comment, The Bear and the Bow is in production for a December 2011 release. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised to see that get moved to early summer 2012 as a result of the Newt departure.

Any thoughts out there? Are you fine with Pixar simply churning out sequels or are you more interested in seeing the original stories from the house we’ve all come to love? Sound off in the comments below.

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Weekend: Aug. 29, 2019, Sep. 1, 2019

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