It’s almost hard to believe now, but there was a time when ‘sequel’ was considered a dirty word. Once upon a time, sequels were seen as crude knock-offs, often made on rushed production schedules with a fraction of the resources dedicated to the original. Now sequels are huge money makers, often able to secure budgets that balloon past that of the films they’re following up. But it’s not just studios either, audiences and – to some extent – critics have gone along with it to the point that Captain America: Civil War, the fifth movie starring the Star Spangled Avenger and the thirteenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can be a huge smash hit both critically and commercially.
But the one place, it seems, where people remain skeptical of sequels is at Pixar. With perhaps the most consistently great canon of films any studio has ever produced, Pixar has the best track record in Hollywood. They’ve built a reputation making beloved masterpieces out of oddball original ideas that go on to pull in enormous sales at the box office. Because of this impeccable track record, when a sequel does come down the pike it comes with more than a little handwringing. Despite three of their five follow-ups being genuinely great movies (full disclosure: I’ve not yet seen Finding Dory, but I have been assured that it is, in fact, great), the very idea of doing sequels feels somewhat uninspired from a studio that seems more willing than most to pursue inspiration. Combine that with the fact that Cars 2 and Monsters University rank among Pixar’s weakest films, and the fact that their upcoming schedule features a paltry one original film (Lee Unkrich’s Coco) lost in a sea of sequels (Toy Story 4, Cars 3, The Incredibles 2, and the aforementioned Finding Dory), it seemed like maybe Pixar had lost some of the magic that made them so special. Maybe they were morphing into just another sequel factory.
Not so, says Jim Morris. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Pixar president admitted that the studio’s current sequel streak is something of a fluke.
Our plan had been to make an original every year and a sequel every other year, if the idea came forth to do it. If we add the next films after the current ones, it actually comes out to exactly that: seven sequels in a spate of 21 originals, from the time we were acquired by Disney [in 2006]. So it’s penciled out to be the same portfolio, just not in the order we thought they would be. And a lot of that has to do with when Andrew [Stanton] had a sequel idea, and Brad [Bird] had a sequel idea…sometimes that’s just how it happens.
It turns out that once we’re past this spate of sequels, we’re going to be in for a solid run of at least four original films, two of which have already been scheduled for release in 2020.
Despite conspiracy theories that filmmakers like Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird were sent to ‘director jail’ to do sequels as penance for a couple of high profile bombs (John Carter and Tomorrowland respectively), Morris insists that these sequels are not studio mandated.
Most studios jump on doing a sequel as soon as they have a successful film, but our business model is a filmmaker model, and we don’t make a sequel unless the director of the original film has an idea that they like and are willing to go forward on.
Ultimately, though, the issue is not so much whether or not Pixar makes sequels, it’s whether or not Pixar makes movies that can live up to the lofty standard they’ve set for themselves. If we’re being totally honest, the Pixar star has faded somewhat. Their streak of unimpeachable successes has been marred by a few genuine duds – not all of which were sequels. Yeah, Monsters University was uninspired and Cars 2 was a mess, but the same can be said of Brave and The Good Dinosaur. Let’s just hope that, sequels or no, Pixar manages to bounce back with films that are as good as the precedent they’ve set. This is a studio that has made masterpieces out of both original ideas and out of films that were originally commissioned as direct-to-video dreck. I mean, Cars 3 is probably going to be a wash, but we can at least hope that The Incredibles and Toy Story will be worthwhile.