Are Sequels Poisoning Pixar? 5 Reasons Not to Worry

Eileen Maksym
Movies Disney
Movies Disney

When Pixar ’s long-awaited Incredibles 2 hit theaters this summer, it was a smash hit, decimating box office records and earning rave reviews from critics and fans alike. As awesome and massively successful as it was, however, some wondered if Pixar has succumbed to the same sequelitis plaguing present-day Hollywood. Is Pixar, once well-known for bold moves and originality, being ruined by the temptation of easy money? Or do the sequels actually support its creative goals? Below are five reasons sequels don’t spell the end of Pixar as we know and love it.

Originality is in Pixar’s DNA

Pixar lamp sculpture

Pixar is such a powerhouse nowadays that it can be hard to remember how truly tenuous the fate of the studio was in the beginning. Before Woody and Buzz Lightyear became household names, Pixar was a struggling startup, and its dreams of making a fully computer-animated film would have never amounted to anything had it not attracted the attention of Steve Jobs. Jobs was looking for his next project after being ousted at Apple, and Pixar offered him a chance to be on the cutting edge of computer graphics. When attempts to make money from smaller projects failed, Steve Jobs poured his own money into the studio to keep them afloat as their first feature film became the make-or-break project.

In such circumstances, it would have been easy to play it safe and go for tried and true storylines. But Pixar rejected the easy path, and the release of Toy Story in 1995 was a massive game changer on a number of fronts. Not only was it a technological marvel, but its subject matter also stood in stark contrast to the Disney fare of the time. The Mouse had returned to adapting fairytales, while Toy Story was something wholly different, a completely original story that appealed to children yet also had an emotional depth and maturity that transcended a simple kiddie flick. Pixar took a chance, and it paid off big time, making them a lot of money and setting them on the path to continue producing groundbreaking films.

Sequels as Far as the Eye Can See

Monsters University, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, Cars

Those worried about the state of Pixar will point out that out of the past ten films released by the studio, six have been sequels. This sounds like a lot. When we look at the state of the movie industry at large, however, we see Pixar’s ratio of sequels to original movies is actually quite good. Even Disney, Pixar’s parent company, has fallen victim to this trend, planning to pump out Marvel and Star Wars films as well as sequels and remakes with very few original titles.

By these standards, Pixar is putting out a fairly substantial amount of new — even groundbreaking — material. Yes, the past ten films might include six sequels, but it also includes one-of-a-kind films like Brave and Coco.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Mr. Potato Head with money bags

One of the reasons that Hollywood has been mired in sequels and remakes is because such films are sure to make money. Why take a gamble on something new if another movie from a wildly popular franchise will rake in millions? However, as cynical as we can be about money, the fact remains that without money, movies don’t get made. Pixar was incredibly lucky in the beginning to have a wealthy benefactor, but if it is to continue to survive, it needs to be financially sustainable.

Original movies are central to their identity, but they are still gambles. Without financial security, one misstep could topple the studio. This is demonstrated by the fate of The Good Dinosaur, a film released in late 2015 that wound up being the lowest grossing Pixar movie ever. If it had come along early in Pixar’s history, the failure might have crippled the studio. Instead, Pixar could afford to soak the loss, in no small part because their next movie was Finding Dorya sequel to the iconic Finding Nemo and a massive hit. Originality requires taking risks, and sustainability makes it easier to push the boundaries.

Pixar Sequels are Totally Awesome

Fabulous Edna Mode

Many Hollywood franchises have dragged on for years, churning out terrible movie after terrible movie to wring every last cent out of a willing audience. (Children of the Corn had ten sequels – ten.) Pixar, on the other hand, has for the most part been producing sequels that are great movies in their own right.

Even with characters we already know, the storylines have been fresh and inventive, with no impression that they are merely phoning it in to grab as much cash from their fans as possible. This is because Pixar only makes sequels when the director of the original movie has a great idea for a return to the world they created. This dedication to quality is why these sequels garner so much critical acclaim. Toy Story 3 was even nominated for Best Picture!

It’s All About Balance

Pixar's For the Birds

As we’ve seen, sequels can help secure the financial stability of Pixar and can be good movies on their own merits. Still, too many sequels can corrode the vibrantly original soul of the studio. So a balance is needed. As long as Pixar continues to make original movies, and the sequels are high quality, they can stay financially secure without totally selling out.

The question is how well they are currently striking this balance. With the majority of the last ten movies being sequels, there might be some room for concern. However, Pixar has said that their only planned sequel for the future is Toy Story 4, and they intend to release at least one original film per year. If they follow through, then they should be able to stay true to themselves while making fans happy with more Pixar brilliance.

Eileen Maksym
Eileen is the creator and host of The Hopeless Fancast (hopelessfancast.com). She also writes scifi and mainstream fiction.
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