Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in "Don Q, Son of Zorro."

The L.A. Times's Claudia Eller examines the course correction of Pixar Animation:

Pixar, with 'Toy Story 3,' shows increasing reliance on sequels

Three of four coming films at the pioneering animation studio, long known for its originality, are sequels. The trend is a reflection of the commercial considerations driving Disney studios, which bought Pixar in 2006 ...

[C]ommerce, and plenty of it, is the guiding rule of Disney under the stewardship of Chief Executive Robert Iger. He is fashioning Disney, once principally concerned with family entertainment, into a consumer giant built around "brands" and "franchises ..."

Why anybody would be surprised that sequelitis is Pixar's new mantra (disease?) is a mystery to me.

As long as Hollywood has been around, the place has replicated (or tried to replicate) the hits that have gone before. Chaplin made a hell of a lot of films, one after the other, of this twitchy little man with baggy pants, derby hat, bristle-brush mustache and bamboo cane. The Pawn Broker, The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus, there were dozens and dozens of them, each remarkably similar to one another.

And Harold Lloyd made two features a year centered around an eager go-getter who wore tortoise shell glasses and got into hair-raising scrapes on the sides of tall buildings or the tops of runaway trolleys, over and over again. Douglas Fairbanks made a long series of swashbucklers riding a horse, swinging a sword and fighting e-vil.

Most of these were not, strictly speaking, sequels. But let's be honest. They had the spirit of sequels, since they all sought to replicate the tried, true and familiar. The fact that the characters' names were different from picture to picture doesn't undercut the idea that Tinsel Town in its infancy and Tinsel Town in late geezerdom chases box office grosses with movies it believes will generate maximum sums of cash: vehicles with well-worn, sure-fire (they hope) formulas, already audience tested.

Pixar, once small, daring, and bankrolled by Steve Jobs, disdained sequels. but that was a long time ago in a land far away. It has now become part of the mainstream Hollywood dream machine, and marches to the drumbeat that started with Charlie, Harold and Doug (with his sequel to Zorro) a century ago.

Are we shocked that the studio in Emeryville has fallen prey to the old siren song?


Anonymous said...

Are we shocked that the studio in Emeryville has fallen prey to the old siren song?

Oh, for cryin'...
I'm not going to blame you, Steve, because you're supposed to stir up controversy--But could some old-timer offer to write a LA TImes feature piece on the sad history of Circle Seven, and THEN we might not get so many "Oh noez, Pixar's doing sequels now!" whines once a friggin' week until TS3 comes out?

I know, those who've heard of it have to put up every day with those who haven't, and half the readers here are sick of being reminded about it every time said whine-column comes out.
But you just KNOW the secret urge to dream What If Pixar Finally Failed/Turned Evil Like The Rest Of Those Bad Guys is just going to automatically trump any effort of logic or reason: The studio's just trying to sweep somebody else's past mistakes under the rug in a positive way; how hard is that for the mainstream press to get a grasp on?--Do they think Pixar WANTS to make them??

Amber said...

Right, I agree. It is American to sap as much life as we can from a good idea but that doesn't mean we have to. I know from the previous contract with Disney/Pixar that Disney held the rights to make any sequels from the original films Pixar makes with or without Pixar's help or consent. Toy Story 2 and 3 was born from that. I don't know if that has changed from their current contract but if Disney is still pushing for Pixar sequels at least Pixar can hold tight to their creations and make sure it is done right.

I'm not too happy that Disney keeps pushing sequels but honestly I feel like this is a waiting period until Disney can come back with some original ideas. Let's just hope it doesn't take much longer for Disney to get back unto their feet.

Anonymous said...

Given that Pixar and Disney have both increased their production output to 1-2 films a year, it is inevitable that there will be sequels. How many studios have the resources to push out that many original films a year? Look at Dreamworks, they're going at 2-3 films a year, where does one even get the staff and production power to crank out 3 original films a year in-house? Let's get realistic here.

What Pixar has said time and time again is that they will not produce a sequel to a movie unless they felt they had a solid story to back it up. Surely part of it is to clean up the mess left behind by Circle 7, as well as a steady stream of revenue.

The film line up used to be something along the lines of Toy Story 3, Newt, Cars 2, Brave, etc. But now that Newt's been axed, suddenly there are 2 sequels in a row, no doubt breaking the Original/Sequel/Original/Sequel pattern and everyone is screaming the sky is falling.
Get a grip! sheesh

Anonymous said...

ROFLMO...those Pixies are sooo cute aren't they?
I'd be willing to bet some serious money these same Pixar apologists also have posted complaints about how horrible DFW is for making sequels just a short while ago...

Anonymous said...

There's that signature 'I-told-you-so' sigh and accompanying shrug of resignation again, laced with that slight hint of satisfaction. Labor trudges on through the valley of Nothing Ever Changes. Don't be too pleased that it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

To Anon #1

"Do they think Pixar WANTS to make them??

Who is "Pixar?" You mean Pixar leadership like Lasseter, etc? If they didn't WANT to make them, they were sure coerced into it successfully by Iger.

Toy Story 3, Cars 2 (big merchandising vehicle for Disney), and Monster's Inc. 2.

You're telling me that all these had stories in place that were just waiting to be made all those years and they just happened to be ready for production a few years after Disney bought them? Doubt that. Especially when you hear that John Lasseter had to step down from his manegerial perch to help save Cars 2 and keep its release date next summer.

And I say this as a Pixie.

Anonymous said...

Steve's reference to Chaplin and Lloyd are more than appropriate.

Why do we have 20 DVD's of Looney Tunes available to enjoy? Why does one painting by Mondrian look alot the others? Why do people buy 7 Harry Potter books?

Artists find their voice and they continue to develop it. Pixar seems to be succeeding because they take the sequels seriously. They keep the original artists involved, rather than turn the characters over to a freelance crew and hope for the best.

J said...

There will always be those people just waiting tooth and nail for a Pixar film to do poorly just so they can be there with a big sign saying "I-Told-You-So". They're not going to go away, and they'll bring up every argument they can against anything to make their point, whether that point has any validity or not.

The truth of the matter is, Pixar has had 9 solid original films that have both reviewed and performed well, and all except 2 or 3 films have generated billions of dollars of merchandise sales for Disney. That being said, in this current economic-film age, I can't blame Disney for requesting Pixar bring back some older characters for Sequels. Even if it's only for merchandise sales and not artistic integrity or story. Pixar has proven themselves they can make a solid sequel, so any doubt at this point is mute to the fact that they are still on their A-game.

Yet, there will always be those people, waiting with their signs. Just so they can say "I-Told-You-So"

BTW - before anyone starts accusing me of just being a "Pixie", or "Pixar Fan", or "Dreamworks hater". I am just someone who enjoys good movies, with good stories, and good characters. No matter what studio it comes from.

Anonymous said...

Toy Story 3, Cars 2 (big merchandising vehicle for Disney), and Monster's Inc. 2.
You're telling me that all these had stories in place that were just waiting to be made all those years and they just happened to be ready for production a few years after Disney bought them?

Close but not quite--
Pixar had their in-house TS3 script in place as a defensive strategy in case Circle went ahead with their freakish version, and in case it ever came to a fight. With Circle gone, the only way to make sure there would be no claim on the title/project would be to MAKE the darn thing, and make it to good, safe house specifications.
Same with Monsters 2, only there may have been the feeling that Hilgenberg & Muir's Circle script may have just been too good to leave unproduced.
(And as for Cars 2...that's Iger. He won't give up until we apologize.) ;)

Basically--Yes. I know. I know, I know, I KNOW:
A), you want to complain that "Hollywood makes nothing but sequels", B), you wish that Pixar could have a few new storylines at this point to work with at this point, and are now feeling the smug adrenaline of whining C) "Pixar's given up and joined the money-grubbers". Believe me, I sympathize.
But please try to grasp that in this particular convoluted case, A+B does not = C, and gathering mass attempts to group-whine about it Does Not Make It So.

That's sort of WHY such things as industry insider boards exist, so insiders can smart-slap the outsiders. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, the problem with sequels is AUDIENCE FATIGUE. I think Toy Story 3 will do okay, precisely because the toys have a final story to tell. But Cars 2? Why is that happening, aside from the merchandising possibilities? And Monsters 2? I loved the first film, but I don't care to see a second. I think Iger is just as bad as Eisner - wanting unnecessary sequels to fatten the corporate wallet. At least the budgets for these sequels will be bigger than they were for the cheapquels...if that's any comfort...

Anonymous said...

Yet, there will always be those people, waiting with their signs. Just so they can say "I-Told-You-So"

True story: After "Cars"'s first week, when it had been proclaimed a "flop" for not outgrossing "Finding Nemo", the press was waiting like vultures to "prove" that Pixar had that First Flop we'd all been waiting for. When it didn't happen, it got rather frustrating for them.
The second week, it seemed from the Friday numbers as if Jack Black in "Nacho Libre" was going to be a "surprise upset" #1, and columnists rushed to trumpet the headline that The King Was Dead! Pixar finally earned their battle wounds, As It Must To All Studios!

Slight problem was, by the time the Sunday numbers came in, the dopey Gen-Y comedy had dropped out of the top, and Cars was still #1. Media columnists, in their frustration, almost literally acted like it had NEVER HAPPENED, and that Pixar Had Flopped Anyway. ("Nacho bravely clings on to #2, despite crushing competition from quickly sinking Cars!")

People want Pixar to fail--And if not Fail, at least prove that We'd All Been Duped, and they were nothing but a buncha greedy suits like the rest of 'em. And for the same reason they like to tell horror stories about gruesome accidents at Disneyland...It's just the general dopey nature of Urban Legends, to prove how Cynical you are, now that you're a big Gwown-Up.
But guys?--What happens when Pixar doesn't fail? Yes, nobody's ever been able to explain it either, but think it has something to do with Knowing What You're Doing. Which is something adults aren't used to.

Steve Hulett said...

Do they think Pixar WANTS to make them [sequels]??


Because they're making them.

Anonymous said...

Pixar did not "fall prey" to sequelitis", they had very personal (and long-term financial) reasons for NOT creating sequels even if it would have made them a ton of money:

Pixar had a 6 picture deal with Disney made pre-TS1 before they had any bargaining power, yet it they were told after finishing Toy Story 2 that sequels were not included in that deal. So if Pixar chose to make a sequel they would have been stuck with Disney for another year (or more) it took to release a new film. Pixar wanted to leave Disney pretty much ever since Disney screwed them with TS2 in '99 so sequels were out of the question until the 6 picture deal ended after Cars.

After Cars was released the the 6 picture deal was over, lo and behold, suddenly films like TS3, Cars 2, Monsters 2, etc. began appearing in their story planning meetings.

(and the Pixar brain trust essentially took over Disney once the 6 film deal was over, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

If Disney hadn't "screwed" Pixar over including TS2 in the 6 picture deal (a deal is deal, Pixar should have gotten it in writing and learned the hard way how contracts work) we would have likely seen Pixar sequels long before now.

Anonymous said...

Audience fatigue? That's an interesting theory, and I'd like to hear evidence in support of it.

Was audience fatigue to blame for Indiana Jones 4? No. It just wasn't a good movie. People wanted desperately wanted it to be good. They weren't the least bit "fatigued".

The evidence in favor of sequels is huge.
James Bond, Twilight, Harry Potter, and every television series ever made.

Anonymous said...

Are you complaining about American Cinema?

Well, you should check out Mexican one:

(it's the trailer for the most heavily promoted mexican movie of the year, which by the way is "animated" and will be released (by mexican power house "Televisa") in "3D").

Anonymous said...

Seeing as how Toy Story 3 has 100% positive (mostly glowing) reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (with 83 reviews, and counting), a great sequel is different than just a sequel. I happened to think Shrek 2 was FAR better than the original shrek (although just as ugly). 3 and 4 I couldn't make through--just awful. Glad they made money, but they were terrible films.

I'm betting Cars 2 will even be better than the first. And seeing as how it's made over 5 billion worldwide with all revenue streams, I think there must be an audience.

Anonymous said...

Would people rather see a crappy or not-so-good original film, or a well-done sequel?

I thought How to Train your Dragon was amazing, and I think Toy Story 3 will be amazing as well, breaking $100mil this weekend.

As Anon 10:52a said, Pixar's hands were figuratively tied during their 5 picture contract with Disney. With Disney only distributing but taking a 50% cut of the profits (usually only 10% for distribution), Pixar had absolutely no incentive to make sequels that would not count towards their picture obligation.

If every Pixar sequel scores as highly with reviewers as Toy Story 3 does, they can keep making as many as they want. It will be interesting to see which way DW's Dragon sequel goes, which I hope will be as good as the first.

Steve Hulett said...

Do they think Pixar WANTS to make them?? ...

Uh ... John Lasseter SAYS Pixar wants to make them. (See today's post.)

Is Mr. Lasseter lying?

Phil Johnson said...

Your analogies are good ones. Thought the whole idea of sequels to great films make me squeamish.

Pixar has done a great job so far. Even when I wasn't sure they would. But I'm still not a fan of the idea.

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