1995 was a big year. I was born, Pierre Omidyar founded eBay and the DVD was invented. But one of the most notable events of the year (in terms of pop culture at least) was the release of Toy Story. The first ever wholly computer animated motion picture, Toy Story was a technological feat, and it made Pixar Animation Studios a household name.
The California based company have now produced no less than 16 films (including The Good Dinosaur, which is out in the UK today) and have revolutionised the industry several times over. For years Pixar were motored on, with an unprecedented hot streak that began with Toy Story and ended (arguably) with Toy Story 3 in 2010. In between these book ends audiences were graced with; A Bugs Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009).
2011 hit, and with it came Cars 2, for the first time raising some questions. Whilst the Toy Story sequels seemed necessary and resulted in one of the best movie trilogies of all time, Cars wasn’t a film that felt like it needed its world revisited. Brave, Pixar’s first fairytale the following year made it seem like the shine may have been starting to wear off the once untouchable studio, with Roger Ebert noting that it wasn’t the ‘groundbreaking’ stuff the studio were known for. Monsters University (2013) was a prequel, again raising eyebrows in spite of generally positive reviews.
Inside Out was a smash hit this Summer and was deemed a return to form for the studio known for its innovation, imagination and universal appeal. The jury is still out on The Good Dinosaur, which reportedly has been dogged a tough production, but early reviews have praised the animation over the apparently lacklustre plot. 2015 is the first year that the studio has released two films in one year, a feat it is set to repeat in 2017, and it seems that the two films represent the two reactions that Pixar films tend to be met with – critical adoration, or the realisation that they have failed to live up to the extremely high standards set by that 1995 – 2010 streak.
Looking ahead, Pixar have announced five films, bringing them up to 2019. Only one of them – Coco (2017) – is an original concept, with the other five all being sequels to previous films. Finding Dory is set to hit screens next year, with Cars 3 following in 2017, Toy Story 4 in 2018 and The Incredibles 2 the following year.
Is this worrying? As stated earlier in this post, Pixar are loved for their original animations, and it doesn’t look like originality is high on their list of priorities at the moment. Cars 3 doesn’t really make a lot of sense – Cars wasn’t even one of the best loved original concepts, and the sequel was the closest thing the studio has had to a critical failure, making it seem strange that they have decided to go back for a third try, though it’s probably down to the merchandising opportunities – Pixar are still a company trying to make big bucks after all.
Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 are in risky territory, running the risk of tainting two beloved classics. It’s also going to have been over a decade since the originals were released by the time the sequels come out – are they going to be able to make these characters and stories relevant a second time around?
The most worrying of all, however, is the fact that they are going back to Toy Story for a fourth film. The original trilogy is the perfect example of Pixar – and animation – at its very best, with a saga perfectly balancing across three films and ending on a spectacular and emotional high. If Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 are in risky territory, Toy Story 4 runs the risk of destroying the entire generations happy childhood memories (Ok probably not quite that bad, but you catch the gist). John Lasseter, Pixar legend and the director of the first two Toy Story films, is back at the helm, and we can only hope that he would only come back for a great story. He announced earlier this year that the film would focus on the romance between Woody and Bo Peep, who was absent from the third film. It’s all very vague so far, and whilst it could go either way it is going to be a hard one to get right. It will still make piles of money though – everyone is going to want to see if they have pulled it off. Very clever Pixar, but you are playing with fire.
Coco looks like it could be promising. Following the story of 12 year old Mexican boy Miguel, the film is based around the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) is in the directors chair, and the Day of the Dead festival is a promising inspiration for some beautiful animation, so heres hoping that they can complete the magic triangle with a great story to match.
So, what does the future hold for Pixar? Right now, it looks like a lot of sequels, and the studio is going to have to work hard to keep its most beloved work sacred. The huge success of Inside Out earlier this year will hopefully inspire the studio to get back to doing what they do best – inspiring us all with stunning animation and original concepts.