Pixar. One of the most recognized names in Hollywood and one of the most iconic brands in animation history. The Toy Story trilogy, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up. A creative powerhouse that always set the benchmark for quality animated filmmaking in every aspect. Masters in their prime.
Until Cars 2.
What happened on June 24, 2011 was something that was previously never thought possible: the realization of Pixar’s first dud, and the end of what remains the longest critical winning streak ever held by an animation studio. To this day, Cars 2 is still heavily contested (and defended) among Pixar fans and animation lovers in general (among one of it’s defenders was the film’s director, John Lasseter). I think the fact that it was the first Pixar film to not be nominated for an Oscar says enough.
This event signified an unfortunate turn of fate for the revered company. Its next two films, Brave and Monsters University, were both deemed by critics is merely being ‘good’ Pixar films, but not ‘great’ Pixar films. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for the films (76% and 79% respectively) had further solidified a harsh truth: that Pixar had taken a hard stumble, and was having just as much trouble making it back up.
Somewhere along the way, the people at Pixar realized that this was the case. It was abundantly clear that they needed time away from its movies to step back, re-energize, recuperate, and refocus. It must have been with this thought in mind that it pushed back two of its upcoming films, The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory, to 2015 and 2016 respectively, with Inside Out also dated for 2015. In the words of Ed Catmull: “Nobody ever remembers the fact that you slipped a film, but they will remember a bad film. Our conclusion was that we were going to give the [dinosaur] film some more time.”
Thus, no Pixar film for this year, giving their company its first break from the big screen since the one-year gap between The Incredibles in 2004 and the first Cars in 2006.
Next year, however, will herald the awaited return of Pixar to feature animation. And thankfully, all telltale signs seem to point towards Inside Out being the film that marks a (hopefully) triumphant return to form. The Good Dinosaur also seems promising, in spite of its massive behind-the scenes shake ups. If pulled off well, Pixar could very well be on the path to reclaiming the feature Animation crown.
The path won’t be an easy one, though. In 2015 Pixar will ultimately be coming back to a more crowded and competitive field than even back in 2013.
Big studios like Warner Bros. and Paramount will have jumped back into the ring (with the former having made a big splash this year with The Lego Movie), along with the arrival of newer companies like Reel FX. Not to mention, other established companies have been recently stepping up their game, like Dreamworks Animation with How To Train Your Dragon 2.
Needless to say, Pixar will definitely have an uphill battle to face against worthy rivals and more than a few fresh faces.
So what is it to do?
Well, if we go by what it’s delivering next year, these guys may already have it figured out. First of all, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur seem to indicate that Pixar is, story-wise, going back to basics. And what I mean by that is it is going back to what made its films effective: simple, sometimes odd and out-there ideas that either explore or twist everyday concepts and archetypes.
Inside Out takes a look at how emotions guide us through our everyday life, while The Good Dinosaur (at least, in it’s original conception) asked the question: what if the meteor that wiped out all dinosaurs actually missed? Again, very odd ideas, but should the films truly commit to them, instant gold is all but guaranteed. Besides, how else could they have made such successful films out of such strange and risky ideas such as Wall-E or Up.
And really, that’s the key here: commitment. Commitment to thinking outside the box. Commitment to being innovative again. That’s what’s going to bring Pixar back up.
There are other factors too, of course. Like being careful to make sequels to films that really deserve it, always being game to embrace new challenges, and nurturing future talent all across the board (directors, writers, animators, etc). But the main sticking point will always be the innovation and how much heart and soul they put into spinning a good story that will win back the critics, the skeptics, and yes, all the accolades as well.
Again, Pixar will be stepping back into heavier waters, but if they play its cards just right, what we might hear in 2015 is the sound of a champion’s welcome.
Inside Out lands in theaters June 19, 2015, with The Good Dinosaur set to bow in the fall on November 25, 2015.