“For artistic reasons … it’s really important that we do an original film a year,” –Ed Catmull, 2013
Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up. Starting in 2001 and going all the way to 2009, Pixar Animation Studios gave us 7 of the most beloved animated movies in recent times. They were all original ideas. This decade puts Pixar through the stratosphere. As Hollywood leaned more and more towards sequels, prequels, threequels, fourquels and requels (and some movies that were all of the above at the same time like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Pixar was a shining light of originality. That’s no longer the case.
If you see Pixar’s output starting with Toy Story in 1995 up until 2010’s Toy Story 3 you will find 9 originals films and 2 sequels. You will find movies no other studio would even touch simply because they were too risky. How do you market a film about a rat who wants to cook? Or a film about an old man who doesn’t want to live because his wife died? But Pixar made them and they were great. Beloved, even. And the freshness and highly original concepts of these movies were huge factors in Pixar’s rise.
And now? If you take into account the official slate of upcoming Pixar films announced in the D23 Expo, by the time we get The Incredibles 2,Pixar will have released 6 sequels and 3 original movies since 2010. This is not okay, especially because in the same interview I pulled the Catmull quote from the top of the article, he promised an original movie every year and a sequel every other year. Sure, it’s Pixar we’re talking about so these movies could be amazing. But for the last couple of years, the public has rumbled about Pixar’s decline. Why’s that? Because after that wonderful streak of fantastic original films, they started giving us movies like Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University.
It’s no secret I think Cars 2 is terrible. The other two are good. But they weren’t masterpieces. Brave was an original story, but I felt I had seen the story a thousand times. Especially because of Brother Bear. This is proof not all original movies are great. But then came Monsters University which is a perfectly functional movie. It’s funny and touching. But we’ve seen those characters and that world before. Compare how you felt watching MU to how you felt seeing Inside Out in theaters. Don’t tell me the latter wasn’t a thousand times more exciting: meeting new characters in a new world and learning the rules. There’s nothing like an original movie. And we have 2 of those left in the upcoming slate of movies: November’s The Good Dinosaur and 2017’s Coco, from Toy Story 3′s director Lee Unkrich.
As I said: original doesn’t equal masterpiece (Brave, Cars) and sequel doesn’t mean disaster (Toy Story 2 & 3). But Pixar is at its best when giving us new worlds full of vibrant new characters. It’s what got them to where they are; it’s what made people fall in love with them. But look at the above image. Sure, we all love Dory. Sure, more Incredibles sounds like fun. I’m not so sure about Toy Story 4 after they ended the trilogy so perfectly. And don’t get me started on Cars 3. But Coco and The Good Dinosaur are the only ones that get me truly excited. We’re going to worlds we haven’t visited before and we’re learning new things about new characters. As I said, some of these movies may be great. But they won’t feel fresh. They won’t be as exciting as seeing Joy for the first time and learning how Riley’s mind works.
That’s why I own two Pixar shirts and countless books about them—the excitement of learning about the unknown, about the secret world of toys, about the monsters in our closets. Seeing how fish live, following a rat’s dream in a Parisian kitchen, learning how our emotions work. That’s what makes Pixar great. And I hope that, eventually, Pixar will go back to its roots and make us feel this way again.
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).