Everyone knows how much I love Pixar, but the last couple of years have been troubling to me. First, they made Cars 2…which never should have happened. There was no one begging for a sequel to that and they made it curiously to coincide with the opening of Cars Land at Disneyland. John Lasseter (for whom the first Cars-which was great-was a labor of love) stepped in and took over the film, but when your film doesn’t have a story, you don’t have a reason to make it. “Story first”, in fact, has always been the Pixar mantra. That Cars 2 was clearly a marketing-driven film and the first bad (and oh so bad) film that Pixar had ever made, took a lot of the luster off of their brand. Which brings us to Brave.
Brave was to be Pixar’s first female director directing Pixar’s first female lead. However, director Brenda Chapman was fired off of the project and now works at rival Dreamworks Animation. Chapman has asserted that John Lasseter is micromanaging the company. I liked Brave and it won Pixar its umpteenth Oscar for Best Animated Film, so perhaps it was the right call.
Now next summer’s The Good Dinosaur has had its director fired off the project. Bob Peterson still works for Pixar, but getting fired off of a film doesn’t seem like a boost of confidence. The Executive Vice President of Production for Pixar is quoted as saying that Bob Peterson is still employed at Pixar and notes, “We hope he will stay here for the rest of his natural life.” Is it just me or does the “his natural life” portion of that quote seem like he was giving the quote while smiling ironically and twirling a scythe in a festive manner.
Monsters University, which had more of a reason for being made than Cars 2 but was still unnecessary, was good but not great. Post-Toy Story 3, “good but not great” would pretty much sum up the whole of their activity. That might fly anywhere else, but Pixar was as strong a studio in terms of quality of output as Disney Animation itself in its prime (I’m talking Walt Disney days). Right now, that’s not the case. Pixar films were classics. Their previous ‘off’ films were 9/10 level movies. Pixar needs another classic to reclaim some of their credibility and The Good Dinosaur is next up. It doesn’t seem like that’s on the ‘classic’ route.
The more promising future is 2015, when Pixar will release two animated features in the same year for the first time: Pete Docter’s Inside Out and Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory. Docter and Stanton are the two best directors Pixar has and have been with the company since Toy Story. Hopefully The Good Dinosaur gets Pixar back to its old ways, but if it doesn’t, a course correction seems all but certain in 2015.