Historians and archeologists will tell you that eras and dynasties are temporary. What brings them down are a number of circumstances, but it usually involves the bastardization of the core ideas that made it strong and successful. Though the process of the fall is long, the process begins with small cracks in the foundation.
After making one hit after another for children, adults and critics, Pixar has been lauded as the Roman Empire of movie studio dynasties in the past 15 years. With seemingly extreme ease, Pixar has produced quality stories with immense box office dollars: the pinnacle of movie magic. However, the immaculate streak came to a screeching halt last month when Cars 2 was released to horrendous reviews and lackluster opening dollars by their standards (2nd weekend dollars totaled $26.3 M, a 60% drop vs opening weekend). And to the surprise of no one, it showed the first and greatest crack of the Pixar pavement.
It started with a marriage in 2006 when Pixar merged with its former distribution partner, Disney, which itself has faltered to return to animation royalty. Like a corporate Visigoth who married into the line, it brought along its bottom-line pressure to keep their animation studios afloat and recent flailing box office track record.
The partnership with the Mouse changed some business practices (though we hope day-to-day creative is still out of their hands), with the most cheapening and frightening being the sequel-ization of Pixar movies. In our minds, Cars was the last movie that deserved a sequel based on quality and story, but the movie’s expansive and surprising merchandise’s revenue made the decision to greenlight a second movie virtually easy.
The willingness to make sequels could lead to a second major crack: disruption of Pixar’s legendary creative force. It is always to be expected for Pixar to produce a fantastic story, but Cars 2 could not meet previous successes as evidenced by low audience and critics scores:
(You’ll know that we prefer “tickets sold” as barometer of success rather than “box office gross” alone)
We’re left with some options as to what happened with the lack of story: either A)Disney is beginning to interrupt with the creative process; B) the storymakers and storied skills are finally falling down back to earth; or, C) Pixar had a gun drawn to their heads in order to produce a fast, though messy, turnaround. We hope the latter happened, though we place good bets on a mix of A and C as well.
Whatever the true reason may be, fans can only hope that the Pixar executives print and staple the bad reviews over their Oscars as constant reminders to not be in the money-grabbing business: an internal fight of Creative pride versus Cash profits. Though Ratatouille and Wall-E didn’t perform quite up to par in the box office, the studio probably didn’t mind the praise the movies were receiving (and Oscars) and would trade those happy days for these any time.
Mind you we are talking about cracks in a strong foundation, not full blown Apocalypse earthquakes. Even though a rumored Toy Story 4 may be in the works (not that we minded 1, 2 or 3), next summer will bring Pixar’s first fairytale feature, the very dark Brave. It looks good and intense, right? And a challenging story with new ground to break and explore for the studio. And we hope the right cement mixture to stop those cracks in the foundation.