I am a huge fan of Toy Story and Monsters Inc. But all I see coming from Pixar now are sequels! Has the studio sold out or what?
—Trixie X., via the inbox
People have been moaning about Pixar's "sell-out" status since Disney bought the studio for an obscene $7.4 billion in 2006.
But there is evidence that the spinners of the Toy stories may be more selly-outty than usual these days, at least, if you listen to the critics.
First, let's take a look at where your complaint is likely coming from: the latest Pixar news. The company reportedly has plans for a sequel to the 2003 hit Finding Nemo, you know, the one about the clown fish who goes searching for his missing
Meanwhile, next summer you'll be hearing all about Monsters University, the prequel to the 11-year-old film Monsters Inc., one of the studio's best works. And Woody himself, Tom Hanks, recently dropped hints at a Toy Story 4.
If that isn't a sign of creative laziness, consider: Pixar also plans to release a spinoff of Cars called—really—Planes. And it's going straight to video. Film lovers are not hesitating to link this news to the "downfall" of the studio.
There's also been a flurry of negative attention lately from film critics. While most Pixar films are highly praised by movie reviewers, one of its latest efforts, Cars 2, was largely trashed, with moviegoers complaining that the flick's story was pretty clunky under the hood.
Brave, by contrast, earned a 76 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is respectable, but not nearly so impressive as Up, which garnered 98 percent love from critics, or Toy Story 3, which enjoyed a 99 percent fresh status and a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
So does all that add up to a decline for what is arguably one of the most talented bunch of filmmakers in the business right now?
Not quite yet. Maybe tomorrow. But not today. At least, not according to the company's closest followers.
They insist to me that it's way too soon to be trashing the studio. Yes, Cars 2 blew a gasket. Yes, Planes looks like a blatant money grab by a bazillion-dollar company. But the reasons behind the Cars 2 failure probably had less to do with greed than you might think, says Bill Capodagli, co-author of Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World's Most Creative Corporate Playground.
Other animation studios—who shall remain nameless—may be cranking out sloppily-made sequels aimed at a fast buck. But for people like Capodagli, Cars 2 is seen as an honestly made movie that simply didn't resonate.
And don't forget, there haven't been a lot of them, but Pixar sequels have an otherwise stellar track record. Toy Story 3 was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
"Until I see some real junk—I'm talking about really formulaic things—I think that the mentality at Pixar is still to make great pictures," Capodagli tells me. "I have all the confidence in the world that Finding Nemo 2 is going to be a fabulous story."
If not one big fish tale.