In almost two decades of continuous production, Pixar has yet to make a financially unsuccessful movie. Before this year, two of their last three films grossed half a billion dollars; the other movie grossed half a billion and then grossed another half a billion, making a plain ol’ one billion dollars plus change. And the money machine shows no signs of stopping: Current release Monsters University had the studio’s second-biggest opening weekend ever. However, it’s impossible to avoid the sense that the animation titans have entered a weird, even unsettling new era. Three of their last four movies were sequels; after Toy Story 3, none of them has been an out-the-gate classic like The Incredibles or Ratatouille; heck, one of them was Cars 2, the first movie ever made by Pixar that everyone agreed was flat-out bad. (Unless you’re a kid, in which case your bad taste in movies is forgivable until you turn 15.)
Contemporary Hollywood is a sequel factory, and most of those sequels do quite well – and considering that Toy Story 3 grossed twice as much as Toy Story 2, it’s easy to understand why Pixar would transform their films into franchises. Still, when the company announced their plans for a Finding Nemo sequel earlier this year, it began to feel a little bit like the shine was coming off the Pixar brand.
In a new interview with Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary, current Pixar President Ed Catmull appears to speak directly to those concerns. “It’s really important that we do an original film a year,” he explains. The sequel-to-original ratio has flipped in Pixar’s upcoming slate: 2015’s Finding Dory is the only continuation, alongside The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, and the untitled film the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Still, it’s worth pointing out that, in the context of announcing how the studio is refocusing on original films, Catmull also establishes quite clearly that sequels are an integral part of Pixar’s grand plan going forward. He outlines a basic outline, describing it as the One and a Half Film Per Year plan. “We’re going to have an original film every year, then every other year have a sequel to something.”
Pixar currently has one film planned for 2014 and 2016 (The Good Dinosaur and the Day of the Dead project, respectively), but two films planned for 2015 (Inside Out and Finding Dory). In the distance, Pixar has planned three more untitled films, two in 2017 and one in 2018. If we follow Catmull’s strategy correctly, that means one of the 2017 films is a sequel – Toy Story 4? Incredibles 2? Up 2: Down? – and that the studio is planning some kind of follow-up film every couple of years for the forseeable forever.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich