Has Pixar lost its magic touch?

Since Toy Story wowed audiences in 1995, Pixar has gone from strength to unbelievable strength. On an almost annual basis they’ve released movies that audiences young and old have rushed to see; films that have been almost universally adored by critics, and helped to form part of the Disney Renaissance of the end of the twentieth century – even after Disney’s movies became steadily worse, you could always rely on Pixar to balance the proverbial scale.

Sadly, however, Pixar seem to have hit a bumpy patch recently. Cars 2 was received less than favourably by most critics, and it looks like their new feature, the Scottish fairytale Brave, may get the same treatment. And while two films does by no means constitute a bad streak, you have to ask yourself: has the mighty studio’s once uncorruptible reputation been forever tarnished?

With the lukewarm reception of Cars 2 and Brave, many wonder if the studio’s hopping lamp has lost some of its bounce.

Part of the problem, is ironically, also part of Pixar’s greatness – the Disney studio that gives them the money needed to build their technically astounding worlds from the ground up. Since Disney bought Pixar in 2006, the studio has been at the mercy of the House of Mouse – a studio that’s far more concerned about making as much money as possible.

Think about it. Cars is probably Pixar’s most profitable
franchise to date – there’s a smorgasbord of toys, lunchboxes, video games, duvets, and even a theme park – so making a sequel was, financially, a no-brainer. Then there’s Finding Nemo, one of Pixar’s greatest films that’s also the best-selling DVD of all time. That one’s getting a sequel and a 3D conversion sometime this year. Monsters, Inc is getting a pequel (Monsters University) next year, and rumours of a second Incredibles have been around since 2005.

The problem with these sequels is that they seem to go completely against the studio’s entire ethos up until this point. Doing the same thing over and over again is for other studios – Pixar were renowned because of their originality and daring, and their ability to make animated films that grown adults could watch alone without shame. These are the people who made a love story with robots, who turned monsters and rats into some of the most beloved animated characters of all time. Making more of the same to please the kids feels… well, beneath them.

And the problems don’t just come from within, either – Pixar has to accept that they simply don’t have a monopoly on quality animation anymore. Look at films like Despicable Me or How to Train Your Dragon; movies that have got just as much heart and jaw-dropping technical wizardry as any Pixar effort, backed by studios with just as much cash in their coffers. Which means that Pixar will have to work twice as hard to stay ahead of the game.

I’m not saying that Pixar are now finished; far from it. Their short films prove that the studio is still capable of fantastic cinematic storytelling, and their greatest movies are still some of the greatest animated films of all time. But they’re no longer the infallible geniuses they once were, believed to be incapable of making a bad movie, and when your reputation is built on unending success, even something that’s only “good” will inevitably leave people disappointed.

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