The third feature-length film centered on the Equestria Girls spin-off from My Little Pony is about to be released on home video and, well, I have conflicted feelings about it.
The Universal sequel Despicable Me 2 has pummelled the Lone Ranger this weekend at the US box office. Despite the former’s lack or originality and obscene amount of marketing featuring those little rascals that are the minions, it had no trouble beating a $200 million movie about a man and his horse (kudos to whomever it was that made out on the stock of Consolidated Hay.) Here’s the thing though:
Has Despicable Me 2 spurred the production of yet more animated sequels?
It’s still far to early to tell, and Universal is far from DreamWorks in that they aren’t chomping at the bit to announce sequels after the opening weekend, however, it is almost a certainty that we’ll see a Despicable Me 3 being announced sometime in the not too distant future.
Monsters University has already more than proved worthy of a follow up in terms of its box office. The other original films coming out this year are a bit more of a toss up.
Epic performed admirably but far from monster-hit status. Disney’s Planes is apparently so awesome that the studio has already created an opening slot for it in 2014. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is looking good but not a definite and Frozen stays so close to the Disney formula that it there’s little point in even guessing.
That means that in all likelihood that Despicable Me 2 has done nothing to reduce the incentive for studios to keep producing sequels and an unprecedented rate. Even taking out Jeffrey Katzenberg’s monstrous appetite for the things, that leave almost every studio creating at least one. Pixar has none lined up for next year, but I unequivocally guarantee that either another Monsters or Cars movie is on the horizon.
The worry is of course that with such wobbles like the Lone Ranger, studios will concentrate even harder on proven winners; so averse to creativity that they willingly head towards extinction because it continues to bring in some money.
The key takeaway from all of this is that it leaves a massive door open for a cheap animated film to slide in and clean up shop. The original Despicable Me did it back in 2010. That was three years ago, it’s time for a repeat.
Pixar. No studio has been as influential over the last 15 years and no studio has had as many consistent hits as the one from Emeryville. They’ve even been notable for an aversion to sequels that makes their competitor DreamWorks look positively addicted. However, we’ve already seen three Pixar sequels and are about to see one more this summer. Almost every one Toy Story 2 has brought calls for Pixar to stop. Claims that they bring down the studio’s much vaunted integrity have gone unheeded as the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory was announced earlier this year.
Pixar’s Selective Sequel Problem
So just what is Pixar’s selective sequel problem? Well, The Pixar Times recently highlighted it with a tweet:
The flames of this haven’t exactly been dampened as of late with director Brad Bird continually proclaiming his openness to a sequel provided he finds a story that fits.
So why does Pixar face such a dilemma with its sequels? It basically comes down to the fans.
Why Fans Are Two-Faced When It Comes To Sequels
Fans are a studio’s best friend but also their greatest enemy. The former is because they fork over money but the latter is because they are often blinded to the need to create content that attracts viewers outside of the fanbase.
This conflict manifests itself particularly in sequels and movie series. The simple reason is that fans form their own expectations and can be left disappointed should a sequel or latest film in a series fail to live up to their expectations.
The problem is compounded by the need to be profitable, which necessitates making films that attract the largest audiences possible; a situation that can put studios in conflict with fans, who will gladly proclaim their love for an original film, but gleefully scorn and deride a sequel that has, essentially, been made specially for them.
Pixar’s Special Case
In Pixar’s case, many of their films are self-contained stories that, being never intended as the jumping off point for subsequent films, wrap all plot points up by the time the credits role. Any sequel put out by the studio has relied upon creating a wholly new plotline distinct from the old one.
This has (in addition to the studio’s declared practice of not making sequels) meant that fans, having witnessed the descent of the Walt Disney Animation Studios into a sort of viscious circle of sequels confined in direct-to-video hell, are quite vocal in their concern that Pixar be lead down a similar road. Toy Story 2 was saved from this by Lasseter et al and was long considered the anomaly in the Pixar cannon.
Consequently, whenever the studio has announced a sequel (be it for Toy Story, Cars or Monsters Inc), it has been greeted with a curious mixture of elation and dismay.
So the question is, why are fans dismayed at the announcement of, say, Finding Dory (with its oh-so-imaginative title) but are seemingly clamouring for an Incredibles 2?
The Curse of the Superhero
The fault can be laid at the feet of the very genre that the Incredibles is based on; the superhero.
Superhero comics have been around for almost 80 years with many titles lasting decades. Pretty much every (good) superhero film has been only the first in a series or part of a trilogy. The idea that someone would make one and only one 120 minute film within the genre is, well, alien!
The blame can’t be levelled at fans however, superhero tales lend themselves extremely well to recurring stories and their ability to last for so long without becoming insanely repetitive is a testament to their strength as characters.
With all that in mind, it’s natural for fans to see a sequel to Pixar’s (thus far) lone superhero film while lamenting sequels of other stories.
Should there be a sequel? Ah, a tough question to answer. This blogger sees The Incredibles as a family film first and a superhero film second. Creating another film based on the family unit and the strife within it would be a very tall order. Basing it on the superhero part risks lowering its stature so that its defining qualities are erased in the quest to equal or better other superhero films.
To make an Incredibles 2 or not, what’s your call?
It’s a legitimate (if troll-worthy) question and one that was prompted by a joke tweet from Mike Bastoli stating that Cars 3 had already been announced. Although that tweet was quickly disproved (but not before this blogger jumped the gun in retweeting it), it did give pause for thought; just how long will it be until Cars 3 is announced?
The original Cars cost $120 million and raked in about $462 million. Its sequel cost $200 million and brought in about $560 million. These nice grosses aside, it’s reckoned that the franshise as a whole has been worth an estimated $5 billion to Disney.
These we pretty much already know, and a corporation like Disney is highly unlikely to ignore them, especially that last one. Naturally, it has, since the original film came out, gone ahead and created an entire marketing-driven ecosystem for the franchise. There are TV shows, video games and toys that all drive the revenue machine. However, there is also something fairly unique within the Pixar cannon, a spin-off, Planes, that’s destined for cinemas this year.
Overall, Cars remains a remarkably profitable franchise for anyone involved. All the more reason to keep it going as long as possible, right?
Signs Pointing To Yes
Given all the above, a new film is a very likely probability. Assuming demand for merchandise remains at least constant, a new theatrical outing of some kind will be necessary to grow sales in a stock market-meaningful way. Witness all that Toy Story 3 did for that series of films and their related characters and merchandise. Yes, it was billed as a ‘different’ sequel that quasi-completed the tale of Andy and Woody, etc. but it was still a sequel and it still made a ton of money (while leaving the door open for further adventures that have, until now, been of the short variety).
Other indicators that favour more McQueen adventures include the currently-in-production Monsters University and the sequel to Finding Nemo, which although not officially announced has been noted as being worked on by Andrew Stanton; surprising given how early in the process it remains.
Signs Pointing to No
The signs pointing away from a third film are few and far between. Yes, Cars 2 was only the second Pixar sequel to be made, but it was also far from the last. However, at this point only Toy Story has made it into trilogy territory and that was with an attempt at creative wholeness that Cars simply doesn’t have. (Be honest, the world and his dog knew Cars 2 was blatantly commercial in aspirations.) The odds of Cars being given a third, and expensive outing ‘just because’ aren’t overly strong.
Pixar’s slate is also quite full for the next few years with a few original projects slotted in between the sequels. Also working against Cars is the possibility that other Pixar films might be in line for the sequel treatment. Potential suitors include A Bug’s Life, Brave and The Incredibles. (Although this blogger sincerely hopes that one for the latter never sees the light of day.)
The last factor that suggests a ‘no’ is that the franchise is well established at this stage with the toys being a permanent fixture in stores, TV shows on the TV (in reruns), a spin-off in theatrical feature Planes and, the holy grail, areas devoted to the property in the Disney theme parks. With all that in mind, Disney strictly speaking should not need to “jolt” the franchise for a long time to come. A look at how many Disney films from Walt’s time continue to sell is an indication of this.
The Final Answer
Ultimately, without an in-depth look at the financials, it is very hard to say that we will or won’t see another Cars feature film. the head says no but the brain says yes, and on that note, given that it was about 5 years between the originals, I think we can see it being announced within the next 24 months with a release towards the latter end of the decade.
Do you disagree? Let me know in comments!
Twitter is a fun service to use and also to read (@Charles_Kenny is where you’ll find me). This is especially so when news breaks and everyone responds. Witness yesterday when Twitter users responded to the (sadly unsurprising) news that Andrew Stanton has started work on a sequel to Finding Nemo.
First there was my take:
Then there was the A.V. Club:
Some positive ones:
A negative one (but far from the only specimen):
The man himself jumps into the fray:
And lastly, some friends with opinions/thoughts/truths
And my personal favourite of them all:
It has been well noted how one of the greatest animated film ever made managed to spawn a sequel many, many years later in the form of Fantasia 2000. What has not been well noted are the fundamental differences between that film and the original.
1. The Opening Sequence
Not to denounce the choice of music (Beethoven’s 5th is a favourite of mine) but to focus instead on the animation. In the original, it was animation meant to represent the music visually, with plenty of clouds and streams of light.
The sequel instead took the same visual concept and turned it into a story.
Such a move has the effect of distracting the user from the music and the visuals as they try to determine who the characters are, why they are flying about and why are they being attacked. At the end of the day they are a distraction that draws the viewer away from the attempt to link artistically the music and and the animation.
2. The Colours
The original was full of bright, vivid colours that literally jumped off the screen. In Fantasia 2000, the Pines of Rome segment has by far some of the dullest and flattest colours I have ever seen. At one point I was straining to make out the whales from the background.
While some segments have undoubtedly vivid colours (the yo-yoing flamingos comes to mind), on the whole, the sequel contains much more muted colours and palettes than the original. It is, as a result, less exciting, less eye-popping and ultimately just a wee bit less interesting.
Plenty of wacky cartoons on TV manage to look extremely vivid, Fantasia 2000 simply lacks a similarly broad palette.
3. The Use of Multiple Hosts
The original had a single host, Deems Taylor, which had a purpose as that film was intended to be a roadshow where audiences of the day would have expected a single host for the evening. The sequel uses multiple hosts.
This has the effect of making the film seem like a seminar or presentation. A single host would have unified the viewing experience and provided some continuity between segments. With multiple persons and multiple personalities filling the space, there is a tendency for the film to lurch at each scene as each presenter has a different style.
4. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Yes, it is in both films and is perhaps the most recogniseable segment of the original and that is the difference. Mikey’s appearance in the original had a reason (he needed a new vehicle in the years rolling up to the Second World War) whereas it’s inclusion in the sequel appears to be an attempt to provide some validity to that film’s very existence.
What irked me more than anything though, is that the soundtrack appeared to be re-recorded, at least to my ears, although I was listening to it through some old speakers. Besides the dubious sound, they also re-recorded Mickey’s voice for his interaction with Igor Stravinksy. Unforgiveable perhaps, but ultimately a poor choice for a supposedly ‘new’ film.
Another aspect of the sequence’s inclusion is that it steals the thunder of Donald Duck, who is given his own sequence to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and must content himself to remain in the shadow of his friend instead of in the limelight where he should be.
5. The Conclusion
The original end sequence was very much a statement on the constant battle between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It is exceedingly spiritual on many levels and has been noted for the many profound effects it has on viewers.
The sequel is also in a natural setting and on a mountain, but instead it focuses more on the battle between natural forces in their fight to control the landscape. As admirable as this is, it does allow for a certain amount of disconnect from the audience. It is about nature, not about us, and I can’t help but feel that a certain amount of the meaning is lost in that gap.
At this point, it’s been over 20 years since the original Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that perhaps single-handedly resurrected interest in the classic cartoon shorts of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Despite being wildly successful (thankfully, as it was the most expensive movie ever made at that point in time), a sequel was never made.
There are a couple of reasons why a sequel was never made. Number one, Hollywood wasn’t near as sequel crazy as it is today and number 2, the complexities of the original film made it somewhat more difficult to produce another one. No, I’m not talking about the animation, or anything technical, it is he sheer number of characters required lengthy and exhaustive negotiations between all the rights holders. You may have noticed that the original film had neither Felix the Cat or Tom & Jerry as the rights to neither were secured prior to production.
Why do I think a sequel won’t work? Well, why do you think a sequel wouldn’t work? Perhaps because sequels invariably share the same set of problems. TV Tropes has a good rundown of the symptons associated with what they call, sequelitis. The plot isn’t a continuation, bit characters that became popular are given way more screen time than they should be allocated, new characters appear that add nothing of value, etc. etc.
The original film was notable for many reasons, not least because it used a huge cast of already popular animated characters and introducing a few that appeared well known despite being brand new. That’s why Baby Herman, Jessica Rabbit and even Roger are still known, they have created a link in the audience’s mind between themselves and the classic characters of yore. A sequel will most likely copy some elements of the character but discard the deeper stuff that matters.
Another aspect is time. It’s been over two decades since the original and the times have changed. Roger Rabbit succeeded because it was different. Animation didn’t get a lot of respect from people in the 80s. Roger Rabbit (along with The Little Mermaid) helped change that and establish animation as an artform that could deliver the goods at the box office. There was little to no competition unlike today, where a new animated film is released, on average, every couple of weeks. The quality of said films is also astounding, thanks to the folks at Pixar who raised the bar so high.
Finally, as everyone knows, sequels inevitably have a lower budget than the original. In animation (moreso CGI than traditional) this is partly because computer models and sets have already been constructed, however, corner are still cut in areas such as story development, size of the crew, etc. The difference is always noticeable and in the case of Roger Rabbit, it would definitely be noticeable. If you make the most expensive movie ever and spend less for the sequel, it will look different.
Of course, there is the test film for a CGI version of Roger from 1998. It’s embedded below along with the test from the original film. The two cannot be compared in overall quality, but notice the difference in the animation. The newer one says a lot about the attitudes of executives towards sequels of classic films.
I admire Pixar and all they’ve done over the last 15 years or so. They really do deserve all the success they’ve earned. They practically revived the animation artform and movies in general with their unique (and oft-copied) form of film that’s universally acceptable for kids with enough adult humour thrown in there to keep adults entertained.
However, I find it somewhat deplorable that their resolve is gradually weakening in relation to sequels. Toy Story 2 was a bit of a one-off, where the Pixar guys became disheartened at the prospect of what was to be a straight-to-video cheapquel and decided to redo the entire thing properly.
Since then however, we have heard announcements of a “Monsters Inc. 2” and “Cars 2” and, God help us all, an Incredibles 2 (although my faith in Brad Bird remains strong until I see something concrete). I particularly hate sequels. Not only do they stifle creativity (in fairness though, Hollywood, for the most part hasn’t put out something really creative in a long, long time) and inevitably ruin the spirit of the original. The only exception I make is if the film is part of a trilogy and such a trilogy is outlined before the first movie is released.
Pixar has a proven track record of releasing hit after hit. Why do they feel the need to go back and revisit old stuff? They employ perhaps the most talented and creative team ever assembled and I find it very hard to believe they are running out of steam after 15 years.
The vast majority of sequels are made with an eye on the bottom line. Sequels already have market recognition, and, if the original did well, the sequel likely will too (Evan Almighty is an exception, but then that was also just a bad movie). That’s why studios love them, they remove the fear of the unknown. Yet it is that unknown quantity that make movies so successful in the first place!
I’m sure that when the above mentioned movies come out they will do fantastically well and all, but I just can’t help but feel that with each one, Pixar dies a little on the inside.