When I came across a poster for Finding Dory on Tumblr, I thought it was another wishful photoshop designed to remind Pixar fans of the inexcusable lack of Dory’s presence in the past decade. Many online reactions were disbelieving, given the unfortunate proximity to April Fools’ Day. When its release was confirmed, however, reactions were both ecstatic and wary.
Pixar has had almost unnatural success in their animated films. Ever since the release of Toy Story in 1995, Disney’s subsidiary has enthralled us with tale after tale that wrenches our hearts for its unusual characters. Over the years, viewers have found themselves caring for a fish, a rat, a couple of monsters whose job it is to scare small children and a group of bugs. Pixar’s 17-year-existence has been as effective at capturing the minds of both children and parents alike as Disney’s traditionally animated classics.
In recent years, however, the company’s success has been less certain. While Pixar was still releasing mainly new stories in new worlds, there was not a single flop. The continuation of the Toy Story franchise was incredibly successful: all three Toy Story films scored 99% or higher on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (it is easy to imagine that the one percent of critics that did not enjoy Toy Story 3 probably objected to their unwilled sobbing over a group of children’s toys in a crowded theatre, or perhaps did not appreciate the vilification of a teddy bear). While fans had their favorites, none of the films produced were unsuccessful or bad.
This was the case until the release of Cars 2. Despite the enticing idea of Michael Caine as a four-wheeled James Bond, the plot expansion of international espionage did not go over well with critics or with the general public. Was this the beginning of the end? Brave, the first film to really focus on mother/daughter relationships in the Pixar pantheon, was less popular than the company’s past releases. The reason is debatable—some have said that the Scottish accents were difficult to understand, or that the protagonist shamelessly turned her mother into a bear, making her inherently unlikeable. Whatever the reason, Pixar’s last two feature films were significantly less critically and publicly successful.
This isn’t to say that Pixar has lots its touch—before the two flops, they released Up and Toy Story 3; the latter being the highest grossing animated film of all time, and the former making its audience feel more about the protagonist’s marriage in the first ten minutes of the film than the audience ever felt about entire relationships in other wildly popular sagas.
However, it is somewhat concerning to note that Pixar will be coming out with more sequels to previous films than more original films in the next couple of years. Sequels are risks, and the ultimate question behind them is whether they were made with the intention to continue an unfinished or rich story or to capitalize off of the success of a prior film.
At the end of the day, no one can say what the future holds for Finding Dory, or even the upcoming prequel Monsters University to be released in theatres June 21. The sobering thought, though, is that the quality of an upcoming Pixar film even has to be questioned.