Courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios

February 7, 2017

GOULDTHORPE | You Won’t Be Finding Dory at the Oscars this Year. What Does That Mean For Pixar?

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After I published my article last week, I received comments from people around me: “Hey, you didn’t mention Finding Dory! What gives?” Well, I left Finding Dory off my list to talk about it more in-depth because the Academy gave it no nominations this year. Only four Pixar movies have ever been totally ignored by the Academy Awards; all of them have been in the past five years. Those films are Cars 2, Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur, and Finding Dory. See a pattern here? Three of these films are sequels. So, what is going on? Could Pixar be losing its spark? Let’s take a closer look.

I want to start with the film at the center of it all this year, Finding Dory, and see why it didn’t get a nomination. It seems like a pretty good contender, actually!  It earned a 94% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.5 out of 10 from audiences on iMDB, so it seems that most people consider it an above-average movie.  I myself consider it a worthy successor to Finding Nemo. It had good humor, a competent story and enough heart to make me cry. It was par for the course for Pixar — and that right there is the problem: the Pixar we know has never been a studio to aim for par. They hit a hole-in-one, and then start working on a way to get the ball to hit itself into the hole. While Finding Dory deserved to be the sequel to Finding Nemo, it didn’t really top its predecessor, and from a studio with a reputation like Pixar’s, it just doesn’t quite make it.

Is this particularly worrying or troubling to me? Not exactly. As I said before, I did genuinely enjoy Finding Dory, along with the sequels I mentioned before. I don’t mind sequels as long as they’re done well. Honestly, what we’re seeing here stems from the fact that animation is, in fact, an industry just as much as an artform. Studios do have to make money, and what are sequels? A surefire way to tap the market! The world and characters are already there, all they need is a new story. Marketing is easy; people have already connected with these characters, and already want to see them again. The results speak for themselves: every one of Pixar’s sequels has bested its predecessor by at least $100 million globally. Original movies are far riskier. Sometimes you can get a big hit, like Finding Nemo’s gross of $867 million from a budget of less than $100 million. Other times you have a bust, like The Good Dinosaur’s $332 million pull from an estimated $200 million budget. It’s always a gamble, and struggling studios often try to stick to money-making formulas.  That’s why I’m actually happy to see Pixar’s sequels doing well at the box office. If they’re comfortable with funds, then they’ll be more willing to take risks. We’ll get movies that push the boundaries of storytelling further, and show us things we couldn’t dream of.

I’m confident that we’ll get those bold original movies again thanks to the words of Jim Morris. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last year, Morris stated that after The Incredibles 2 in 2019, no more sequels are being planned. In fact, four completely original films are in the works at the moment. He also explained the rationale that Pixar uses in planning a sequel. Unlike some studios that get one big hit and immediately cling onto it like a golden goose, Pixar doesn’t “‘make a sequel unless the director of the original film has an idea that they like and are willing to go forward on.’” It’s nice to see a studio that, even when it’s dealing with business, continues to prioritize art over strict financial gain. It’s a model that’s worked for Pixar  and brings hope that when the 20s come around, we can see a resurgence at the studio.

To truly understand the big picture, we should also look at Pixar’s sister studio, Walt Disney Animation.  In the 00s, Disney floundered a lot with its animation, while Pixar dominated. This decade though, Disney has been experiencing what some call the “Second Disney Renaissance.” Starting with Tangled in 2010, the studio has enjoyed progressively greater success in both critical and financial circles. In fact, this year the studio has had both of its films, Zootopia and Moana, nominated for Best Animated Feature. However, looking at its upcoming slate, we have Gigantic… and Wreck-It Ralph 2. We also know that Frozen 2 is in the works. Extrapolating from the studio’s recent schedule, we can expect these films to hit theaters about the same time that Pixar is winding up for a new streak of originals. Given that Ed Catmull and John Lasseter are executive managers of both Pixar and Disney Animation, I have a feeling that this is a strategic move: have one studio make money with sequels while the other puts out original content, and then switch. It’s like a pendulum, which I have to say is very clever. Only time will tell if it ends up paying off in the long run, but given the fact that both studios each managed to put out a billion-dollar movie this year, I’d say it’s working pretty darn well. So what if Finding Dory isn’t at the Academy Awards this year? Disney and Pixar are winning anyways.

David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. Animation Analysis appears online alternate Tuesdays this semester.