Onward and Upward: What is the Future of Pixar?

When I think of great animation, I think of Pixar.

For the past 24 years, the studio has delivered hit film after hit film, creating not only some of the best animated films, but also some of the best films ever made.

Since 1995, Pixar has experienced unparalleled success with most of their films achieving massive critical and commercial success. Whether it was Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, or Wall-E, many of these films have become instant classics that will be remembered for years. For the longest time, it seemed nothing could go wrong with Pixar.

That was until they did.

JOHN LASSETER (Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering)On November 21, 2017, John Lasseter announced a six-month leave of absence following allegations of sexual harassment he described as “missteps.” Since then, reports of inappropriate comments, heavy drinking, creative clashes, and many other less than flattering stories were revealed to the press.

Finally on June 8, 2018, Disney announced Lasseter would leave the studio at the end of 2018, ending his long-maintained image as the face of modern animation.

It’s a shame to learn a filmmaker who has influenced millions around the world turned out to be one of the many in Hollywood victimizing nameless people. Knowing that while you were watching the Toy Story pictures for the millionth time, women’s voices were going unheard and even more of them were at the tail-end of harassment.

Despite being the most Influential animator since Walt Disney himself and leaving behind a wonderful legacy of great movies from both Disney and Pixar, the “Age of John Lasseter” is officially over.

On March 8, 2018, Oscar-winning producer Darla K. Anderson announced she would be leaving Pixar. A few weeks ago, Lee Unkrich announced his departure from Pixar after 25 years of employment as well. Both of them left a legacy of critical and financial hits such as Toy Story 3 and Coco, the best-reviewed animated movies of their respective years.

Thankfully, Unkrich’s and Anderson’s departures aren’t in the same vein as Lasseter’s. Anderson left the studio to pursue other creative endeavors while Unkrich wants to spend time with his family. As saddening as it is, they did a lot of good for the studio both financially and creatively.

pete-docter-jennifer-lee

As Lasseter’s reign in the Mouse House came to a sudden stop, new rulers began to fill the void. While Frozen co-director Jennifer Lee was named Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pete Docter was appointed as the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar.

Docter’s new position goes beyond just a simple replacement for “The Guy Who Came Before Him.” With veteran producers and directors parting ways for one reason or another, Docter’s new position means a new era of Pixar is beginning.

Out of Pixar’s big five (directors who have directed the most films at the studio), Docter is the only one who hasn’t directed a sequel of any kind. Lasseter directed two, Unkrich directed Toy Story 3, and Stanton and Bird directed one follow-up to their biggest hits. Docter’s strive for originality is telling to me, which could mean he will combat Pixar’s over-reliance on follow ups in the 2010s.

While there’s nothing wrong with sequels in my eyes, it is rather unfortunate that out of the soon-to-be 11 pictures Pixar will release in the 2010s, seven of them are sequels (with one prequel as well). While I will be the first one to sing the praises of Toy Story 3 and Incredibles 2, other follow ups in this era range from entertaining to forgettable.

It was great to see Inside Out and Coco become as successful as they were because it reminded me of Pixar’s early years where they didn’t need characters we’ve seen before to sell a movie.

toy-story-4The 2010s may have been a mixed bag for Pixar, that doesn’t mean the future isn’t something to look forward to. There’s something poetic that Pixar will end this decade the same way it started it, with a Toy Story movie.

Toy Story 4 is set to be released this summer and while expectations are mixed, there’s no doubt Pixar will win the hearts of critics and audiences. Directed by Josh Cooley in his feature length debut, the film could usher in more movies directed by newcomers.

The question is, what about the veterans?

With Lasseter gone and Unkrich focusing on his personal life, where does this leave our other big name directors at Pixar? Brad Bird has said if he has a good idea for Incredibles 3, he will do it; however, he wants to focus on more original projects. He mentioned recently he is working on an original live action/animation hybrid musical with veteran Pixar composer Michael Giacchino.

Regardless if this movie is made at Disney or not, Bird has his hands full for a bit. Andrew Stanton hasn’t commented on his future with Pixar since the release of Finding Dory, so his involvement with the studio is unknown. However considering Bird and Stanton have directed the studio’s first and third highest grossing movies respectively, it’s entirely possible that they’ll be back at Pixar any day now. Until then, now seems like the perfect time for new blood.

In 2017, Pixar announced an untitled “Suburban World of Fantasy” film, later revealed in December 2018 as Onward. The film will be written and directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae.

Chris-Pratt-Disney-Pixar-OnwardBeing the studio’s first non-sequel since Coco, the film’s announcement was met with high enthusiasm from many animation fans, myself included. At the moment it’s unknown if John Lasseter’s name will be attached to the project considering it was greenlit when he was still in power.

Despite that, Onward is an appropriate start to a new decade of Pixar movies, set to be released in on March 6, 2020. Pixar has also set release dates for Summer 2020, Summer 2021, and two movies in 2022. All these films have been said to be original as there are currently no sequels in development post-Toy Story 4 as said by Jim Morris (president of Pixar) in 2016.

Past-Pixar directors Brian Fee (Cars 3), and Mark Andrews (Brave) are planning on directing new movies for Pixar. Despite becoming the big dog on campus, Pete Docter is planning on finishing his own animated film. Late last year, Domee Shi (the director of the short film Bao) revealed she is in the early stages of development of her own. It’s currently unknown if Peter Sohn (The Good Dinosaur) will direct his second feature film.

The future of Pixar Animation Studios is an exciting one, not only because one of their most gifted filmmakers is taking the reins, but also the growing community of new creative voices coming in.

With the reveal of their short films program Sparkshorts, Pixar is giving creative opportunities to creators of different races and genders. Female filmmakers, as well as filmmakers of color telling stories for one of the largest film empires in the world, will help boost diversity in the film industry and if Coco is anything to go by there will be great payoff.

Now looking forward to the future doesn’t mean we can’t remember the past. While the head of Pixar’s stellar early history may not have been a great person, we can still honor all of the hardworking animators, writers, and composers who made our childhoods.

Whether it be in the past or in the future, it’s always great to see a movie start with a little lamp jump on top of a capital I, which for nearly 24 years has become an immortal symbol of creativity and imagination. With an Oscar-winning genius at the helm and growing diversity within studio walls, Pixar has nowhere to go but Up.

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