After the Gold Rush: Mediocrity in Pixar




Mediocrity and Pixar are words normally never seen on the same website together  let alone the same sentence. The picture above contains some of cinema's most beloved characters from some of the greatest animated films of the last two decades; Toy Story (1995), A Bugs Life (1998), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), Wall-E (2008) and  Up (2009) being in my opinion the finest. This groundbreaking output of remarkable animated film is reflected in the studio's huge Oscar tally, winning 27 overall - at one point Pixar studios had a strangle hold over the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, winning four times in a row with Ratatouille, Up, Wall-E and Toy Story 3. However more recently this dominance in the field of animation has waned greatly. Their most recent cinematic offerings have been a farcry from the brilliance they have shown they are capable of produceing and the titles they have announced to be in development are somewhat disappointing  It is a bold statement to make against a studio which has been  preeminent in the animation for so long but it seems that in the past 2 or so years Pixar has slumped into mediocrity. 


The congested trophy cabinet at Pixar HQ, Emeryville, California.
On the surface, my indictment of Pixar seems like a difficult task given that it wasn't so long ago that the studio was truly in its Golden Age. Only those of abhorrently bad taste would fail to appreciate the endless charm of this classic Pixar movies. AP's favorite film of 2008 was Wall-E - the opening half-hour or so completely lacking in dialogue is probably the most visually rich piece of animation produced by Pixar, and indeed by any studio. As they say though, there's only one way to go from the top and that's down - unfortunately this is increasingly becoming the case with Pixar. This slippery slope was first trod upon by the studio in 2011 with the abysmal decision to make a sequel to the already less-than-brilliant Cars (2006). AP feels it reasonable to forgive Pixar for the original Cars as it wasn't wholly unwatchable and was preceded by the fantastic Incredibles and followed by Ratatouille - two of my most beloved Pixar films. Making a follow up to one of their most tepid releases was a dire mistake though and marked the first occasion where a Pixar film was panned by critics. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “this frenzied sequel seldom gets beyond mediocrity', in many ways anticipating the general mediocrity the studio currently finds itself in. Things improved marginally last year with the release of Brave which proved strong enough to once again earn Pixar an Academy Award for Best Feature Animation. I feel that an accolade of this magnitude overstates how good Brave is. It certainly shouldn't be dismissed as a bad film altogether. The mother-daughter dynamic is something we have not seen before from Pixar and the rebuilding of their strained relationship is an interesting angle. However it is by no means their best film. The environment of the Scottish highlands seems relatively bland compared to settings Pixar has brought to life in the past - some notable examples being Andy's bedroom, the junkyard in Wall-E and Gusto's restaurant in Ratatouille - and outside of the mother and her daughter, the characters are very flat and generic. 


Even Pixar's rich visuals can't remedy a lackluster narrative
As well as this slump in their movies of late, the films which Pixar are currently working on seem unimaginative. Currently in production are a sequel to Finding Nemo and a prequel to Monsters Inc. It is almost as if the studio is trying desperately to return to its Golden Age by revisiting two of its most successful features. However, a prequel/sequel release is not particularly relevant to the two original movies. With the Toy Story trilogy a series of films was far more relevant as the recurrent question of what would happen when Andy eventually grew out of his beloved toys was at the back of audience's minds from the very first film. No such questions exist with either Finding Nemo or Monsters Inc however. By the end of Finding Nemo the young clownfish has been reunited with his father thus solving the film's central conflict. In the same vein, after watching Monsters Inc are viewers really that curious as to how Sulley and Wazowski first met? No not at all - its just taken as an extraneous piece of information requiring no elaboration. These two releases beg the question of whether the creative guys at Pixar have finally ran out of fresh ideas.

I would love for the studio to prove me wrong on this matter and release a plethora of films showing all the hallmarks of the best Pixar films. I'm certainly not saying they aren't capable of doing this. It is merely that at this moment in time the two most recent Pixar releases have been average and well below average and two of the next projected releases are stale throwbacks. It seems the Gold Rush of the mid-Noughties is most definitely at an end and - as it stands - the studio is in the realms of mediocrity. 


Have I given up on Pixar too early?! Feel like 'Finding Nemo 2'/'Monsters Inc: University' will be surprise hits?! Let me know in a comment!



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