Twenty-four solid months without a single Pixar film in theaters seems almost unthinkable.
At D23 Expo recently, Disney seemed like everything was full speed ahead on the Pixar slate, and they announced that “The Good Dinosaur” was set for release on May 30, 2014, with the highly-anticipated sequel “Finding Dory” set for November 25, 2015.
They still have a film set for November 25, 2015, but now it’s “The Good Dinosaur,” and unless something radical happens, that means “Inside Out” is the next movie the studio is releasing, and that comes a full two years after the release of “Monsters University.” While Disney has plenty of major content brands under the larger umbrella of Disney these days, and they seem to be gearing up for something like nine Marvel movies a year, two years without a Pixar film sounds like a genuine crisis for the studio.
One thing that distinguishes Pixar’s output is that they have always been willing to toss everything they’ve done on a movie out the window if they think it’s not working. “Ratatouille” wouldn’t be the movie it is now if they hadn’t gutted it and brought Brad Bird in to rebuild the entire thing, and without that fearlessness, “Toy Story 2” wouldn’t be the heartbreaker that it is. But over the last few years, that’s starting to become the story about them above and beyond anything else. Brenda Chapman’s firing on “Brave” put an ugly spotlight on the notion of Pixar as a boy’s club, and “The Good Dinosaur” is moving because Bob Peterson has been removed as director. While Peterson is still at Pixar and the company has sung his praises anytime they’ve mentioned the creative shuffle, Chapman left for DreamWorks Animation, and she’s been a lot more vocal about what she sees as a stifling atmosphere thanks to the micromanagement of John Lasseter.
Considering how recent the decision to replace Peterson was, it seems bold that Pixar is already announcing a new release date for the film, and they must be optimistic that they can get the film solved in the right way by that point. And maybe them moving “The Good Dinosaur” out of the summer of next year clears the way for them to shift “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from spring, where it feels like they might be leaving money on the table, to a prime July 4 weekend slot. Disney has to have something in the summer schedule that looks like a behemoth, and those hopes were pinned on Pixar for next year. I get that every studio wants to make the spring blockbusters happen, but it’s a gamble, and based on what I saw of the film recently, they appear to have a real crowd-pleaser on their hands with “The Winter Soldier,” so why not give it the best possible date?
It’s strange to see Pixar seem so vulnerable lately, because there was a good solid decade where they seemed like they were incapable of doing anything wrong. Now that they’ve started making sequels to their films, many of which were not being asked for by the audience. I think “Cars 2” was one of the first moments Pixar started to feel like a company just as capable of bad choices as any other, and these date shuffles make them look like a company that is genuinely struggling.
I still wouldn’t bet against them, but it’s definitely a shock to see them sit two full years out as a company.
“Inside Out” arrives in theaters June 19, 2015.