It’s falling with style

Tuesday, 30 March 2004 — 12:25pm | Animation, Film

This comes a bit late, but since Friday there have been reports of Disney going ahead on Toy Story 3. This is, in a word, problematic.

When Pixar’s contract extension negotiations with Disney fell apart earlier this year, one of the stumbling blocks just begging for trouble was Disney’s retention of sequel rights. This is the result: the possibility of a second-rate, non-Pixar Toy Story movie – and one likely going straight into cinemas.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: second-rate sequels of any sort have no place existing at all, but given that studios nowadays are greenlighting such hotly-anticipated titles as Baby Geniuses 2, let’s accept that they are a very real threat. The least you could do is relegate them to a second-rate medium (i.e. direct-to-video) where you can exploit the pocketbooks of uninformed parents all you want without disturbing the peace for the rest of us. Franchise projects like this are a veritable sinkhole for a studio’s marketing dollars and come bundled with a theatrical print release strategy known as “clogging the rivers with their dead.” In the end, nobody wins, except for the execs who point to the opening-weekend figures and think they made money, ignoring the fact that said figures are nowadays more indicative of hype than lasting appeal. The result: Toy Story 4.

Worthwhile sequels in general are rare enough, and when it comes to animation, there is perhaps only one, that being Toy Story 2; and before you heckle “The Rescuers Down Under?” let’s not pretend for a moment that it is on equal parity with John Lasseter’s seminal masterpiece. The point is, the reason why Toy Story 2 escaped DTV Hell at all was because to understate its quality, it was a cinema-worthy project made by cinema-worthy storytellers.

Apparently this sent the Mouse House the message that DTV-quality sequels can still make a lot of money at the multiplexes, hence the silver-screen treatments of The Jungle Book 2 and Return to Neverland, which nobody remembers, and with good reason. This is backwards thinking. The other form of backwards thinking we’ve seen recently is how Pixar’s nine-digit returns on every single film has sent Disney the message that CG is automatically salable. What they are forgetting is that the likes of John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton actually know how to make movies, while the only in-house CG feature we’ve seen from Disney tried to rip off The Land Before Time and couldn’t even do it right. But lest I waste more valuable keystrokes flogging this deceased equine, I will defer to this editorial entitled “Why Pixar’s films are more ‘Disney’ than Disney’s”, which explains it a whole lot better than I could here.

The best solution, of course, is a coup at the top of Disney’s chain of command like the shareholder revolt last month, only successful. Ejecting Michael Eisner could mean repairing the Pixar-Disney relationship, which implies there will thankfully be no Toy Story 3 unless and until there’s a worthy idea to back it up. Furthermore, as explained in a lot more detail in this Jim Hill article, this may resolve the issue of which distributor picks up Ratatouille in time for a projected 2006 release.

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