What’s Next For Pixar: Dinosaurs, Dory, Toy Story 4 — And Maybe, Just Maybe, Some Cultural Diversity
Jim Morris, President of Pixar Animation, was in Australia this week giving sneak peaks of their upcoming slate. Here's everything we learned.
It’s been a couple of months since Inside Out came out, so hopefully you’ve had enough time to stop weeping and get that lava song out of your head to begin wondering what Pixar is up to next.
Jim Morris, President of Pixar Animation, is in Australia this week to spread the word on their upcoming films, and drop a few exclusive spoilers along the way. At his presentation at Event Cinemas in Sydney last night, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, and Toy Story 4 were all on display — but it’s Coco, a film slated for December 2017, that looks the most interesting.
The Good Dinosaur
Released Boxing Day, 2015
A mismatched buddy film is the go-to staple of animated films since forever (see Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, Shrek, Open Season, Over the Hedge, Inside Out), and the American National Park panoramas aren’t exactly a new world to explore. But the surface-level simplicity may provide a savvy counterpoint to the hyperactive style of Minions and its ilk.
Pixar’s world of dinosaurs is firmly grounded in the slow-burn style of the Western. Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski, dictionary definition of cowboy) plays a T-Rex with a herd of buffalo under his watch, and there’s a superstitious, talisman-wearing Styracosaurus that should lead to a few think pieces on the still problematic treatment of the Native American in contemporary films.
We were treated to exclusive clips from the film, the high-point of which was the character design of Spot: the feral boy is cute and odd and looks perfectly alive in his natural environment. All the characters have a certain Aardman Animation vibe, with tic-tac teeth, bug eyes, and an emphasis on physical humour, and the world they live in looks astonishingly beautiful. It might be a grandparenty sort of thing to do, but I have a feeling we’ll all be recommending this film for the scenery.
Released July 16, 2016
Pixar really looks to be doubling down on the family feelings over the next year: after watching an Apatosaurus reunite with his family, you only have to wait six months to see a blue-tang reconnect with her olds.
It’s great to hear Ellen Degeneres and Albert Brooks sparring again as Marlin and Dory, and there’s a creepy ass octopus thrown in the mix — so sure, this looks like fun. But after seeing the wide vistas of The Good Dinosaur and being reminded of the expansiveness of Finding Nemo, the marine park setting of Dory (which we got a feel for by way of some more exclusive clips) feels a little constricted, and a bit of a retread on the prison escape plots from Toy Story’s 2 and 3.
Toy Story 4 and Coco
Released Boxing Day 2016, and July 17, 2017
Over the next couple of years, it looks like we’ll see Pixar play it both safe and dangerous. Nothing is revealed about Toy Story 4, other than that the creative heads at Pixar were so enamoured with the question of whether Woody and Bo-Peep got married that they just had to go back to the well.
Coco sees Pixar tackle a non-Western cultural tale for the first time, and it will be interesting to see whether the studio can do so with nuance and respect. Parent company Disney has had both failure (the caricatured Arabians in Aladdin) and success (Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog, is one of very few black protagonists in animated films) with their previous attempts — but it’s hard not to look at projects like the multi-cultural (but perhaps a little whitewashed) Big Hero 6 and the upcoming South Pacific-based Moana and not see an effort towards inclusivity that Pixar alone has previously lacked. Coco follows a young Mexican boy as he enters the Underworld on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) – fingers crossed the film does everything right by the Mexican community it depicts.
Pixar’s Jim Morris is the sort of unflappable, talking point spokesperson you’d want serving up extended movie trailers. He’s clearly the grown-up in a room full of excitable animators, and as such knows how to return a very polite curveball or two from the crowd.
What’s Pixar doing about their ratio of male to female characters? Will they start to explore wider cultural identity? In both cases, it seems like the company line is that these films are driven by their directors, and so far they’ve pretty much been white dudes, so there you go. Morris admits that the company is aware of it, but makes no promises towards plans that might shake up the status quo.
The one bright note in this regard is our sneak peak at Sanjay’s Superheroes, the new short that will accompany The Good Dinosaur. Written and directed by Sanjay Patel, it’s a lovely bit of cross-cultural fun, and hopefully indicates a more diverse future for Pixar.
Before all the previews begin, we’re treated to a quick video tour of Pixar studios. If you’ve ever seen something like this online or as a DVD feature, you know the drill – cool kooks at their computers, razor scooters around campus, pie-throwing and general tomfoolery, interspersed with clips from their film library. It’s interesting to note which films Pixar emphasises in these promos – we see a lot of Woody and Buzz alongside characters from Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Brave and Cars, but Wall-E, Ratatouille, and Up barely make a blip.
It’s a little reminder that Pixar — while promoting itself as the Uber-Neverland of corporations; the biggest and brightest sundae-bar-and-nerf-battle workplace; our predominant 21st Century dream weaver — still struggles under commercial stipulations. Kids, after all, are more likely to buy a toy car or princess than they are a rubber rat or an old man figurine.
The tightrope walk between creativity and cash has been the inside-baseball story behind Pixar for the last decade, as sequels came to dominate their release slates. But Pixar’s an expert on mismatched buddies, so let’s hope they can continue to meld the two to interesting effect.
Matt Roden is a film and TV critic, and co-host of Confession Booth. He works at Sydney Story Factory, and his illustration and design work can be seen here.