Pixar Overhauls Future Projects, New Films in Doubt

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Woody, Buzz, Ember, Wade, Mike, and Sully in a line

Credit: Pixar

Earlier this year, Elemental (2023) became Pixar’s biggest flop ever – until it wasn’t.

Since the release of Toy Story (1995), Pixar has been relatively untouchable as one of Hollywood’s most prestigious animation studios. Purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2006, it’s responsible for kicking off powerhouse franchises such as Cars (2006), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and Inside Out (2015).

Inside Out emotions gather around
Credit: Pixar

Over the past few years, however, Pixar’s reputation has taken something of a stumble. Throughout the pandemic, three of its films – Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red (2022) were shafted to Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. While all three received generally positive reviews, each failed to create the same frenzy as their predecessors.

Things didn’t look up once Pixar returned to theaters. Its first cinematic release since the dawn of COVID-19 was the controversial Toy Story spinoff Lightyear (2022), which bombed at the box office. Despite casting Marvel icon Chris Evans in the leading role, the film took home just $226.4 million and was reported to have lost Disney and Pixar roughly $106 million.

Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) in 'Lightyear'
Credit: Pixar

Related: ‘Elemental’ Has Broken Yet Another Disney Record

So colossal was the flop of Lightyear that numerous executives and creatives involved with the film were culled from Pixar Animation earlier this year. That included the film’s director, Angus MacLane, and producer Galyn Susman, who once famously recovered Toy Story 2 (1999) after it was accidentally deleted from Pixar’s servers.

In June, Pixar dropped its latest film – Elemental – which also got off to a rough start at the box office. After making just $29.5 million in its opening weekend (Pixar’s second-lowest debut to date), it was swiftly dubbed the studio’s biggest flop, ever.

Wade surprised that Ember is green in Elemental
Credit: Pixar

As the weeks passed, however, Elemental bounced back. The Pixar movie – which follows a fire element named Ember (Leah Lewis) and a water element named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) as they fall in love in spite of their cultural differences – ended its theatrical run with an unprecedented $490.9 million, making it Disney’s most successful original film since 2018.

It’s also proven extremely popular on streaming. Since arriving on Disney+ on September 13, Elemental has surpassed the viewing numbers of both The Little Mermaid (2023) and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023) in the same span of time.

Needless to say, Elemental didn’t have the most traditional cinematic success story. Pete Docter – chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, who replaced John Lasseter in 2018 – recently commented on the lessons Pixar has learned from the film’s uneven journey at the box office.

Ember and Wade with Clod off to the side in Elemental
Credit: Disney

Speaking to The New York Times, he explained that at least one cause of its rough start can be attributed to Disney undercutting Pixar by using its films to build up its streaming service over the pandemic. He also noted that Hollywood definitely needs to adjust its business models to align with the streaming era.

When it comes to the studio’s future, Docter was much more cryptic. Some have suggested that the reason why Elemental initially failed to connect with audiences is the same reason why Turning Red and Soul also didn’t become colossal hits: their stories were just too personal.

Tristan Allerick Chen as Tyler (left) and Rosalie Chiang as Mei Mei (middle)
Credit: Pixar

Related: ‘Elemental’ Set To Replace Classic ‘Toy Story’ at Pixar

Elemental is famously influenced by the life of its director, Peter Sohn. He drew inspiration from his life as a child of Korean immigrants, as well as falling in love with and marrying someone who isn’t Korean. The story undoubtedly connected with many – and it became the most successful Pixar film of all time in South Korea – but it isn’t quite as universal as the concepts of Pixar’s biggest successes.

As Docter explained, the ideas behind the likes of Toy Story and Monsters, Incwere “ideas that we all carried around as kids.” For example, what happens to our toys when we leave them alone, and what if there are monsters in our closet?

Sulley roaring in Monsters, Inc.
Credit: Pixar

“I always felt that Elemental would speak to a lot of people, and I’m so happy it has,” Docter explained. “But we have also taken another look at the projects we’re working on now. What are the kinds of films we want to be making? I really think I want to double down on what allowed us to speak to audiences to begin with.”

At the time of writing, the studio has only confirmed production for one animated movie with an original concept: Elio (2024). This is said to follow an 11-year-old boy named Elio Solis (Yonas Kibreab), who accidentally becomes the intergalactic Ambassador for Earth.

Elio being sucked into a portal upside down in Pixar's 'Elio'
Credit: Pixar

Related: ‘Elio’ – Everything We Know About Disney Pixar’s Next Movie

The other two Pixar films we know are definitely in the works are Inside Out 2 (2024) and Toy Story 5, which will reportedly involve the return of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz’s (Tim Allen) former owner, Andy.

By the sounds of it, Pixar itself is going back to the drawing board when it considers future films. Relying on concepts with proven popularity in the meantime is a safe bet. Considering Docter’s comments on Pixar’s new attitude to projects, we wouldn’t be surprised if even more sequels are on the way – or, at the very least, films with a much broader subject matter than Pixar’s recent efforts. Watch this (most likely sequel-stuffed) space.

What projects would you like to see from Pixar in the next few years? Let us know in the comments!

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