Has ‘Monsters University’ Made the Case for More Pixar Sequels?
The fact that Pixar is making sequels at all is an incredibly contentious subject. Monsters University, the studio’s third franchise to be continued (after Toy Story and Cars), hit theaters last weekend to begrudgingly good reviews and, after fighting an uphill battle since it was announced, it’s possible that the ultimate quality of the film might just make the case for more sequels to Pixar’s treasured movies.
Constructed as a prequel rather than a traditional sequel, Monsters University has done the impossible and proven its doubters wrong. People were horrified when they heard about the film, just like they were horrified when Disney announced Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, but the very notion of a sequel for a previously bullet-proof studio always brings with it pretty extreme reactions. Such is the love the original movies inspire – prompting grown men and women to argue about the validity of bringing back their favorite characters or worlds.
Attributing the resistance to love or a sense of nostalgia is a generous way of looking at it, since sequels in general aren’t viewed with much optimism. It’s the war of two camps – when studios hit upon a gem of a film, they inevitably want to repeat its financial success and cache by making a sequel. When audiences find a film they love, however, they treat it as sacred. There have been too many bad sequels that have sullied the reputation of the original movies and when this happens, like it or not, that film you’ve loved since you were a child is tainted forever.
But the rare beast is the sequel that improves you subsequent experience of the first film, and it’s surely no accident that one of those instances belongs to Pixar. If you’ll allow me to offer my personal experiences – when I saw Toy Story at age-7 I remember liking it fine. Now, however, I believe the trilogy to be the best in history, and that’s down to the second (age-10) and third (age-21) films. I effectively grew up with Andy and understood each film as representing a stage in growing up. This makes me innately resistant – as Andy was – to hand over my friends to the little girl down the road, but I know she’ll have a blast with them.
Toy Story 4 might sound like a terrible idea, but it could also be the start of a new trilogy spanning the time Woody and Buzz spend with their new owner. It’s the major difference between film and television – film resurrections are greeted with worry and derision, whereas we’re all climbing over each other to celebrate the return of Arrested Development, Boy Meets World or Veronica Mars. What makes Pixar’s properties so untouchable? If films one through three are masterpieces, then an average (and I truly don’t believe Pixar could make anything below average) shouldn’t automatically change that.
An original idea doesn’t necessarily generate a great movie, either, as last year’s Brave sadly proved. Again, Brave was in no way ‘bad’ and had a lot of great qualities that Pixar hadn’t really explored before, but it is viewed as one of the studio’s most disappointing movies nonetheless. Cars 2, however, is the real ugly step-sister as the first to not be nominated for an academy award. Cars 2 is arguably the reason for ‘sequel-itis’, viewed as a cash-in for subsequent merchandise at the expense of quality and entertainment value.
But two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, and Monsters University has proven that Pixar haven’t yet lost their spark. I know a 4-year-old girl who, after seeing the first movie at home many times, is beside herself with excitement at being able to watch a new adventure on the big screen. My guess is that she’s not alone, and grumpy Pixar enthusiasts should stop writing sequels off just on the basis that they’re sequels.
A good movie is a good movie, and great films for the whole family are worryingly hard to come by these days so, in my eyes, we should all buy out tickets and start looking forward to Finding Dory.