The partnership between The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios has changed the lives of people all over the world. The beautifully designed stories touched hearts, transcended generations, and created unforgettable characters. But it seems their reign over top-quality animation may be over.
When you’re known for emotionally thrilling and magical movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, and Up, it is an inevitably difficult feat to recreate that success. Though the entertainment juggernauts created hit after hit, like WALL-E, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles, their most recent endeavors reveal that their magic well may have run dry.
Disney/Pixar movies just aren’t hitting like they used to…but why not? Where did the magic go?
Disney/Pixar’s New Films are Trying Too Hard
It does become too difficult at one point to recreate the magic, and it’s starting to feel like Disney/Pixar is just trying too hard. They’re trying too hard to shoehorn mature messages and meanings into stories told with childlike visuals. The magic line where these worlds meet is where they found their previous success, but Disney/Pixar may have lost track of that line. It almost seems like they take a mature theme and slap colorful animated characters on it and hope for the best.
This is evident in their newest box office flop, Elemental. Peter Sohn’s Elemental is meant to mirror cultural clash, immigration, and acceptance told by energetic anthropomorphized elements. And it’s just not subtle enough. Other movies that suffer the same dissonance include Soul, a story of a middle-aged New Yorker who finds out what it means to have a soul, Lightyear, an origin story film for Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, and Turning Red, the story of a 13 year old who keeps turning into a giant red panda.
The Pandemic Direct to Streaming and Competitors
During the pandemic, audiences got accustomed to enjoying brand new content in the comfort of their own homes, and the idea of big blockbuster movies was even more a thing of the past. Parents are happy to wait until movies are released on a streaming service they already pay for, rather than take everyone to the movies. Unless Disney/Pixar offers something audiences feel like they need to be the first to see, Disney+ is king.
Plus, the options are endless on streaming services. Elsewhere, parents can access competitors’ content like Illumination (Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, Sing). It’s starting to seem like the gap between competitors’ projects and Disney/Pixar projects is closing fast. Not to mention, DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon is also getting into the live-action game.
Next up on the Disney/Pixar docket is Elio – a sci-fi animated tale about a boy who gets transported into space and acts as an ambassador for Earth. The film is currently set for a March 2024 theatrical release.
Pixar Creative Chief Officer Pete Docter recently told Variety, “Our movies on the surface are about fish, cars, and monsters, but just below that, they’re really about all of us, and the challenge of dealing with loss, becoming a parent, [and] finding our place in the world.”
While that may have been the formula for success previously, right now, something is certainly off.