PIXAR’s Downward Spiral: Why It Might Be Time For the Studio to Hang Up the Cape

There are many things that defined my childhood, but out of all the various creative endeavors that made me who I am, none of them are remotely comparable to Pixar. There isn’t a single other production studio that has had more of an effect on my love for film, which truly goes to show just how articulate and mesmerizing in execution a set of films can be. The most amazing part of it all is that Pixar’s earliest creations hold up incredibly well against the standards of today. Whether it be the crisp animation, the delicately-told stories, or the thought-provoking messages they brought to the table, I have no shame saying that Pixar’s films helped raise me. These reasons combined add up to an incomparable feat of film-making, and that’s why it pains me to say that in 2019, twenty-four years after their first film was released, they’ve grown quite a bit tedious and it may be time for them to leave the market (for a little while, at least).

When I look at the films that were released as I was growing up, I tend to think about how I thought of them at that period in my life. I know for a fact that I liked them, but the reasons for that were probably more along the lines of the characters and animation rather than the story and impactful themes. As a result, I find it quite enjoyable to see that the films themselves can still be appreciated (even more so) for their more mature qualities, ones that aren’t intended for the kids. The bottom line is, the films that were released when I was a kid will be cherished for years to come, and will continuously grow more iconic as they age.

I’ve moved on from the state of youth that was initially captivated by these films, but they’re still relevant in this day and age, remaining staples in the film world while also able to retain the beautiful wonder of the first viewing. That’s why it saddens me to witness a whole new generation of young viewers watch on in awe at Pixar’s more recent films, knowing how they will eventually look down on them as they grow older. I can revisit The IncrediblesFinding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Monsters, Inc. as many times as I want, knowing that their legacy will never be tarnished (at least in my eyes). The issue is that those who grew up with Finding DoryBrave, and Cars 2 will not have the same experience watching them when they’re older as they did when they were younger.

Now, this isn’t the case for all of Pixar’s recent films: Coco and Inside Out have proven just how extraordinary the studio can be when they really put their minds to use. But there’s no denying that excluding those two films, the studio has failed in capturing the scope of brilliance they used to do so well. There are a few reasons I find this so easy to distinguish, so I’ll touch on them within this piece.

The Incredibles (2004) – Source: Disney


Pixar has been releasing films for twenty-four years, which makes this nice and easy to compare. In their first twelve years of film production (1995-2007), they released eight films, only one of which was a sequel (Toy Story 2). In their last twelve years of film production, they have released twelve films, six of which are sequels. The fact of the matter is that they’ve gone from 1/8 of their films being sequels to 1/2. That’s an incredibly drastic jump and a quite disappointing one if I do say so myself.

The only reason stories are able to stay fresh and relevant with new viewers in this day and age is sequels, and as unfortunate as that may be, it’s not hard to sympathize with the creatives behind the originals in their quest to stay current. That being said, it’s a slight bit disheartening to see them rehash the same story with the sequels as they continually progress through the century. I remember waiting over a decade for Finding Dory, and then after finally watching it, I almost fooled myself into thinking it was better than it was because of how nostalgia got in the way of my actual perception of the film itself. Because let’s be real, folks: it really isn’t that amazing.

Maybe the most crucial part of all this is that it’s incredibly relevant in the wake of the recent merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox. One of the most prominent potential reasons for Pixar’s decline is Disney’s acquisition of it, which came about in 2006. For a few years, Pixar managed to keep a steady hold of their films, crafting masterpieces such as RatatouilleUp, and Toy Story 3. But as the verge of the 2010s neared, the cracks began to show, with Pixar clearly beginning to favor style over substance, and quantity over quality.

I have a deathly fear of spiders, but I can admit that I wouldn’t have the urge to get freaked out over them as often if I didn’t know they were there in the first place. That’s sort of what it feels like with each new Pixar film, more specifically their sequels. Generally, I love the first film, and a second allows me to be optimistic about the future of a potential franchise. But I wouldn’t have to worry about the films’ legacies being tarnished if I didn’t know that there were plans for another film in the first place.

Ratatouille (2007) – Source: Disney

Don’t Sacrifice Story for Box Office Money

One of the things that made Pixar a staple in their respective genre is that they found a pattern of creating stories that were grounded in their fantastical sense while still hitting close to home in terms of how reality-driven they were. While they lept onto theater screens with vibrant color palettes and smooth-feeling animation, they resonated with many, thanks to their retelling of themes that many viewers could relate to, having gone through them. There was a balance between things that the kids in the audience could enjoy and things that the adults and teens could as well. At this point in Pixar’s timeline, they’ve lost what captivated multiple different generations as a result of only catering to one. They’re not thinking far ahead into the future, and mark my words, it will bite them in the ass one of these days.

One of Disney’s biggest ways of earning money is through retail copies of their films (e.g. 4K UHDs, Blu-Rays, DVDs, and digital copies). As someone who was raised on Pixar’s earlier work, I will be first in line to purchase the newest edition of their films. As technology improves, they need people like me: loyal lovers of the films who will gravitate towards the next release of their older films. Looking forward at the current generation though, I find it hard to believe that they’ll continuously be purchasing new versions of the films they were raised on. Why? Because it ultimately doesn’t matter how your younger self felt if the films themselves don’t hold up to the standards set by your more matured mindset.

Luckily, those who grew up with Pixar as it was blossoming don’t have that problem. We can sit back and laugh at the new generation as they gush over films like Cars 2 only to one day have an existential crisis after realizing that their childhood favorites aren’t the masterpieces they were made out to be. Disney focuses on the here and now, marketing their films toward a generation who doesn’t even know how to form full sentences instead of balancing their target audience to fit a more ideal situation. They may make money now, but they’ll certainly be wishing they had focused more on the specifics when nobody’s spending their money on their films in the future.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – Source: Sony

Either way, it’s clear that Pixar has an issue with letting Disney take over their services like the monopoly it is, and the films are suffering as a result. There’s no doubt that there have been a few hits in recent years, but not nearly enough to warrant calling Pixar a perfect company anymore. Plenty of newer animated studios and films seem to be giving Pixar and Disney a run for their money, with Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being the first non-Disney animated film to win Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards since 2012, and LAIKA Studios (Coraline, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings) also making a big mark as of late.

Will I still see Pixar’s films? Yes. I’m always optimistic about the future of movie studios, because all slumps usually come to an end. But Pixar’s slump seems to be dragging on longer than hoped, and a couple of heavy hitters won’t suffice against the plethora of mediocre offerings that favor (admittedly gorgeous) animation over unique stories and characters that viewers of all ages can connect with. As of right now, it may be time for them to take a breather, and I’m not saying that simply because their recent films have been sub-par. I’m saying that because I know how it feels to step out of a game for a while, only to come back recharged and with new ideas. It’s not a bad thing. But it is a commitment, and a hard one at that.

Published by Owen Butler

Born & raised in the Chicagoland area and have been watching movies for as long as I can remember.

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