In Pixar I Trust | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

In Pixar I Trust

Franchises, communal theater-going and the state of independent cinema

I get that it's always been "cool" to dislike something once it becomes popular or to root for the downfall of something if it gets too big...but I still like Pixar. I get that they're Disney now and the Mouse House is very much an Evil Empire that owns Marvel, 20th Century Films, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Nat Geo and most of all the things you loved in your childhood, but I think hating something based on the faceless millionaires that own it/run it sounds exhausting. I'll save my cynicism for something less Sisyphean.

Every year the same pop culture argument goes 'round that Hollywood is an uninspired, insipid dumpster fire that only makes sequels, remakes and bottomless entries into brainless franchises. That's not necessarily wrong, but I think there's a shortsightedness to it that doesn't consider the chicken or the egg. Of the top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2024 so far, six of them are American: "Inside Out 2," "Dune: Part Two," "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," "Kung Fu Panda 4," "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" and "Bad Boys: Ride or Die." Each and every one a sequel... a few of them genuinely great as those things aren't mutually exclusive.

click to enlarge In Pixar I Trust
Courtesy of Disney
That’s not what my anxiety looks like.

So, the question is this: are they the best-selling movies of the year because that's all that's getting made or because that's all people are willing to pay to see in the theater? Are blockbusters all that will keep movie theaters alive, or will people eventually go back to see all kinds of stuff? Writers like me complain constantly about the lack of original content being made, but that's bullshit. Plenty of auteurs put out new movies every year... we just don't turn up for it. If you have a problem with the endless glut of franchise entries, then actually go see independent films on their opening weekends so Hollywood starts learning new lessons about what audiences want. We can't have it both ways, as nice as that would be.

But Jared, show your work. OK, check this out: Ethan Coen's solo feature debut "Drive-Away Dolls" was a super queer and grimy comedic thriller for adults that made less than $7 million worldwide. The great Chicago coming-of-age period piece, "We Grown Now" made less than $300K worldwide. The French sci-fi drama "The Beast" made less than $1 million worldwide. Great movies like "Problemista," "I Saw the TV Glow" and "Love Lies Bleeding" barely make a theatrical dent anymore. Last year the only two movies that made over a billion dollars were "Barbie" and "Super Mario Bros." which, regardless of quality, are ultimately quite recognizable Intellectual Property.

So, everyone hates on Pixar now because they're diving into (almost exclusively) making sequels to their beloved properties, instead of coming up with "new, fresh ideas." Except their last few movies like "Luca," "Onward," "Turning Red," "Soul," "Elemental" and "Lightyear" didn't pop like Disney wanted (especially the ones released during COVID) while "Finding Dory," "Incredibles 2" and "Toy Story 4" all made over a billion. The lesson Disney takes from this: production on "Inside Out 2," "Toy Story 5," Incredibles 3" and many more sequels to come.

But the point is this: that's OK! Sure, I would love it if people would go to the theater to watch indie and arthouse films, but if they need a recognizable name to get them through the door, I empathize with that. Most theaters aren't that comfortable and are prohibitively expensive. Also, here's another thing we forget, too. . . sequels can be pretty great. To be dismissive of a film just because it's based on something familiar is also being dismissive of the legions of artists and storytellers that are passionate about the worlds they're hired to play in. I wouldn't trade "Toy Story 3" or "Finding Dory" for anything and, I'm happy to report, same with "Inside Out 2."

If "Inside Out" was about teaching kids new techniques to express emotions in ways they didn't have the vocabulary to articulate, then "Inside Out 2" gives them permission to be OK with themselves when those emotions are ugly, painful and counter-intuitive. When Pixar is at its best, it creates art that has the power to change entire generations. When it's at its worst, it makes cynical trash like "Cars 2" that only exists to sell your kids toys.

You can read a million different articles that will tell you the plot of "Inside Out 2," so all I really want to say about the story is this: This animated movie that's ostensibly for children deals with anxiety, self-loathing and mortification in ways I have never seen. The young girl Riley from the first one is now 13, meaning she's dealing with several new emotions she has no context for, and because of the gentle script by Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, perceptive kids with empathetic parents might be able to watch this movie and have discussions that genuinely shape the kind of adults they're going to be.

I say this a lot, but it always bears repeating: opening doors inside ourselves to rooms we've never seen is the inherent purpose of art, but I think it's even more specifically a largely untapped superpower that every single movie has the possibility of achieving. The combination of images, words, music and humanity allows us to exist outside of ourselves for just a little while and, while movies will ultimately survive even if theaters do not, the dismantling by inches of that communal space will eventually change how receptive we are to that change in perspective.

So, thank you Pixar for still giving a shit. I remain blissfully uncynical about your Mouse Overlords for now and hope you continue to achieve excellence. Since "Inside Out 2" made almost three-quarters of a billion in 10 days I guess that means people are still open to experiencing theaters after all. Just don't be surprised if this means the next two dozen theatrical blockbusters are sequels, but also don't forget that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be bad movies either.

Everything is its own thing, regardless of origin, and deserves a chance to exist on its own merits and not what pop culture groupthink decides is "bad for cinema." The only thing truly bad for movies is the same thing that's bad for all works of art: deciding its quality before you've experienced it and gatekeeping other people's enjoyment and, ultimately, happiness. Yucking other people's yums is just as much of a billion-dollar enterprise as corporate filmmaking, specifically and insidiously designed to make you feel ashamed of the stuff you like. There's a good movie about that right now that might give you some tools to help you combat those feelings. I hope it helps.

"Inside Out 2"
Dir. Kelsey Mann
Grade: A-
Now playing at Regal Old Mill, Sisters Movie House, Odem Theater Pub, McMenamins Old St. Francis, Madras Cinema 5

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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