In 1977, George Lucas made one of the most influential and beloved films of all time, Star Wars, and it ruined any hope he had of ever becoming a great filmmaker.
It has happened countless times, from Lucas to Shyamalan, as success too early in a career seems to impede creative growth and promotes the perpetuation of cinematic flaws. Now, another cinematic powerhouse seems to be in danger of losing self-awareness, and it is not just one filmmaker but an entire group of them.
Pixar has enjoyed almost unparalleled success both critically and financially, it is no wonder it enjoys almost complete artistic freedom. They answer to no one but themselves, and this is when filmmakers like Lucas ran into problems. When you no longer have to answer to anyone, because of earlier success, the problems you have can be glossed over as you lose self-awareness.
Over the last 20 years, Pixar has delivered some of cinema’s best films. Its own unique brand of intelligent, whimsical, family films have set the bar almost impossibly high. Since their first film, Toy Story, the owners and filmmakers at Pixar have been fighting to create a home for complete creative freedom. And while they have successfully done so, Pixar’s recent disappointment, Cars 2, may be a sign of a larger problem than just a failed film.
The first Cars film, directed by John Lasseter, was seen as simply a mediocre film in an otherwise brilliant filmography. It was a major financial success for the already profitable studio, and it is no wonder why they decided to move forward with a sequel. Some believed that the sequel could be a redemption for the franchise, however Cars 2 turned out to be an even bigger disappointment. The basic concept of the films is inherently flawed, as the world is both creepy and clichéd. This is clearly reflected in the negative critical reception of the film.
The issue is not that Pixar made a mediocre film, but rather that they did not recognize and correct their mistakes. The first film did not work, it was an OK animated feature but certainly not at the level of quality that Pixar has set for themselves. It is worrying that they moved forward, and revisited the Cars universe without accepting its failure. More so, with Pixar dominating the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars virtually every year, it was a noticeable change of pace this year with Cars 2 not receiving a nomination. Several members of the Pixar team have spoken out, defending the film.
It should be noted that I am a huge fan of Pixar, and I believe they have one of the best track records of any studio around. That does not mean they are not in danger of losing self-awareness. In fact, it appears they may have already. They hold themselves at such a high standard with such a great catalogue of films, yet they do not seem to realize that the Cars films simply do not work. They may be acceptable for another studio, but Pixar should know better.
Maybe this is overreacting, or maybe it is just John Lasseter’s fault. He is the creative force behind the Cars films and he seems to genuinely love the universe he created. Pixar, as a whole, could still fall prey to the Lucas-syndrome. Pixar is in a situation that all filmmakers wish they could be. They answer to no one but themselves, and while in most cases this has allowed cinematic greatness, it also has allowed cinematic mediocrity.
Lucas had success too early, and because of that, became blind to his own faults. Pixar has done the impossible and pushed themselves to allow for the creative freedom they currently enjoy, let’s just hope they take advantage of that freedom and leave the Cars universe behind.