Six months after the disastrous release of Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, it is somewhat easier now to look back and explore some of the more interesting questions left unanswered. The primary of which, largely ignored in the midst of the schadenfreude, is who really made John Carter?
It is not a question of blame, as I firmly believe John Carter is a great film. Rather, while most parties claimed it was entirely a Disney film, Pixar’s fingers prints are all over it.
After the rights of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic series were purchased by Disney executive Dick Cook, for Stanton to direct, no one involved knew if it would be animated or live-action. From the very beginning, the question of whether it would be a Pixar or Disney film was seemingly up in the air. Stanton told /Film in 2008, “There’s been no discussion about exactly how it will be distributed or what moniker it will be under.” Once it became clear that the film would be live-action, most news sources claimed it would be Pixar’s first live-action effort.
This turned out to be false, at least on the surface. Stanton soon cleared things up, stating that, “It’s being done by Disney, and I’m sort of being loaned out”. Even with Stanton directing, Mark Andrews co-writing and Pixar GM Jim Morris and longtime Pixar producer Lindsey Collins producing, it was still said to be a Disney film. And when those involved in the film say this, why would we doubt them?
Throughout post-production, many clues were dropped that would lead to the assumption that Pixar’s involvement may be deeper than simply loaning out talent. For example, when press were invited to a preview event, it was at Pixar’s headquarters. However, they were told this was simply out of convenience rather than Pixar having any involvement.
In July 2012, Patrick Giusiano, an animator who worked on the film, released a video showcasing his work on John Carter. The video features the original storyboards sent to him by Pixar for him to follow in his animation. I reached out to him, asking whether he received creative direction from Pixar or Disney, and he told me that in fact “dailies [were] video-conferenced from Pixar”. Even if Pixar was simply directing the animation for the film–that is still a larger connection than they previously had admitted to.
As Stanton has discussed in detail, he approached the film from a Pixar mentality. After shooting was completed, he made a rough-cut and showed it to the Pixar brain-trust. This is the technique Pixar uses to perfect its films, as they will remake each film several times before releasing it. The heads of Pixar helped Stanton crack the film, before Stanton went back for extensive reshoots that made the film the creative success it is.
It is possible, even likely, that John Carter was at one time a Pixar release. It is understandable, however, why they would choose to release it under the Disney banner. Pixar is a trusted and loved brand that consistently releases family-friendly films. It has made its name with a special brand of beloved animated films. A darker, more violent live-action film might confuse audiences.
That being said, while Pixar may deny it, it is clear it had at least some creative influence on the film. Even without the evidence that proves Pixar’s involvement, the film feels like a true Pixar film. It may have a PG-13 rating, yet its core focus remains on adventure, heart and humour, like any great Pixar film.
As the film’s production came in the midst of a regime change at Disney, Stanton was largely left to his own devices. When the film was finally finished, the people whose jobs it was to make sure it was a success were not the ones who gave the film a green-light in the first place. John Carter was left in an awkward position, essentially without a home.
Creatively, John Carter may have been Pixar’s film, at least partially. However, due to an attempt to protect the family-friendly Pixar brand, it was sold as a Disney film, even going so far as to not mention Stanton’s previous successes in the marketing.
Andrew Stanton’s John Carter is a great film, one that was released without a home. Even without the Pixar label, it fits alongside their classics and hopefully, one day, will find a special home among cinema fans.