Could darker movies revive Pixar's fortunes?

Last year's Cars 2 flop pushed Disney's animation king off its pedestal. New edgier films could put it back on top.

By Apr 27, 2012 9:38AM
After nearly two decades of effusive critical praise, awards attention, and blockbuster financial success, Pixar, a division of Disney (DIS) is coming off its most painful year ever.

Cars 2 was the studio's worst-reviewed film, its second-lowest grossing (behind only A Bug's Life), and the first not to receive an Oscar nomination in the 10-year history of the Best Animated Feature category.

But Pixar may be ready for a comeback. Its new slate of films, just announced at the CinemaCon 2012 festival, is intriguing critics: A movie about El Día de los Muertos (the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead); The Good Dinosaur, about a world in which dinosaurs and humans co-exist; and a project known as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind, about how people think, dream, and remember things. The new films are set for release over the next few years.

Does Pixar's new, darker slate suggest that the studio can reclaim its throne?

Absolutely: The Día de los Muertos film represents a new, adventurous direction for Pixar, says Ben Child at the U.K.'s Guardian. It seems like "the kind of gothic-tinged animated film" that Tim Burton or Coraline director Henry Selick would make. Combine that with a daringly unique project that "takes you inside the mind," and Pixar's new slate should do wonders to "convince naysayers" that the company is as strong as ever. This is a "new lease of life" for the studio.

It's about time Pixar took this turn: Pixar needed to make a change, says Indie Wire. And playing up the mythical aspects of the Day of the Dead in an animated film could be visually spectacular. "All those colors!" Pixar is wise to jump on this concept, which speaks to an emerging trend. Remember, three other major horror-themed animated films are being released this year: ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, and Frankenweenie.

Don't expect radical change: These planned films only seem dark, says Sean O'Neal at The A.V. Club. When they're actually made, expect the studio to inject the movies with "heartwarming and anthropomorphized things." The Good Dinosaur will be a cuddly PC affair. And you know the Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind might as well be subtitled "And Then There are Brain-Creatures In There That Make You Laugh And Care About Them." Sigh.

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