If you’ve been keeping up with the current trends of Hollywood, you might notice something alarming. The fact that the summer movie line-up might look eerily familiar to years past. Just this year we had Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator: Genisys, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Furious 7, and more that I’d rather not take the time to list. It’s been an increasing trend in Hollywood to simply update a film rather than start something new. Now first and foremost this isn’t a bad thing, however if the current strategy continues it won’t be sustained.
Now, the simple explanation for this recent trend is because studios like to make money. SURPRISE! This simple idea is largely why we have so many re-do’s. Why spend the money and take the risk on an untried property when there is a host of great franchises that have already proved to be money-makers? That’s just smart business. The problem that occurs is when they rely too heavily on audience nostalgia. That the fond feelings audiences have give studios the excuse to scoot by with either a reused or rehashed plot. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t work. Especially when studios decide to tweak the original stories. All that built up nostalgia can quickly turn the audience against the studios.
Let’s look at Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. These two films are easily the two big budget standouts of the summer. Jurassic World made all the money there was while Mad Max preceded to take people by their ears and drag them along on a thrill ride that has redefined the very word. Why did these two films work? Jurassic World had essentially the same plot as Jurassic Park just with more dinosaurs and more people. While Mad Max‘s plot was simply a more violent depiction of your parents turning the car around on the family road trip. The reason why both these films worked so well is they knew who they were making them for.
Jurassic World being the lesser of the two, had it easier. Everyone loves dinosaurs and as long as the dinosaurs looked good enough, people won’t grumble to much. That’s part of what made Jurassic Park so great. It made us believe Steven Spielberg had made some demonic pact to bring dinosaurs back from extinction so he could make a movie. Not only that, but Speilberg put those dinosaurs at the top of the food chain and made humans the prey. Making us irrationally fear Raptors bursting into our kitchens. Ultimately Jurassic World relied on including more dinosaurs and having them fight. Going for more spectacle rather than suspense. With characters just deep enough to make us care about them over the dinosaurs, the movie came out with a pretty positive result.
Mad Max was a completely different story. Cracked.com does a much better job at praising Mad Max: Fury Road, which you can read on their site. The basic thing I want to get across is that Mad Max was made to a specific audience. It didn’t try to water anything down to make it PG-13, thus hitting a bigger market. Unlike Terminator: Genysis, Mad Max knew that their loudest audience members are old enough to see an R-rated film and made a film for them. Which is how we got the masterpiece that is Mad Max: Fury Road.
This all boils down to one thing, know your audience. If you are going to make a sequel or a reboot, know who loved the original and why. It’s partly why there is so much excitement around the the new Star Wars. If you read any of the hundreds of hype articles out there you’ll see that J.J. Abrams has an understanding of why people loved the originals and built of off them. It also helps that while making his second Star Trek film he went on record of being more of a Star Wars fan.
I’m going to just state the obvious here, dinosaurs are awesome. If there is one fact that is the most universally accepted, it’s this one. If you weren’t aware, we recently got to revisit Jurassic Park as Jurassic World. It has smashed box office records and continues to rise. I don’t want to talk about that film. Instead I want to talk about Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. Pixar’s own film of Jurassic proportions.
Pixar’s upcoming film is already getting rave reviews and is even being touted as one of their best yet. However, it’s not the only Pixar film this year. The Good Dinosaur tells the tale of what the world would look like if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. Not a bad premise and full of possibilities. Yet, with the first trailer I have my concerns. I’m not going to go into the multiple issues happening behind the scenes because we might frankly never know. Instead, it’s the premise that has me worried. I’ve talked before about what I think is the difference between telling a story and creating a world. Specifically how Dreamworks best work happens when they create worlds and Pixar’s is when they tell stories. So far, TGD seems to be a perfect example of why Pixar is bad at creating worlds.
As I’ve said before, the easiest way to create a world is to simply ask a question. In this case, it’s what if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. What would the world look like then? The short teaser trailer gives us just one or two glimpses of this. A T Rex running with buffalo and an Apatosaurus being ridden by a human. This isn’t a bad idea at all, the problem I have is that Pixar isn’t the right studio for the film.
Lets take a look at some of Pixar’s greatest hits. Films like Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, Wall-E, UP, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and the entire Toy Story trilogy. What’s pretty much the only thing consistent about these films? They all take place in a world very familiar to ours. The only two slight exceptions I would consider would be Monsters Inc. and Wall-E. However, both are still in worlds immediately recognizable to our own. Monsters Inc. just substitutes monsters for people and Wall-E just speeds up the clock. The point is, all of these films occur in our world. It’s pretty much why the Pixar theory is even able to somewhat make sense. I know I didn’t list all the films but take any Pixar film and this idea applies.
Do you know which two films are considered the worst two Pixar films? Cars and Cars 2. What would you say is different about these 2? They were both directed by John Lasseter who directed Toy Story 1 and 2. They both had a pretty awesome voice cast and honestly had a pretty cool world around them. So why did they fall apart? There could be any number of behind the scenes reasons but my theory is that Pixar built a world instead of telling a story. The difference between interpreting the world through a different perspective and creating a world based on a perspective.
When you create a world, like in Cars, you lose that perspective. Toy Story is from the perspective of our toys and taking a look at growing up. Monster Inc. is from the monsters in our closet and that the things we fear aren’t all that scary. Finding Nemo shows how our personal actions could have unforeseen consequences and the importance of family and friends. Cars is about what the world would look like if cars were the dominant species. Do you see how that kind of falls flat? Sure, there’s an underlying message about what true success looks like but it gets lost by the need to show how this world looks and functions.
So far, TGD looks to show us what the world would look like if the dinosaurs were the dominant species. See why I’m having some concerns about TGD? Now, it is still far to early to pass judgement. Frankly, it’s a safer bet to just assume Pixar will be able to pull it off. It just looks like their going to fall into some old pitfalls. To Pixar’s credit, it does look like they are trying to avoid another Cars.
It doesn’t appear that the dinosaurs have built anything like our own human world. If they stick within the boundaries of a world we already know, then I think TGD has a good chance. Not only that but if they inject TGD with the signature Pixar emotional weight, it’ll be fine. This was part of the problem after all with Cars, Cars 2, and Monsters University. There wasn’t much if any high emotional stakes that usually helps Pixar films to transcend both child and grown-up audience.
All this to say, I’ll still be giving Pixar my money at the end of the day. But if the next TGD trailer shows dinosaurs riding buses, I’ll be very worried.