Disney have never been a studio that likes to let their franchises grow old gracefully. Ever since the early 90s, pretty much every successful Disney property got a lazy direct-to-DVD (D2D) sequel. The studio were always aware that there wasn’t really that much interest in a theatrical sequel to these properties and weren’t prepared to spend the money, but a home entertainment release could bring in a tidy profit.
Now, the fact that great films such as The Lion King and Bambi have received poor D2D sequels doesn’t bother me. They are Disney’s properties and so they are free to do as they please. However, after Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006, it was only a matter of time before they starting squeezing Pixar properties.
Step forward, from above the world of Cars, the incredibly imaginative and not at all uninspired… erm, Planes.
It’s difficult to think of a single non-cynical reason behind Planes. Even the Pixar-produced sequel to Cars was almost universally derided as an excuse to sell a load more merchandise, so it seems pretty clear that Planes is designed only with the shelves of Toys R Us in mind.
As I’ve already said, I don’t really have that much of a problem with Disney pouring out inferior sequels to their films for kids to lap up through its second tier DisneyToon Studios. Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time can exist if they must, as long as I never have to see them.
My problem lies with the fact that Disney are now abusing the top quality reputation of Pixar to facilitate their franchise-squeezing machines. As is very clear from even a cursory glance at Twitter, everyone thinks Planes is a Pixar film. Everyone merely assumes that any sequel based on the Cars franchise, animated in the series’ distinctive style must be produced by the same people. It’s not an unreasonable assumption to make, and Disney knows that.
Disney are prepared to sell their film on Pixar’s incredible reputation of quality, rather than the second rate image of the DisneyToon Studios brand. At a time when Pixar is being stung by some poorly received films and an over-reliance on sequels, this is just going to make the situation worse. I don’t want to see Pixar dragged through the dirt, just because the Mouse House wants to sell a shitload of plastic planes.
Jim Vorel hints that this might bring about a disturbing new world, in which Disney milks Pixar properties for unnecessary sequels.
More than anything, it’s a scary precedent to think that Disney might interpret the success of “Planes” as an invitation to spin-off every other film in the Pixar library. A few years from now, you could be looking at DisneyToon versions of “The Incredibles Go to Hawaii” or “Ratatouille’s Big Barber School Adventure” released in theaters. And that is not a world I want to live in.
Pixar remains the market leader in animated cinema. Monsters University might not be their best film, but they still remain at the summit of family-friendly movies that also resonate with the adult audience.
Cars 2 felt like a cash-in, but at least it was still Pixar. Planes is Disney cynically cashing in on the success of Pixar’s high quality to make a bit more money, and that is very saddening indeed.