Why Pixar is due for its big comeback with Inside Out 2

Celebrated animation studio has experienced varying degrees of success with its past six films

Inside Out 2 has the potential to take Pixar back to the days of box office domination. Photo: Disney/Pixar
Powered by automated translation

Ever since Toy Story hit cinemas in 1995, Pixar has reigned supreme over all other animation studios, enjoying success and adoration.

The studio came into being in 1986 when Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, acquired a computer graphics division from Lucasfilm. Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006 for more than $7 billion.

Over the past three decades, Pixar has released 27 animated feature films, most of which were big box-office successes and earned the approval of critics. To date, the studio has won 23 Oscars in various categories, the most recent being the Best Animated Feature award for Soul in 2021.

But not many cinema-goers would consider Pixar’s last six films to be its strongest, most memorable family movies. After Toy Story 4 in 2019, the studio released Onward (2020), Soul (2020), Luca (2021), Turning Red (2022), Lightyear (2022) and Elemental (2023).

This is not to say any of these films were bad. On the contrary, they’re mostly good, if not great. They're just ... forgettable. It's not a word critics would usually use to describe Pixar films, especially during its first 20 years of business.

So, what has gone wrong, exactly? Of those six films, five are wholly new stories with original characters. It’s admirable that Pixar went down that route at a time when the biggest moneymakers for studios were comic book adaptations and remakes, but the reaction to the movies suggests the characters weren’t strong enough to begin franchises.

To cut Pixar some slack, it's worth mentioning that four of these films suffered because of the Covid 19 pandemic and were watched mostly through streaming and video-on-demand services. Even Lightyear, a film about the character Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story franchise, barely made more money than its budget of $200 million.

Elemental, a film about the relationship between different elements such as water and fire, was a box office success after making more than $490 million – but it’s a far cry from the numbers Pixar usually enjoys. Toy Story 4 made more than $1 billion during its theatrical run in 2019.

Pixar’s coming film, Inside Out 2, is a sequel to the highly successful Inside Out from 2015. The first film made more than $850 million against its $175 million budget. The sequel will continue to follow Riley and all of her emotions, with new ones added as she enters her teenage years.

Inside Out was praised for creating an engaging way for children to understand the different emotions a person can go through at any given time. With anthropomorphised emotions including Joy, Sadness, Anger and Fear as the main characters, children and young adults were able to distinguish the different parts of their personalities.

It's evident from recent trends that producing new and original films is risky. There is often more buzz around the familiar. Of the top 10 films with the best box office returns in 2023, eight were adaptations of familiar characters, one was a historical biopic (Oppenheimer) and the other was Elemental.

Inside Out 2 has the potential to take Pixar back to the days of box office domination, which means matching or surpassing the first film’s returns.

But talking about box office success without considering the cultural footprint of a film is very near-sighted. The success of a film should also be measured by its staying power, its re-watchability and the quality of the experience it delivers.

Inside Out introduced memorable characters that became part of the conversation, which in today’s social media language means they became accessible using memes. The impact of being used in meme form cannot be overstated today – it allows a film to remain relevant for far longer than might be expected.

Pixar will hope the sequel has the same impact and the studio has recruited rising stars including Maya Hawke, Ayo Edeberi, Adele Exarchopoulos and Paul Walter Hauser to voice new characters and draw in a new set of fans.

Pixar also aims to diversify the experience of watching the film in some countries, by dubbing it in languages including Hindi and Arabic. Vox Cinemas says the Arabic version will be screened in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of success. The film could be disappointing, with reviews and word of mouth causing it to drop off. But all signs indicate that Pixar is in line for a big hit.

Published: June 08, 2024, 2:57 AM